education

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What motivates you?

Posted by on 21 Jul 2017 | Tagged as: 3rd Grade, 3rd grade, education, Education Professional, Learning Styles

As a teacher, I am constantly being told (by non-educators!) that I must “motivate” the students. What they usually mean is: make lessons entertaining. They think it should all be fun and game-like. It is similar to the now-passé concept of “learning styles” (link opens a new tab and directs to a study released in 2015) where teachers are encouraged to provide many different types of tasks (it has since been determined that people will learn regardless of the type of task they are given – -although some people are more engaged by specific tasks, the learning occurs regardless).

In an ideal world, if I had VERY small class sizes, only one or two “preps” (lessons to prepare each day), and access to abundant materials that I did not have to prepare or collate in advance, more of the lessons might be engaging to more of the students. However, I can guarantee that even then at least a couple of students would not feel fully engaged for any one lesson. Why?

Because we don’t all think the same way, engage with life the same way, have the same expectations for physical interactions or social time, pursue the same interests… because we are individuals. Students do not all begin a school year at the same level in the various content areas (subjects, for those of us old enough to remember “3-Rs” years). Students may be ill, distracted by out-of-school events, or just dislike the topic or task.

When I homeschooled our TWO children, who were clearly not the same in most respects, I did manage to adapt and adjust for their needs and interests most of the time. Even then, knowing them better than anyone else in the world knew them, I sometimes didn’t quite hit the mark. Still, they learned and grew and are turning into fine young adults. That was just two, with abundant time and energy to think about and generate everything that was needed and wanted. And sometimes, even with the best intentions, I didn’t make it engaging. And sometimes, that was part of the lesson.

Think about it: not everything in life is a competition (and it shouldn’t be); not all tasks are accomplished cooperatively (and needn’t be); many of the necessary tasks appear to be without reward (until they are completed and the final product is useful or beautiful, or…); and sometimes tasks are distasteful, uncomfortable, and tedious. In real life, not everything is fun. Most tasks require the ability to focus for longer than a few minutes (without a sound/movement/visual to pull you back to the task). Most tasks in life are NOT inherently rewarding.

In the real world, of course, I have a much larger class size — 20 or more (sometimes more than 30) students. Children I have generally never met, whose families and communities I may not fully “get” until part-way through the year. Children with vastly varying life experiences and challenges. In elementary school, I have about 6 preps: Language Arts/split between “Reading” and all of the other related skills; both “on-level” and differentiated (we don’t have a current curriculum, so much of this is teacher-created or found); Mathematics/split into the lesson of the day and “differentiation” when I can (this will be easier this year with a curriculum in place!); and Science and Social Studies (when I can fit them in). I have students who come in and out of the classroom, depending on which specialist teachers they see – some I see pretty much only at the very beginning and end of the day, others all the time except ten minutes here or there… I have to account for kids who are absent, who are ill, who have attention or language processing issues, whose vocabularies are limited, who are well-above grade level in all areas, who have traveled to other countries or never gone outside the county they were born in… I have “nuclear” families, extended families, single-parent families, kids with two households, kids in foster care or living with relatives or friends for a while, I have kids living in the home their grandparents were born in, and kids who are homeless. I have hungry kids, tired kids, wiggly kids. I have concrete thinkers and kids who are surprisingly able to connect abstract ideas.

I have kids who master the concept I need to teach in three minutes, and some who will still be struggling with the same concept three months later.

I have some who think the task at hand is inherently fun; and others for whom a reward of candy and games when they finish one question with help is still not enough.

I have students who are just disengaged… it’s not through an “X-box” or a “PS” so they don’t care.

What are we teaching our students when we start to think about education in terms of “fun-only” tasks? I have students who enter third grade not knowing how to hold a writing tool for maximum flexibility and strength, who struggle to write — not just the ideas and conventions, but the PHYSICAL act of writing or drawing, or cutting out paper, or … because those are “hard” and teachers in previous grades, and their own parents, think they are not necessary skills. But, think about it — there are third graders every year who cannot open their own milk cartons because their hand strength is too poor. I have had students who cannot put a straw into a juice pouch for the same reason. The only thing I can tell that keeps these children from having the hand-eye coordination, core control, stamina for learning is that they have never had to really use their bodies.

If it’s hard to write, their parents put them on a computer. If it’s hard to sit, they are propped up. If it’s hard to walk as a toddler, someone carries them or puts them in a stroller, or … Many of my students don’t seem to do things like build forts, play with building toys such as blocks, or even color with crayons in coloring books. They have tablets and video games, they even have cellphones. But they do NOT have an awareness of their own bodies. Other students have been accomplished horseback riders, skilled hunters/fishers, avid creators with found objects, dancers, musicians, sports players…

So, what motivates them? Depends on the child.

Many students enjoy seeing how they do compared to the class — others are beaten down again and again when they are ALWAYS at the bottom of the results. I don’t keep track of progress on public boards any more… I give the competitive kids ambitious personal goals instead. And I give the kids who are less-skilled personal goals that will be attainable but still show strong growth.

Many students like to work toward rewards — stickers, small prizes, time to play games. Others aren’t motivated by external forces — they have a more mature approach and realize that they are working toward their own goals. They prefer to be told what they are doing right and supported in the areas where they can improve — those students love to track their own learning.

Many students like to play games with material they are learning, but just like anything else, some children struggle to be successful whether as an individual or as part of a team… letting down one’s team is a big deal in third grade.

Many students like to work with others, except those who don’t — maybe they are just not that social, maybe they get confused when there are lots of ideas; and sometimes they are TOO social and have articulated to me that when they work in groups they cannot help but visit and so they prefer to work alone so they can focus on the tasks at hand.

Some kids LOVE videos that demonstrate tasks and concepts. A few really don’t. Some love music. Many don’t. Some love to MOOOOOOVE! Many don’t.

Some read well and happily at or above grade level and enjoy “popcorn” reading (where their names are picked randomly); many don’t.

And so it goes.

I started thinking about this because I have goals for my summertime. The most important goal for me was to heal from the stress of being sick and teaching all last year (and half of the year before). The reward? I have more energy and strength!

Another goal was to lose a few inches that I gained during the testing interval… since I don’t have a scale at home I don’t know what weight I reached, but let’s just say that the larger sizes I always keep on hand for allergic reactions weren’t quite comfortable even on non-reactive days! The reward? I am more comfortable not only in my clothes but in my movements.

Another goal was to re-organize my office space (requires cooperative support)… not getting there very fast… the reward will be that I can put craft supplies away, and have a desk for doing lesson planning — freeing up the living room for RELAXING in the evenings with small projects and books to read.

A final goal was to get the front entrance garden back in form. The reward, once I am done, will be a more attractive home to return to after a long day at school, more visiting space when guests are over, and a few flowers for bringing inside. And I am getting there… but slowly.

My students’ goals are even more diverse — every year we start out with what they hope to learn: multiplication often tops the list, followed by “curly” handwriting (we do cursive in our school); some want to write better/longer stories. A few know we’ll do bird reports in our room. Many want to study science of some kind (which I fit in when and where I can). Almost none say they want to learn to spell more words — but it is necessary. None have ever articulated that they want to understand parts of speech, or new punctuation marks! They don’t generally perk up when I mention we will be doing more difficult addition and subtraction, or be writing more than two handwritten pages at a time! But again, those are necessary. And most of them seem to think that the learning will just happen, that a single lesson is all it takes… a common misconception even in middle school. The idea that they need to review, revisit, rework, and rethink many times before they have mastered a task or internalized the learning is very distant and difficult for them.

Which is the final point about motivation: not everything can or should be accomplished in one go, or the first time, or instantly, or easily. When we turn all the necessary tasks that kids do into games, into fun, they miss out on the opportunity to learn about patience and persistence. As an adult, I often have to wait: Wait to have a meal; wait to find out the results of a project; wait one’s turn at licensing; wait for a response from a job application; wait, wait, wait.

What motivates a person to tolerate waiting? Practice. Practice in school, and in the family. Practice learning that a question needn’t be answered immediately; a boo-boo doesn’t need a kiss this minute; a flower takes weeks to grow from seed…

What motivates me? Seeing progress, whether it is insignificant or ground-breaking. Knowing that sometimes I won’t see progress and that is okay, too.

What motivates me to get out of bed in the morning? My family. My students. My Wally. My friends. My garden. My music. My books. Learning new things, and sharing with those around me. Making the world better in the small ways that are possible for me.

What motivates you?

Not-quite-summer vacation

Posted by on 17 Jun 2017 | Tagged as: 3rd Grade, caring, education, Education Professional, Vacations

It’s not-quite summer in our part of the world.

My students finished their last day of the year this past Wednesday. Like all endings, it was a bittersweet day for me. I handed out their report cards, we talked about how they can keep up with all the progress they made — and how if they spend their vacation NOT reading and NOT thinking about math the entrance to fourth grade won’t be as easy as it could be; and how if they just read for an hour a day and keep practicing their math facts they will find fourth grade a lot more manageable. I sent them home with worksheets, and a little toy, a rainbow crayon and fancy pencil and a little journal for writing and drawing in. We played some games…

Then they were dismissed, and I walked the few who weren’t being picked up by doting families to the buses, and waited with the other teachers for the signal for the buses to leave. One fifth grader (from my first crop of third graders) was in tears as her bus left the lot and we waved them on.

And then back to the room to pick up the pieces of my heart that the kids left all strewn about.

Yes, their summer vacation has started, but it’s still not-quite summer.

I am moving rooms this vacation — the new teacher in our grade will have my old room, a nice, secure location right in the middle of all the other third grade teachers. I get a room that has some advantages over the other but also some potential pitfalls. We are working to figure out ways to minimize some of the potential disruptions to my class’s learning environment. I spent several hours Thursday and Friday working in the two rooms — emptying out one and filling the other. Thankfully, I have help from unexpected places, but it’s still a gargantuan task.

So, for me, it’s not-quite summer.

I am getting some lovely new tables for the students to sit at, smaller than normal school tables but I am going to provide something called “flexible seating” where the kids get to decide the best locations to work (after some training!). I will have a smaller class, and this is the year to try a change. If it doesn’t work, we can go back to the old desks in nice, neat rows… I don’t think the kids would prefer that! We’ll have some open space to sit on the floor when I am doing whole-group teaching, and there will be space for some tables at the sides and back for group work. I have a couple of very small “teacher desks” that this year will be side-by-side because that’s the best layout for the room. I don’t really believe in carving out a large slice of the room just for my use, so I try to find ways that I can move among the children and teach from several spots.

It’s not-quite summer.

On the first day of summer, I am playing in a concert with the local orchestra. Then it will be summer — a concert with only three actual rehearsals. I would have been panicked at the thought only two years ago, but here I am — able to pretend to know what I am doing at least part of the time…

And so, as it’s not-quite summer I am sitting here with a blanket on my lap and a dog on my feet relaxing in the evening and not-quite planning lessons for the class that I don’t have quite yet…

Just dreaming. Dreaming of summer.

NaPoWriMo Second Post

Posted by on 02 Apr 2017 | Tagged as: citizenship, climate, education, environment, NaPoWriMo

in school
we were taught
to say but not to follow
the golden rule

we learned
clear speech and calculations
invented histories
concise writing and
we yearned

for connection
between textbooks
our lives in boxes
but always looking
outward, forward, ahead

the land
sea, air, forests
dying slowly or quickly
taking a stand

for justice
for meaning in a life
once started
should be lived
with care

we studied not
the golden rule
but the laws of supply
and demand
of grasp and take

the land
sea, air, forests
dying slowly or quickly
taking a stand

in school
we were taught
to say but not to follow
the golden rule

[for more poetry, check out the NaPoWriMo website with links to thousands of participants! This link opens a new tab in your brower.]

An End, and a Beginning

Posted by on 03 Sep 2016 | Tagged as: 3rd Grade, education, Education Professional, good things, teaching, Uncategorized

The summer was not “as advertised” this year. I remained ill for another few weeks, though we had a lovely visit with my grandfather in Ashland at the end of July and saw several plays (LOVED LOVED LOVED Richard II!!!). Was too exhausted, though, to try for the second silk painting session. Hoping for at least one this autumn, though!

August arrived, and my heart and brain went quickly into teaching mode. Tom took an extra week off that second week of August to help around the house and the classroom. By the end of the third week of August, the classroom was mostly in shape, and in the fourth week it was official training and a couple extra days… so that by the time the kids and parents arrived at 5:30 August 30 the room looked ready enough.

Kids in seats on August 31. By 2:43 on September 2, the room was already showing evidence of engagement and learning. I have a WONDERFUL paraeducator who comes in for 45 minutes in the afternoon to help with literacy and reading, and while we haven’t yet met to decide which few students need intensive pull-out instruction, with the in-class help every day, very few of them will have to leave. I am so happy in my teacher-heart that I will have most of them all the time!

Proof? Check out below!

A look toward the door to the restrooms.  The number chart goes up when needed, but will be stored flat for a few weeks.

A look toward the door to the restrooms. The number chart goes up when needed, but will be stored flat for a few weeks.

The reading table on Friday-- materials to sort, collate, cut, copy, and use next week!

The reading table on Friday– materials to sort, collate, cut, copy, and use next week!

All ready for Tuesday!

All ready for Tuesday!

The students use these to show something about themselves as we are learning about the new year.  Three pictures, and one word!

The students use these to show something about themselves as we are learning about the new year. Three pictures, and one word!

The purple "windsock" was a gift from a student on the second day of school!  The empty paper panels on a pulley system! will hold student work and anchor charts.

The purple “windsock” was a gift from a student on the second day of school! The empty paper panels on a pulley system! will hold student work and anchor charts.

The I-charts are a suggestion from the "Two Sisters" framework for Daily 5 and CAFE instruction.  They allow students to consider behaviors and purposes for studying in specific situations.  These are our first two.

The I-charts are a suggestion from the “Two Sisters” framework for Daily 5 and CAFE instruction. They allow students to consider behaviors and purposes for studying in specific situations. These are our first two.

Schools of Thought

Posted by on 24 Jun 2016 | Tagged as: education, Education Professional, Uncategorized

Another unfinished post from 2012…


I just watched a very interesting TED talk by Diana Laufenberg, a teacher from Pennsylvania. She highlighted the shifting purpose of “school” away from a repository of restricted knowledge (in the days before the internet, when most homes had little more than a few books, and fewer homes owned encyclopedias) toward an environment that asks students to use the knowledge that exists in their environment to develop their own questions and answers. Although not all homes have reliable internet access, the truth is that information is more readily available to more people now than at any other time in history. From telephones to cell phones to wireless hot spots,


We have to directly and systematically teach children to make connections between different information sources; and model how to synthesize and innovate. When we do this successfully, everyone wins.

Rants and Raves

Posted by on 24 Jun 2016 | Tagged as: editorial, education, politics, Uncategorized

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN in June 2012. Posting in now because some (many?) parts still seem relevant.


Sometimes, even the most mild-mannered people (which I am, clearly, not!) need to let off steam to express strong opinions and to seek feedback on opinions. Here are three things that have been simmering in the back of my mind for quite some time now, but they really seemed to “gel” on the drive home this afternoon. I’ll start with the short one:

The cost of moving manufacturing overseas

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Random Musings on my Day

Posted by on 03 May 2016 | Tagged as: 3rd Grade, 3rd grade, children, education, Education Professional, garden, Gardens and Life, good things, musings, seasons, Uncategorized

Living
is hard work.
It is better than the alternative?
The answer is: Yes, when you are there.


That curious moment in the day when the gray skies pick up the bright green of new life and suffuse creation with an immortal glow.


Success! The fledgling
finds his wings
and starts to fly.


What is better than a happy third grader?
TWENTY happy third graders!
It was a very good day for learning.

Practice

Posted by on 02 Jun 2015 | Tagged as: education, Education Professional, fun, Gardens and Life, good things, percussion, Uncategorized

I am working to show my students that you should perservere with difficult tasks.  Practice more than once, take a break but return.  

I am just learning the drums, but…  Here is the most difficult piece I am playing tomorrow.  I took a video of my practice session to show the kids how many mistakes a new learner makes, and that it is OK to be less than perfect!

Not certain who said it first, but both my sons exited the Griffin-Capital band tradition with this mantra:  Practice Makes Better.  (note: link will open in a new window, with a youtube video)
 
Hope it is true for me, too!

Standing up for Students

Posted by on 25 Apr 2015 | Tagged as: education, Education Professional, Making a Difference, parenting, Uncategorized

This is what I did Saturday morning, rallying for full funding for schools: smaller class sizes, basic cost of living increases to keep pace with inflation, more support overall for the teachers who care for our children.

IMG_0006

Set an example for your children and students. Take part in your democracy. Peaceably assemble and petition your government to make it better.

Our children are our hearts, our future. They depend on us to stand up for them.

[Late edit to include a newslink]

It’s not much, and no one seems to care to really cover this issue, but the AP did release a short story that was picked up by local outlets: Teachers Rally in Olympia. Thanks to Derrick Nunnally for writing about this attempt to help people understand that our nation’s children are important to all of us!

NaPoWriMo 2015.16

Posted by on 17 Apr 2015 | Tagged as: caring, education, Education Professional, NaPoWriMo, poetry, Poetry Month, Uncategorized

a day late
a dollar short

teachers have many choices
and schools have services
but not much influence

when a child enters late
departs early
naps through social studies
or math
or science-reading-all
day after day

who watches the children after school
who nurtures them at night
who wakes them lovingly (but insistently)
in time for them to eat
before they catch the bus

who cares for them
as a parent
when the parent
does not care

the teacher appears in a child’s life
a day late
and resources abound for education
but a dollar cannot make up for love

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