student choice

5 Ways to Help ALL Students Love School

5 Ways to Help ALL Students Love School

August 29, 2019

All kids should love school.

Yes, they should. 

But we all know that they don’t.  In fact, many hate it.

By high school, many students have become disenagaged.  And we’re losing some really bright minds along the way.

Jake’s* story:

My friend Kelly and I have talked many times over the years about her son, Jake.  For years now, Kelly has been frustrated—wondering how to support this boy she loves so much.  Parent teacher conferences focus on what a great kid Jake is—how articulate he is, how full of enthusiasm about the stuff he loves.  However…there’s the issue of not completing homework.  And losing papers.   And indecipherable handwriting.  And occasional distractedness.

So, Kelly asked me. What should we do?  Should we get him a tutor? A peer mentor who will help him create better homework habits?

Here’s how I see Jake.  This is a kid who, at age 8, devised a trap for Santa.  Wanting to get a glimpse of the elusive fat man, Jake created an elaborate trap with trip wires and bells.  (It would have worked, too, if someone hadn’t tipped off Mr. Claus at the last moment.)

This is a kid who spends hours, days, months focused on projects that often involve digging up the yard and rigging contraptions.  He contemplates problems and devises solutions.  He’s curious and visionary.  He tries, fails, learns and tries again.

And his grades are pretty lousy.

Does that add up?

So, what I told Kelly is this.  If it’s a choice between better grades and his enthusiasm, joy, curiosity and creativity….well, the choice is clear, isn’t it?

This shouldn’t be a choice.

So, what can be done?

1) Ditch traditional HOMEWORK. 

That doesn’t mean that kids don’t need to practice or that they don’t need to do work or thinking beyond the school day.  Often, they do.  But not always.  Experiment with ways to balance practice, skill development and responsibility.  Middle school math teacher Michelle Russell ended up doing this.  What will you do differently?

2) Create choice boards for EVERYTHING…

…including the above-mentioned homework.  While some may think they are better suited for elementary school, the truth is they work at all levels.  I’ve worked with HS teachers to create summer reading choice boards (that included options for watching videos, listening to podcasts or audiobooks as well as space for student-created options).  I’ve also used choice boards when creating professional development opportunities for teachers!

Kasey Bell shared some choice board ideas on her site, Shake Up Learning.

3) Have students reflect and self-assess ALL THE TIME. 

Here’s my Smiley Face Self-Assessment. Don’t be fooled by the name—this isn’t just for young learners.  A colleague adapted this for use with his AP Physics classes—with great success.

4) Show parents your syllabus/course overview.

Ask for feedback about projects, assignments, their child’s response. (I included a more detailed, teacher-facing overview template in my last post.)

5)  Remember your WHY.

Why do you do this work?  Why do you teach?  What do you want your legacy to be?

Here are some hints:

YOU are preparing students for a future you cannot fully imagine or appreciate.  Therefore, YOU need to create the conditions where they will learn how to learn.  YOU have complete control over whether students are cognitively engaged, thinking hard and working with enthusiasm.

For more thoughts about this, see the awesome Catlin Tucker’s post about Articulating your Why

All kids can love school.  All kids can learn deeply and joyfully every day.  So can you 

*Names have been changed 

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Give students ownership with the Jigsaw

Give students ownership with the Jigsaw

January 25, 2017

Differentiating learning for all students is hard enough—now we are asked to think about giving students a choice and voice in their own learning. Seems like more work for the teacher. And, on the front end, it is.

But here are some ways to make it easier.

1) Give students choice in a JIGSAW. Usually, jigsaws are used by teachers looking to differentiate learning for their students. The teacher chooses 3 or more materials related to the topic of discussion. The materials may differ according to reading level or interest or, sometimes, are simply a number of related resources that are valuable, but there are just too many to have each student read each one, so using a jigsaw allows students to get summaries from their peers.

You can also do this with a flipped Jigsaw—in which the students read or view (in the case of a video, etc) their chosen piece at home, take notes and prepare a summary to share with their peers the next day.

2) Then, allow students some choice in how they create a product to share with their peers. Usually, after a jigsaw, I’ve provided a choice board— a menu of activities the group can do to make synthesize their learning. This is great. It gives the group a choice and, done well, teaches students how to make group decisions and then work together. (See examples of choice boards here and here)

But you could do this differently. You could do the meaning making part of the jigsaw in class. Students either read and create summaries in their home group in class or they’ve done some of this work at home in the flipped scenario, and then come together briefly to create a group summary to bring to their rainbow groups. Then, have the rainbow groups come together for discussion of all the readings/resources and make sense of them tougher, engaging in dialogue and debate (structured or unstructured based on their familiarity with the process, age, your preference, etc). After that, instead of working on group projects for the final piece, students might choose to work individually—or some might work in pairs, or you might have a sign up sheet (physical or on a shared document) where students sign up for the type of final product they want to create. So, you might end up with 3 groups of 4 students who want to create a game based on the readings and 2 students working individually to write a poem and others doing any number of appropriate learning tasks. (Note that the options in the choice board should have accompanying rubrics whenever possible in order to ensure rigor).

Finally, I would recommend bringing the class together for presentations (OR having the students make videos of their presentations for their peers to watch at home) and including some sort of feedback sheet from peers. (More on that to come).

One last thing—I don’t think it’s possible to overuse the Jigsaw. If you are new to differentiation, ad/or if you find it incredibly time-consuming, why not return again and again to something that works. You can mix up HOW you assign pieces or give choice, you can mix up the activities or questions in the home group and the rainbow group, you can have students do the final product in groups or individually. The final products can take hours or weeks or days. I would love to see examples from others.

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Teachers’ Messages and Student Engagement

Teachers’ Messages and Student Engagement

March 6, 2014

I spent an hour recently visiting classrooms. First day after a break, with an anticipated snow day to follow, it could have been easy to lose the student engagement fight. Indeed, a few kids seemed to be moving a bit slowly, going through the motions. Yet I saw students ready to go–hands waving in the air to give an answer and exclamations of excitement when arriving at correct responses during a math review, for example.

By far, though, the greatest levels of engagement with the work was happening when students were arranged in peer groups and given the opportunity to construct their learning together. In an Algebra class, students were working in groups of their choosing to reviewing a test and making corrections. By designing this activity, the teacher was sending very clear messages to his students:

  1. Learning is not static.
  2. Mistakes are not failures, they are opportunities.
  3. Learning is a social construct–use your peers, engage with one another.
  4. I believe in your ability to own your learning.
  5. I have high expectations for you.

In an ELA class, the teacher arranged her students into literature circle groups for a focused conversation on the book they just began, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Groups of students were given envelopes containing four roles: the Quizzical Questioner, Character Creeper, Fancy Facilitator and Word Wizard. She further provided each student with a bookmark containing the tasks aligned to the objective.

Her messages to them:

  1. I trust you to learn.
  2. I trust you to cooperate with your peers in order to learn.
  3. Learning is fun.
  4. I believe in your ability to own your learning.
  5. I have high expectations for you.

In contrast, I have visited classrooms that were not as vibrant, where the sound of the teacher’s voice dominated and in which some students raised hands, many did not and a sense of boredom was palpable. In others, I witnessed a lack of direction, no clear objective and students off task (even telling me they didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing) To be fair, I’ve witnessed more inspired teaching in those same classrooms, but on this day very different messages were being sent to students about teaching and learning.

What would it have taken for every classroom to be one where students own their learning every day?

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