Lately, I have been thinking about my own education and how I, as a student, have changed over time. In my K-12 education, I was a successful student who was “good at school.” I did what the teachers and adults asked, I followed their examples of how to solve problems (I could follow any procedure in math when I knew the formula and worked through a few with the teacher), I followed their rules (no running, no swearing, etc.), and was always considered a “good kid.” Once I went to college to get my undergrad and later my master’s degree, I realized I wasn’t as "good at school" as I had once thought.
When I look back at why this shift occurred, I realize it was because as a K-12 student I wasn’t as interested in the learning and understanding of what I did, as I was with getting good grades (I was a passive learner), having teachers and classmates like me (the 'relator' in me) and being labeled as a "good student" and friend. Now, don’t get me wrong: I did learn a lot during my K-12 years of education and I had a lot of great teachers, I just didn’t always strive to know or better understand the “why” behind what I was learning. I simply wasn’t motivated to do so.
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A colleague introduced me to the book Drive by Daniel Pink. The first two chapters really hit me: they highlighted what we are doing in education now, noted what we can change, and identified why it is important that we do. Both chapters hit directly upon motivation. The chapters “The Rise and Fall of Motivation 2.0” and “Seven Reasons Carrots and Sticks (Often) Don’t Work. . .” tie into what we see in our classrooms every day, even though his book is spun more for the business-world. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend you do!
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The Impact Homework (Doesn't) Have
Looking at ways to motivate students in the classroom and comparing it to what has been done in education for years, John Hattie explores the effect size of these different actions, noting if they have a positive, negative, or neutral effect on our students. As secondary teachers who we all likely taught in a system that was incentive driven, we need to start taking a closer look at what we are doing to motivate our students and to help them be active, life-long learners.
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Three Key Motivational Elements: Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose
Think Alouds are one way that makes thinking visible for students. It seems so simple. Just talk about what you are already thinking. Yet it is extremely powerful for students. Teachers can model their thinking by making text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections. Check out this video to see a Think Aloud in action:
If you would be interested in trying any of these out with students, reach out to an instructional coach, or I would be happy to come out and model them beside you.
Dove, M.G., & Honigsfeld, A. (2018). Co-teaching for English learners: a guide to collaborative planning, instruction, assessment, and reflection. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, A SAGE Company.
opportunity for students to think deeply, to create their own solutions, to build/write/draw/talk about their thinking! Students learn important mathematical concepts THROUGH problem solving. This is a mind shift away from the idea that we teach math concepts procedurally first and only then can they do problem solving.
- Jack has 8 marbles. Jill has 4 marbles. How many marbles do they have altogether?
- Jack and Jill have marbles. Jack has 6 marbles. If they have 14 marbles altogether, how many marbles does Jill have?
- Jack has 6 sets of marbles. There are 7 marbles in a set. How many marbles does Jack have altogether?
- Jill wants to put her marbles into containers. Six marbles can fit into a container. If Jill has 52 marbles altogether, how many sets can she make?
At every grade level we want to be sure that we are presenting students with practices that create a problem solving environment because that is where true learning and enduring understandings are taking place.
They also value and connect with the content that is being delivered in each of their buildings, each of their grade levels, and each of their individual classrooms. Frequently, teachers will ask librarians to reinforce a skill they are teaching in class, and librarians feel this is a major part of their role. They plan lessons for multiple grade levels, often for 2 different buildings: some of those buildings have 1:1 iPads, some don’t; some have computer labs, some don’t. Like classroom teachers, they seek to make their lessons engaging and enjoyable for their students. Librarians also push into classrooms to co-teach lessons when teachers are looking for support. They are happy to lead the lesson or just be an extra set of hands.
Librarians are generally well-versed in technology. Frequently, they are asked questions about programs, websites, Apps, robots, computers, iPads, and Smartboards. Rest assured, librarians often know the answers to these sorts of questions - but if they don’t, they will find the answer for you. Librarians can help introduce a new website, App or educational robot. They can help plan, partner with you or lead lessons in the use of these tools.
Often, the favorite part of a librarian’s job is to connect with students about books. Librarians constantly read blogs and websites to help them understand the books that are most popular and most beneficial for their students and their buildings. They read as many of their books as possible in order to better make recommendations to their students. Nurturing life-long readers is one of a librarian’s most important jobs
Librarians are often explorers and lifelong learners who enjoy acquiring new knowledge and reading about and implementing new ideas. They are often button pushers who get joy from experimentation and research. By doing these things, they can better help you understand which tool might be the best fit for you and your students’ educational goals and purposes.
Building relationships with the staff in their buildings, teachers in the rest of the district and members of the community, is an important goal for librarians and a potent resource for teachers. Librarians can facilitate connections that teachers can use as a resource to increase their personal knowledge and to expand on curriculum ideas for students. It is an everyday occurrence that librarians connect teachers and students with resources, but it is important to remember that these resources often extend outside of their buildings and into the community.
A goal of all educators, is to prepare students for the digital world which includes a thorough understanding of the rules and etiquette necessary to protect themselves from the potential harmful behavior of others online. The goal of the librarian is to create strong, productive, informed citizens both in this world and in the digital world. They create lessons and projects that give information, encourage participation, and foster understanding of the online world.
When asking students in the classroom to collaborate on a project or reflection sheet, consider allowing them to collaborate over Google or on a Prezi. You will be surprised by how quickly your students will pick up on these technology tools even if you don’t feel like an “expert” using the tool yet. Don’t let your lack of comfort with technology hold your students back. If they can demonstrate the knowledge on how to use the tool, given them the flexibility to do so!
- Conceptual Understanding (i.e. the comprehension and connection of concepts, operations and relations),
- Procedural Fluency (i.e., the meaningful and flexible use of procedures to solve problems),
- Strategic Competence (i.e., the ability to formulate, represent, and solve mathematical problems), and
- Adaptive Reasoning (i.e., to think logically and to justify one’s thinking).
While instruction to develop competency in these first four strands are often easier to understand and implement, developing productive disposition in students tends to remain more elusive. A disposition is a person’s inherent qualities of mind and character. Inherent is defined as existing in something as a permanent, essential or characteristic attribute. Productive disposition in mathematics is a combination of a positive attitude toward math and one’s own math identity and perseverance to stay with something until you succeed. As teachers, how do we develop this within our students?
The best resource I found for helping teachers develop a positive disposition in their students came from the American Psychological Association. Barbara McCombs, PhD from the University of Denver has developed Teacher’s Modules for applying psychological science to practical instructional problems in the classroom. This comprehensive and user friendly resource entitled Developing Responsible and Autonomous Learners: A Key to Motivating Students “provides tools for what teachers of all age groups can do to inspire natural curiosity, creativity and autonomous lifelong learning.” I encourage you to check it out.
Just for fun, a parting thought… Coincidence or not?
- Have a positive perspective on parents & families. Teacher should speak with parents early on about the parent’s hopes and aspirations for their child, what their child’s needs are and suggestions for how teachers can help. Parent involvement also includes how a parent communicates high expectations, pride & interest in their child’s academic life.
- Communication of high expectations. All students should receive the consistent message that they are expected to reach high standards in their school work. Effective & consistent communication of high expectations helps students develop a healthy self-concept.
- Learning within the context of culture. People from different cultures learn in different ways. Their expectations for learning may be different. To maximize learning opportunities, teachers should gain knowledge of the cultures represented in their classrooms and adapt lessons so that they reflect ways of communicating and learning that are familiar to the students.
- Student-centered instruction. Learning is cooperative, collaborative, and community oriented. Students are encourages to direct their own learning and to work with other students on research projects and assignments that are both culturally and socially relevant to them.
- Culturally mediated instruction. Instruction incorporates and integrates diverse ways of knowing, understanding and representing information. Students need to understand that there is more than one way to interpret a statement, event or action.
- Reshaping the curriculum. The curriculum should be integrated, interdisciplinary, meaningful, and student centered. It should include issues and topics related to the students’ background and culture.
- Teacher as facilitator. Teachers act as guides, mediators, consultants, instructors, and advocates for the students, helping to effectively connect their culturally and community based knowledge to the classroom learning experiences.
It can be daunting to make sweeping changes to your instruction all at one time. Don’t let that deter you – just start somewhere. Here are some first steps you might try!
Pose some questions and ask students to discuss, write, or even draw a picture about their answers…
- What would describe you as a math learner?
- What parts of math are you most comfortable with?
- What parts of math are most challenging?
- How do you respond when you don’t understand?
- What should I know about you?
Communicate ideas such as those suggested by Jo Boaler in Mathematics Mindsets:
- Everyone can learn math to the highest levels
- Mistakes are valuable (In fact, we learn more when we make mistakes!)
- Questions are really important
- Math is about creativity and making sense
- Depth is more important than speed
- Math class is about learning not performing
Even small changes can have a great impact. As one math teacher shared in the August training, “I started by just having kids talk more and explain their thinking…and it made all the difference!”
Here are a some things to consider (again, from Jo Boaler, Mathematics Mindsets):
- Are the instructional practices already in the lesson? If so, be sure to implement and enhance those parts!
- Can I open up the lesson/task for students to have different strategies or to show their thinking in different ways? “You may know a rule for solving this question, but the rule doesn’t matter today. I want you to make sense of your answer and to explain why your solution makes sense!” (Cathy Humphreys)
- Ask a problem BEFORE teaching methods: Do they have time to “noodle around” with an idea and make sense of it before they get to a formula or a procedure?
- Add a visual component. Ask students to show their thinking in more than one way (with objects, pictures, diagrams, etc.)
- Ask student to convince and reason. You may start by telling students that there are 3 levels of convincing: convince yourself, convince a friend, convince a skeptic. While it’s easy to convince yourself or a friend, you need high levels of reasoning to convince a skeptic. Once you have introduced this idea, start saying, “Convince us…” or “Are we convinced?” (Boaler & Humpreys)
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