Saturday, June 7, 2014

Participatory Learning Activities: They're Not Just for Elementary Students

I love when I come across a new resource that squares with my thinking.  It backs up what I already believe.

In a conversation this week with my friend and colleague, Dr. Linda Winfree, she shared a text she had read recently, Himmele & Himmele’s (2011) Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner.

The question we were discussing centered on the need for, and absence of, frequent participatory learning activities in high school and post-secondary educational settings.  So much of the instruction students receive can best be described, as Himmele & Himmele term it, stand-and-deliver instruction.  Too much lecture.  Too much teacher talking.

We teachers need to rethink our instructional practices to reduce the teacher talk and to increase students’ active engagement, both physically & cognitively, in the classroom. 

I particularly appreciate a Himmele & Himmele assertion that supports my instructional decisions; they write, “Good teaching results in student learning.  And if glue sticks and scissors are a way to get students to learn more effectively, then you are never too old to use them” (p. 30).  They offer Cut-and Pastes as one of their Total Participation Techniques for all ages, writing, “With adults, for example, we use Cut-and Pastes to better understand things like Bloom’s taxonomy, assessment concepts, and linguistic concepts” (p. 74).

Confirmation.  I’m not alone in my thinking.  

Make every learning opportunity a memorable experience.  Involve learners in hands-on, minds-on activities.

What participatory learning activities have you found to be most successful with your students?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Summer Reading Titles for Personalized Professional Development

The school year has ended.  A few weeks of rest are ahead.  Summer projects loom large.  Somewhere in the midst of all that I always make time for some professional summer reading.

Some of the best professional development I’ve had has come in the form of dynamic reads that ignite my passion for becoming a better educator.

It's no secret:  I have to read with a highlighter, an ink pen, and a few sticky notes handy.  Not only do I want what I read to sink in at the moment, but also I like to return to my books later to reread the highlights and marginalia to refresh my memory and to check off the changes I’ve incorporated into my teaching practice as a result of having read.  That’s just one way I measure my professional growth over time. 

As I thumbed back through several favorites, I thought I’d share some with you.  After all, if they’ve made a difference for me, perhaps they may also speak to you.

What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most by Todd Whitaker (2004).  I first read this book in 2009, and I return to it frequently.  Whitaker says what I feel:  “No matter how good we are, we still want to be better.”  Self-reflection drives our need to improve.  Throughout the book, I noted descriptions that sounded as if he were describing me and some of my fellow teachers at some point in the past (those of us who needed to make vast improvements) or in the present (as evolving teachers), as well as painting a picture of the ideal, effective teacher  I and my colleagues want to become.  Whitaker provides example after example of behaviors that characterize both ineffective and effective teachers, examples so familiar they must be all too common. For example, he writes, “Ineffective teachers want students to be upset when they leave the office.  Effective teachers want students to be better when they leave.” You know that ineffective teacher, don’t you? Whitaker consistently describes both ends of the spectrum, allowing us to benefit from his wisdom and providing us with an alternative mindset that leads to effectiveness.  This book is a must-read and a regular must-review.

Differentiation:From Planning to Practice Grades 6-12 by Rick Wormeli (2007).  The argument that every student must do the same work and be assessed the same way no longer holds true.  One-size-fits-all is out the door.  This book will help you shift your mindset and provide you with tools to better implement differentiation in your classroom.  Wormeli asserts, “It’s in the undifferentiated classes that students can coast along, rarely challenged, rationalizing that teachers don’t care or that struggling in school implies stupidity.  In the undifferentiated classes, teachers present material, then test and document students’ deficiencies. In the differentiated classes … they make learning so compelling that students have no choice but to become engaged.” If you are ready to teach each student, to meet them where they are and to move them forward in learning, this book will provide a guide for you.

If you need to be convinced of the necessity for differentiation, read Sousa & Tomlinson’s Differentiation & the Brain (2011). Brimming with practical information and rationales, I think I’ve underlined or highlighted on nearly every page!  And the sticky notes are quite numerous. In a section on managing the differentiated classroom, the authors describe a classroom in which the focus is on meaning and understanding.  They write: “Learners have to grapple with ideas, try them out, make mistakes, and dispel misunderstandings if they are to really grasp and own what we ask them to learn.” To that, I added in the margin:  “We must move to focus on meaning & understanding school wide for CCGPS.”   Differentiating instruction and assessment can put us on the right track for creating meaning & understanding with our students.

Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess (2012).  This is a newly acquired title for me, but, WOW!  A quick read with a powerful message.  I’d love to be a student in Burgess’s classroom.  Energy, enthusiasm, passion … ideas abound for hooking and holding students throughout a lesson, to make every lesson a memorable learning experience.  As for self-reflection, try this on for size:  Burgess writes, “An enthusiastic teacher can learn technique, method, and strategy, but it is almost impossible to light a fire inside the charred heart of a burned-out teacher.” Applying the principles in this book will reinvigorate your teaching.

And here are some of the yet-to-be-read titles stacked beside my chair awaiting their turn:

Here's to Happy Summer Reading and Personalized Professional Learning!

What are you reading this summer?  Share your favorite titles.