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Instructional Strategies

Remember when introducing a “content journal” was innovative?  Only English teachers kept journals, and those journals were used primarily to practice a specific writing skill or to respond to literature.  Rarely, a teacher would ask students to reflect upon their own learning – a task most found daunting and, at times, overwhelming.

When History, Science, and Math teachers began to introduce journals into their classrooms as well, we began to recognize the depth of learning that could occur when students had to reflect upon their own learning – and were held accountable for it.  The journals produced more valuable information, gave us more instructional data, than we had had from other forms of informal classroom assessment.  Students were explaining what they learned, what they understood, in their own words.  We  began to recognize where the gaps in our own teaching existed, where our lessons missed the mark, and we began to reflect.  In an informal way, we became data-driven through their journals.

Through their journals, we learned.

Now, we have an even more powerful tool . . . an interactive journal.  The blog.  The concepts are generally the same but allow for more immediate feedback – not only from the teacher but from a community of learners.  How powerful is that?

Blogging has become an important skill . . . beyond the classroom.  Search through a few business websites to see just how important.

Making Connections . . . Not the Same Old Classroom Activities

by T Tasker 12/21/2011

“To be or not to be, that is the question.”  How many of us have sat in an English IV class reading Shakespeare aloud wondering, why?  Though I personally loved reading the poetic playfulness of the bantering in the Bard’s words, the sheer boredom in the voices of my classmates would certainly put an end to my enjoyment.  That was more than thirty years ago, and yet my own children still experienced the same activities in their classrooms.  Again, I asked myself, why?  This time I was asking not as an over-achieving yet bored student, but as a mother and an educator concerned about the engagement of students today, namely mine!

It’s not just Shakespeare that begs the question, it’s many activities in classrooms today.  States and capitols quizzes.  Posters showing an author or a scientist or a president.  Do these activities truly engage the students of the 21st century?  Are they relevant in today’s world?  How can they be modified to meet the growing demands of today’s world while teaching what teachers still believe are the critical knowledge and skills needed to be considered literate citizens?

The key lies in creating connections.  As teachers, we find those lessons that we love . . . our favorite activities, our favorite pieces of literature, our favorite experiments, our favorite periods in history . . . and we automatically assume that because we love them, our students will as well.  We also assume that they will understand the importance and significance in today’s world.  We all know what assuming will do.  We must create the opportunities for students to make connections.  They must understand the significance or the learning will not be important to them.  The activities will be “lame.”

Shakespeare was not meant to be read but acted out as a drama.  Few teachers allow students to even attempt a reader’s theater approach to any of his works.  Yet many of Shakespeare’s themes and basic story lines have transcended the language and culture of the Bard and found a home in contemporary movie scripts.  Would contemporary students find Shakespeare more appealing if they were in search of an original version of a modern movie?

The study of history holds such significance to those of us who are older and wiser, but to the middle or high school student, it often holds little value.  Making connections between 1860’s and the 1960’s – a favorite time period of students – allows students to draw conclusions about the divisiveness of war, the comfort of music, the camaraderie of soldiers, the challenges of the presidency, and the battles over civil rights.  Making connections between the past and the present allows students to understand the significance.  While watching the presidential debates, many of the candidates cite historical references such as the Federalist Papers.  How would potential voters evaluate their statements if they don’t know what the Federalist Papers are?

Today, technology and science is moving so quickly that it seems impossible to keep up with the advancements.  Studying the advancements of the past, as we do in history, allows us to prepare for the future, particularly the ethical issues that we will surely face.  Science can’t be learned by reading a book; it must be experienced.  Hands on experimentation brings science to life for students.  Technology can now assist teachers where budget once prohibited great experiences.  Virtual dissections give students a closer look at anatomy not to mention being an exciting way to learn!

Math seems to be one educational arena where little has changed.  Math is math is math.  The math may not have changed, but the methods certainly have.  With calculators on every cell phone and every register being automated, it is important for students of all ages to recognize the importance of truly understanding the math they are learning.  Try some real world application math to keep students engaged.  Cell phone minute plans,  college tuition plans, car interest rates, sales on laptops . . . all interest today’s students.

Presentation . . . Beyond Posters

Regardless of how engaging the learning objective, the lesson, and the learning activity, many students become disengaged when teachers ask for a final product that involves a poster board. Teachers are expecting students to demonstrate their learning by requiring them to “power down.”  Posters are not used in the world beyond our classrooms, and we must allow our students to practice productive uses for those digital tools.  When we teach digital natives, we must allow them to utilize the tools they are comfortable using – whether we fear them or not.  Allow a Prezi, a twitter stream, a blog, youtube video (or teachertube video).

Engage them, help them make connections, and allow them to shine as they share their learning.  They will be ready for whatever they face . . . beyond the classroom!

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . the Class of 2012!

As I listened to two commencement speeches in recent weeks, one college and one high school, I was struck by the similarities in the addresses made by the keynotes speakers.  Both the president of the University of North Texas in Denton and the principal at Central High School in San Angelo chose to highlight the successes of several students in the graduating class . . . something I had never seen before.  There was a personal connection, an emphasis on the relationship, the commitment, the overcoming of challenges, and the success.  It was refreshing.

Sometimes we, in education, spend so much on the “business” of education and the “busyness” of education that we forget the real business of education . . . developing a child to his or her greatest potential.  On graduation day, we get to see that potential realized.  I watched my son walk the stage knowing that he struggled for most of his educational career but he made it.  I watched my youngest daughter graduate from college a year earlier than most of her classmates because she had a dream to fulfill . . . and she did.

I am in awe of the potential in education and in our students.  We should not fear the future but embrace it.

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