Saturday, February 21, 2015

Engaging & Empowering Students

Should We Be Engaging or Empowering Students?  Great question!  I believe that our positive relationships, leadership, enthusiasm for each subject/activity, questioning/discussion techniques, and engagement strategies will excite students to learn.  Once we have them excited it is easier to empower.  We need to model empowerment and show students what it feels and looks like.  Charlotte Danielson suggests the following within Domain 3 of our teacher evaluation process:

-Allow students to assume the responsibility and take initiative to modify learning tasks to make it more relevant to them.
-Provide extensive choice in how students can complete a task.
-Allow students to suggest modifications and/or additions to the materials being used.
-Provide an opportunity for reflection and closure on the lesson to consolidate understanding.
-Allow students to help establish the evaluation criteria.
-Provide an opportunity for students to monitor their own understanding, either on their own initiative or as a result of tasks set by the teacher.

These examples all sound like empowerment.  So, the question asks… Should we be engaging or empowering students?  I believe we need to do both with the ultimate goal of empowering them to be life-long learners.

Below are some techniques that many of our teachers are using to support student engagement:
Tell a friend     
Have students tell a friend before asking for a classroom response.  Sounds simple… because it is!  It’s equally important to teach students the signal to redirect class back to teacher.  Create an anchor chart on how to be a good listener.

Turn and Talk   
Answer questions, have discussions, etc. with turn and talk partner before answering to the class.  This encourages 100% participation and active discussion. Consider having A/B partners during turn and talk, giving each partner a task to the discussion.  Create partners by proximity, ability level, o’clock partners, etc.

Article, story, textbook reading, etc. is divided into sections.  Put students into groups.  They are responsible for becoming the “expert” on their particular section.  Then, regroup students so that each group has one member from each original group.  Students (topic experts) share out - creates 100% participation and each student is responsible for dissemination of information.

Say Something
Consider the most important point from the article, story, chapter, video, read aloud, etc...
Say something:
-           Which I agree
-           Which I disagree
-           That puzzles me
-           I am reminded of
-           That was new to me
-           I wish the author had said more about
Place on chart paper and allow students to utilize post-it notes to display thoughts.  This can also be used with Google docs and/or Kidblog.

Chalk Walk       
Utilize chart paper with 5-7 specific questions related to the target learning (1 question per chart paper).  Put students into groups.  The groups should have different color post-its or markers when commenting and answering questions on the chart paper. This can also be an individualized silent task to encourage independent thinking. Again, Kidblog and/or Google docs could be utilized to answer questions instead of chart paper.

I wonder... I noticed     
Jot down a wonder and notice (use as exit slip, journal entry, post-it, etc.) during an article review, video, student presentation, teacher lesson, etc. This will enrich classroom discussion and raise level of concern.   Furthermore, it is great for staff meetings and professional development.

A/B Pyramid    
Partner A faces the board/Partner B faces away.  Partner A describes the word (science/SS vocab/spelling word, etc.) or concept on the board without using the actual word.  Partner B has to guess what it is.  (Think $25,000 Pyramid).  Great for a review.

Think, pair, share, square
Students think...pair with another student... share with that student... then move into a square with 2 other students to share with them.  At the end - one person from each group of 4 provides info to the entire class - group of 4 picks the speaker.
Sample Anticipation Guide                       
When reading, create a couple statement questions - have students agree/disagree with statement, see if they were correct after reading, provide page number and evidence – students can provide responses in a journal or any another format that would provide evidence of understanding.  Allow students to help establish the evaluation criteria.
Questions are launched at the front of the room, and learners join through their personal devices.  In real-time, and with gaming elements to increase engagement and motivation, learners answer questions and teachers get an overview of the current level of knowledge as a formative assessment.  Fun and engaging!  Check it out!

Story Circle of Thoughts          
Put students into groups after reading a story.  Students must discuss the story, taking on the point of view of different characters from the book, creating a society within each group. Students will then share out with the group or write a summary of ideas/thoughts.

Quick Draw
After read aloud - have students do a quick draw of setting, character trait, big idea, prediction, etc.  Supports active listening during the story.

5 minute quick write
Take 5 minutes to summarize, predict, defend, compare/contrast, etc. after classroom discussion, story, activity, etc.  Time bound assignments can raise level of concern and enhance engagement.

Connect, Extend, Challenge     
Teacher will write Connect, Extend, Challenge in columns on the board.  Give students three sticky notes to answer the following about an article, video, chapter, story, classroom discussion, etc.
  • Connect - Make a connection with another text, idea, etc.
  • Extend - How has this article (video, chapter, story, idea, etc.) helped you to extend (grow) your thinking?
  • Challenge - What challenges or questions do you still have that you would want answered?
Students will put name on back of sticky note and place under the words Connect, Extend, and Challenge.  Teachers can be creative in the delivery and use of this idea.  This concept increases engagement and empowers students to Connect, Extend, and Challenge their learning.  It is also a nice formative assessment that provides teachers with immediate information to drive the next steps within the learning process.  

Exit Slip
Post "I learned" and "I loved" and “I can” columns on the board.  Have students place each post-it note (name on back) under each column.  This can provide teacher with good formative information regarding student learning and engagement to the target objective.    

After reading an article, a section in a book, or discussing a topic as a class - have students create a headline to summarize the most important part.  They should try to style the headline as it would read in a newspaper. It should be attention-grabbing and support the target learning.

CSI (Color, Symbol, Image)
Fold paper into 3 sections:
1.         Chose Color that represents a big idea that stood out for you.  Color section one.
2.         Draw a symbol to represent a big idea in section two.
3.         Sketch an image to represent a big idea.
Students should be prepared to discuss the reason for the CSI.   They can even write one or two sentences explaining each section.

6 learning methods
Additional engagement strategies/methods:  
-           Inquiry-Based Learning
-           Problem-Based Learning
-           Discovery Learning
-           Cooperative Learning
-           Authentic Learning
-           Project-Based Learning
Check out 6 Learning Methods Every 21st Century Teacher should know via @medkh9

Remember, don’t try everything all at once.  Pick one or two that will support 100% active participation and build your repertoire of engagement strategies.  I hope you find this helpful, supporting a new idea or something you want to get back to using.

Feel free to comment and share some of your engagement strategies, let’s learn together!

Enjoy teaching, engaging, and empowering your students!  

Saturday, February 14, 2015


It’s Valentine’s Week and State Superintendent @suptflanagan and @MR_ABUD highlights a state and national effort for everyone to share what they love about teaching.  They are asking us to "Join the Love Train!"  Check out the Superintendent Podcast - #LoveTeaching.

We created a large list as a staff last year, a few highlights are below:  

What do we LOVE about teaching?
  • #1 for all of us - Working with Children!  Forming positive relationships with students and families.
  • Helping those who need it the most – it is our calling. 
  • Each day is a new challenge with the ability to make positive changes in the world… one child at a time. 
  • Guiding children to be empowered to learn and inspire them to be life-long learners. 
  • Daily humor – kids are funny (you can’t make this stuff up).
  • Educational Family Nights – making connections with the community.
  • Autonomy in the classroom – Once a teacher starts the day, they really are the ones who decide what’s going to happen.  Not many jobs provide an individual with so much room to be creative and autonomous each day.  You have curriculum to follow, but you can be creative in your delivery.
  • Individual conferencing with students – watching growth on individualized goals.
  • Back to School Nights, Halloween, Parent/Teacher Conferences, Family Nights, Vocal Music/Instrumental Concert, Art Show, Kindergarten info night, Ice Cream Social, etc… All things that highlights our building in a positive way – events that students will never forget – things that make our culture and climate so positive.
  • Great teachers who support children, colleagues and families.
Each day we continue to hold strong to these beliefs.  Please join us, continue to Be the Positive Voice in education, and show your love for teaching!  As you reflect on the week, remember to highlight the positive aspects of our profession.  Be the positive voice, and support the best job in the world... teaching children!  

Enjoy the week!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

"Kindness Matters" at #nspire2015

Our Kindness Week was a huge hit at Monteith.  Check out Monteith’s inspiring students in the links below!  

Growing our Kindness Tree!
Rhonda Walker and Local 4 News helping kick off The Great Kindness Challenge!

Nothing inspire me more than our students and their varied and inspirational viewpoints.  
Friday night, Grosse Pointe Public Schools hosted #nspire2015.  An event where 30 inspiring students came together to give a series of short and inspiring talks in front of a live audience.  They were answering the question, “What is your vision for ______?”  All proceeds from this event will benefit the Michigan Eye Bank and help to raise awareness and support to the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.

This joyful event was filled with inspiration from extremely poised and powerful students who highlighted the importance of their vision with amazing eloquence.  Our school was proud to have Olivia, a Monteith 5th grader, who dazzled the audience with her inspiring talk about kindness. Check out her speech below!  
My Vision of the World:

Just a little Kindness

   My vision of the world is not very creative. It’s not mind blowing and it won’t cure cancer. You don’t have to spend millions of dollars to do it and it’s not time consuming. My vision of the world is where kindness overpowers meanness. Where a person doesn’t walk away when someone is feeling down or being rude. Instead, they think, how can I make this person’s day better? It doesn’t have to be a BIG thing. You don’t have to give them your X-Box One or iPad! It could be as little as a smile, a simple wave or some sweet words. In our everyday life, I think there are three things that get in the way of my vision where EVERYONE is kind. These are grumpiness, bullying, and jealousy.  By changing our responses and practicing a little kindness, we can achieve my goal!

      Grumpiness makes being kind a bit of a challenge. How many times have you been to the store, fast food drive thru or a restaurant and seen that one person who seems like they would rather be ANYWHERE but there? They are not pleasant to be around. Is it that hard to smile? It takes just as much effort to frown than smile! When I stumble upon these situations, I try to think, what’s going on in their life? Are they having a bad day? Did they have a rude customer? Instead of being rude back, just smile or give them a compliment. It just might turn their whole day around!

      Bullying is another situation that is hard to deal with. When people say mean things to you like, “You’re SO gross!” “My mom has a better fashion sense than you!” “You’re such a geek!” Try to let those words bounce off of you like a bouncy ball instead of letting them stick as peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth. Also try to kill them with kindness. This means giving smiles, compliments or maybe even telling them a joke to make them laugh. This doesn’t mean you should let people treat you badly, because they are the one causing all of this, not you. Remember to tell yourself, I am wonderful! I am awesome! I am loveable!

      Everyone experiences jealousy sometime in their life. It’s not a great emotion. You could feel jealous when your friend gets new shoes that you love and you want them really badly. Or maybe your friend got the part in the school play that you really wanted. Or your cousin is going on a once in a life time trip and you rarely go on vacations. Instead of ignoring or being mean to your friend, try being happy for them! Think about how nice they look or how hard they must’ve worked. And let them know you’re really glad for them!
      These are examples of things that get in the way of my vision of the world where everyone is kind to each other. So, all I’m trying to say is just be nice! Try adding a little kindness in everything you do. Start on your way home tonight - in the parking lot, at the store checkout, with your irritating little brother. It’s not rocket science! Anyone can do it! You don’t have to be popular, or the smartest person in your class. You don’t have to be athletic, have a lot of money or have a great fashion sense. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth the effort! And most of all, remember to SMILE….It’s contagious!

Many children and adults could learn from her powerful words and genuinely kind thoughts.  Olivia and so many other future leaders inspired us on Friday. I wish everyone had the chance to listen to the heartfelt messages that all of our #nspire2015 students shared.  I hope their message is heard and inspires us to follow their lead.  

Thank you #gpmonteith for The Great Kindness Challenge and #nspire2015 students who are leading the path towards a better future!

Enjoy the weekend and “Smile… It’s contagious!”