Grit, is this too easy?

It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s sports or education the focus should more on be on grit than on ability. Valedictorians are not always the students with the highest IQ and a state champ isn’t generally the most athletic but they achieve at the highest level because they simply won’t accept anything less for themselves.

A few of the most powerful things we need to look at in this piece are:

The speakers definition of grit; that it is sustained will over a lengthy time period. We tell our athletes that you can’t have a good practice every now and then and be the best and the same is true for education. While this is often difficult for young students and athletes to understand we need to be teaching it from a young age so it can become more ingrained in our students mindset.

Growth mindset; People who have growth mindset do look at failure the same as people with fixed mindset. Talk to the best athletes in the world and they will tell you of their failures almost as often, as sometimes more often, as they speak of their successes. But they all talk about using them as a learning platform and how they made them better. We need to be teaching this to our students; miss a bunch of problems on a test, ok how do we learn from this and get better. Failure is many times the most important learning tool we almost never use. Teachers, good teachers, fail at instruction on a regular basis. The difference between good teachers and not bad teachers is how they recognize a failed lesson, evaluate what did and did not work and why, and make the proper changes. Mediocre employees, athletes, teachers, etc. recognize the failure and say “well I’m not going to try that again.” That is a fixed mindset and it dooms people to failure.

While we don’t really know exactly what it is that makes kids gritty “we need to be gritty about getting our kids grittier.” Maybe the most powerful part of the speech.

 

As I have continued researching into this I have come across some very good counter points. Here is a link to an Alfie Kohn response:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/04/08/ten-concerns-about-the-lets-teach-them-grit-fad/

I have a ton of respect for Mr. Kohn and his insight into education is some of the best you will ever come across. I have to say, maybe I was too quick to jump on the easy response.

Communicating student progress to parents more effectively

Report cards and parent teacher conference:

We all know the point of report cards is to communicate to parents the amount and quality of progress their students have made throughout a set time period. But do they do that effectively? Do students and/or parents understand the difference in progress between a B and a C letter grade? Did the student forget to carry numbers on a few problems on a test and get a low score on that test or is it because the student still doesn’t understand how to carry numbers? Parents often report that they have a much better understanding of how their students are performing after parent teacher conferences because teachers are able to convey to parents actual information that students are working on, understanding, or not understanding. We all know students are generally not able to give parents a good understanding of the concepts that are being covered in class but parents get this information when they attend these conferences.

We all know that parents are more likely to attend parent teacher conferences of students in the primary grades and attendance diminishes as students enter into higher levels of secondary schooling. Because of this it is vital that we seize the opportunity to give parents more information about their student’s progress during this time. If we combine this with the fact that students who are successful at the primary grades are more likely to be successful in secondary grades it becomes even more important that we give parents as much information as possible, and simple letter grades on report cards don’t seem to be sufficient.

My question is: Should we increase the number of parent teacher conferences during the school year from two to at least four, at least in grades k-8 where parent attendance tends to be much higher? Typically we have one first semester and one second semester but we have report cards sent out every nine weeks. There also seems to be a trend of schools scrapping these conferences during the second semester. If parents are truly going to understand their students progress shouldn’t we as an institution of learning give parents the opportunity to get more frequent updates on their students progress? I will even go as far as saying that there should be a conference at the end of the year to give parents an update of potential problem areas for their students as they enter into the next school year. These would be more important as students move from elementary to intermediate/middle school and from middle school to high school.

 While this idea will certainly be met with some criticism; what about those parents who rarely, if ever, attend their students conferences, or the added time this would eat up for already over worked teachers, etc. My response to this would be that in the long run we should be working to give our students and their parents the greatest access to high quality information about student progress. By doing this more parents will better understand their students actual progress in school and this will lead to better parent support at home which will help schools in the long run.


I welcome any feedback that can be provided.

A Little Pick Me Up

I love to watch this a few times a year and I always send it out to teachers towards the end of the year as a way to reinvigorate them.

This is a powerful talk about what our perspective should be in education. Currently education has been under assault by the media, corporations, government, and many other entities and that often drains teachers of their emotional spirits. This is just the talk to refill that emotional self and get you through these dark times.

There are cynics among us educators, why they chose education is beyond me but nevertheless they are here. Watch this video and see what you should be doing and how you should be looking at your “difficult” students. Hopefully you will gain the perspective that I wish you would have had when you came into the profession, if you don’t it may be time to reevaluate you choice of career.

Difficult Students

I stumbled across this over the summer and really thought it had a lot of merit for students in schools today. Dr. Greene’s explanations in his videos seem so simple that I can’t believe this hasn’t become the focus in more schools. This picture is pretty powerful to me:

rgreentimeout-red_0

We are quick to blame parents, society, technology, etc. but where does that get us? Those are generally things we can’t control and as every great coach I have had has always told me, you need to focus on the things you can control and get better at those if you want to have any success. The bigger issue is that students do have Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems, boy do they have these. The better we are at focusing on these the more progress we are going to make with these students. It is a difficult transition but a worthy one when you are trying to make a difference in helping a student.

http://www.livesinthebalance.org/educators-schools

Go to the website and look around. Watch the videos: http://www.livesinthebalance.org/walking-tour-educators

They will change, for the better, your approach to difficult students. If you approach things with the attitude “kids do well if they can”your outlook on students will be infinitely better and so will your results.

Success

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

? Michelangelo

I love this quote because it works on a personal level as well as an expectation for students and athletes. It is hard to explain to kids that it’s ok to fail, because generally in doing so we become better. One big thing I always tried to convey to my wrestlers is that losses are only bad if we don’t learn anything from them. The same is true for falling short on goals, but if our goals are set high and we fall just short you can look back and see that you have made a lot of progress.

One thing I have been reading a lot about online revolves around teaching students that it’s ok to fail, as long as they can work to recover. I read this quote from Todd Whitaker – “My teacher thought I was smarter than I actually was. So I was.” It got me thinking about students and athletes who achieve above their level. You never see the people around them telling them they won’t achieve something. If telling a kid they can succeed at a higher level in sports motivates them to do better, why wouldn’t that also be true in the classroom?

We all know this is easier said than done, we live in a time where it seems like students subscribe to the Homer Simpson way of thinking, “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.” and “If something’s hard to do, then it’s not worth doing.” Many kids subscribe to this way of thinking because they are legitimately afraid that they will work hard and fail and failing at something is one of the worst things that can happen. So we have to work on changing the culture that surrounds failing. Setting low expectations allows students to “succeed” but achieve little. I once heard legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable talk to reporters about how he would approach coaching against Cael Sanderson in college. Some background on Cael, he is the only four time undefeated NCAA wrestling champion in history. Coach Gable’s thought process was fairly simple but hugely profound; he talked about finding someone who would accept the challenge of being the one who would knock off Sanderson. Knowing this would be a lofty goal they would have to push themselves tremendously for an entire year and in the end if they met Sanderson in the finals of the NCAA and lost they would still have accomplished being an NCAA runner up. They would have failed in their ultimate goal but who could argue with the results, could we really call an NCAA finalist a failure?

The take away for me is: Set your goals high, as high as rationally possible, and in the end look back on how far you have come and all that you have succeeded in. Can you really call yourself a failure?

Educational YouTube Channels

We all know the power technology can have in learning. Youtube is no exception; kids are constantly learning things on YouTube. From how to get past a certain level on a video game to where Johnny Manziel spent his weekend, it’s all on YouTube. But as teachers we don’t seem to share well. We often keep our resources to ourselves. We don’t not share because we are secretive or selfish but because others often don’t ask, which seems contrary to what we tell our students. This post is just a collection of YouTube channels I have used, or watched, and the classrooms they best serve. I know there are many more and I will update this list from time to time. Because there are so many I won’t go into detail about all of them and the details I do go into will just be a short description. I will provide a list of other channels at the end of the subject areas that I have found to be useful and engaging.

Crash Course: These channels get their own heading because they cover so many different subject areas and are all very well done and engaging.

Crash Course- If you comb the internet for videos about History it is hard to believe you haven’t come across Author John Green and his collection of AMAZING History videos. Crash Course World History and US History, and currently being added are World History 2 videos, don’t necessarily follow the traditional social studies curriculum. There is much more emphasis on critical thinking questions and looking at things through multiple perspectives, not just the winners. This is why these videos are so great. The purpose of history is to help students think and better understand the world they live in. John Green covers the purpose of learning history amazingly in the introduction to the first world history video. If you ever have students who ask you, “when am I ever going to need to know this,” play them this intro and talk with them about it.

Crash course also covers psychology with Hank Green, John’s brother, and is a great introduction to psychology for both high school and beginning college students.

Crash Course Science also covers a wide variety of topics; Chemistry, Biology, and Ecology. I was never really a science nut in high school but always understood its importance. These videos, also starring Hank Green, give students an engaging look into the world of science. If these would have been around while I was in school I would have been a much better science student.

Finally we get to Crash Couse Literature 1 and 2. Author John Green dives into a topic that often confuses students into hating reading classes. John’s look into how and why we read in the introduction of this series again helps answer the question of “why do we need to do this stuff in school.” This course breaks down some of the most widely covered books in schools and gives students other perspectives on how to look at these books. Like all the Green brothers series, these are great for middle school through beginning college students.

Social Studies:

VlogBrothers– Again, the minds of John and Hank Green are here to help us look at some complex social issues. The series is basically just the two brothers thinking out loud to each other but the topics covered can be used in a variety of different classrooms, especially social studies classrooms. Great for sociology and psychology classrooms, as well as history, government, economics, and basically any social studies classroom you are in or running.

Khan Academy– Great for a variety of topics; Economics, US History, and World History being the most applicable to most social studies classrooms. The economics videos I think are probably the most useful. Economics is often seen as a dry subject by most students but Sal Khan uses a great variety of real life applications making the material connect to the real world. He also breaks econ down into Micro an Macro, giving students in introductory classes a more specific look at the different types of economics they are covering.

CGP Grey- In these videos you explore some very important topics in great detail. CGP Grey uses some great illustrations and graphics to keep students engaged and the topics covered apply to a variety of social studies classes. Most CGP Grey videos are around the 5-7 minute range, long enough to deliver great content but short enough to keep students listening. Topics are often approached from a different angle than students are used to hearing giving them a different perspective on these topics.

WonderWhy- I stumbled across this channel just a few days ago and it does a great job covering topics in great detail while looking at big picture topics. While there isn’t a large collection of videos on this channel there seems to be more and more being added. WonderWhy Covers topics from all social studies courses, this is a resource I wish I knew about while I was both a student and a teacher.

HipHughesHistory- 

Science

YouTube has a ton of great science channels. I have listed some of my favorites below. SciShow is hosted by Hank Green and goes into a lot of detail about a wide variety of things. You really get to see some of the interesting things scientists look at and how science can be used in a variety of settings. Hank covers different influential scientists and their contributions along with very engaging videos about why the cinnamon challenge can kill you. The other science channels listed below are short videos that are informative and engaging. They look at science in the world around us and cover some very interesting topics that can be used in a variety of different classrooms, not just science.

SciShow, ASAPScience, MinutePhysics, MinuteEarth, Khan Academy

Math

Math is a subject that generally allows for multiple ways to get to the same answer and one style doesn’t always suit every student. YouTube has thousands of videos covering seemingly every math topic but the following are a few channels students can search to find solutions to most types of math problems they will see at all levels of math. I have included a few that try to bring a little more “character,” for lack of a better term, to math instruction.

Khan Academy – Includes the videos from the website covering topics from basic addition through calculus

PatrickJMT – 

Techmath – 

Mathantics – 

 

Channels that cover a variety of subject areas

Along with course specific channels there are a great variety of other channels out there that cover a wide variety of topics that would fit many different classroom subjects. The channels listed below are some that I have used in the past and really enjoyed, my students did as well.

TestTube, DNews, TED-Ed, TED Talks AND TEDx Talks, Khan Academy

As with any video you watch in class you should always preview each video prior to showing it to students. Some topics are more suitable for higher grade levels while other content you may not feel is class appropriate. You always need to be checking these things to make sure you are not getting into material not suitable for your grade levels and or students. As mentioned above I will continue to add to these and work on including better descriptions but every channel on here I have successfully used in my classroom or have worked with someone who has used the channel successfully in class. I will work on adding specific videos from channels that I feel are great for classrooms and give a brief description of how/why they should be included.

http://teacherswithapps.com/197-educational-youtube-channels-know/

This is a link to another article briefly covering a lot more youtube channels that would benefit both teachers and students.

What I learned this summer

As an educator and now administrator I have constantly worked to learn new things about education. Today’s access to technology has given educators access to so many great minds that learning new things seems to be getting easier every year. I spent a good portion of my “time off” trying to find new and better ways to incorporate technology into classrooms. I stumbled across so many great things I don’t know if I have the energy to write about all of them. Here is a short list of new things I will be working on incorporating into our school over the next school year:

Khan Academy

While I am not new to KA, I have used their videos for years, I am more convinced of the power this resource has. The data collected from just a few students over the summer has given me an incredible understanding of what information these students know and don’t know. Students come into classrooms today with a wide range of math skills. It’s hard to find a better, free, resource to help track that information to help guide your teaching. Parents can also log on and see their child’s progress, or lack thereof. This creates great information for future discussions about how students are performing in class.

http://www.khanacademy.org

Educreations

Where was this resource throughout my teaching career? This is one tool I really could have used to reach students, especially those students with attendance issues. The ability to make short videos with engaging visuals that you can store for years to come makes this resource something very valuable to schools, and it’s free as well!

http://www.educreations.com

Class Dojo

This classroom management tool gives teachers the ability to track behavior, both positive and negative, from their IPads or computers. This free tool is easy to use and now gives teachers the ability to share classes so you don’t have to take the time to put in every student for every class you teach. You can share each student’s information with their parents through email or parents can log in and see their students’ progress. We always talk about how much we would like parents to see what goes on with their students in the class and this is probably the next best thing to them sitting with their students. Another great way to keep parents involved and informed!

http://www.classdojo.com

Vocabulary.com

Ugh, another vocab list of words to remember? If I only had a dollar for every time I said this throughout middle school! Students often see vocab as another thing they have to cram for, regurgitate and forget. Vocabulary.com gives teachers and students the opportunity to make vocab an online activity, which generally sparks more interest in students. Teachers can share vocab lists with students or pick from the thousands of already public lists other teachers have created. These lists go with historical documents, books, and chapters and book units across all subject areas. As students correctly answer questions they make progress on word mastery as well as allocate points for their school. This could be a motivational tool trying to beat previous personal and school scores. Any way we can make vocab more like a game is probably going to get more students participating and lead to more student learning. There is also an app that can be purchased for students to work on the bus, in the car, or anywhere they can connect.

http://www.vocabulary.com

Blogs

Looking for a way to get students more interested about writing, have them blog. I was skeptical at first but found more information than I could digest about the success teachers have had with classroom blogs. The research shows that students write more and with better quality if they know more people are going to read their writing, especially if those people are their peers. My Big Campus gives students the opportunity to create those blogs so you don’t have to find any new resources to make this happen, but if you want to there are more websites than you can imagine available for you to use.

Hemingway app

Students regularly need feedback prior to handing in their writings and teachers are usually the only ones they go to for this feedback. Hemingwayapp.com gives students the opportunity to copy and paste their writings onto the website and get immediate feedback. Feedback is provided in the areas of readability, adverb use, use of passive voice are just a few of the areas they get instant feedback on. This can also be used as a tool for teachers to show students specific parts of their papers that are difficult to read or show examples of how their writings could be more polished.

http://www.hemingwayapp.com

Get Kahoot

Ever wish you could make review games that didn’t require you to spend hours making something that is never as engaging as you wanted it to be? GetKahoot.com helps you create those review games much quicker, saves them online, and keeps score for you. Along with other features GetKahoot.com gives you the opportunity to make more engaging classroom review games, discussions, and surveys. Now you don’t have to create teams where half the students aren’t playing, or only paying attention during their turn, because everyone in logged in and you can track everyone’s progress. Definitely a fun way to get students involved in the classroom.

Probably the best part about all these websites is that they are free. We all know there are lot of great things out there for educators but cost often prevents us from utilizing many of these resources. Access to free resources allows us to create a more engaging classroom, without straining already tight budgets.

Why I am teaching summer school with no grades, student work requirements, or pay and you should too

Learning is primarily a function of motivation and opportunity; the more you want something the harder you will work to get it and opportunity is something we rarely have a choice in. When you offer students a free opportunity to engage in summer learning with few requirements and tell them they can do as much or as little work as they want you cater to both motivation and opportunity.

Why no grades or work requirements

Summer learning should be about learning. There should be no stress involved and no fear of not achieving a desired result, if you learned something it was a success. One goal I have with this summer learning program is to teach students it’s okay to take a risk in your learning; getting something wrong helps you gain a better understanding. Grades often prevent students from taking these risks, because failure has consequences students often play it safe and give an answer they think the teacher wants instead of what the student really thinks or believes. By removing the grades from summer learning you give those motivated students the tools to gain deeper understanding and hopefully motivation to continue down this path.

Of course no grades will prevent many students from fully participating in this program; there are no consequences for not doing any work. Why does learning, or lack of, have to be punished? Our goal with our summer learning program is to let knowledge be the reward, if you want to gain some understanding and that makes you feel good about yourself then sign up and sign in. If you don’t want to “waste” your free time on school stuff then don’t, everything is purely up to the student and for the student’s benefit.

Why put in all this work for free

We all know teachers are not as compensated for their work as other professionals, the average teacher salary doesn’t match up with the average salary for people with equivalent levels of education but we knew that going into the profession. Technology has made programs like this easier, you can post a task for students online and you don’t have to worry about going to the copier or coming to school. Because there are no grades or deadlines you don’t have to input grades or many of the other non-teaching tasks that consume a large amount of our time outside of the classroom. As an administrator I don’t get the opportunity to teach students as often as I would like, which is a big factor in me deciding to do this, and I will always be a classroom teacher at heart. But the biggest reason for this is that anything our students learn over the summer will come back with them in the next school year and keep their brains in the learning mode. In a time where test scores determine whether or not administrators and teachers keep their jobs we may not be able to afford to not offer a program like this.

Potential problems

Many people will say that this is a program with will only cater to the motivated student who is already at the top of their class and that will be the case for most of the students. For that my argument would be; should we stop catering to the students who still want to learn in the summer? Do we tell students they are too smart and we don’t have time for them because we have to focus on students who don’t perform as well academically? We should continue to offer education to anyone who wants it regardless of their academic levels. We spend a large amount of time on remediation, and we should. Students who are struggling need opportunities to succeed. But if we make the content interesting and relatable to students we may also pull in some of those students who struggle simply because “school is boring.” Many students fall behind not because of ability level but because they don’t see the merit in learning the material at the time and don’t realize the impacts it has on future academic success. This is why we have learning modules set up with experiments, movies, youtube, and a variety of things students rarely get to do in class because of the pressures of state mandated testing. If students can make a connection to learning in the summer that may bring them in with a more positive outlook in the fall and that brings us back to, can we afford to not be doing this?

What does your school offer in the summer in terms of learning programs? Please leave your ideas, thoughts, and (constructive!!) comments below.

Summer work

Just as we know that students will lose knowledge over the summer we should expect that we as educators will lose some of our classroom knowledge during that time as well. Every year many of us come back to the classroom and it takes a few weeks to get back into the routine and during that time we struggle to keep students engaged and set a poor tone for the classroom that we will spend weeks working to correct. We tell students and parents that success lies in continuing to work over the summer to stay fresh on skills and prevent summer learning loss. As educators we should at the very minimum hold ourselves to the same standard and spend time over the summer searching for new ideas and classroom techniques, both teaching and management, to keep our teaching from suffering this same summer loss. Here are a few classroom management tools I have come across in the past few months that I believe would help any teacher, especially younger ones who struggle with classroom management.

http://www.classdojo.com

http://www.sharpclass.com

Both are free resources that give teachers the ability to track behavior, both positive and negative, contact parents, and provide other various classroom management tools to help teachers, students, and parents keep up with what is going on in the classroom.