If You Aren’t Frustrated, You Aren’t Learning: Flipping the “I Do, We Do, You Do” Strategy

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Since my very first day of teaching, I’ve always preferred to focus on the hope of what students can do as opposed to the fear of what they cannot. Of course, there are limits to what any human realistically can or cannot do, but I’m increasingly frustrated by the all-too-often teacher reply of, “But my students can’t do that” when discussing changes in curriculum or creation of common assessments. However, until about seven years ago, one of my most consistent approaches to teaching was inherently grounded in a version of this very sentiment I loathed — it was just slightly softened to become, “But my students can’t do that… without my help.”

It was with this unconscious mindset that I so often employed the “I Do, We Do, You Do” strategy, providing students with a safe pathway for growth and learning through imitation. I would supportively guide students through my own thinking before letting them work with a partner or in a group to further their understanding, before finally allowing them to try the skill on their own.

And then I read it…

“Mr. Bronke’s class is great. As long as you follow all the examples he gives, it is a really easy class.”

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I still remember the very moment that these two simple sentences permanently pierced my teaching soul. I’d volunteered to let a previous district in which I taught test out a possible student survey, and this was some of the feedback I received.

Now in the grand scheme of feedback students can and do give, this really wasn’t a bad thing; in fact, it was a compliment on many levels — the student liked my class and found he could be successful in it. Some might say, “Isn’t that the goal of teaching?” However, I’ve never wanted student learning to be “easy” in my class.

I spent that summer reflecting upon my approach to instruction, thinking of ways to make my class more of a challenge, and that’s when it hit me,

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“I need to make learning messier, less controlled, and more student-centered; in short, I need to get out of the way.”

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The Adolescent Brain: A Big Gulp Of Executive Function

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I wrote the book Attack of the Teenage Brain! Understanding and Supporting the Weird and Wonderful Adolescent Learner, because of an advocacy bias: as a neuroscientist, I felt educators should have detailed knowledge about a cognitive gadget called executive function (EF). The reason? The Attack of the Teenage Brain Book Coverpower it holds over the academic lives of teenagers. It’s like cognitive Red Bull. What EF is, and how to boost it, is the fleshing-out of this bias and the subject of this blog post.

What Is Executive Function?

Executive function is defined in different ways by different researchers. It goes by many names, from attention-shifting to self-control. Most researchers agree on two defining components to the gadget: cognitive control, which really does involve attentional states, and emotional regulation, which include behaviors like impulse control.

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What does Executive Function Have To Do With Educating Teenagers?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that EF plays an outsize role in their academic performance. It’s also outsized in shaping socializing behavior — and EF dysfunction may mediate many adolescent psychopathologies. That’s the reason for my advocacy. Here’s how researcher Roy Baumeister describes the impact of EF (which he calls self-control) on student performance:

“When researchers compared students’ grades with nearly three dozen personality traits, self-control turned out to be the only trait that predicted a college student’s grade-point average better than chance. Self-control also proved to be a better predictor of college grades than the student’s IQ or SAT score.”

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That’s quite a thing to say. Given its academic effervescence, a logical question bubbles up: What activities improve Executive Function?
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All-School Read: Building Community & Promoting Understanding

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In the spring of 2017, our middle school experienced an eruption of racist slurs and hate speech, from swastikas drawn on the cheeks of unsuspecting students at lunch, to “KKK” mysteriously appearing on the Google image linked with our school’s website. And we were not the only ones. Newspaper headlines highlighting intolerance at schools were popping up all over the country.

Our school community felt broken, and we knew we needed to do something. One idea kept coming up: an all-school read, where every student, teacher, and staff member reads the same book at the same time. We already knew that stories help readers develop empathy. Having everyone read the same story at the same time seemed the perfect opportunity to build school community and promote understanding.

With only a couple months left in the school year, we set our sights on the fall of 2017.

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Does the Language You Use Limit Your Learning Environment?

Does the Language You Use Limit Your Learning Environment?

I have long been skeptical of the “One Word” promises made at the turn of the new year.

On one hand, I totally get it; it’s an efficient way to stay focused on personal improvement. And like any goal setting, focus is essential to success; we often try to do too much with our goals — personally and professionally. In that respect, I see the value. However, the scope of one word seems, in some ways, too focused. I’ve struggled to see how a one-word focus would truly help me become a better me, a better teacher. But with this said, I also had no suggestion for a different approach.

So, as 2017 faded into the cold and dreary new year backdrop of 2018, I sat down to do my usual new year reflection and goal setting, resigning myself to this seemingly too-narrow approach for lack of a more effective strategy. It was while I scribbled in my writer’s notebook, jotting down key words and phrases that captured elements of my personal and professional growth that I hope to see improve in 2018, when the music in the background, which is always playing when I write, shuffled to a different song, grabbing my attention in a way it never had before. Having heard this song well over 100 times already, I couldn’t believe the way it was now inspiring my goal setting.

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Tch Talks 23: School Startup to Curio: Redesigning Deeper Learning

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When teachers solve problems, they inspire their students to solve problems, too. How can teachers use their best strategies as a launching pad for deeper learning and professional growth? And how can curiosity, co-creation, and collaboration before a lesson idea is formed be a game-changer for classroom practice?

On this episode of Tch Talks, Ashley Lamb-Sinclair, Instructional Specialist and Deeper Learning Coach for Fern Creek High School in Louisville, Kentucky and 2016 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, joins us to talk about her work with School Startup. This pilot program is where three cohorts of Teacher-Founders are engaged in the design process to rethink and redesign deeper learning in their classrooms and professional learning communities.

She also shares her recent adventures as founder and CEO of Curio Learning, an app that helps teachers discover new ideas and curate them in a personalized way. The app also facilitates collaboration with other educators in order for them to grow as professionals and find the ways to best help their students.

Ashley believes that if every teacher woke up to the awesome influence he or she has, there would be a drastic overhaul of the system and that — bottom line — it takes a teacher to transform learning.

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Tch Talks 22: Intention & Critical Creativity in the Classroom

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What is Critical Creativity?

To Dan Ryder and Amy Burval, critical creativity is “students using creative expression to demonstrate deeper thinking and the nuances of understanding content.” It’s a portmanteau of sorts, which has the potential to turn ideas into action and push your students toward deeper learning and meaningful understanding.

Dan and Amy believe that, “When students make connections, transform knowledge, and articulate the reasons behind their creative choices, learning becomes more sticky, meaningful, and authentic.” Articulation of creative reasoning is key, because as students learn the power of explanation, rationale, and intentionality, they shift from passive pupils along for the ride to active drivers of their own learning. And the best part of this shift is that it occurs in the midst of purposeful play.

On this episode of Tch Talks, Dan Ryder, Education Director of the Success and Innovation Center at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, Maine, joins us to talk about his and Amy’s new book, Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom, and how a little rigorous whimsy can help you transform learning in your classroom right now.

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Tchers’ Voice: Top Blog Posts of 2017

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Each year, Teaching Channel has the pleasure of publishing great ideas, thoughtful reflections, and helpful advice from our community of educators in our Tchers’ Voice blog. This year was no exception! We published posts from writers across the country, covering topics from classroom management to the solar eclipse. In case you missed any of these amazing posts, here’s a wrap up of our top reads.

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Happy Hallow–STEAM!

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Halloween can be a scary time of year for educators SmartBrief Ed Choice Award

— candy, costumes, calamity — oh my!

In this season of changing leaves, could it be time to change our mindsets as well? Can we turn the season of “boo” into a season of “oooh” in our classrooms this fall?

Here are some ideas on how to use the crispness of autumn and some tasty candy sensations to sweeten some lessons for your students this Halloween.

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I Want to Get Better at… Organization Next Year

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The daily craziness of being a teacher can make it hard to stay organized. Just when you’ve got your desk cleared off, stacks of papers come flying in. Or right after you spent time tidying up, in come students to mess everything up again.

This summer, you won’t have students in your classroom. You won’t even be in your classroom! But that doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking about how to make classroom organization go more smoothly next year. In fact, taking a step back and planning systems that work can be more productive than acting reactively to every pile of papers.

If you’re looking to get better at organization, these resources can help!

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