Getting Started with PBL: Do ONE Thing Really Well

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“Success demands singleness of purpose.”

~ Gary Kelly, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

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I recently read The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Kelly and was struck by its beautiful simplicity. Kelly posits when we try to do too many things at once, we’re highly unlikely to do anything well; and rather we “need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.”

Now if you’re in the field of education, you may have just read that quote and wondered if Kelly was sitting around your last staff meeting, or maybe even rhetorically asked yourself if he was mocking the last district initiative memo you received.

As teachers fighting to survive the rapidly changing educational landscape, we’ve all experienced feeling like we’re asked to do too many things, and as a result, do few things (maybe some days, even zero things) well. As an educator supporting teachers through project-based learning (PBL) implementation, I see this strife far too often.

How might we use Kelly’s logic to go about doing PBL with fidelity and quality? And not lose our teachers through the process?

Well, let’s just do ONE thing and do it well!

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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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Tch Tips: Is Peer Teaching on Your Classroom Menu?

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There’s no doubt that expectations for student achievement have increased exponentially over the past two decades. To help students meet these expectations, schools have shifted to more evidence-based strategies, like peer teaching.

Peer teaching isn’t a single strategy — it is a full menu of learning techniques that can enhance student achievement, content knowledge, and student engagement. However, peer teaching can also be problematic for teachers, because employing this particular method means that students will be teaching each other.

You might be thinking…

  • My students aren’t experts. How can they teach this content to one another?
  • What if they teach and learn the information incorrectly? Even if they do get it right, will the learning be superficial?
  • What if parents bristle at the idea of students learning from students when the stakes are so high for student assessment?
  • What about my professional responsibility? I’m the teacher, after all. Isn’t teaching my job?

All of these are valid concerns and worthy of some debate. But equally valid is the wealth of research that shows peer teaching works.

Are you ready to explore peer teaching in your classroom?

Whether you’re ready for just a taste or a full menu of strategies, we’ve got something for you to try!
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Five Assessment Myths and Misunderstandings

Tchers' Voice: Great ideas from passionate educators just like you

Walking around the classroom, clipboard in hand, I moved as quickly as possible, diligently checking for homework completion, assigning five points to those who had it done, two-and-a-half to those who had it partially done, and zero to those who didn’t do it. It was super scientific and truly measured learning… (he says sarcastically).

Luckily for my students, since then I’ve grown quite a bit in my understanding of assessment practices, and as I look back at them over the past 14 years, it’s not with disgust (although that would be justified at times), but with hope — and the knowledge that change is possible. I author this piece not to judge current practices, but in the hopes that some of the ideas below might shed new light on ways to take a fresh approach to assessment, and improve learning for all students.

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Teachers Who Stay Connected Teach Longer

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As a new teacher, the demands of the career can be overwhelming at times. During my first year of teaching, I felt alone and I was unsure about whether I was doing a good job. So I turned to the internet, and I was both surprised and delighted to find that there was a bustling teacher community around every corner.

Building community is essential for teachers to feel connected, supported, and to share their ideas with peers. And when teachers feel heard and supported, they’ll be more satisfied with their career and more likely to stay in the classroom with the kids who need them. If you’re a teacher with a strong support system, online communities and social networks can be a welcome addition. But if you feel a little more like you’ve been making a go of it alone, these spaces can be a much-needed lifeline.

Teacher blogs, Facebook groups, and Twitter are three online resources that have helped me to stay connected, engaged, inspired, and to continue learning with a community of like-minded educators.

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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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PodcastPodcastTch Talks 24: Inviting Curiosity and Socratic Questioning Into The Classroom

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What are the questions that your students carry inside of them but rarely ever discuss?

2015 National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples wanted to find out. What started as a small idea or strategy to help students build empathy transformed into nearly 15 years of work helping children — and adults — voice the questions they carry inside them. On this episode of Tch Talks, Shanna talks about why it’s important for both students and teachers to “Think Like Socrates,” to allow students to take ownership of their own learning through authentic questions, and to leverage student questions as learning experiences that develop critical thinking.

For Shanna, curiosity is key, and allowing students to own their learning through creating questions is the most fundamental change a teacher can make in their teaching practice. Listen in to find out more.

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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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Five Strategies to Add to Your Coaching Toolbox

Tch Deep Dives: Coaching

Whether you’re teaching or coaching, it’s easy to get into a rut. But these five videos are here to help! Clocking in at just five minutes each, these videos will expand your ideas about what coaching can be and push you to try new strategies.

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Getting Better Together: Collaborating Around Instructional Priorities

Getting Better Together

It’s nearly impossible to put into words what educators feel when the bell rings on the final day of school. The sheer joy of entering into weeks of bell-free, kid-free, and paper-free days alone is almost worth entering into the profession. In June, the new school year seems so far away. But, August does come. And we find ourselves at the beginning of the cycle all over again. Even more, we find ourselves hitting pause each January to reflect and adjust our course.

The school year begins to come into perspective for me after the baseball all-star game and before the start of NFL training camps (can you tell that I’m a sports fan?). After July 15th, August comes into sharp focus for educators across the country. However, if you waited until July to actually begin preparations for the new year, you might’ve been feeling a little pressure.

And now in January, it might feel like you’re starting all over again, as you revisit and reflect on the progress you’ve made so far and forge onward with your new and improved plans for the second half of the year. But no matter where you are in your planning and preparation, collaboration is a very important part of starting — and finishing — strong.

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