Getting to Rigor through Webb’s Depth of Knowledge

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deep thinkingStudents need access to academic rigor throughout their content experiences. Many teachers have worked to embed higher order thinking by planning with Bloom’s taxonomy in mind. In her article Pursuing the Depths of Knowledge, Nancy Boyles encourages teachers to examine Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and provides direct links to the rigor available in each level (pp. 46-50):

  1. Recall and Reproduction: Students use facts to answer simple questions using sources available to them. The rigor is found in students choosing the very best evidence to support their responses.
  2. Skills and Concepts: Students employ some decision making regarding how to approach the problem or activity. The rigor is found in students achieving independence with the skill.
  3. Strategic Thinking and Reasoning: Students use logic and evidence to think more abstractly about responses. The rigor is found in the quality of student insights.
  4. Extended Thinking: Students integrate information from multiple sources to create responses. The rigor is found in students creating multiple connection points for greater levels of understanding.

As you plan for the final quarter of the school year, think about ways that you can employ Webb’s depth of knowledge to help your students dig deeper into their understanding.

For more information from the article, please see the October 2016 issue of Educational Leadership published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Practicing Self-Care

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relaxingAs educators, we spend our time and energy providing for the needs of our students. Many times our efforts come at the expense of our own well-being. During our school day, week, and year, we need to build and rebuild our emotional energy to be most effective. In her book Engage the Brain: How to Design for Learning That Taps Into the Power of Emotion, author Allison Posey recommends the following to rejuvenate us (pp. 145-152):

  1. Relax.  It’s okay to take time for yourself during your workday. When the students head to recess or to a special class, take five minutes for yourself. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and let the stresses go, even if just for a few minutes.
  2. Eat lunch. Go to your staff room and have lunch with other adults in the building. The break from your room and the interaction you have with others can restore some energy.
  3. Collaborate.  Work with other teachers on your projects. Seek help from others when you need it.
  4. Do something silly. When with the teachers or students, break the monotony with something unexpected and fun.
  5. Laugh.  Find and tell school-appropriate jokes to your class or your colleagues.

In addition to the suggestions from the book, I would recommend you do your best to remind yourself regularly that you have the greatest job in the world. You get to connect with students and make a significant positive impact on their lives. That makes you someone very special!!

Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation

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SelfDeterminationTheoryMany years ago when I was an elementary music teacher, I challenged students in my 4th grade classes to compose and record original works for a grant-funded project. One particular student became more engaged than his peers. He asked if he could give up recess time and come to my room to work. He asked if he could stay after school to work. He used every free minute available during the day to work on his project. The level of intrinsic motivation displayed was quite remarkable.

How can we help all students reach this level of intrinsic motivation? In her book Engage the Brain: How to Design for Learning That Taps Into the Power of Emotion, author Allison Posey recommends bringing Self-determination Theory and its three core components into our classrooms (pp. 133-137):

  1. Competency (the sense of effectiveness and making progress): Break long-term goals into smaller chunks to create opportunities for “wins” throughout your projects. Give specific, process-based feedback about the progress students are making. Encourage students. Let your words reflect your belief that students can achieve. Have students report their progress.
  2. Relatedness (the interaction and connection among people and the learning environment): Interact with students as they enter and exit the classroom. Give students clear expectation for times of group collaboration. Create opportunities for peer-to-peer feedback. Have fun. Laughter builds community. Share your experiences as a learner. Embrace and celebrate the diversity present in your classroom.
  3. Autonomy (the sense of independence and choice): Create options for learners to develop their own learning path. Create many opportunities for engagement, representation, action, and expression. Reflect with students. Let them talk about the choices they made to improve their progress and learning.

As you prepare for next week, think of ways that you can incorporate Self-determination Theory into your classroom. You and your students will be glad you did!

Roadmap to Working Memory

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Chicago Road SignsWhen I was a superintendent in downstate Illinois, I often had to travel to meetings in downtown Chicago. The interstate system that leads into downtown is expansive and filled with signage to help the driver navigate safely toward the destination. In addition to the signage, the fine folks of that area are always willing to honk and point when you’re not quite sure where you’re going! The visual and aural stimuli can cause cognitive overload.

Many students in your classroom experience similar overload when navigating your curriculum and content activities. Some need extra visual prompts to help them access and add to their working memory. Others need extra verbal prompts to help them access and add to their working memory. Ultimately, all students need a traffic officer – executive functioning – to fully access and add to their working memory. In her book Engage the Brain: How to Design for Learning That Taps Into the Power of Emotion, author Allison Posey shares some strategies for helping support each of these areas (pp. 108-114):

  1. The Visual Traffic Lane: Provide worked examples so students can see what is expected, the process, and outcome. Display concept maps or flowcharts. Include choices such as drawings, making models, or constructing diagrams.
  2. The Aural Traffic Lane: Provide time for verbal rehearsal of information via discussions, peer teaching, skits, or talk-alouds. Employ “turn and talk” or “I do, we do, you do” methodologies. Give students opportunities to explain more.
  3. The Executive Traffic Officer: Chunk information. Break long-term goals into short-term goals. Preview concepts, ideas, and vocabulary. Highlight reading assignments and focus on the important information. Provide descriptors, charts, graphs, or images.

Look at all the items you have planned for next week. Do you see areas of possible cognitive overload? If so, put together a roadmap that includes extra visual, aural, and executive support for your students. They will be very glad you took the time to do so!

Grabbing Attention

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attentionStudents need to be fully engaged in order to maximize the value of each learning opportunity. In her book Engage the Brain: How to Design for Learning That Taps Into the Power of Emotion, author Allison Posey shares the following tips teachers can use to captivate student attention on student learning goals (p. 86):

  1. Provide clearly articulated focus goals for students, so they know where to turn their attention. This alone may be the most powerful engagement tool in your arsenal.
  2. Start class with a thought-provoking question, image, current event, musical selection, or prompt related to the topic or goal for the day.
  3. Have students participate in lesson design in order to make overt connections between content and real life.
  4. Reinforce key information by using visual cues in a variety of colors, fonts, and sizes, or reinforce key information with auditory cues in a variety of rhymes, rhythms, alliterations, or stories.
  5. Employ a variety of activities, such as turn-pair-share, three-minute pause, and/or draw it, to break up lecture and engage learners.

There are many ways to grab students’ attention and engage them in their learning. As you plan for next week, think about how you could use these tips or the many other ways you know to attract and hold student attention. Write these attention-getters into your plans, so that your use of them is intentional and systematic. You and your students will be glad you did!

Brain Building

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working on a brainMany people have probably heard someone say they were “right brained” or “left brained.” While it is true that some portions of the brain are more active during some processes, advances in medical imaging have shown that the entire brain is engaged at some level in all processing. Such a finding, coupled with the knowledge that the brain has a high degree of plasticity, strengthens the idea that teachers can truly build the brains of their students.

In her book Engage the Brain: How to Design for Learning That Taps Into the Power of Emotion, author Allison Posey shares that neural networks grow and are strengthened through hard work, experience, practice, and quality feedback. Posey suggests the following strategies for creating a brain growing classroom environment (p. 66):

  1. Establish clear learning goals. Be specific. Make the goal easily understood by students.
  2. Create multiple opportunities and pathways for skill development. Scaffold as needed.
  3. Offer frequent feedback that is clearly related to the learning goal. Be specific!
  4. Make the learning process visible. Create displays of work in progress.
  5. Emphasize multiple pathways to the goal. Highlight how others are working toward the goal. Allow for variety.
  6. Create opportunities for students to share their processes with others.

As you plan for next week, think of ways that you can employ some of these strategies more fully in order to create a growth environment for your students. You and your students will benefit greatly!

Designing for Variability in the Classroom

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new udl guidelinesWhen you look around your classroom, you readily see the variability present in your students. Some are students are tall, while other students are short. Some students have long hair, while other students have short hair. Some students are heavier in build, while other students are thinner in build. What you cannot see is the existing variability in brain physiology and neural networking.

How do teachers create learning opportunities that provide for the diverse needs present in the classroom? ? In her book Engage the Brain: How to Design for Learning That Taps Into the Power of Emotion, author Allison Posey proposes implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (pp. 33 et seq.). UDL comes from the Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST) and operates under the following framework guidelines:

  1. The WHY of Learning: Provide multiple means of engagement, including options for interest, sustaining effort, persistence, and self-regulation.
  2. The WHAT of Learning: Provide multiple means of representation, including options for perception, language, symbols, and comprehension.
  3. The HOW of Learning: Provide multiple means of action and expression, including options for physical action, expression, communication, and executive functioning.

As you prepare for next week, take a few minutes to review the UDL guidelines at Think of ways that you can increase variability in the classroom activities you have prepared for your students. In the end, you and your students will benefit greatly!