A Measure, Not THE Measure

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nfl catchNFL scouts use a spider graph to assess prospective wide receivers on twelve elements they deem important to success in the league. Those elements include height, weight, arm length, hand size, 10-yard dash, 40-yard dash, bench press, broad jump, cone drill, 20-yard shuttle, and 60-yard shuttle.   During a presentation at the ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership last October, Myron Dueck reviewed the spider graphs and actual game statistics of three top ten picks and one 63rd round pick. Interestingly, the 63rd round pick had the worst spider graph, but the best game performance statistics during his first few seasons in the NFL. Dueck went on to explain that the spider graph was A measure, but not necessarily THE measure of success in the NFL for these players.   The spider graph cannot measure all the intangibles, such as work ethic and sheer determination, necessary to be successful.

The same holds true for educators.  Nearly every state employs some type of standardized test for its students and reports the results publicly.  This represents A measure, but not necessarily THE measure of success for our schools. Is this good information to know? Absolutely. We need to know how our students are doing on these state assessments, and we need to continue to improve our pedagogy and practices in order to give students the opportunity to perform well on these assessments. Is the state test the only measure we should use? Absolutely not. We must be continually mindful of the fact that our students will continue to learn and grow in our schools, because of our efforts and their own grit.

All across the country on a school day, students and teachers will bee engaged in a variety of activities. Students and teachers will be laughing and enjoying their work. They will be in safe facilities.   These are the successes that cannot be quantified by the state assessment.

Keep up the great work! You are making a huge difference in the lives of our students!!

Does Classroom Dialogue Make A Difference For Student Learning?

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classroom dialougueOften attributed to the philosopher and teacher Socrates, classroom dialogue, whether teacher to student or student to student, has been considered essential pedagogy for centuries. Even as we move boldly into the 21st century and focus on communication as an essential skill, we continue to acknowledge the importance of dialogue in the classroom. Does it really make a difference in student learning?

University of Cambridge researchers Christine Howe, Sara Hennessy, Neil Mercer, Maria Vrikki, and Lisa Wheatley conducted a study to find out the answer. To determine an answer, the team filmed 72 classrooms of 10 to 11 year-old students in a variety of urban and rural settings. The total number of students observed was 1700. Classroom dialogue was analyzed and standardized achievement data from the 1700 students was analyzed. The major findings indicated three aspects of dialogue that strongly predicted performance on the standardized tests administered:

  1. Elaboration – Students who were encouraged to elaborate and build upon prior knowledge or others’ ideas fared better on the standardized exams.
  2. Questioning – Students who were encouraged to question and reason fared better on the standardized exams.
  3. Student participation – Classrooms where student participation was high produced students who fared better on the standardized exams.

To learn more about the study, visit http://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/classroomdialouge/. As you prepare for your classroom next week, find ways to encourage elaboration, encourage questioning, and encourage student participation. You and your students will benefit greatly!

Let My Students Think

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child thinkingThink time is an important part of the communication process that is often overlooked in planning. Those periods of silence in the flow of a lesson can be awkward for students and teachers alike, but those moments of thought can yield tremendous insights from students.

What should a teacher do during the silence of a student in thought? In her article All the Time They Need, author Ellin Oliver Keene writes about using think time with students who are learning English as a second language. The following suggestions for those quiet pauses for reflection can be used with all students (Keene, E. O. (2014). All the Time They Need, Educational Leadership, 72(3), 66-71):

  1. Restate a question or comment the student previously made
  2. Tell other students you respect the thought time
  3. Offer the student an opportunity to review something related to the question
  4. Ask all students to quietly reread the text in question
  5. Use silent signals (i.e. lowering your hand, thinking pose) to encourage other students to lower their hands and wait
  6. Ask students to write down comments or questions to be included later in the dialogue

Giving individual students time to think in the communication process can help other students develop their thoughts as well. Over time, silent thought will become the norm and students will begin to use it independently. As you prepare for next week, plan for a little quiet space in student communication opportunities. You and your students will benefit greatly!

Thinking About Communication Opportunities

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students work togetherStudents need the opportunity to practice communication skills in the classroom. If you are having difficulty coming up with communication-type activities for your students, the following list may help:

Oral Communication

  1. “How To” Speeches – Let the students teach you something like making a peanut butter sandwich or tying shoes. These are more powerful when a student tells you how to do something and you must comply verbatim on the spot. Students will very quickly see which details they left out.
  2. The Elevator Speech – Students have an elevator ride (usually 30 seconds or so) to introduce themselves or their ideas. They have to be specific and succinct.
  3. Give A Famous Speech – Students simply give a famous speech (or segment). Try Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

Written Communication

  1. Print Ads, Posters, and Flyers – Have students develop written print media to support their speeches.
  2. Essays, White Papers, and Research – Have students pick a topic of interest and write, write, write!
  3. Questions – Have students write questions during presentations and use those to guide further discussion and/or research.

Interpersonal Communication

  1. Dear Sir or Madam – Have students write letters or emails to one another, other teachers, or places of interest.
  2. Develop Collaborative Teams – Have students work together on projects and presentations, so that they learn to communicate well with others.
  3. Practice active listening – Teach students to engage in active listening through eye contact, nonverbal cues, and restatement of the ideas articulated.

The possibilities for student communication in the classroom are endless. This list was informed and inspired by the work of Alexandra D. Owens’ article Building Communication Skills in Your 21st Century Classroom (http://edu.stemjobs.com/developing-21st-century-skills-communication). Generate your own list and start exploring communication with your students.

How Did You Get That?

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student math discourseClassroom dialogue can be a powerful tool for student learning in all grade levels and content concentrations, particularly when student ideas are central focus. Teachers need to create safe spaces for such dialogue by providing structure and goals for student talk.

In the article Talking About Math, authors Allison Hintz and Elham Kazemi share the following strategies for guiding student discussions in the classroom (Hintz, A. & Hazemi, E. (2014). Talking About Math, Educational Leadership, 72(3), 36-40):

  1. Open Sharing. Open sharing strategy generates many possibilities for solutions. Students are asked to listen carefully, make sense of a variety of strategies, analyze the ideas of others, and determine if their own solution is similar or different to others. A key question within this strategy is, “Did anyone reach a solution a different way?”
  2. Targeted Sharing. Targeted sharing strategy guides students toward a single solution through the use of specific goals, defining and using key terms, or challenging and revising an incorrect solution. Students listen carefully and contribute in ways that lead to a consensus regarding a solution.

Open sharing and targeted sharing can be employed in a variety of content settings with careful planning. Think about these strategies as you prepare for the upcoming week. Try them a few times and see what comes from the discussions that arise.

Creating A Communicative Climate

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students communicating

Students frequently engage in energetic chatter within the classroom; however, that chatter is often idle. A wise teacher will channel student energy and dialogue in meaningful ways. Authors Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey suggest the following to create a classroom that is “driven by discussion, rather than distraction” (Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2014). Speaking Volumes. Educational Leadership, 72(3), 18-23):

  1. Offer meaningful and complex tasks. Students need clarity regarding the task itself and why it is important as it relates to overall learning goals. If students understand these matters, they are more likely to remain on task.
  2. Model behavioral clues. Nonverbal communication is a valuable part of the communication process. Gestures, body position, eye contact, and nodding invite and foster communication.
  3. Encourage argumentation, not arguing. Teach students to provide evidence to support and justify their claims. Teach students to question in ways that offer disagreement without being disagreeable. Hold all students accountable for what they bring into the discussion.
  4. Provide language support. Students often have ideas and struggle to express them. Providing sentence frames, word walls, audio devices, and/or peer support can help.
  5. Listen, question, prompt, and cue. Thoughtful monitoring provides students with feedback and opportunities for future growth.

Carefully consider these elements as you plan for student dialogue in your classroom. You and your students will be glad you did!

Standing On Your PV LEGS

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Greater_flamingos_at_KutchOral communication has been a primary means of sharing information since mankind developed language. Because of the innate nature of speaking, many educators operate under the assumption that students enter the classroom with the skills necessary to competently employ speaking and listening skills; however, this is not the case. If students are to speak effectively, schools must teach them to do so.

In his book, Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking Skills to All Students, Erik Palmer suggests using a school-wide framework for improving student speaking skills. The framework consists of a mnemonic – PV LEGS – to help students understand the important elements of effective communication:

  1. P – Poise – Appear calm and confident. Help students identify and eliminate those things that make a speaker appear nervous, such as repeated words, tugging at sleeves, fidgeting, and similar behaviors.
  2. V – Voice – Make every word heard. Help students understand the importance of projection and articulation.
  3. L – Life – Put passion into your voice. The energy supplied by vocal inflection can dramatically improve the impact of a speech. Help students improve by providing them with a few sentences to practice with their classmates.
  4. E – Eye Contact – Visually engage each listener. Eye contact invites others to be present in the experience and actively engage in listening.
  5. G – Gestures – Make motions match your words. Nonverbal communication cues can further enhance a speech and make it more appealing for audience members.
  6. Speed – Adjust your pace for a powerful performance. Provide students with examples of powerful speeches and note the changes in speed employed by the speakers.

Think about how PV LEGS might be incorporated into your classroom and prepare a few opportunities for students to practice and improve. Your students will become better speakers because of your efforts!