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!

The Goldilocks “Just Right” Paradigm in Classrooms

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goldilocks_frontIn the classic tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” Goldilocks searches for the “just right” porridge, chair, and bed. Upon finding that which was most satisfying, Goldilocks happily undertakes eating, sitting, and resting.

Within each of our students (and ourselves!) is a cognitive “just right” for undertaking learning tasks. If a task is too easy, boredom sets in. If a task is too difficult, avoidance takes place. So how do classroom teachers design tasks and environments that allow for those “just right” moments? In her book Engage the Brain: How to Design for Learning That Taps Into the Power of Emotion, author Allison Posey shares a three-component design model to activate the physiology necessary for learning (pp. 9-20):

  1. Offer a clear goal. Provide a statement related to what a student is to do or deliver as a result of undertaking the task. Include the skills and sub-skills to be demonstrated by the deliverable.
  2. Offer a relevant connection. Clearly identify why the task matters while making overt linkage to the greater purpose and meaningful connections for students.
  3. Offer choices. Provide at least two choices, so that students can process the task and choose the path that will allow that “just right” fit for them.

As you plan for next week, examine the tasks you want your students to accomplish. Are they clearly articulated? Do students really know what they are to do? Are the tasks relevant? Do students see how they connect to their own lives? Are there choices available? Can students pick a path that offers them a “just right” learning experience? If not, make some adjustments. You and your students will benefit greatly from your efforts!

Applying Brain Science to Teaching and Learning

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brain imageToday we know more about the brain and cognition than any prior generation of educators thanks to developments in technology and research. In her book Engage the Brain: How to Design for Learning That Taps Into the Power of Emotion, author Allison Posey notes the following findings from brain research (p. 8):

  1. Emotions are central for learning.
  2. There exists tremendous range and variability regarding how individuals learn, and there exists tremendous variability within individuals themselves at different times.
  3. The brain is malleable thanks to tremendous plasticity, and it can undergo change based upon interactions with the environment.
  4. Experiences matter in learning.

How do teachers create environments that maximize brain engagement and learning? Posey provides the following six approaches to tap into emotion to maximize learning (pp. 4-5):

  1. Activate the physiology by making clear and relevant learning goals.
  2. Employ UDL (Universal Design for Learning) concepts to maximize variability.
  3. Foster the development of brain networks by modeling, reflecting, and providing feedback.
  4. Enhance attention by employing routines, novelty, and autonomy effectively.
  5. Scaffold memory by making multi-sensory and emotional connections.
  6. Apply Flow Theory and Self-Determination Theory to help students intrinsically motivate.

Over the next few weeks we will examine these six approaches more thoroughly. Increasing your own awareness of these areas and applying the new information to your own practices will be very rewarding for you and your students alike.

Coaching in the Classroom

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Project based teaching creates opportunities for teachers to take on more of a coaching role than traditional teaching. Such coaching is often student-centered, focusing on student strengths while finding ways to overcome student weaknesses. The teacher, operating within his/her content expertise, encourages, motivates, and helps students develop skills, confidence, and competence (Boss, 2018). In her book Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences, author Suzie Boss shares the following regarding engaging and coaching students (pp. 160-161):

  1. Know your students. Use your knowledge of students to engage them in their learning.
  2. Define learning goals together with students. Let students be part of the planning process and include them in developing the assessment rubric.
  3. Share the work with students. Students will develop a sense of ownership in the project process.
  4. Use student questions to drive and sustain inquiry throughout the project.
  5. Give students a voice in articulating expectations for the project.
  6. Create multiple avenues for meeting student needs. Teachers, peers, community experts, and students themselves can contribute to meeting the established learning goals.
  7. Reflect intentionally and often. Celebrate accomplishments.

Consider these suggestions as you plan for upcoming projects in your classroom. You might find you really enjoy a coaching role, and you might find your students really grow in such a student-centered environment.

Scaffold for Success

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scaffoldStudents need an environment rich in content, skill, and resource supports to help ensure that they meet the established learning goals. These supports, along with the prior experiences of students, are designed to enable learning. In her book Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences, author Suzie Boss shares a number of examples of scaffolds that help all students (pp. 139-143:

  1. Model learning strategies: Let students see learning in action by using activities such as fishbowls, think-alouds, and gallery walks.
  2. Apply prior knowledge: Have students generate hypotheses, share their guesses, write questions, and make KWL (know-wonder-learn) charts.
  3. Structure discussions: Generate norms for classroom discussion, use Socratic seminars, and provide discussion starters to open dialogue.
  4. Create teams: Carefully create student teams that create opportunities for peer-to-peer tutoring and growth.
  5. Pre-teach key vocabulary: Use pictures, drawings, metaphors, analogies, and drawings to reinforce vocabulary before it is fully needed.
  6. Apply visuals: Graphic organizers, word walls, and other non-linguistic representations of knowledge are powerful tools for the learning process.
  7. Use technology: Presentation tools, spreadsheets, group-generated documents, and screencast can be used to further strengthen student learning.
  8. Present workshops and mini-lessons: Create opportunities for students to select workshops or mini-lessons on the content they need to be successful.

As you prepare for next week, think of ways you can employ these techniques to help students learn. Your students will benefit greatly!