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 ( 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!

Teaching Between Desks

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classroom desksIn Japan, teachers are often found providing instruction to students while moving throughout the student desks. American educators Bradley Ermeling and Genevieve Graff-Ermeling observed the method, known as kikan-shidō, during a professional study visit to Saitama, Japan in 2014. In their article Teaching Between Desks, Ermeling and Graff-Ermeling noted the following functions that were used to facilitate deeper student learning:

  1. Monitoring student activity. Teachers find it easier to keep track of what students are doing when they spend time walking throughout the desks. Teachers can address off-task behaviors quickly and directly.
  2. Guiding student activity. Teachers can quickly assess the learning taking place at student desks and move students along by asking guiding questions and/or responding to student questions.
  3. Organizing materials and the physical setup. Teachers can help students with the items needed to complete learning experiences while they are walking throughout the student desks.
  4. Engaging in social talk. Teachers can use the walkthrough time to talk with students about content or whatever else may arise, further strengthening the student-teacher relationship.

Throughout the walk, teachers can offer instruction, clarification, and feedback to students in real time. To read more about kikan-shidō, access the article here: As you plan for next week, consider changing up your instructional routine and apply kikan-shidō. You and your students might enjoy it!

Sustainable Grading Practices

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red pencils for gradingAccording to Glen Pearsall in a recent article published in Educational Leadership, teachers work on average teachers work 14 more hours per week than they are paid for due to issues related to preparation, planning, and grading. Many teachers reported they often stay late at work or take mounds of student work home to be graded. While such dedication is noble, it is not sustainable.

Pearsall recommends the following strategies for managing grading and marking student work:

  1. Minimalist Marking. Practice error flagging (place a dot or dash at the line where errors appear and then have your students correct the mistake), error counting (divide the work into subsections and give a subtotal for each section, then students have to find their errors and correct them), student-generated comments (you identify errors and have students write general comments summing up the advice), and model correcting (select a portion of the work to mark-up and then have students complete the remaining sections).
  2. Alternative Grades. Rather than use traditional letter grades, employ a system that has a mark for equal to prior work, better standard than prior work, or lower standard than prior work.
  3. Annotating Feedback. Provide students with oral feedback regarding their work and have them summarize the feedback in writing.
  4. Identifying Patterns of Error. Teachers provide students feedback by creating a table of common errors and train students to recognize those errors themselves. Over time, students will start to recognized their common patterns and work to correct them independently.

Pearsall’s article provides more detail about these types of strategies and may be accessed here: Keep these strategies in mind as you plan for student assessment next week. You may be able to reduce the amount of material you collect and take home for grading, and your students may be more engaged in their own assessment.

Win Every Time!

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clownThe 1998 movie Patch Adams is loosely based on the early struggles of Hunter Adams as he undertook training to become a physician in Virginia.  Adams’ philosophical perspective regarding developing close relationships with his patients – particularly through the use of humor – was directly opposed to the distance that the clinical faculty demanded in the doctor-patient relationship.  In one poignant scene from the film, Adams, portrayed by the late Robin Williams, is required to stand in front of the faculty for a hearing related to his fitness to continue studies and to provide care to the indigent people of rural Virginia. Adams passionately challenges the faculty to think about the importance of patient-first relationships in the healing process, and states, “That’s why, when you treat a disease, you win or you lose; but when you treat a person, I guarantee, you win no matter what the outcome.”

In the movie, and in real life, as well, Adams was able to gain re-entry into medical school and continue his work providing free medical service to the underserved in rural Appalachia.  He later expanded his efforts into the global community, impacting the lives of the underserved from Africa to South America. His Gesundheit! Institute continues to thrive and grow under his watchful eye.  Patch still employs humor as a medium to connect with others for their overall well-being.

As we jump headlong into a new year, we will also jump headlong into curriculum, instructional methodologies, behavioral expectations, intervention systems, data, and a host of other items that trend toward the clinical aspects of education.  These things are important, and yes, we want you to use them to their fullest extent to inform and improve your practices and increase student achievement results. But please don’t let these clinical elements ever overshadow that fact that we are teaching people. I encourage you to smile, laugh, play, and have fun with your students.  I encourage you to connect with them, their families, and your colleagues in meaningful ways, knowing that the relationships you develop will yield tremendous and lasting results. I guarantee, you win no matter what the outcome.