Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Thursday, October 8, 2015

What Impacts Student Motivation (Part One)?

There are a variety of factors that impact student motivation.  First, let’s look at the personal factors that influence motivation. Students may have emotional or physical problems that impact motivation. One of my students struggled after his foster brother was tragically killed in a car accident. Jarod experienced severe nightmares, anxiety, and depression. Despite his best efforts at school, his motivation—and his learning—suffered.
Students may also have low self-confidence. This may be based on several things, including
a lack of skills for the present learning activity or their past experiences in school. When students have a negative experience, that tends to snowball into self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. Often, these occurrences are caused by the absence of the necessary prior knowledge or skills needed to be successful.

Finally, students may have low interest in the subject, or they may not have a sense of trust or respect with the teacher.   Each of these can impact student motivation.  Next posting, we’ll look at school-based factors.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Motivating Struggling Learners: Hard or Easy?

This month, we’ll be focusing on the topic of student motivation.  In a recent report, Engaging Students for Success: Findings from a National Survey, the authors asked teachers for their perspective on a variety of topics. Several of their findings are pertinent to our topic of motivating struggling learners.
            ♦  87% of educators believe that student engagement and motivation are “very important to student achievement.” Engagement and motivation were ranked higher than  teaching quality, parental sup- port, or family background. 

            ♦  32% of educators strongly agreed that “I am good at engaging and motivating my students.” 

            ♦  68% of educators strongly agreed that “engaging and motivating students is part of my job duties and responsibilities.” 

            ♦  19% of educators strongly agreed that “I have adequate solutions and strategies to use when students aren’t engaged or motivated.”

Those numbers are striking. Although 87% of educators think motivation and engagement are very important, only 32% believe they are effective in those areas. That’s the foundation of my newest book, Motivating Struggling Learners:  10 Strategies to Build Student Success, so we’ll explore this topic a bit more this month. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Talking About Creativity Is Fun, But How Do You Teach It?

Today's guest blogger is John Walkup. He can be reached through his website. His opinions are his own. 

We all want to see our kids develop creatively. While researchers have managed to create models of what type of thinking creativity requires, measuring this elusive mode of cognition with even a shred of objectivity will likely always remain difficult. With little meaningful research to drive curriculum development, those teachers wanting to boost student creativity are left to their own devices.

Scientists have long stated that nature abhors a vacuum. Education is no different, so the educational community has resorted to sentimental notions to fill the research void. We are told to boost creative juices in students by allowing them more choices/freedom in selecting the curriculum, easing the pressure on them to perform (e.g., meeting strict deadlines), or providing more tools to express themselves.

Although seemingly obvious, history does not necessarily support these notions. German engineers in WWII were hardly taught in the Montessori tradition, but had little trouble producing some of the most mind-blowing innovations in military history. Germany’s contributions to the art were nothing to sneeze at either.

Consider also the impact computer animation has had on the movie business. No one doubts that CGI opens up more possibilities that were previously constrained by logistical barriers and safety requirements. But rather than opening up the movie industry to more inspiring plots, too many movie producers have used this added freedom to do little more than replicate movies from the past (although with more explosions). As a result, we are not getting the next Poltergeist; we are getting a remake of Poltergeist.

Obviously, we have much to learn about spurring creativity in the classroom.

The Think-Aloud

Creativity is an abstraction. We can all agree on that. There are hundreds of instructional methods available to teachers, but one stands out as particularly promising for teaching abstract cognitive processes: The think-aloud.

The think-aloud is an aural performance in which teachers verbalize their thought patterns. In essence, by hearing their teachers voice inner thoughts, students slowly learn to think creatively by example.

I'm looking at my poster and somehow it comes off as boring. Hmmm... what can I do to make it come alive? Let me think... I'm stuck. I have lots of color that I really like, but one of the things I liked about the museum poster was its contrast. Maybe more contrast will bring out certain features I want to get across. My poster is about violence. What if I made the entire poster in gray except for the knife. Let me think: Red symbolizes violence and red really contrasts with gray. Let me try it...

The think-aloud is a pencils-down activity. Instead of taking notes, students should listen intently to the thought processes.* Pacing is crucial, with silence stretched between thoughts to allow students time to absorb the cognition. Once completed, the teacher should ask questions such as “What was my problem?” and “How did I go about thinking of a solution?”

The think-aloud doesn’t have to be delivered as a stand-alone strategy; it can be embedded into other strategies as well such as Gradual Release of Responsibility, Socratic Seminars, and guided inquiry.

Would 13 years of listening intently to think-alouds boost student creativity? I think it would.

Digital Thought Library

If we can accept the think-aloud as a viable creativity-inducing strategy, then we should consider building a Digital Thought Library to record the thought processes from creative forces in art, music, literature, engineering, and science as they mastermind their next piece of work. (Could this be carried out by students as part of a class project? You betcha’!)

Some have done this in the past. In his "Theory of Composition," Edgar Allan Poe detailed the thinking processes he employed when writing “The Raven.”** His work, however, is tough-sledding for most public school students and completely opaque to English Learners.

Many of us remember the host of PBS’ The Joy of Painting, Bob Ross, using a think-aloud of sorts when teaching viewers to paint. While Ross wasn't a creative mastermind (if you've seen one Bob Ross painting, you've seen them all), his method of thinking aloud provided viewers insight into the creative process. As I envision it, the Digital Thought Library would function much like "The Joy of Painting," only with elevated cognition and a stricter adherence to a true think-aloud process.

Settling on the cast of characters will prove difficult: One man's Pink Floyd is another man's Milli Vanilli. There will naturally be calls to include certain people out of political concerns, rather than the quality of their creative endeavors. Current notoriety will also prove a distraction: While we may strive for David Bowie, we could end up with Kim Kardashian. (Maybe we shouldn’t do this after all.)

While artists will likely fall over themselves to join this project, they will probably find the affair more challenging than anticipated. Many will want to talk about what is creativity, but the world doesn't need more slogans. We need to know how they actually do it, and the think-aloud is the only vehicle I know for getting that idea across.


* As such, these sessions can help teachers address content standards centered on listening skills.

** Some think that Poe didn't actually write the Theory of Composition and it is a hoax.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Creating #Rigor Through Facebook

One of the activities I recommend in my books is to have students create fake Facebook walls instead of writing a simple summary about a person or character.  It pushed students to higher levels to create status updates, choose friends and interests, and decide on page likes.  Look at this sample from @realmraugustus on Twitter and see how you can use this in your classroom!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Prioritizing Standards for Depth

Last week, we talked about prioritizing vocabulary for instruction. You also likely have a wide range of standards you are expected to teach. In his book, Rigorous Curriculum Design, Larry Ainsworth recommends we do the same with standards.  Prioritize which ones need the most attention.  He provides six criteria to consider:
              Endurance—Will this standard or indicator provide students knowledge and skills that will endure throughout a student's academic career and professional life?
              Leverage—Will this standard provide knowledge and skills that will be of value in multiple disciplines?
              Readiness for the next level of learning—Will this standard provide students with essential knowledge and skills that are necessary for success in the next grade level?
              School—what students need to know and be able to do at each level of learning.
              Life—what students will need to know and be able to do to be successful after the end of school.
              Tests—concepts and skills that are most heavily represented on external, high-stakes assessments. (Ainsworth, pp. 53–54)

How would prioritizing your standards help you improve the depth of your instruction?