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).

Monday, October 28, 2013

Universal Design for Learning and the Common Core

Have you heard about Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?  It is specifically mentioned in the Common Core in the section about students with disabilities, but it is applicable for all learners.  Take a look at information about the UDL:

UDL helps address learner variability by suggesting flexible goals, methods, materials, and assessments that empower educators to meet these varied needs. Curricula that is created using UDL is designed from the outset to meet the needs of all learners, making costly, time-consuming, and after-the-fact changes unnecessary. The UDL framework encourages creating flexible designs from the start that have customizable options, which allow all learners to progress from where they are and not where we would have imagined them to be. The options for accomplishing this are varied and robust enough to provide effective instruction to all learners. 

For more on the process of UDL including a one page overview, click here.  

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Key Aspects of Motivation

While I was in Mississippi, there was one part of my presentation that resonated with teachers (well, more than that, but I'd like to talk about one!).  That is student motivation--I focus on how we can create an environment that taps into students' intrinsic motivation.  Do you know how students are intrinsically motivated?  There are two factors.

First, students are more motivated when they see value in what they are doing.  They can see value in three ways.  First, they see value in the relevance of the content.  Second, students can find value in the type of activity they do.  And finally, they see value in their relationship with you.  Next, students are more motivated when they feel successful.  It's important to build opportunities for success within your classroom.

How do you use value and success in your class?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Traveling to Mississippi

This week I'm in Mississippi, working with their state ASCD affiliate.  I'm presenting Tuesday, both for leaders and teachers on instructional rigor.   I was there in June, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I'm looking forward to another day of Southern hospitality!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Teaching Students to Be Independent

"Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three." --Confucius

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Importance of Background Knowledge

One of the keys to helping students learn is to make sure they build a strong base for new information. Last summer, my friend’s son built a stone garden in my yard. First, he put down a layer of stone, checked to see that it was level, and then added sand and gravel to make the ground under the stone was even so that the first row would completely level. It took him much longer to do the bottom row than the top three rows. He explained to me that if the foundation isn’t right, the entire garden wall would be flawed. This is also true with learning.

For our students, the foundation is the knowledge they already have about a topic. To effectively teach students something new, we need to know what they already know or think they know about a particular concept. In some instances, they have knowledge that is incorrect, and we need to address their misconceptions in a way that leads them to understand the concept correctly. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

High or Higher?

If you've read my definition of rigor, you know I talk a lot about "high levels"
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.

I was recently in Kentucky, and one of my workshop participants pointed out that perhaps I should use "higher levels" rather than "high levels".  He said that, after listening to me, he realized that I'm not talking about setting one benchmark that is out of reach for many students; rather, I'm talking about always learning at higher and higher levels--moving forward, no matter what that means for each student.  

I hadn't thought about it that way, but it's a good point.  What do you think?

Photo by scarab

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Active Involvement in Action

What does a lesson look like when students are actively involved? Scott Bauserman, a teacher at Decatur Central High School in Indiana, asks his students to choose a topic from the social studies unit and design a game. The finished product must teach about the topic, use appropriate vocabulary and processes, and be fun to play. 

As he explains, “Students have to construct the game, the box, provide pieces and a board, and write the rules. I received a wide variety. One game I will always remember was about how a bill gets passed into law. We spent time [in class] talking about all the points where a bill in Congress or the state General Assembly could be killed, pigeon-holed, or defeated. The student took a box the size of a cereal box, set up a pathway with appropriate steps along the way, constructed question/answer cards, and found an array of tokens for game pieces. If a player answered a question correctly, he or she would roll a dice and move along the path to passage. But the student had cut trap doors at the points where a bill could be killed, and if a player landed on a trap door/bills topper, the player to the right could pull a string, making that player’s token disappear from the board. The player would have to start over. Not a bad game from a student who has fetal alcohol syndrome and is still struggling to pass his classes.” 

Monday, October 7, 2013

What is Active Learning?

When a student is actively engaged in your lesson, he or she pays atten- tion. That may sound simple, but it isn’t. Some students look at the teacher, but their minds are actually a million miles away. Paying attention means that students are actually focusing on what is going on in the classroom. It’s important to craft lessons that require students to pay attention to the task at hand. In every lesson or activity, you should provide an opportunity for students to do something. Ask them to create an example, build a model, draw a picture, write notes, or stand up and demonstrate what they have learned.

Concentrated Effort
Students are more likely to be engaged when the lesson isn’t too easy, when it requires some effort on their part. I’m skilled at multitasking, and in today’s society, we wear that as a badge of honor. But when I’m working on something important or learning something new, I focus completely on that one thing. In order to involve students, craft activities that demand they concentrate solely on the task at hand and put forth effort.

When students are actively involved in a lesson, their brains are spinning. They are thinking about what has just happened, how it connects to something they already know, and how they might use the information later. In each lesson, how do you give students opportunities to think?

As I said earlier, involvement is the foundation of active learning. Sometimes, involvement can be physical—such as, when a student builds a model of a roller coaster to demonstrate
the principles of physics. But involvement is also mental, taking place when students make the connections I just described. It’s difficult to gauge when a student is actually involved, so don’t jump to conclusions. A teacher in one of my workshops spoke to me at a break. She said, “I don’t want you to think I’m not paying attention. I know you probably saw me drawing, but I’m an art teacher, and the best way for me to process is through pictures. So I’ve been drawing out visuals of all your ideas.” Watch your students, talk to them, and be open to different ways of being involved.

One way to ensure active involvement is to vary the activities in your classroom. Even the best, most interested students can become bored. For example, Jason Womack, a former middle and high school teacher in Ojai, California, designs his 50-minute class blocks to include a variety of activi- ties. He organizes his instruction around a theme for the day and always lists 5 to 12 activities on the board. He wants his students to see, hear, and touch something at least twice every day. In a typical day, Jason’s students will “see something, hear about it, and produce something based on what they heard (e.g., draw, write, make a video, or create a puppet show). My goal is to give them information and let them internalize and give it back; not just force-feed info and make them regurgitate it. I want to give them an opportunity to internalize and express [their learning].”

The final component to active involvement is engagement. Are your students actually engaged in the activity?  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Webinar on Rigor and the Common Core

I'm very excited that I'll be doing a four-part webinar on Rigor and the Common Core.  Sessions will include instructional activities, support and scaffolding, and assessment.  It's similar to hearing me for a full day workshop in your school!  Registration information is available here.