Brain Pop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THX0XRB54Yk
Free resource from Teachers Pay Teachers:
Brain Pop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THX0XRB54Yk
Free resource from Teachers Pay Teachers:
As most parents know, kids respond emotionally to the grades they receive — and well beyond the jubilation that goes with an A+ or the despair that accompanies a D. When Jessie, an eighth-grader, got an uncharacteristically low score on a Spanish test, she felt not only embarrassed — “because I’d never done that badly before” — but lousy as well: “I didn’t feel as good about myself,” she said.
Not that every 95 percent is cause for celebration, at least for Xavier McCormick, now a college freshman. In high school, when he got top marks with little effort, McCormick felt indifferent to the teacher’s evaluation. “I felt … meh,” he said. “It was just kind of a number at that point.” Ordinarily, McCormick didn’t get too worked up about grades, focusing more on learning than dutifully carrying out every last assignment. “I’m not going to do it just to get the grade,” he said. “I’d rather get two hours more sleep.”
A more typical teenage response to grades, especially bad ones? Fear. “My friends get so caught up in grades,” Jessie said. When they underperform, their first reaction is: “My parents are going to kill me!”
EMOTIONS AND LEARNING
The trouble with these extreme emotional reactions to grades is that students’ knowledge of a subject is tied to their experience of the grade, says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, associate professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. Powerful emotions attached to grades drown children’s inherent interest in any given subject.
“Whether the grade is good or bad, you’re taking the student away from focusing on intrinsic interest and tying their experience to grades,” Immordino-Yang explained. Under such circumstances, genuine interest in learning for its own sake wilts. “Grades can be an impetus to work, and can be really satisfying,” she said. “But when emotions about the grade swamp students’ emotions about a subject, that’s a problem.”
Once considered obstacles to thinking, emotions are now understood to be interdependent with various cognitive processes. A better way to think about emotion’s centrality to learning, Immordino-Yang writes in Emotions, Learning, and the Brain, is this: “We only think about things we care about.” When kids care mainly about grades, they’re devoting more mental resources to the assessment than to the actual subject matter.
Students seem to appreciate the distinction between studying to learn and working for the grade.
For Elizabeth Gilbert, now a graduate of the University of Chicago, writing the best essay mattered more than getting an A+. In her pursuit of excellence, she sometimes turned in assignments after they were due, enhancing her scholarship but diminishing her GPA. She gradually realized that submitting work for the grade became a sensible exit strategy. “To just settle for the grade helped,” she said.
McCormick put it differently. If grades were a pure reflection of learning, he added, students wouldn’t be graded on whether they did their homework. For example, in classes where homework makes up 20 percent of a student’s grades, even achieving 100 percent on every test — and so demonstrating complete understanding of a subject — won’t guarantee an A.
“School is about teaching kids how to follow rules, and having grades as the emphasis is how they do that,” he said.
TEACHERS AND GRADES
Some teachers agree. Starr Sackstein, a veteran teacher in Flushing, New York, and author of Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School, realized that she had started to use grades as a tool to control her students: For every day a paper came in past the deadline, for example, she’d deduct five points. She also started to recoil when she noticed students flipping to the back of papers she’d spent hours marking up, just to see their score. Sackstein understood how powerful grades could be to students. A self-described grade-grubber, she decided to change the way she evaluated students to maximize their learning by giving up grades.
Sackstein is part of a movement of teachers who are replacing grades with more nuanced kinds of student assessments. Encouraged by educators like Alfie Kohn and Mark Barnes, who reject grades as blunt and reductive, these teachers educate and evaluate their students using portfolios, one-on-one conferences, peer assessments and other forms of qualitative feedback.
Sackstein started slowly and worked to get student buy-in. She advised her students that they were going to figure out together how to improve their learning and evaluation, and told everyone they could get an A as far as she was concerned. She dropped cumulative assessments entirely — “because we have so much access to information all the time, it’s not a skill we need to test” — and invited students to set their own goals and develop their own standards. Sackstein then used everything the students did in class to measure them against their own goals.
“I do different types of conferences with students. I have oral projects, I set up meetings with kids,” Sackstein explained about the multiplicity of ways she tailors student work. “I’m not determining what they need; they are. I’m just a reader giving feedback,” she said. Students have responded to her methods, because assessments are more personal and she provides abundant opportunities for them to express themselves.
Sackstein often talks to students about how grades affect them, and understands how weighty regular numerical evaluations can be.
“Grades have the ability to make kids feel stupid or smart, and that’s a huge power,” she said. Teachers are human, she added, and will respond emotionally and sometimes arbitrarily to different kids and various types of work. When students define themselves positively or negatively by those judgments, they cede control over their well-being to someone — a teacher — who may not understand them.
“We as teachers and administrators have to be acutely aware of the kids in front of us,” Sackstein said. “Their learning is all that matters.”
By her senior year of high school, Caroline Wohl began to realize that striving to get A’s in every subject, no matter her enthusiasm for the material, was foolish and unnecessary. “I just grew up, and got less caught up in winning,” she said. She tolerated a B in AP physics, and threw herself into the school debate team, where she indulged her authentic interests and embraced the freedom from grades. Wohl missed several classes to compete in national debate tournaments, without regret.
It’s a great day to let Adrienne Rich take a few calls. Bring Rumi with you for some banter at the water cooler. Robert Frost would enjoy leading your staff meeting. And Emily Dickinson would be great at filing. We believe there is poetry in the workplace, and there’s definitely a place for poets at work. We have a great collection of poets for you to color, cut out and glue to a popsicle stick to join you on the job.
But over the past few years as we’ve celebrated Take Your Poet to Work Day, we’ve noticed a trend: many of our favorite poets just don’t want to go to work. Instead, like many of us often dream to do, they find their way to the beach, or to the coffee shop, or to the county fair instead.
So this year, we thought we’d get ahead of our poets and take them to some great destinations from around the world.
Adrienne Rich met Lady Liberty in New York City.
I’d have never guessed that Emily Dickinson would ever say she was ready for her close-up, butPablo Neruda and Sara Teasdale talked her into a trip to Hollywood.
Wisława Szymborska and William Wordsworth came up with a plan to make Michelangelo’s Statue of David safe for work.
Walt Whitman might not be the best tool for fighting sea serpents, but if you’re Neptune, I guess you can make do.
Emily Brontë and a mermaid shared a quiet moment in Copenhagen.
Anna Akhmatova,Maya Angelou, and Robert Frost waited in line for Seamus Heaney and Walt Whitman to come down so they could have their turn on the Eiffel Tower.
Maya Angelou, T. S. Eliot, and Rumi enjoyed an afternoon of hide-n-seek at Easter Island.
Eliot had so much fun at Easter Island he invited Edgar Allan Poe to Stonehenge. Poe brought along John Keats and Christina Rossetti, who just wanted to read books all day.
Judith Wright invited friends Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Elizabeth Barrett Browning over for an evening at the Sydney Opera House.
Matsuo Basho and Kobayashi Issa went to London to give Big Ben a hand.
And wouldn’t you know it, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Edgar Allan Poe and William Butler Yeats came over to my home state and made an appearance at Mount Rushmore.
So where are you and your poet going today? Whether you’re going to work, to the beach, or on vacation, take along your favorite poet. Tweet a photo to us at @tspoetry with the hashtag#poettowork, and we might feature you.
Photos used under a Creative Commons license and sourced via Flickr; modified to include embedded poets. Mount Rushmore by CamellaTWU, Statue of Liberty by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., Neptune by Wally Gobetz, Statue of David by Darren & Brad, Leaning Tower of Pisa by Neil Howard, Easter Island by Babak Fakhamsadeh, Stonehenge by vgm8383, Big Ben by André Zehetbauer, Hollywood by Neil Kremer, Eiffel Tower by Gilad Rom, Sydney Opera House byMotiqua, Copenhagen by Greenland Travel.
I had my students make a “Poet on a Stick” last year–they loved the activity. I think this year I will have them recite a poem of their choosing from the poet of their choice and/or have them create a play with the poets…still ruminating about the lesson plan…anyway…Enjoy the photos!
July 20, 2016
By Patricia A. Dunn
When people are overly self-conscious or frustrated, they don’t learn well. Whether they are new drivers or new writers, rattled people need to calm down. The feedback they receive can make things better or worse. I used to teach driver’s education, which taught me much about how people learn. I’ve been teaching writing for a long time, and I see many parallels. Sometimes new drivers or writers who have the most need of improvement are least able to absorb multiple commands. Here are some suggestions for how to give more useful feedback on written drafts—and what to avoid.
What to Avoid in Giving Feedback
Screaming at brand new drivers to “Check your blind spot!” does little good to those who have never been taught what a blind spot is. Barking at them to “Brake smoothly!” may not help either—they would if they could. Sometimes developing writers encounter multiple marginal comments from their teachers to “Fix commas!” or “Write in complete sentences!” But these angry-sounding commands may not work. Disheartened writers have no doubt heard all this before, but they may be too confused, frustrated, or disengaged to learn.
Therefore, driving—or writing—instructors should take care not to engage in criticism overload. I’ve seen new drivers, frozen with fear, struggling to coordinate what experienced drivers do without thinking: signal at the right time or brake smoothly without throwing passengers into their seat belts. I’ve learned that yelling Don’ts at them can sometimes make things worse: “Don’t signal too early!” “Don’t stare in your rearview mirror so long!” Some new drivers are already so stiff and nervous that they’re not thinking clearly. They need to take a breath, gain a bit of confidence, and think about what’s around them—as do writers. It doesn’t work to tell new drivers or new writers how terrible they are and then demand that they stop being so bad.
Two scenes: a driver education teacher and a writing teacher yelling at terrified learners.
How to Give Better Feedback
Say something positive: “You stepped on the gas a little more smoothly just now!” “Your hands are certainly placed firmly on the steering wheel!” This praise, small as it was, would calm their frazzled nerves. They had succeeded at something. Shaky writers, like shaky drivers, need to be handled with similar tact. Like some student drivers, student writers may come to a new challenge overwhelmed, discouraged, perhaps, from repeatedly being told how bad they are. They, too, are afraid. They may have a litany of good (and bad) advice playing in their heads. They face a blank page or screen with the same frozen self-consciousness that blocked the clear thinking of the trembling drivers.
Try an Alert Noticing of Positive Features in Writing
Writing teachers, like driver education instructors, also need to notice what’s going well. However, many instructors do not know how to notice or name what developing writers might be doing right. So focused are some teachers on error, or perhaps on justifying a bad grade, they may not know how to find in a very rough draft some aspects to praise (an active verb, a complex sentence, some vivid details, a lively snippet of dialogue, a helpful transition, the legal use of a semi-colon, etc.) When teachers can name specific things a writer is doing well (as Nancy Mack shows how to do with color coding), that writer is more likely to remember to continue to do those things in the future. What’s more, this confidence boost can provide motivation needed to address the many aspects of the draft that undoubtedly need to be fixed.
Of course it’s true that writers “in the real world” will surely have their writing criticized, sometimes brutally. It’s possible—in fact preferable—for instructors to provide a balance of response to a writer: an alert noticing of effective rhetorical moves as well as a focused analysis of how the piece could be improved. It’s this alert noticing of positive features that many of us who write comments on student writing need to learn how to do better.
Address First Things First—Mostly
New drivers and new writers often need to fix much, but first things first and not all at once. Regardless of the number of big and small things drivers and writers need to improve upon, they can’t fix everything before the next block, or before the next draft. Instructors must learn to prioritize. What needs addressing now? What can wait until next time? With beginning drivers, I’d let them build their skills gradually, both for their own development and my own safety. I’d start them off in empty parking lots, dead-end streets, or cemeteries. As their steering and braking improved, they’d begin looking further ahead than the hood of the car and start to process events unfolding in the coming blocks.
Here’s where my driver/writer analogy breaks down, however. Developing writers should not be made to slog around in the dead-ends of grammar exercises or mind-numbing five-paragraph themes. In addition to developing their skills, these wary writers also need to develop their engagement in writing—to see it as both doable and empowering. They need to write about things they care about, in real-world, authentic writing situations, for reasons more important than a grade.
Use a Strategic, Customized Balance of Praise and Critique
Another caveat is that not all writers—or drivers—need the same proportion of praise and critique. In fact, some overconfident new drivers often require candid commentary on their perceived skills. While their wisely under-confident peers often need gentle encouragement coupled with well-placed, prioritized direction (“Nice signaling—now brake gently here for that right turn coming up”), these Grand Prix wannabees often need clear, immediate, and unfiltered correction: “Stop speeding!” “Don’t pass here!” “Pull over now!”
Likewise, some writers, accustomed to getting As on well-edited but vapid school writing, can handle a less-cushioned response from an alert reader who sees their potential to challenge themselves: “Support your claim here with a more respectable source.” “Consider deleting some unnecessary throat-clearing in your introduction.” “You seem to want to say more about this.”
Feedback on writing, like feedback on driving, should be informed, balanced, and tailored to the individual learner. There should be well-placed, solidifying praise when it is warranted and needed, and insightful, prioritized suggestions for what can be improved. Having teachers who can balance their responses strategically for these learners will make our students’ writing better, and our highways safer.
Patricia A. Dunn is a professor of English at Stony Brook University (SUNY), where she teaches current and future teachers of English and writing. She is a former high school English teacher and two-year college instructor who has written several books on the teaching of writing, including Grammar Rants: How a Backstage Tour of Writing Complaints Can Help Students Make Informed, Savvy Choices About Their Writing (2011), with Ken Lindblom. She has contributed several other posts at this blog: the role engagement plays in writing, how bad “grammar” instruction can impede a young writer’s progress, and what learning to play a ukulele taught her about teaching writing. She has a new book, Disabling Characters: Representations of Disability in Young Adult Literature (2015). She is on Twitter as @PatriciaDunn1.
AUGUST 1, 2014
Trina is an eighth grader trapped in her own prison. She has every excuse in the book and is often referred to as just unmotivated. But I don’t buy that story. Not at all.
To a five-year-old, learning is exciting. While some are academic naturals, others lag. Well-meaning educators intervene, and praise, rewards, and external incentives surface. Thus, we can see the sixth component of reading — motivation. But what of the adolescents who deflect their inability to keep up by throwing a pencil when you aren’t looking, or by bullying others? Enter the “unmotivated” adolescent.
Learners are motivated by three factors: desire to learn, incentives, or fear of failure. As we grow, most of the early curiosity is tested away, and school becomes work. Obstacles increase, desire to learn decreases, and incentives and/or fear of failure move to the forefront. Jack Canfield, self-esteem expert, reports that 80 percent of first graders posses high self-esteem, but by high school graduation, this drops to a staggering five percent.
But certainly you aren’t reading this blog for that bleak truth. So now what?
University of Minnesota instructor Martha Farrell Erickson, PhD, (2003) identifies the “critical ingredients for healthy child and youth development” as the Three C’s. In my opinion, they are critical for educating any child, and most importantly, for reversing the earlier damage done to self-esteem, which can cause blocks in motivation.
Brain research reveals that if students feel happy and comfortable, they are more apt to retain learning. Connecting with our kiddos helps us to build trust and to educate the entire child. Dr. Ross Greene, psychology professor at Harvard University, wrote in 2007 that all children would perform if each possessed the necessary skills to complete the task. If we can pinpoint and support students with skill deficits, they will succeed. It is our job to know them, and to empower them to know themselves. Here’s how:
In the book Bridging Cultures Between Home and School, Elise Trumbull et al. discuss collectivist cultures. Adolescents of families from all over the world grow up with a sense of collectivity, and parents emphasize cooperation and community. Our job is to support each student individually while honoring those who also need to feel like they are contributing.
This is just as much an engagement philosophy as it is one of esteem building. The more you use a variety of discussion strategies, the more engaged your students become.
Erickson’s third C is the heart of intrinsic motivation. Many of these kiddos have faced so much failure that success seems unattainable. To rebuild, give your students a feeling of mastery, even on little things. Clear routines allow transitioning from activity to activity with confidence until strugglers feel classroom-savvy.
Providing specific and constructive feedback is another way to build competence. Rick Wormeli, educational author and speaker, says that to give our kiddos a true feeling of success, we must observe, honor, and reflect on their work, and help them to set goals to improve on it. For example: “Trina, I noticed that when we read the first few chapters of your novel, you asked questions on your sticky notes. This shows me that you are really wondering about your reading. Have you found answers to any of these questions? As you read the next chapter, let’s make a goal.” Suggest a few ideas if she’s stuck, and let her choose an attainable goal, promising to reconnect in a few days to monitor her success.
And succeed she will. If even one of Trina’s teachers meets her with the attitude of, “I’m going to get to know you, kid. I’m going to give you a chance to be a part of this community and to feel successful,” she will respond. The biggest challenge is changing our mindset so that she can change hers. There are no kids who are “just not motivated.” They do not exist. Each one of them has a story. It’s our job to read it, learn it, and help them to use it as power, not as a prison.
What success stories about building intrinsic motivation in resistant learners can you share?
JUNE 3, 2016
The number one concern that I hear from educators is lack of time, particularly lack of instructional time with students. It’s not surprising that we feel a press for time. Our expectations for students have increased dramatically, but our actual class time with students has not. Although we can’t entirely solve the time problem, we can mitigate it by carefully analyzing our use of class time, looking for what Beth Brinkerhoff and Alysia Roehrig (2014) call “time wasters.”
Consider the example of calendar time. In many U.S. early elementary classrooms, this practice eats up 15-20 minutes daily, often in a coveted early-morning slot when students are fresh and attentive. Some calendar time activities may be worthwhile. For example, teachers might use this time for important teaching around grouping and place value. But other activities are questionable at best. For example, is the following routine still effective if it’s already February and your students still don’t know:
Yesterday was _______.
Today is _______.
Tomorrow will be _______,
Does dressing a teddy bear for the weather each day make optimal use of instructional time? Some teachers respond, “But we love our teddy bear, and it only takes a few minutes!” But three minutes a day for 180 days adds up to nine hours. Children would also love engineering design projects, deep discussions of texts they’ve read, or math games.
To help us analyze and maximize use of instructional time, here are five common literacy practices in U.S. schools that research suggests are not optimal use of instructional time:
Students are given a list of words to look up in the dictionary. They write the definition and perhaps a sentence that uses the word. What’s the problem?
We have long known that this practice doesn’t build vocabulary as well as techniques that actively engage students in discussing and relating new words to known words, for example through semantic mapping (Bos & Anders, 1990). As Charlene Cobb and Camille Blachowicz (2014) document, research has revealed so many effective techniques for teaching vocabulary that a big challenge now is deciding among them.
From March is Reading Month to year-long reading incentive programs, it’s common practice in the U.S. to give students prizes (such as stickers, bracelets, and fast food coupons) for reading. What’s the problem?
Unless these prizes are directly related to reading (e.g., books), this practice actually makes students less likely to choose reading as an activity in the future (Marinak & Gambrell, 2008). It actually undermines reading motivation. Opportunities to interact with peers around books, teacher “book blessings,” special places to read, and many other strategies are much more likely to foster long-term reading motivation (Marinak & Gambrell, 2016).
Generally, all students in a class receive a single list of words on Monday and are expected to study the words for a test on Friday. Distribution of the words, in-class study time, and the test itself use class time. What’s the problem?
You’ve all seen it — students who got the words right on Friday misspell those same words in their writing the following Monday! Research suggests that the whole-class weekly spelling test is much less effective than an approach in which different students have different sets of words depending on their stage of spelling development, and emphasis is placed on analyzing and using the words rather than taking a test on them (see Palmer & Invernizzi, 2015 for a review).
DEAR (Drop Everything and Read), SSR (Sustained Silent Reading), and similar approaches provide a block of time in which the teacher and students read books of their choice independently. Sounds like a great idea, right?
Studies have found that this doesn’t actually foster reading achievement. To make independent reading worthy of class time, it must include instruction and coaching from the teacher on text selection and reading strategies, feedback to students on their reading, and text discussion or other post-reading response activities (for example, Kamil, 2008; Reutzel, Fawson, & Smith, 2008; see Miller & Moss, 2013 for extensive guidance on supporting independent reading).
What is this doing on a list of literacy practices unworthy of instructional time? Well, taking away recess as a punishment likely reduces students’ ability to benefit from literacy instruction. How?
There is a considerable body of research linking physical activity to academic learning. For example, one action research study found that recess breaks before or after academic lessons led to students being more on task (Fagerstrom & Mahoney, 2006). Students with ADHD experience reduced symptoms when they engage in physical exercise (Pontifex et al., 2012) — ironic given that students with ADHD are probably among the most likely to have their recess taken away. There are alternatives to taking away recess that are much more effective and don’t run the risk of reducing students’ attention to important literacy instruction (Cassetta & Sawyer, 2013).
Whether or not you engage in these specific activities, they provide a sense that there are opportunities to make better use of instructional time in U.S. schools. I encourage you to scrutinize your use of instructional time minute by minute. If a practice is used because we’ve always done it that way or because parents expect it, it’s especially worthy of a hard look. At the same time, if a practice consistently gets results in an efficient and engaging way, protect it at all costs. Together we can rid U.S. classrooms of what does notwork.