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Archive for July, 2013

Resource Books

I just finished two inspiring and informative books by master teachers. What is a master teacher? Someone who is in it for the long haul; someone who keeps his eyes on the goal (the education of the students), regardless of the challenges that come with the education system today, negative portrayals of the teaching profession in social media, and/or the challenges of our society as a whole.

The two books, in my opinion, are saying the same thing but the styles of teaching are a tad different. The first book I read was Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess. . The second book was Real Talk for Real Teachers by Rafe Esquith.

The message I bring away from these two books is this:

  • put the education of the students first above all else
  • be knowledgable and passionate about what you do
  • make the environment safe for students to participate/learn
  • relate the topics to the students’ world/lives
  • get the students involved
  • The difference I see in the two teaching styles, or perhaps I should say the difference between the focus of the two books, is that Dave Burgess shares how he uses creative engagement techniques to inspire and engage students in the learning process and Rafe Esquith looks at empowering self-discipline and other life-long skills. The Dave Burgess book is all about passion and bringing that into the classroom. The Rafe Esquith book is about maintaining that passion even when you have had a rough day met with challenges, roadblocks and derailments. Both books see the brass ring as the students – empowering them to be active participants in their education. How you get there is up to you.

    “But”, some people say regarding Teach Like A Pirate, “that is not my style. I don’t feel comfortable dressing up and acting goofy” … but that is not what I see is the message of the book. Although Mr. Burgess chooses to dress and act the part of different characters (among other creative techniques), this is just one strategy to bring passion into the classroom. What I believe the message is, is to remind yourself why you are a teacher, it is to tell yourself that it is okay to bring your interests and your hobbies into the classroom, and it is okay to think outside the box, to do things differently than other teachers. Be you – a passionate, engaging, stimulating, inspirational you.

    “But”, some people say regarding Real Talk for Real Teachers, “the style is too structured, too organized. I like a more free-style classroom.” … but, again, this is Mr. Esquith’s style; this is just one way to give students the skills to be empowered and knowledgable learners. What I see the message being, is that the academics are just the vehicle for teaching life skills, that students need to know what these life-long goals are that are being taught, and that the skills need to be broken down into their smallest components to ensure the students really understand what they are doing and why. I believe the real message of the book, regarding teaching, is that it is about empowerment – empowering self-discipline, self-control, self-motivation, etc, and that the journey is going to be a difficult one for the teacher. Challenges and barriers come at teachers from all sides but by keeping the eye on the ball (the students) one can maintain the passion that Dave Burgess talks about in his book.

    The Checklist

  • do you bring your passion for teaching into the classroom?
  • do you bring your interests and hobbies into the classroom?
  • do you provide the opportunity for students to explore different experiences?
  • do you empower students to be actively engaged in their education?
  • do you use the classroom and lessons to teach self-discipline etc?
  • do you inspire students to want to learn?
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    Assessments – what is the goal and how do we assess students’ progress in an effective and helpful manner.

    Last fall I wrote two blogs about assessments (here and here). Now, here I am several months later looking at assessments again. On the surface this tells me that although I don’t like the concept of assessments it is an important element of education.

    So what is the goal of assessments? In the first of the two blogs above I wrote:

    Students: are learning, exploring, experimenting, questioning, documenting, analyzing, contemplating, and sharing. They are learning about themselves, about their world, about their impact on the world and their way of contributing to the greater good. They are learning how to mesh knowledge with their experiences, creating Wisdom, and they are learning how to share their Wisdom with others and receive others’ Wisdom to add to their own.

    And thus, the goal of assessments is to determine how they are doing in the above areas. Of all the things on the list, perhaps the most important part is “learning about themselves” as this is the core of their journey now and in the future. What are their interests? How do they like to explore and engage in new experiences? What is their learning styles, communication styles, and thinking styles? Are they introverts or extroverts? What are their natural gifts? What about the physical development, literacy and math skills? (See the Early Learning Framework for a detailed look at development.)

    This is what we are looking for. From our observations (assessments) we can share information with parents and the students themselves; we can enhance the strengths and help manage/overcome the challenges; and we can set up the environment and experiences to empower learning, and turning knowledge into Wisdom, using the information that we compile. Using our knowledge of each child we can ignite the spark to learn more, do more, contribute more.

    This past year I have had the privilege of spending my days with my grandson who is now two years old. Let me tell you a bit about him:

    Socially – although still developing an understanding of social skills such as sharing (remember that he is 2), he readily interacts with others. Although he does play by himself, he seems to enjoy or even prefer playing with others. [More social experiences will provide the opportunity to develop the art of communication, sharing, taking turns etc.]

    Physically – he has good fine motor skills, being able to separate and turn pages of books and manipulate small items. [activities involving climbing and exploring materials will continue to help his motor development and control.]

    Intellectually – he has ‘always’ been interested in letters and then words and is able to read, deciphering words phonetically as well as contextually. [It is important to provide the opportunity to develop this skill, interest, gift without pushing.]

    Creativity – he tends to observe before exploring a new experience, including the use of art materials. He tends to like the “rules” of how to do things. [Providing him time to observe is helpful in introducing new activities and opening the door to creative ideas and exploration.]

    Emotionally – he is a happy lad and very confident and assertive. He appears to be a sensitive person (crying at pictures of sad people, and having emotional outbursts at sudden and loud applauses in a crowd setting).

    Spiritually – he shows an interest in nature, often saying hello to trees and he recognizes different birds species. He has a natural gift and interest in words and reading and appears to prefer logic and structure when it comes to understanding and interacting with the world. These qualities may be key elements in how he contributes to the greater good in his future.

    And there you have it – my assessment of my grandson. Now what do I do with this? How do I help him get to know these things about himself? How do I empower and nurture his strengths? What can I do to take him to new levels of abilities in all areas of his development and nurturing his strengths without turning them into a weakness? (Ex. he has ‘always’ closed any cupboard doors that have been left open. This is good – unless it turns into an obsessive-compulsive action.)

    Identifying my role as a mentor is the goal of assessments, in my opinion. I don’t need to know if he is an A+ or advanced, etc. I need to know what he can do and what he is interested in (etc) so I can use this knowledge to adapt the environment in a way that will take him to a new level of abilities and to ignite the spark of interest and engagement. I need to understand him, get a picture of his potential journey and empower and help develop the skills that he will need along the way.

    I am reminded of a conversation with a woman who I include in my list of mentors. She spoke of a young child in her day care that was clearly a leader. She said that she and her staff nurture that quality, helping him develop the skills to use this gift in a healthy manner that contributes to the greater good. Imagine – consciously molding a leader of the future at the age of two. Now think of the child who is a risk taker, who is often climbing to the top of the climber. This is who he is. Now, how do we nurture that while teaching him to think safety at the same time?

    Assessment – our observations that give us insight into the person, the talents, the skills, the challenges. Seeing the bigger picture while looking at the little details to identify the experiences and the guidance that the individual needs to become a more knowledgable, more capable, Wiser member of our society.

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