Monday, May 26, 2014

Temporary messes in teaching

They are remodeling our high school media center this summer and the place is a mess right now. It got me thinking of how sometimes a mess is necessary for change, but first a little remembering on my part. 

I found this picture in a stack of everything that's in storage and I had to point it out. Our principal had some of us pose with our kids for a "READ" poster years ago. That's me and my two kids. They're both teens now, so I do mean years ago! Aren't they adorable? 

But back to the temporary mess. In the process of changing a building around we see the signs: "Don't mind our mess". It's understood that the change or move to something new and improved is going to look ugly for a while. 

How come it's not so accepted when it comes to a change in a teaching practice? Why do teachers feel a need to have it perfect the first time they try PBL or when they start flipping the classroom? 

I'm working with a high school teacher right now who's trying a new project in Geometry. He's integrating a lot of tech and things are a little chaotic this time around. We are all learning together and we don't know now if test scores on the unit will be as high as they would have been with the teacher's usual approach.

But is that a bad thing, or is it just the necessary mess as we move to something better? The truth is the students are learning a lot. There is a load of teamwork, problem solving and tech skills coming at them (and us). In all honesty we know they might not pick up as much of the course content as we'd like as we work toward change. It's an investment, though, and a first step in a process that will get better each time we do it in the future. 

I'm thankful for teachers willing to make the move and the temporary mess. I'm grateful for principals who understand and encourage it. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Resources for the Classroom on the Power of Story

Thanks to Lisa Johnson for her list on Listly to get me thinking of compiling these resources.

Who could argue that great teaching and great storytelling go hand in hand? When it comes to motivation, inspiration or just getting the information to stick, we all know from experience that a powerful story gets the job done.

I have been a big fan of Donald Miller's work with the power of story, especially his books Storyline and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Miller's point is that we can even live more meaningful lives by evaluating our goals and decisions in terms of what makes great stories. His books helped me through some personal struggles, so he's had my attention on the subject for years now.

Of course, he's not alone in these insights. It seems everyone from sales people to motivational speakers is learning to harness the power of stories and honing the skill of telling them in the best ways.

I'm just starting this list for use in the classroom. I'll keep adding to it as I find more.

Nancy Duarte's TEDx Talk - She reveals a story structure used in great speeches like the "I Have a Dream" speech and Job's introduction of the iPhone

Donald Miller's Free eBook - How to Tell a Story

Erin Gruwell's TEDx Talk - She tells the Freedom Writer's story, which itself illustrates how our stories move us and others.

Coming Soon - My creative classroom game of movie trailers - It uses Donald Miller's short recipe for a great story.

Harnessing the Power of Story - A shorter video focusing on finding your "signature story"

Storytelling the Stillmotion Way - Part 1 of a great series on Vimeo from a group that makes documentaries

Please add your favorite resources on story in the comments below or you can email me.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Teaching Like an Artist Framework

I've written much about how to teach like an artist or the benefits of it throughout the blog. Ultimately what these thoughts are pointing to is a framework for project-based lessons. It possibly could be a starting point for planning any lesson, but it also is useful in evaluating the lesson or in providing a lens for reflection afterward.

Briefly, here are the components of the framework:
  • The vision, dream or idea - What was the core idea that led to the lesson? This could be a goal or an end result that was imagined before anything else.
  • Realization through work - What obstacles had to be worked through in order for the vision, idea or goal to come into reality? This is mostly a question for the teacher as she sees her lesson take life. The learners can answer from their perspective, as they are experiencing their own journey through the learning process.
  • Reflecting - There is so much potential for learning all around us that we will miss it without reflection. Reflect on the purpose of a learning experience. Whether or not the vision came to reality, reflect on all the learning. Also, in what ways did the work (or could the work) cause others to reflect and ask questions?
  • Sharing - What was created that could be shared? What did you learn or the students learn that could be shared? What questions came from it that need to be asked of others? This sharing opens the door for connections on many levels and those lead to the final component...
  • Inspire - I believe a good part of inspiration (encouragement to keep going) comes from realizing you've done something no one else could have done quite the same. Regardless of how small the work of art is, recognize the uniqueness and what it means for future works. This lies at the heart of passion, purpose and potential--the ingredients of a full life. It will inspire the artist and everyone who gets to enjoy the art. Look for it and celebrate it in your work and the work of others.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Teaching Sunday School

My first experiences with teaching were through my church. I think I led a lesson at a camp once, then I was eventually asked to teach the high school Sunday school class. It was a small church, really small. I usually had two to four students at the most.

I liked the process of putting together lessons and talking about things I cared about. I don't remember it ever crossed my mind that I should be effective at it. It's crazy that eventually I took that to be my calling. I decided to make a career out of it.

A lot of other things had to come together before I actually did make a career out of it, but those small classes helped steer my thinking in that direction. 

I was coaching the ELA teachers in the middle school awhile back and for an icebreaker I asked them to tell how they got into teaching. Out of the five of us in the room, four of us started in Sunday school. I wonder if it ever happens the other way around?

I met my wife in Sunday school. This was years before we dated, but the first time I ever saw her she was a student coming to my class. She walked in, saw the other one or two kids there and said, "This is it?" Now we often wonder if, rather than falling for me at some point, she should have remembered how underwhelmed she was with my world at our first meeting.

"This is it?"

Well, I could go on, and I probably will in another post, but that's enough about my past for now. I think of this because my brother asked me to teach Sunday school with him this week. Now that I've been teaching for twenty years outside of the church, it will be interesting coming back. It's the same old building actually. Some of the people in the room will probably be ones who taught me years ago.

I'm not sure what to expect, but I know I didn't put together a conventional lesson. My job is to raise some questions, then my brother will take it from there to balance me out. I don't know if anyone else will learn anything, but I'll be taking notes.