5 Classy Listening Lessons

Have you ever had a conversation where you felt like the listener was not paying attention? Is there anything less classy than bad listeners? Listening is not natural. Teachers should not assume that their students come equipped with good listening habits. I ALWAYS begin every year with teaching listening skills.

IMG_9753
Listening Is a Partnership

Almost before I tell students my name, I am explaining the top three listening strategies. These are a mantra that we say to ourselves all year long: Stop moving, make eye-contact, and smile. In addition to the mantra, I teach the students the importance of being able to repeat the message you are listening to back to the speaker and ask good questions to clarify meaning and show that you care.

First, Make it a Mantra: “Stop moving, make eye-contact, and… smile;)”

Stop Moving

cropped listening
Listening takes loads of practice.

Don’t “Freeze” because that is silly and uncomfortable. Kids like the idea of “freezing” because it allows them to stop with feet in the air, weird expressions on their faces, etc. In fact, I have witnessed students standing or sitting perfectly normal get into contorted positions when they hear the word “Freeze!” Then they laugh, fall over, do everything but listen. Just stop moving.

Get set to listen. This is the opposite of freezing. Students should sit down, put down their scissors, pencils, papers, etc., and turn to face the speaker.

One of the things I do in my class for management is I teach everyone to Listening GIF-downsized_largestand at attention. This is great for getting my line nice and straight. I also use it when kids are listening to the announcements. [They are less distracted by things in the room, and my room can be pretty distracting! I have a 9-inch pleco swimming around a 75 gallon fish tank, for crying out loud!] To stand at attention simply means heels together, standing straight, shoulders back, chins up, and I also teach the kiddos to look straight ahead without smiling or even “focusing” on anything. In fact, their gaze should be a little out of focus. They are tin soldiers, waiting for action… passive… lifeless. If this sounds horrible, don’t worry, I only do it when we line up. During the announcements, we stand this way because rather than making eye-contact, kids are putting all of their energy into their ears. They try not to look at anything in the room.

Animated GIF-downsized_large
In addition to the giant pleco, there’s 7 jeweled cichlids in this bad boy.

Now, this attention business is NOT conducive to listening to someone. An alternative reason that I teach standing at attention is so that I can teach the contrast of “At Ease”. Students are instructed to separate their feet shoulder-width, put their hands behind their back (holding them)–this forces their posture to relax and shoulders droop a little; Then can now move their heads around, smile, and make eye-contact. The “Ten Hut” is like saying “Freeze”, but there isn’t the silly element. On the contrary, it is super serious. Then we relax, so that listening is comfortable and focused.

Stillness communicates that you are taking in the information. You are a carefully held container under a spigot in the desert, collecting valuable water that you don’t want to spill.

Eye-Contact

You know what this is and how powerful it can be. Some school thoughts, though…

  • I teach the students the importance of locking each other’s attention through the eyes. We practice with our turn-and-talk partners. I have the students move as little as possible; They should just turn their heads or pivot, slightly. Eye-contact is a hand-shake of vision. It is a commitment to listen.
  • In the classroom it is impossible to make eye-contact with every single student at the same time. I teach my students that they should be looking at my eyes so that when I turn toward them, our eyes meet. I demonstrate, and whenever I give instructions, I survey the room, looking students right into their eyes.
  • paying attentionIf the communicator is directing the listener’s attention to an object or place, the listener should look at what the speaker is referencing. In this instance that place or object is like the eyes of the speaker. It is all about connecting. If you keep looking at the speaker when he/she wants to show you something, you become “disconnected” from the message.

    This is what impressed me so much that I had to write this blog. My students were sharing last night’s homework with their turn-and-talk partners, and the listeners were riveted to the task.

Elyse Rycroft teaches “Whole Body Listening” in “TEACHING LISTENING SKILLS IN THE CLASSROOM”. She suggests students use not only their eyes, but turn toward the speaker. Listen with your ears, your eyes, your nose, your cheeks, etc.

Smile

After really serious speeches about posture and eye-contact, this one is a relief. And, it is supposed to be. They all laugh when I keep the same serious tone while instructing everyone to “Smile!” I act like I am angry at anyone who does not smile effectively. This gets everyone cracking up. It lightens the mood and does exactly what I want to teach: Listening should be inviting information into your brain. You will be more likely to accept something if you are smiling. You project onto the person you are listening to the idea that this information is nice.  

Smiles foster warm/fuzzy feelings. I don’t’ think I need to explain this.

Active listening; kids can look at you like zombies. Forcing them to smile wakes them up. At “Meet The Teacher Night” one of my student’s parents told me that her son came home on the first day of school complaining about his cheeks hurting. Her inquiry lead to his explaining that his new teacher (me) has everyone smiling all day long. This gave me a laugh. The parent told me that she explained to her son that his teacher wasn’t being “literal”. I assured her that I was. You cannot smile too much! Smile until it hurts! The pain will make the information that you were listening to that much more memorable;)

Second, Put Information Into Your Own Words

  • Listen purposefully, so that you can retell the main points of the message to someone else.
  • Be able to summarize the message of the speaker back to him or her. This will help assess understanding. Did you get the message of the speaker correct? If not, then the storyteller can clarify or even add more detail to support understanding.
  • At the beginning of the year, this provides a fun reason to learn summarizing. You can play games where students practice recounting details of stories back to one another.
  • And, a good listener transitions very nicely into a good reader.
great listening
Listening should be inviting information into your brain.

Third, Questions Show You Care.

Picture telling a friend a story about something that happened to you. It doesn’t have to be all that important. When you are done, your friend turns and walks away without saying a word. What?! That would be sooo rude! Why? We know it is, but can you put it into words? What if your friend waited a moment and then launched into his or her own story. That happens a lot, and sometimes it is no big deal, depending on the conversation. But, if you were telling a significant story about something truly important to you, you’d expect your friend to inquire just a little. There are few better or easier ways for a listeners to show some class and communicate a caring persona than asking poignant questions.

  • “How long were you there?”
  • “When did this happen?”
  • “How did that make you feel?”
  • “What happened next? Or, after that?”
  • “Why did you do that?”
  • These kinds of questions show that you are interested. It flatters the speaker with an attentive audience.

Also, questions can clarify.

Fourth, Analyze the Difference Between Listening and Hearing

Hearing is passive, while listening is active.

Hearing is a park that everyone and anyone can visit at anytime. There are dogs barking. Kids are running around, screaming and playing. Bicyclists pedal through the middle of it. A couple relaxes on a blanket only to have a teenager trip over them while trying to catch a frisbee…

Listening is a birthday party. Specific people are invited. Everyone plays a game at the same time. Together, we all sing “Happy Birthday”. No one talks while the birthday boy/girl blows out the candles. Gifts, pleasantries, and well wishes are exchanged. There are no bikes passing through or frisbee catchers crashing the canoodling.

In the same way that you can take all of this listening thought and apply it to reading actively, for fun, you could turn it around and try using reading strategies on listening attentively.

  • Visualize what the speaker is telling you.
  • Identify cause and effect within the storyteller’s message.
  • Use questioning to deepen understanding.
  • Predictions make reading and listening fun and rewarding
  • Summarize the main idea.

Fifth, Assessment: Google Form (10 Questions)

My students loved this! I put together a ten-question, multiple-choice quiz using Google Forms that I read to the class. This was the first time that the kids signed into their Google accounts, so it took some time, but it was worth it. They had to access their Google classroom, and then click on the “Listening Skills Quiz” assignment. Once everyone was logged in and looking at the quiz, the fun began. I read the questions out loud to the class. I also read the answers. I told them that this was not supposed to be tricky. “I am assessing your listening, so listen up: I will tell you the correct answers. If you don’t do well, it is because you weren’t listening.” Their heads nearly exploded. Now, I did not just say that “The second choice is the correct answer,” mind you. I read the quiz with emphasis on certain answers as I circulated the room. If I saw kids wavering between two choices, I’d read it again and give an example. We laughed. The kids were successful. At times I did just say, “The answer to this one is the last choice, your welcome!” They loved it, and quiz-taking began with a super positive experience.

There was a student who did poorly. This was a clear indication that we needed to revisit some of the listening skills. I simply had the kid take it again during recess, and he did fine. This showed the significance of the assessment, however. Here was one child who wasn’t ready to move on with our listening “program”. Now, he is on board.

Post Script(s) for Teachers

  • Only have your students “listen” when they are able to do it properly.
  • Make listening significant. Don’t expect students to be listening to you all of the time. Students shouldn’t be hanging on your every word. In fact, one of theScreen Shot 2018-09-09 at 8.40.37 AM questions that students struggled with on my “Listening Skills Quiz” concerned how often they should listen. I will need to adjust this question for next time that I administer the quiz. [Maybe I won’t, and use this as a teaching tool. We’ll see.] I make such a big deal out of listening; It makes sense that students would think it should take precedence over everything. But, this would be exhausting. You hear everything… but listening is work.
  • Have a bunch of ways to get the class’s attention. No matter how interesting your method, kids eventually tune it out (Daniels, n.d.). The clapping works, but gets old. “Touch your nose if you can hear my voice,” whispered a few times is fine once in a while. I started one that  makes kids look around and is fun to say: “Look at the ceiling, look at the floor, look at the windows, look at the door.” It gets them moving and looking. I then change it up “Look at the ceiling, look at the floor, look at the board… now look at me.” They laugh, because it wasn’t what they expected.
  • Give them time/empower them to be classy listeners. For example, don’t tell everyone to listen, and then start talking before they stop moving or make eye-contact. I usually pause and compliment smiles. This gets everyone’s attention and makes listening fun and attractive.

Sources:

Daniels, N. (n.d.). Listening Exercises for Kids That Actually Work [Web log post]. Retrieved September 9, 2018, from https://www.anxioustoddlers.com/listening-exercises-for-kids/#.W5Rq4ZNKjUI

Rycroft, E. (n.d.). TEACHING LISTENING SKILLS IN THE CLASSROOM [Web log post]. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from https://proudtobeprimary.com/teaching-listening-skills/

Five Ways to Classy-ify Assessments with Google Forms

I haven’t read it yet, but I look forward to tackling “Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways To Go

pile of books
My pile of reading is bottomless!

Gradeless In a Traditional Grades School” by Starr Sackstein (2015). From what I have seen from tweets, this text lines up perfectly with my transforming attitude about tests and assessment. I have been leaning away from right/wrong assessments the past few years. Google Forms have helped me all but completely stray from formal testing into the land of forging understanding through creative assessments.

Provide clear instr for taking the quiz
Provide clear instructions for beginning quizzes.

I teach third grade, so the following examples may have too much text for your students, or be too simple for your grade level. Obviously, you are going to make your own quizzes to fit the needs of your classroom. I present concepts, here to help you make your quizzes a little more classy. Here’s five ideas. 

First of all, I use the potential answers to continue teaching the concepts. Does this point kids in the direction of the answer, making it obvious which one is correct? You bet. Not only

Answer 3 negates the second
The feedback points out what I do in the quiz; pointing to how the answers are structured to “give away” the correct responses.

that, but you should hear me read the questions and add anecdotes to the answers! The only kids who should be getting these questions wrong are the ones not paying attention, and, so, that is being assessed as well. 

Second, only assess what you are teaching. Because I was not teaching reading comprehension, I am not going to expect my class to be able to read and understand these questions. I had that in mind when I designed and typed the quiz. I plan to read this entire quiz to my class. I might administer it in small groups, because I do not have enough digital devices at this time for every kid to have one. That works, too. If I were assessing reading, I would have the kids take the quiz independently, and I would have made it on their reading levelS–That is right!! Tailoring the quizzes to meet each kiddo’s needs is great with Google Forms. You can copy and paste things. You can make a copy of the entire quiz and only change things as you need to, also.

Third, use the feedback to provide students with not only why answers are correct and

With google forms be sure to copy and paste answer feedback into correct ans feedback
For this particular quiz I want even students who got the answer correct to see my feedback, so I had to copy and paste the response into the “Correct Answers” window, also.

incorrect, but as a teaching space. I often instruct students within the feedback areas on how to evaluate answers. I show them what I was doing when I typed the quiz. In the same way learning how to write from an actual published author will enhance a budding writer, I hope to help my students become better test-takers. That’s right! I said “test-takers”. Guess what; No matter how much you hate it, life is full of taking tests. I want my students to be great at it.

Fourth, let go of grades. This is where I think my methods lineup with  Sackstein’s “Hacking Assessment” (2015) book thesis. When creating my quizzes in Google Forms, I allow my students to “Edit after Let students view each other's responses and answerssubmit” and “See summary charts and text responses”. I do this so that students can assess themselves. They can revisit the quiz with their peers, seeing what other people chose as answers. (https://youtu.be/ZZ65RwKOsPA) You have to instruct your students in how to analyze these pie charts. They are pretty easy to figure out, but it is important to recognize that just because more people chose the second option as an answer, does not guarantee its correctness. If everyone else chose an option that you didn’t, however, may lead you to reevaluate your choice. I love having my students read each other’s written responses, too. Kids go back and dress up their own answers with better information. Teachers, you have to be willing to allow students to correct themselves. So what if they get a better grade than the one that they initially “earned”. In every other area of life kids are allowed to improve what they do without getting penalized. Why are our tests a once and done, black and white, the moment you click “submit”, your assessment is up experience?

Fifth… This is going to seem like a contradiction to the previous point, but I actually like grades. They are measures. Parents want to see how their children “measure up”. Grades are goals. Without some sort of measurement, it feels like we didn’t get anywhere. It is important to understand that the grades are artificial; they are made up; they are relative… but they do exist. Also, kids like getting good grades. The way I see it, my job is to help each kid get the best grade possible. I provide opportunities for bonus points. I let students retake quizzes. I allow students to see what everyone else did. They can all but copy and paste answers. One key idea is that, even with all of this help, it is important for students to feel as though they earned their grades. Assessments can be teaching tools

And, now I am going to end this blog by doing what I all but scream at my students for doing: I hope that you found some of this useful. Thanks for reading! Ugh, I hate it when they do that;)

Sackstein, S. (2015). Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways To Go Gradeless In a Traditional Grades School. Cleveland: Times 10 Publications.

Google Classroom Gets Classier and Classier!

I only began using Google Classroom last year, and I instantly fell in love with it. It is easy to work with as a teacher: You can find things fast. There are convenient pathways to Google Drive, Youtube, and previous posts from other classrooms for assigning tasks. The format is simple enough for primary grades to navigate, but complex enough for older grades to utilize.

This blog is bubbling out of a realization from assessing an assignment that I administered this week. Rather than have all of my kiddos sitting on a carpet for too long and only partially engaged in the story that I was reading to them, I put the story into a Google slideshow and shared it with my class in Google Classroom. I made it so that the slideshow created a copy for each student in the class.

classroom rules
It was tricky to word the rules as a “Cause”. I had to erase the word “No” a couple of times.

Before having students begin the slideshow activity, I presented the classroom rules in a unique way. I did not tell the students, “No laying down in the classroom!” I wrote the words “laying down” on the board, and then, as a class, we discussed what could happen as a result of students laying down. The first student to volunteer information suggested that kids might fall asleep. I thought that was rather far-fetched, but we discussed not paying attention, the difference between actively working and passively producing work (just going through the motions). Through this students suggested that laying down would communicate “Disrespect”. I thought that was a great observation!

After writing several byproducts for laying down on the floor, one of which was “Being a trip hazard”, I drew a line between the action and what that action might bring about. Then I drew a solid line above both sides, creating a T Chart. I didn’t say anything as I wrote “CAUSE” above the left side of the chart. Kids only had to see the C-A-U before they were calling out (breaking one of the rules we were about to discuss;) “EFFECT!”

I barely had to mention the concept of “Cause & Effect” after that, and we easily came up with other rules and why we have them. This just came to me, while in front of the students, but it was by far the classiest rules discussion I have ever witnessed. I had to be careful to write the rules as though they were the cause, which was tricky at times, but even this made the concept of behaving appropriately seem less militaristic. Rather than “No Calling Out”, I wrote “Not raising your hand”. So, what happens when you don’t raise your hand? We discussed the feeling you get when you have an awesome answer that you would be proud to share, but someone else yells out a similar thought. Ugh! That person just stole my spotlight!!

Now, I have a story that I usually use to accompany the rules. It introduces the concept of consequences for breaking them. The students had been sitting on the carpet for several minutes, though, so I, within seconds, made through the “First Quarter ELA” Google Classroom that I had just created over lunch an assignment that provided the slideshow to everyone. Not only would each kid have access to it, but the classroom software made a copy for each student. In this way, I had the students open their individual copy in the Google Slides App, so that they could leave comments.

Cause and Effect slide one
This is the 2nd slide, the first with text, and I gave the students what to type as comments, so they could practice. Those links on the slide were active for the kids to go to websites I had vetted and linked to the story for them to deepen their understanding.

I walked them through accessing their slideshows, navigating the app, and reading the slides. I showed them where the button for “Adding a Comment” was and even gave them an example of “Cause & Effect” from the first slide for them to type. Then, some students read the text independently, seeking causes and their effects. Many students read the text to themselves, while I read it out loud from the interactive board. When we finally got to the rules that I had typed into the slideshow, I had the students engage with the slide, telling me which rule they thought would be the hardest to keep. They were to leave a comment about it.

Feedback plus grades for Google slideshow assignments in google classroom
I used to only leave comments within the slideshows. Now, I can leave feedback that summarizes the reason for the grade. Providing evidence is classy.

Here comes the truly amazing part. I am sitting down at my computer at home getting ready to assign some grades for this project. I plan to be gracious, giving high marks for kids who simply did anything. In addition to just a grade, Google Classroom has made it so that I can leave feedback for the whole assignment!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This was not available last year. I left comments throughout slideshows, but never one for the whole assignment. This is great! Thank you, Google. Very classy idea.  

Feedback for Reagan wow
Not only can I grade these slideshows, something I did last year, but I can provide feedback for why students received the grades.
Returning Reagan's wow work
If you connect accounts to parent emails or if you are using this with older students who have their own email addresses, they will be alerted that there is a grade with corresponding feedback that they can view.

Pencils, Ice Cream, and Veggies: Withholding Basic Needs Is Never Classy

I loved the article “Give the Kid a Pencil” by Chad Donahue (2016). For years I have wrestled with the conundrum of missing and broken pencils.IMG_9380

Two years ago I was so frustrated at the end of the year that I began a policy of punishing students after three strikes. I reasoned with them that there are always accidents and mistakes, and therefore there will be three passes on pencil breakage/loss. After that, though, they begin losing recess. I don’t think anyone missed out on any recess, but I do remember a very interesting phenomena occurring; a sort of underworld of pencil dealings was birthed. Kids were not bothering me with sharpening their pencils or interrupting lessons with “I can’t find my pencil” anymore. They would vanish under their desks. Friends would traffic Ticonderoga  No. 2 (Pollard, 2008) contraband across the room so that their buddies could join them at recess. It literally went this way.

IMG_9369At the beginning of last year I tried telling the students that their pencils were their swords–In this case the pencil was mightier than the sword. We have a pirate theme in my classroom, so the pencils were actually cutlasses. I had planned to have the kids make crafty, creative sheathes for their sabors, but time evaporated, and we got into learning/teaching. Honestly, I didn’t really like the focus on weapons.

When I student-taught in a first grade classroom at Foglesville Elementary, the teacherImage result for pencil sharpenerspent every lunch break sharpening pencils. She provided the pencils for pupils whose pencil broke, free of charge. They would simply go over and exchange the writing utensil. I liked this idea, but never implemented it in third grade.

At the very beginning of the year I have school supplies on the brain once again. The author of “Give the Kid a Pencil” (Donahue, 2016) presented the problem to grad students. Predictably, they came up with clever capture and release plans where students felt the pain of pencil loss, but regained the use of writing through a variety of redemptive activities.

Unpredictably and refreshingly, Chad Donahue (2016) told his grad students he would “…give the kid a pencil… every time…” not just the first time, or after regaining trust, or once the kid jumps through hoops; immediately and always.

This article reminded me of a time when I was a kid and I was eating an ice cream cone with my family. My scoop of ice cream dropped onto the ground. I’m not sure if one of my parents asked the restaurant for more ice cream or the workers witnessed the catastrophe of a kid who adored ice cream, but I do remember that no money was exchanged for the new scoop that was added to my cone.

ice cream
Scarlet wonders if Grampy ever dropped a scoop of ice cream.

Image result for no 2 pencilsGrad students asked Donahue (2016) about kids who might take advantage of the pencil producing professor’s liberalism. He explains that if a kid does want to test the teacher, and he/she breaks or loses his/her pencil on purpose, there will come a point, a magic number–fifty, a hundred–at some point the pupil will get it: there will always be a pencil available. And, guess what… I never developed a habit of dropping my ice cream scoop on the ground as a result of being given a new one for free!

Teachers, don’t make the pencil an issue. Find the underlying cause. Maybe the kid wants attention. Perhaps he needs a break… so he breaks his pencil. I can picture myself having a pencil cup full of sharp, ready to go pencils, and becoming frustrated when a kid tells me he needs a new pencil for the hundredth time. “Didn’t I tell you 99 times before that they are right there?!” Do you think the kid will remember where the sharp pencils are next time if I yell at him? There is clearly a different need going on here.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory that seeks to explain what causesMaslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramidpeople to behave certain ways (McLeod, 2018). As each level is met, a human being can concentrate on the next. A person isn’t going to worry about safety when he is starving. When pencils are not freely available in the classroom, student psyche could bottom out in the basement of Maslow’s pyramid. How is a kid supposed to feel good (esteem) about himself if he is being controlled by a pencil-nazi who is hoarding the most basic scholastic tool of all time?

The tendency to want to control the carbonite cartel in the classroom may very well come from a deep “root socioeconomic orientation of commerce based upon scarcity” (Joseph, 2017, p. 116). Peter Joseph explains a market system that capitalizes on the deficiency or weaknesses of others that pervades our American way of life in “The New Human Rights Movement: Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression.” The grad students from Donahue’s course who were well-meaning, we will assume, couldn’t help but think in terms of this scarcity system. Students must learn that items like pencils do not grow on trees! Oh wait…

scarlet writes with pencilEarlier I equated pencil loss with ice cream spillage, but are kids as fond of pencils as they are of ice cream? Not quite. Replace ice cream with vegetables. A young child doesn’t want to eat his green beans, so he throws them on the floor. Does the parent have the kid get down on his hands and knees to lick the green beans off of the floor? Does the adult send the kid outside to begin tilling a plot of land that will be planted with green beans to be harvested months from now? These scenarios are ridiculous. A responsible grown up simply places more legumes on the child’s plate, explaining and modeling healthy eating. We do this because we want our offspring to grow up to be strong, smart, and live a fulfilled, fun, and productive life.

Plenty of pencils will pave a path toward eventual self-actualization, inspiring students to be the most that they can be. That is classy. Keeping kids from their potential, no matter what the reason, couldn’t be less classy.

IMG_9379
Plenty of pencils will pave a path toward eventual self-actualization, inspiring students to be the most that they can be.

Sources:

Donohue, C. (2016, August 4). Give the Kid a Pencil. Retrieved August 26, 2018, from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/give-the-kid-a-pencil

Joseph, P. (2017). The New Human Rights Movement: Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression. Dallas: Bendella Books.

McLeod, S. (2018, May 21). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved August 28, 2018, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Pollard, G. (2008, August 10). Great American Pencil Brands. Retrieved August 28, 2018, from http://www.brandlandusa.com/2008/08/10/great-american-pencil-brands/

 

Credit is Classy

The East Penn School District recently held its traditional, educators’ welcome back IMG_1887assembly, August 22, 2018. On the way into the auditorium greeters handed out fliers and small sticky notepads. The flier advertised $15,052 that the EPSD Education Foundation was rewarding in grant money for teachers this coming year.

“What I want to know, is what is this $52, here.” — A hoarse whisper from a gentleman right in front of me, while pointing out the last two digits of the total grant money amount to his neighbor. Good teachers and authors know the power of questioning. Causing kids to question turns teaching on its head. The educator is no longer force-feeding information to students, but providing what the students are wondering about. Personally, I figured the $52 was some monetary necessity born out of the intricacies of finance and taxes, something complicated from a world I know next to nothing about. Boy, was I wrong!

IMG_9307
Heather Slatoff, Vice President, tells teachers about grants available through EPSD Education Foundation

Almost before my neighboring questioner sat back in his chair, Heather Slatoff was mentioning the amounts of the grants EPSD Educational Foundation was making available this year. The very last one was $52! What? Now, I was questioning!

with kristen campbellHeather explained that one of last year’s winners, Paula Fehlinger, had her class auction artwork. When Mrs. Fehlinger asked her class what they wanted to do with the $52 that they had earned, the kids told her that they wanted to donate it to the foundation that had provided them the means to make the artwork in the first place. This was one of the classiest little stories I had heard in a long time, but it was about to get even better…

The EPSD Education Foundation took that $52 and made it its own grant! The kids from that class should feel like kings and queens. The foundation credited the class with class. It is honoring the classy decision/action that those kids made, with the help and direction of their classy teacher, Mrs. Fehlinger.

 

Later in the third grade year, I enjoy teaching multiple-meaning words. I usually couple this topic with teaching the use of context clues. Here is a word that I haven’t used in the past, but will definitely begin including in this lesson: Credit.

Surprisingly, Merriam Webster’s very first definition of the entry “Credit” has to do with

woman holding card while operating silver laptop
Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

truth. The “reliance on the truth or reality of something” is the dictionary website’s initial meaning for “Credit”. The use of the EPSD Education Foundation’s donation to Mrs. Fehlinger’s class gave credit to the purpose of the grants that are meant to promote science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (Education Closet).

As I am only hours away from greeting my brand new third graders to Room 207 of Willow Lane, the first lesson of the year is consuming my thoughts. I am excited to begin the year with a lesson about “Evidence”. Here is a new concept to connect to that lesson: Proof is credit. And, the more credit you have, the more credible your fact. When your statement lacks proof, it is incredible–unbelievable–not worthy of belief or credit.

pexels-photo-870902.jpeg
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I think of a bank ledger, where on the one side you have the income (credit) and on the other you have expenses. When you make a statement, you are putting information out there for people to believe. They will believe what you say if you have proof. Sometimes it is difficult to provide concrete proof to credit a statement. In these instances, the more credible the source, the easier it is for people to believe the statement. In other words, the more credit (previously truthful statements that have been proven) a person has in his factual bank account, the more easily a statement made by said person will be accepted (believed). With each false statement a person promotes, he withdraws credibility from his factual bank account. When funds dip, people withdraw trust.

The fabulous fifty dollar grant story lends credit to the funds of these grants not only being used in creative educational ways, but inspiring some of the classiest behavior I have ever heard. It gave me goosebumps to learn about the origin of the last two digits of the total grant allotment for the 2018-19 school year. Although teachers could obviously do more with the larger grants, I, personally, am inspired to apply to win the smallest, but classiest one… $52. This one deserves the biggest “check”.

My class
Mrs. Dweck, myself, and some other Willow Lane teachers received a substantial grant from EPSD Education Foundation last year to fund the purchase of Thymio Robots and use of Techykids.com

Sources:

Credit. (n.d.). Retrieved August 25, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/credit

East Penn School District Education Foundation Announces 2017/2018 Innovator STEAM Grant Winners. (2017, October 26). Retrieved August 25, 2018, from https://www.eastpennsd.org/article/east-penn-school-district-education-foundation-announces-20172018-innovator-steam-grant-winners/

Education Closet. (n.d.). What is STEAM? Retrieved August 25, 2018, from https://educationcloset.com/steam/what-is-steam/ [The “art” of STEaM is the driving force pushing the mechanics of teaching: Innovation, creativity, taking STEM to the next level.]

7 Powerful Ways Classy People “Stand Out”

IMG_9266Page 11 within introduction to “Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today” by Thomas C. Murray and Eric C. Sheninger  (2017) discusses the typical high school diploma’s lessening value. The authors suggest that “the opportunities available for those with only a high school diploma remain in a freefall.”(Italics added IMG_9264for emphasis.) This got me thinking. First, I made a text to film connection. Just recently I had rewatched the movie “21” (Luketic, 2008) starring Jim Sturgess, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Bosworth, and something that stood out to me more during this second viewing than the first was the premise for the whole movie: It opens with an interviewer asking Jim Sturgess’s character what he has done that stands out. Sturgess is applying for a grant that would fund his education at Harvard Medical School. The interviewer points out all of the impressive credentials that the applicant has earned, along with powerful letters of reference… But… he tells Sturgess that there are thousands of applicants with similar qualifications. He is going to need to “dazzle”.

Then, I got to thinking: What could students do to stand out? How about class? There is no shortage of articles streaming the Internet about declining manners. And, in my own experience, students who behave in an extraordinarily polite manner stand out as noteworthy individuals. 

picked up the most debris
Portrait: Students cleaned up debris after water play.

A year ago I acquired an iPhone 8 Plus. This phone has a dual photo lense. This allows me to use a feature called Portrait. When I activate this, I can focus on something and everything else goes out of focus. My photos have gone from “very nice” to “stunning”. Classy people capture the attention of those around them by displaying behavior that stands out. Capturing the focus of powerful people through being classy is an inexpensive way to add to the high school diploma. Here are six more “P” words that “phoster” class.

  • Say, “Ma’am” and “Sir” when talking to people. Speak, publicly and privately, in a way that distinguishes you from others. Use impressive (but correct) vocabulary. Do not be profane or crass. Crass is the antithesis of class–whole separate blog on this around the corner. Pronunciation.
  • Stand/sit up tall and straight; Posture is a rare and separating phenomenon today. It shows pride and assurance. These are characteristics people gravitate toward–posture could very well be the only thing that puts some in a leadership position. Confidence is a magnet, and posture presumes it.
  • Treat others kindly/be positive. Who is drawn to the Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer? No one. Here is a whole other blog: Find and express something positive about every single thing. The most challenging things to be positive about will cause you to shine as a light in the darkness — Remember, the idea is to stand out.
  • Be polite: Display good manners. In addition to saying “Ma’am” and “Sir”, behave in ways that show “good upbringing”.
    • Put others first; This is more than The Golden Rule.
      • Hold door
      • Offer seat
      • Clean up after yourself
      • Communicate absence: “I’m going to be late.” “Sorry, I was late…” “Excuse me for a moment…”
      • Treat others even better than you would expect to be treated, raising the global politeness factor a fraction of kindness.
        • #manners has stories of guys literally standing up whenever a lady stands. Talk about “standing out”!
        • This kind of thing is chivalrous and archaic, and some women may not like inequality of being treated differently, but in general, showing extreme respect is going to make you memorable, either way. And, that is what you are going for.
        • Look up some outdated polite actions that would make you seem classier than even the classiest to standout that much more.
    • Be helpful
      • You see someone struggling; Offer a hand.
      • Does a peer need some assistance figuring something out; Help. They will remember the action, but they will also remember YOU.
    • Communicate gratitude
      • This could be through, but is not limited to, writing thank you cards.
      • Do something for someone in return.
      • Tell everyone “Thank you” for everything.
        • A week ago I was conducting a professional development course on using iPads in the classroom. At the very beginning I was rushing around trying to get everything working; projector, Apple TV, computer, etc. I bumped into an unoccupied chair and said, “Excuse me”. People laughed and commented on me talking to chairs. I overheard them and, laughing at myself, commented right back  with, “Yeah, that’s right, I apologized to a chair!” It made everything more comfortable and connected me, the frantic facilitator with my waiting audience, breaking the ice. This isn’t gratitude, but it shows behaving in a classy way, ALWAYS, even to chairs. How much more will that type of person show kindness to a peer? Thank “everything”. 
        • Be the kind of person who can’t help but be thankful.
      • When you earn something, be proud, BUT when you get something without earning it, be thankful. It is not classy (Here is a whole other blog in the making.) to act like you deserve things. Do not assume entitlements. Be grateful for everything.
  • ALWAYS be publicly presentable (Here is a bonus “P” word;) This isn’t to say that you should be dressed- or done up at all times. Simply be outwardly and inwardly prepared to speak to important people no matter where you are. If you are working in the garden, you will look messy, but your person, and even your work space, could be neat–a working neatness. If an important person were walking by, would he/she say, “Wow, impressive!” or would they look down on you and your work.
    IMG_9257
    “Capturing the focus of powerful people through being classy is an inexpensive way to add to the high school diploma.”
    • Integrity is classy: Here is an idea for a whole other independent blog! Suffice to say, being the same person all of the time, whether you are building a sunken pirate ship, which I was working on just yesterday, or speaking in front of people, will cause others to view you as someone reliable, dependable, and consistent; someone they can count on.
    • Sometimes you must detour to class. The easiest example of this is my mom answering the phone in the middle of yelling at my sister and me. She could be mid-scream, and when the phone rang, she would instantly smile and sweetly say, “Hello” with a voice devoid of any trace of the hurricane winds blowing around her. Thank goodness for those phone calls. If we had had cell phones back then… Was she displaying integrity? Yes. We will get messy, metaphorically, but must be classy under it all. What would happen if my mom spoke to the person on the phone with the same volume and tone that she had just been using to communicate to my sister and me? Would that be more congruent with integrity?
  • Be productive. I’m not telling you to build furniture or anything. A classy person adds something to society or the world at large. Produce something of value that others can use. This is why I blog. You will have your own way of contributing; make yourself valuable to others. Don’t worry about the numbers. You can influence/do something for one person to create personal worth.
    • This could be as simple as smiling.
    • My daughter (seven years old) has begun saying nice things to service persons: “This food is delicious!” “I really like your hair.” Any person at any age can add value to the world.
    • Be dependable. Being that student in class whom a teacher can count on to do the tasks that require respect and responsibility is very valuable!

“In today’s global economy, a high school diploma is simply not enough for people to succeed” (Murray & Sheninger, 2017, p. 11) (italics added for emphasis). Thomas Murray and Sheninger’s (2017) book is for educators. It outlines things schools and teachers can do to align with the impending revolution of technology taking over the world. These ideas equip educators to provide the “more” that students receiving diplomas need to succeed. I look forward to reading the rest of the book, but I am happy to announce that just the introduction is extremely thought-provoking!

There are many other ways to stand out. You could fly to Vegas on the weekends, count cards, win tons of money, secretly live the highlife, and turn in a corrupt professor (Luketic, 2008). While that sounds exciting, I’ll at least begin with being classy.

IMG_9215
“Portrait” in iPhone camera helps focus on what’s most important. Be an important person.

Sources:

Crouch, M. (2011, November). How to Teach Good Manners: Raising a polite kid in a rude world isn’t as hard as it seems. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://www.parents.com/kids/responsibility/manners/teaching-manners-kids/ [This article breaks down what manners are best to learn at different ages.]

Luketic, R. (Director). (2008). 21 [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: Sony Pictures.[inspired by the true story of the MIT Blackjack Team as told in Bringing Down the House, the best-selling book by Ben Mezrich” (Wikipedia)]

Murray, T., & Sheninger, E. (2017). Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Pederson, T. (2016, April 25). Survey: Most Americans Think Good Manners are Declining. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2016/04/25/survey-most-americans-think-good-manners-are-declining/102262.html [This was published before the 2016 presidential election.]

The Value of a High School Diploma. (2016, January 2). The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/opinion/sunday/the-value-of-a-high-school-diploma.html

Proof is Classy: A Back to School Idea

Worms make better pets
Worms are AWESOME! Fact or Opinion?

Most people have heard of the ice-breaking game, “Two Truths/One Lie.” I enjoy this little game so much that I have incorporated it in my first week of school for several years. I changed the name to “Fact vs. Falsehood” because I am a fiend for alliteration and I don’t like the idea of teaching kids to lie. Additionally, it affords me a teaching opportunity on day one: I break out the vocabulary word, EVIDENCE.

In the past, I would teach the difference between fact and false, and inevitably get things muddled with the concept of opinions. I recently saw a tweet by @tomascmurray, who will be keynoting the East Penn Back to School Assembly for teachers on Aug. 22, that gave me an awesome idea for changing my game. He suggested having interactive, thinking-oriented items on desks when students arrive on the first day of school, rather than a pile of books and papers. I loved this idea!

This year I plan to marry two games, and let kids work on figuring out the rules on their own. In addition to “Fact vs. Falsehood”, the second game is “Classmate Scavenger Hunt”. Traditionally, kids would have a piece of paper with a list on it. They would work on finding other kids who share the same experiences, opinions, and criteria from the list. They write the names of peers next to statements as they find students who fit the descriptions.

This year, however, I plan to break up the Classmate Scavenger Hunt paper list. I will make cards that contain one statement each. They will be placed in a bowl that I’ll put in the middle of each group of desks. Some example statements include:

  • I don’t have any pets.
  • I have more than one favorite color.
  • I have written a book. (Some kids love writing stories into mini booklets.)
  • I took the bus to school today.
  • I have never been to Disney World.Previous Evidence Lesson (1st day)
  • I love to swim.
  • My birthday is in the spring.
  • Summer is my favorite season.

Because there won’t be anything else on the desks, and kids can’t help but touch stuff, I expect that they will begin digging into the bowls and looking at the cards. I hope that they communicate with each other about the statements, finding out which ones they have in common. (Later on we can use the cards to make Venn diagrams, displaying similarities and differences between students.)

In the past, I taught the students in a whole group setting the difference between “facts” and “opinions”. This year, I am going to see if kids can figure out the difference by separating their cards into two different groups. I won’t tell them what the criteria is. They may decide to make a pile of things the classmates all share in common, leaving the rejected statements to their own pile. That would make sense. I’ll simply have them try to find another difference or criteria to categorize the two piles, until they realize that some statements contain phrases that make them opinions.

Eventually, I’ll bring the thinking around to noticing that some of the statements can be proven, while some are impossible to prove, even though you might feel like they are true. The ones that are “prove-able” — able to be proven — are facts. And, how can you prove their accuracy? With… drum-role… EVIDENCE.

roach
This is a roach.
Roaches make cool pets
Roaches make the best classroom pets.

My birthday is in the summer. This is a fact. What proof do I have to support this? The evidence can be found in a few places: Driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card, passport, etc.

“Summer is the best season” is an opinion. No matter how much you love it, or how many people agree with you, this is NOT a fact. You simply cannot prove that summer is better than other seasons. It might seem that way, but there isn’t any evidence to back up the statement.

Opinions are not bad or wrong to use. In “5 Classy Elements of ‘The Story of Mankind’ (1921)” I praised the author, Hendrik Van Loon, for providing his personal opinion within a history book. I enjoyed reading some of the ideas that he gleaned from his study of world history. It is helpful to let people know your likes and dislikes. Those are opinions.

baby chickens are cute
Baby chicks are soooooo cute!
baby chickens are noisy
Baby chicks are noisy and distracting.

Trouble arises when opinions are made to seem like facts. “I have a lot of homework” might seem like a fact, but in actuality, this is an opinion. When the phrase “a lot” is used, a statement that might otherwise be a fact turns into an opinion. “A lot,” compared to what? Comparing your amount of homework to what a kindergartener brings home would make it seem like a ton. But, compare your homework to what an eleventh grader might receive, and your task is minuscule! You DO have homework. That is a fact. You can prove that. Your evidence is written on your assignment book page, and you may even have physical papers that are not yet complete. So, saying “I feel like my homework will take a long time to complete” may be a more accurate statement than the one above, but until you actually complete it, there isn’t any evidence to prove just how much homework there really is.

“My homework took twenty minutes to complete, last night.” This is a fact, as long as it is true. There are parts of this statement that can be proven. Did you do it last night? Did it take twenty minutes?

Falsehood (untruth) Opinion (feelings) Fact (prove-able) Classy Fact (dressed up)
“My homework took me two hours to do!” “It felt like I would never finish my homework last night.” “It took me twenty minutes to complete my homework last night.” “I was surprised to find out that it only took me twenty minutes to do my homework last night, because it felt like it was taking forever.”

Facts can be dry and boring. That’s why we season them with opinions. “My birthday is in the best season, summer.” Your birthday may very well fall within the calendar days that land it in the season of summer, but who is to say that summer is the “best season”? That is your opinion.

Also, opinions are increasingly useful, the more they are explained. While you can’t actually prove an opinion, you CAN support it. A classy person may say, “I love summer because you can swim, there isn’t any homework, and my birthday is in August.” Now, we understand several reasons that cause you to like summer more than other seasons.

For “Fact vs. Falsehood” to work, students should write down two facts that can be proven with evidence, along with one untruth that also can be proven inaccurate with evidence (i.e. “I have three sisters” could be a falsehood if a student only has one.) After students compose their sentences, we go around the room sharing and guessing which of the three statements is false. In this way we learn a little about one another, hear each other speak, practice good listening habits, and appreciate some classroom rules.

That's a big hat
That 24″ diameter hat is rather large.

To close the entire lesson, I might display the following table, reiterating the differences.

Falsehood (hyperbole) Opinion (feelings) Fact (prove-able) Opinion/Fact (classy compound sentence)
“There were one hundred people at my house last night.” “There were too many people visiting last night.” “I had five extra people in my house last night.” “Five people probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but that more than doubled the normal number of people using the bathroom, showering, and making messes.”

Every year, just before school begins, family visits my house. It is the end of the summer for them, which is a perfect way to wrap it all up. But, it is the beginning of my preparing to start the school year! I’m happy to host, but it is not the best timing. Is that an opinion or fact?