Infographic: Key Ideals of Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia

Did you ever wonder what Monstessori believed? How about Waldorf and Reggio Emilia? I was sent this link and it’s a really helpful infographic for understanding all 3.

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The Big Three: Comparing Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia Learning Philosophies

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Learning Objective

In EDI, “Learning Objective” is the beginning of the lesson. It should be stated clearly and the kids should show evidence of understanding by repeating it back and then answering as random non-volunteers. I usually write this on the board and explain any new or difficult words. Then I say it and have the class repeat it. You are establishing the goal of the lesson.

IAB_CL1_PX01642Series on EDI intro: Explicit Direct Instruction, or EDI, is a set of teaching strategies assembled by Data Works, a research company in California.  I have been trained and certified as a trainer and have found it a great way to deliver effective lesson plans.  It consists of steps which you will find in each post in the series here.  I hope you benefit by the series.  Please leave a comment, let’s have a dialog.

In the teaching method EDI, “Learning Objective” is the beginning of the lesson.  It should be stated clearly and the kids should show evidence of understanding by repeating it back and then answering as random non-volunteers. I usually write this on the board and explain any new or difficult words.  Then I say it and have the class repeat it.  You are establishing the goal of the lesson.  This helps the students mentally prepare for the lesson.  Many times teachers do “forward questioning,” or, questioning without teaching.  Forward questioning is a big no no.  A clearly taught learning objective is the best weapon against it. Here are some teaching methods.

Even though EDI is the focus here, a learning objective is an excellent part of any lesson plan. You state what we will be doing and stay faithful to it through all stages of the lesson.  It’s like a target guiding what you do and what you assess in the end. Now, onto the second step of my favorite method of teaching.

Closure

appleWhen you have gone through all the steps of EDI you arrive at closure.  But wouldn’t you know it? There is still another step after closure but it doesn’t involve the teacher.  It’s called Independent practice.  This is where you release the kids independently to do a test or a worksheet.  They show they learned the concept through that assessment piece.

Closure is simply checking for understanding (cfu) one last time.  Throughout the lesson you should be using cfu to make sure the kids are there with you.  As a teacher, you adjust your pace to reflect their needs.  CFU is crucial the the dynamite lesson plan.  CFU takes effort. It is something every teacher should use and use often. You simply go through the standard and ask questions to check they know it.  If they don’t? RETEACH.  If they do, go to independent practice. Here are some sample lessons.

The Enigma of Setting Up Desks

Every new year teachers ask themselves “How should I put the chairs?” I know this because I have been a teacher for 13 years and I have seen the amazing difference desk placement and patterns can make in the classroom. I think what you decide to do depends a lot on what your goals are with the given group you have. And finally, the way you teach is very important to how you set the desks up.

Pair Share

If you look into my posts here on EDI and the CFU used in that teaching method you will see that pair share is frequently mentioned. There is a reason for this, I use it all the time. Often times kids can clarify new ideas to each other better than I can in my lesson. For this reason, it is important to me to put desks close enough so that they can engage in pair share. I used to think this could only happen with two desks connected at a time. Later, I tried it with 4 desks in a group. Pair share was not always happening in either of these groupings so I tried rows. These rows were just as conducive to pair share as the 2 by 2 setting. My conclusions? As long as students know who their assigned partner is, the desk arrangement matters little.

Behavior

I used to think rows were the worst arrangement for behavior but the last two years have taught me differently. My conclusion is to try rows this year and make observations about it. Students don’t have a small ecosystem, like a group of 5-6, where they can be distracted. I know it sounds old fashioned but I have tried all the newfangled ways from the modern books. They work ok but just about as good as rows.

Accessibility

I could write on and on about this. I think it is pretty self explanatory what it means. My random non-volunteer calling system keeps them on their toes. At the same time, I value a setup that allows me to get across the room easily from any place. The kids learn quickly that I can get to them and there is less off-task time. However this is achieved is not important so play around with that axiom.

My conclusion:

As many as there are ways to decorate your living room, so are there ways to arrange the desks in your classroom. The specifics are up to you. I value: access to pair share and teacher access to get across the room quickly. Of course there are individual concerns but for me and my year, these are what’s most important.

Making Do With Less Assessment

Assessments are not as fun for kids as they are for teachers. I need to remember to teach lessons that add value to students’ lives and not focus on assessments all the time. They are not what’s most important to families.

I realize the almighty standardized test is what measures our effectiveness as teachers, in some settings. At the same time, what do you remember most fondly about school? I know for me, tests are not at the top end of the list. I remember learning songs from other cultures, writing creative stories, learning about society and culture and other stuff that was non-assessment related. Here in California, the standards test has become the arbiter of success for teachers. We work all year to get a final stamp showing if we as teachers passed or failed. I don’t know if this is the best measure for our public school system. Still, the pressure exists. There can as a result be an emphasis on “practice tests” for the kids on a regular basis. We can use these tests to map what we need to review and/or reteach altogether.

At the same time, we can get a “rush” from seeing the kids perform as we have taught them to. But we aren’t in teaching to get a rush. If there are any rushes to be mentioned, they are the rushes students should get from the learning transaction. I have learned this year that I can assign way too many assessments. These can actually burn the kids out on tests.

I have always given the analogy in my writing on this topic of the “briar patch” method of teaching. Just like Brer Rabbit knew how to escape Brer Bear and Brer Fox through the briar patch where he was born, so I hoope my students can sail through the standards test in May because they have “lived” with it the way Brer Rabbit lived in the briar patch. Unfortunately, I think I have become a little stodgy thinking they can handle the rote, ABCD multiple choice drills day after day.

Kids need real life examples and experiences to really have success in school.

I think it’s time in my career and also on my blog to be promoting those real life things in school. Instead of being concerned about teat scores, shouldn’t I as a teacher be more concerned on real life value my teaching will bring them? Every lesson in our curriculum has a human application. I will be focusing more on that rather than whether a benchmark test matches closely to the standards test. Tests are assessments of one sort. Success in life and enjoyment of school (real learning) are another sort. One can’t exist without the other because we have to measure what is happening with students. Having said that, how much faith do you have that if you strive to connect the curriculum to real life it will translate into good test scores? Maybe we are at the point where we all need to have that sort of faith as we plan lessons for our students.

If we give 10 assessments a year, let’s make it 5. The results will be an impassioned set of students connected to the stuff they are tested on. This is my current thought: I assess too much. I plan between now and May to focus more on creating valuable lessons and letting the assessments go however they go. Of course, I assume they will go positively. I can’t think of a better teaching focus than real life value for the student.

Questions to Improve Classroom Communication

IMG_0045A teacher hoping to foster autonomy and mastery in her/his students should ask themselves a few questions about communication: First, What different types of communication are used in my classroom? This is an excellent question. The simple answer is “English.” To reach a wider array of students, I think one must branch out beyond that. Visual aids are probably the most obvious form but audio, video, realia, and gestures are also some to consider. The advent of document cameras and projectors has brought visual aids to a new height. Kids can see visuals now on the screen that we had to open encyclopedias to see when I was in elementary school. Instead on one source in the classroom having a few visual aids to help us understand, we have access to Powerpoint and the internet to give abstract concepts a concrete foundation. In planning lessons, I try to be aware of what visuals I can use to get the lesson across. Audio and video are the same way. The more modalities a teacher can appeal to the better the chance of getting the student to master the information. Besides that, it’s been proven that we learn in different parts of our brain. Something stored in visual and auditory  can be recalled longer and with more clarity than something stored in only one. Another way a teacher can communicate with students is by putting their work on the wall. Continue reading “Questions to Improve Classroom Communication”

Absorbing Common Core

3-kitchen-sponges-lgn-86344707Common Core is the innocuous name of a set of standards yet people treat it as if it were a religion. There are people for and against it and I think, as is true with religion, a middle ground is preferable. Of course I mean no respect to zealous religious folk, I just don’t live that way. Okay, hopefully my introduction has offended those to which I could never communicate with, now for my point.

ccss-sbacCommon Core is perplexing to some because it uses a multi-cognitive approach to lessons. While comedians and civilians will make fun of the approach, it really is neither better nor worse than what we teachers have been ordered to teach with snce as far back as 1997. We are given uniform state standards, materials and curriculum, and expected to show mastery of these standards in our student data. Common Core simply combines what was once 7-8 (say for instance) standards into one Common Core standard. We have to teach a concept to incorporate multiple standards from before. There is nothing more difficult in this. It does require imagination and creativity but hasn’t teaching always required that?

20130110-123237.jpgAs I move into the third week of lessons with my 4th graders currently, I find myself increasingly absorbing Common Core. It’s like a snowball effect. My hope is that this year on the blog I can bring more understanding to the public including teachers out there doing the same. How about we hear from you? How are you doing with internalizing the Common Core. If you are a blogging teacher, or a blogger in general, please feel free to leave a trackback or link to this post so I can help spread your ideas on the subject. Onward!

Professional Learning Communities – Worth the Effort

Professional learning communities are revolutionizing teaching. We are learning at my school how powerful it can be when teachers work together. Unfortunately, it does require a lot of patience and work to make happen.

IMG_0045-1024x768Professional learning communities are revolutionizing education. We are learning at my school how powerful it can be when teachers work together. Unfortunately, it does require a lot of patience and work to make happen.

In teaching, as with any professional job, there are times when you have to make professional conversations happen. This might be be over an issue of student motivation or just plain getting along issues. They can be awful to do and they make your stomach churn but they are hugely important and have to be done whether comfortable or not. It would be nice if we could just stay in our classrooms until dismissal and not bother anyone and not be bothered by anyone but that is a fantasy land. To keep kids “moving” up from one level to another or staying at the top level, it requires teachers engaging in professional conversations on a regular basis. It’s not about who’s cool or not or who likes who or not. It is simply a commitment to moving kids upward by all means available. When teachers agree to work this way … everybody benefits and at the end of the year, great progress is inevitable.

The dynamite teacher ensures and fosters professional learning communities.