Give students a place to air grievances

A good piece by John Warner about methods he uses to give students a place and time within his classroom to air their issues with the course, the process, the assignments, even the grading structure. When students have a say in the process, they are much more invested.

More importantly, this kind of teacher-student dialogue builds trust if the teacher is willing to listen and change. That takes humility – always a good trait.

The Airing of the Grievances (Inside Higher Ed)

Making room for introverts

The six biggest mistakes of managing an introvert – Quartz.

^ Good read.

There’s been a lot of good popular writing lately (online magazines, usually) about how to work with introverts without misjudging them for the very qualities that make an introvert an outstanding employee: thoughtful, reflective work.  It’s not hard to accommodate the particular needs of introverted folks:  give them a chance to think before demanding an answer, provide peace and quiet, retool the way you form teams for collaboration.

The individual learners who make up our classroom communities can benefit from similar accommodations:

  • Create physical space in your classroom for those who need to be a little further from the action, and places where those who need peace and quiet to work can find that.
  • Insert time and space between questions and answers — for example, ask a (chewy) question but make everyone jot down answers on a paper or in a journal for a few minutes before allowing the class to respond. This gives people time to process, and introverts often prefer written communication to off-the-cuff answers.  Allow students to read what they’ve written if they prefer.
  • Consider pairing introverts together for group projects. You’ll encourage them to step forward as a pair or team to do presentations or other “public” work instead of being overshadowed by the extrovert in their group.
  • Allow your coursework to ebb and flow between quiet personal work and busier, louder, more active engagement.  It doesn’t have to be a learning zoo all the time.  Model introspection and taking time to think before speaking.
  • Encourage groups to talk as much as they need for making decisions or analyzing the problem at hand, but encourage them to move into developing ideas (individually, perhaps, and then returning for a group discussion) and individual implementation to allow introverts a break from personal interaction.

There’s an equal danger, of course: that school, with its rows of desks all in a line and emphasis on order and rigor, can squash extroverts just as much as it wears out the introverts with public speaking and constant collaboration.  For the extroverts, being forced to sit down, shut up, keep quiet, stay on task, stop bringing up new ideas — all of that reinforces the idea that only the boring, orderly kids are going to do well at school.

So – as always – lesson design must accommodate both.

How Dissecting a Pencil Can Ignite Curiosity and Wonderment | MindShift

Cool read! Applying design thinking principles, the maker ethos, and curiosity to very mundane activities, across the K-12 curriculum. Real teachers, real examples, and really encouraging!

How Dissecting a Pencil Can Ignite Curiosity and Wonderment | MindShift.

via How Dissecting a Pencil Can Ignite Curiosity and Wonderment | MindShift.

Trust in the classroom

The job of helping young people grow into well-educated and independent adults rests upon the relationship between teachers and students, teachers and their administrators, the community and its school staff. And yet many of the rules governing schools are about control.”

The millennial generation of students is often criticized for being impatient, unfocused, entitled and lazy, but Luhtala said that’s an old-school way of looking at a group of kids who have grown up in a dramatically different world than their teachers. “I don’t think kids are unfocused,” she said. “I think they can be super focused if you give them something to do. And I really mean DO, not listening or watching, but really physically doing something.”

Creating learning opportunities that don’t rely on lectures, textbooks or sitting quietly goes against established educational patterns and can feel foreign to many adults who learned that way themselves. It requires trust, but once given, can often produce incredible projects from students that might never have materialized without giving them the freedom to think and act independently, Luhtala said.

“Passive learning is really not an effective way to teach these kids,” Luhtala said. “The reality is that kids will retain less than ten percent of what we say in a lecture setting. So we need to empower them to become independent learners.”

Excellent read.


Beyond The Great Teacher Myth | Practical Theory

As long as there is little to no time in the high school schedule for teachers and students to see and celebrate each other’s shared humanity, too many students will feel that school is something that is done to them, that teachers care more about their subjects than they do about the kids. As long as teachers have 120-150 kids on their course roster, and there is little continuity year to year so that relationships cannot be maintained, too many students will be on their own when they struggle. If we build schools where teachers and students have time to relate to one another as people – if we create pathways for students and teachers to know each other over time, so that every child knows they have an adult advocate in their school, we make schools more human — and more humane – for all who inhabit them.

via Beyond The Great Teacher Myth | Practical Theory.


For the new teachers out there

John Spencer writes a blog that serves as one of my absolute favorite places on the Internet to find a good read. He’s thoughtful, insightful, humble, honest.  Start at the beginning and read the whole thing.

But if you’re in a hurry, and especially if you’re heading into your first year of teaching, read John’s warm and encouraging letter to himself as a first year teacher:

A Note To Myself As A First-Year Teacher (Education ReThink)

It’s not actually about "triggers"

The Atlantic ran a piece last week that’s sure to be controversial. The columnist focused on the rise among college faculty (though I’m sure this is happening in high schools too) of labeling syllabi with “trigger warnings” and offering students exemptions from material they find potentially, personally difficult to handle.

“Empathetically Correct is the new Politically Correct” (The Atlantic)

While political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly on behalf of those historically marginalized and oppressed groups, empathetic correctness focuses inwardly toward the protection of individual sensitivities. Now, instead of challenging the status quo by demanding texts that question the comfort of the Western canon, students are demanding the status quo by refusing to read texts that challenge their own personal comfort.

I understand the tension between pulling students into material that’s difficult, material they otherwise would not choose for themselves.  I’ve seen Story work its transforming power in the hearts of students pummeled by their personal tragedies — abuse, neglect, rape, broken relationships, suicide, depression.   I’ve also seen students start to shut down during a classroom discussion because I wasn’t paying enough attention or thinking ahead about how their interpersonal stories might mix with the literature to create a toxic environment.

The classroom should be challenging, enriching, even uncomfortable at times — but also safe, nurturing, and caring.

I wonder if one of the mechanisms at work is that high school teachers spend many more hours with their students, so they tend to be more naturally aware of “triggers,” while higher ed faculty (especially when they’re teaching underclassmen) may have very little knowledge of the individuals who make up their classes.

My struggling students were all Christian school kids in a place where we emphasized the Gospel, Grace, and dealing with the world head-on (not hiding from it). I saw my role as teacher to know my students well enough that I hoped I could divert a discussion before it truly became a trigger.

 The foundation of teacher-student relationship formed the basis of a learning community that could actually work through tragedy rather than just tiptoeing around it.

Perhaps higher education fails to nurture a similar connection between the average underaged and her professors. In smaller colleges, professors can build those bridges and make quick adjustments rather than having to list out every potential “threat.” They can judge whether a student is actually being pushed over the edge vs students taking an offered excuse to avoid the difficult. But I can’t imagine a 50-student English lecture class having that level of relationship.

The old saying warns, “If you only own a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I don’t want to imply that all problems can be solved by building relationships.  But some could be averted.

We make rules and politics because we try to use procedures to fix what are essentially human problems.  We’re all broken.  The problem isn’t so much the trigger; it’s the need for humans to live within nurturing, caring communities where their brokenness can be healed, not condemned or exploited or — just as bad — ignored.