What can writers learn from hockey players?

A great article about what writing teachers can learn from street hockey games: that over-engineering lessons takes not only the fun out of students’ learning, it robs students of the freedom and responsibility to own their own learning:

I’m starting to think that my assignments are over-engineered.

Source: The Benefits of Disorganized Learning | Just Visiting by John Warner


Why Are IEPs So Expensive and Frustrating for Schools and Special Education Students and Their Parents? – The Atlantic

I think she’s diagnosing the wrong cause for this problem, but the description of the mess is definitely worth reading.

It feels like all of the rules set up to educate exceptional students (who are not severely restricted from a “typical” learning environment) are an attempt to solve problem by throwing rules at it. In my experience, what works in the classroom is the caring relationship of a teacher to the student in his/her care and the family of that student. To do that relationship well, teachers must be trained and they must have a small enough class size to invest the time necessary. And schools need to give those teaching professionals the latitude to structure their classrooms and lessons in the way that best fits the particular students in their care.


Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, are one of the greatest pitfalls of the country’s school system.

Source: Why Are IEPs So Expensive and Frustrating for Schools and Special Education Students and Their Parents? – The Atlantic

Wish List: Piecing Together an Ideal School From the Ground Up | MindShift

Wish List: Piecing Together an Ideal School From the Ground Up | MindShift.

Couldn’t have said it better myself! This is a great, short piece at Mind/Shift about inquiry learning, interdisciplinary teaching, trusting students as active participants in their learning process, assessing through multiple means, investing in teachers through professional development, and not locking in too quickly on how to use technology in a classroom.


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.



Teachers Shadowing Students: Doing What Students Do

Teachers Shadowing Students: Doing What Students Do.
via Te@achThought

^^ Yes, this.

Wish I’d thought of doing this myself when I was a young and inexperienced teacher. It would have re-formed my teaching practice and propelled me toward more student-centered learning, more movement, more engagement, less lecture, less of me talking.

In the classroom, we regularly ask students to behave in ways that adults would never put up with.  We demand high levels of engagement that  none of us are ever really willing to offer in meetings or PD sessions.  We expect students to be “always on” though we ourselves would refuse to work under those demands.

Viewing our students as image bearers with all of the responsibilities and privileges that brings ought to shift our view of how students sit in classrooms, how they engage in learning.

Read her post. It’s well worth your time.

Game Design influencing School / Curriculum Design

Enjoyed this perspective on how technological innovation should be changing schools, rather than just digging up fancy toys for students and teachers:

What Happens when School Design looks like Game Design (Mind|Shift)

The thing about tools is that their strength is usually derived from the way they approach a problem rather than in the particularity of the solution they offer….

In the current world, our schools should be focused on teaching both linear and non-linear ways of knowing. We need to remember that the goal of technology is ultimately to help us mentor our youth so that they become familiar with the many ways of knowing that humanity has discovered. It’s not just to develop proficiency with today’s tools while maintaining yesterday’s predominant thinking.”

Mind, Body, and the Humble Chair

I’ve run across two articles recently that connect good design (building, object) with good education.

Five Things Educators Could Learn From Designers
The first, written by John Spencer of the blog edrethink, suggests that educators can learn from good building design.

For example, relationships matter. Designers think of people as being in relationship with one another. Teachers know this is absolutely true in the classroom, yet often our lesson plans and educational spaces attempt to separate kids into individual, non-social units who must operate alone or in conflict/competition with one another to achieve a goal.

It’s a short post but thought-provoking.

Ergonomic Seats? Most Pupils Squirm in a Classroom Classic
The NYT ran a neat piece this weekend about the hurdles racing even the simplest change for classroom reform: better chairs.

The basic, indestructible classroom chair was built in the last century and never really changed. Though doctors fret that our backs weren’t designed for long periods of sitting, our classroom culture still values the quality of “sitting still” as equivalent to “paying attention” though plenty of neurological research (and anecdotal experience) shows otherwise.

Companies are coming up with better, ergonomic designs for classroom chairs that will let students wiggle and squirm all they want while channeling their attention to the task at hand. But those chairs are expensive. And nobody has the money to address such a straightforward issue.

Maybe we should listen…

Kids shuffle to stay seated in a comfortable position; they end up with way too little leg room or elbow room at crowded tables or in tiny desks. Classrooms are often uncomfortably hot or cold, though school dress codes might hinder them from wearing hoodies or jackets or thin fabrics to adjust to that.

And the chairs. If I had a dollar every time I told a boy (usually) not to lean back in his chair, I’d have a retirement fund. (That, and “tuck in your shirt.”)  But have you tried sitting in some of these chairs?  I usually stood for a large portion of the day. I didn’t have to suffer the forced imprisonment of an uncomfortable chair.

I often let students stand in the back of the room to alleviate the physical boredom of the school day (if they wanted it). If I had the time to plan a better lesson, I could incorporate movement. On writing workshop days, I let them sit where and how they wanted, including reclining on the floor against a backpack. As long as the writing was happening and everyone was productive, I didn’t care what their bodies were doing.

Unfortunately, I can pull from my memory a number of times when adults pooh-poohed a student’s complaint about classroom discomfort.

Yes, sometimes kids gripe and they need to just “suck it up.”

But sometimes they’re right to complain that a good education isn’t supposed to include physical frigidity. It’s hard to concentrate when your muscles are cramping, or when you can’t breathe because your personal space bubble has been reduced to a sliver, or when your day consists of 7 hours of repetitive physical boredom.

I think it’s time to change.  Biblically normative education should recognize that humans are physical beings with definite spatial needs, and suffering in this realm leads to poor attention, not godliness.

We should acknowledge that student opinions about the spaces where they learn have real value, and give those opinions merit when planning, designing, and funding learning spaces.

We should also spend time and money to ensure that kinesthetic learners are not pushed out of our wordy, overly-intellectual classrooms, and incorporate movement as a way of knowing. It’s not ok to say “we adjust to multiple learning styles” and then put everybody in a chair for the day to write essays or fill out worksheets.

One example I borrowed from a Folger Shakespeare Library lesson, I think: students new to Shakespeare’s iambic line will pick up the rhythm of the words much faster if they can march it out — around the classroom, or outside, or in a gym. Start reading a sonnet or soliloquy, and stomping on the accented syllables. The regularly-metered lines produce a roomful of students all stomping on the same beat, and the poetry inside the very syllable-patterns begins to emerge in a tangible way.

But what worries me is this: “good education” and “the way my parents did it” somehow get equated in people’s minds. A busy, active classroom will look pretty messy — you might walk in to find a kid lying on the floor, another engaged in conversation on the windowsill with a classmate, a couple boys bouncing around in a corner.  And that looks like chaos to many people whose image of education doesn’t include anything beyond rows of students sitting neatly in desks.

So I’d like to suggest this:
Teaching redemptively may mean giving up your desire to control students physically, and instead demands that we do the hard work of engaging their bodies as much as their minds.  

And if that means hiring more teachers and buying more portables to avoid major classroom crowding, or throwing out the chairs, it’s worth it.