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3 Ways to spark conversation in the modern classroom

Uncategorized Feb 19, 2019

It’s been roughly 30 years since Stephen Covey wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and it’s still, hands down, one of the most relevant reads of our time.

Why? Because it offers gems like this:

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Stephen Covey, Habit #5

Amidst the noise of political polarization and the deepening rifts in social, racial, and religious lines, no advice could be more sage or more sound.

In Habit #5 of his best-selling book, Covey points out that we 'have such a tendency to rush in, to fix things up with good advice. But we often fail to take the time to diagnose, to really, deeply understand the problem first.'

In other words, we know how to talk at people, but we aren't always as good at talking with them.

How many times have you found yourself waiting for another person to stop talking so you could start? We listen with an agenda to reply.

As Covey puts it, we're either speaking, or we're getting ready to, but there's little...

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Shift Happens: 4 mindset shifts for teaching in the 21st century

pedagogy Feb 12, 2019

According to Forbes magazine, freelancers are expected to become the workforce majority by 2027, in large part, due to the perks of a digital era.

Things like automation, video conferencing, document sharing, and infinite digital reach are opening doors to freedom, flexibility, and the chance to work from *virtually* anywhere but an office cubicle.

With the growth of freelance apparently dancing triples around the traditional workforce, the 'Gig Economy' is on the rise, with nearly half the Millennial population already on board.

What used to be the 'fallback' for those who lost a job, freelancing is stepping into the limelight as the legit standard in pursuing a professional career.

So...what does this mean for our students?

Well, as an entry point, this means that if they're moving into a world where freelancing is the new cubicle, our students will need to know how to self-direct.

(Long-gone are the days of someone looming over their personal space demanding TPS...

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6 Collaborative Brainstorming Strategies for High School Students

foundational Feb 04, 2019

Coined in the 1950s and popularized by his 1960s publication, Applied Imagination, advertising executive + businessman Alex Osborn's  brainstorming concept has since made its way through the boardroom and into the high school classroom as a standard means for essay preparation.

Prior to drafting the various elements of their essay, we typically encourage students to generate a few ideas and consider strategic order before committing these thoughts to the page or screen.

And we facilitate this process in any number of ways. Lots of times, our writers are asked to draft essays individually and/or on-demand, meaning a time limit is in place.

So we share idea-generating strategies in the form of steps, pneumonic associations, or triggers such as the Hand Approach method. These give writers a framework to access ideas quickly and efficiently within that limited time frame.

Asking our students to brainstorm in groups is also a timeless classic. This is where Osborn's legacy...

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Breaking the ice: an assessment tool + culture creator for the high school classroom

remix archives Jan 28, 2019

The following is part of the 'Remix Archives' from my days at the Global Pen (circa 2012, friends!). This archive involves those posts my audience has known-n-loved over the many years we've been colleagues and friends, so consider these ones 'back by popular demand'! Enjoy!

The original version of this post was published on: JULY 25th, 2012 @ the Global Pen

Raise a digital hand if you've every subscribed to the maxim that teachers shouldn't crack a smile until December (or October, at least) in an effort to establish authority and coax learning.

I'm literally cringing at the thought. Not because I'm judging you, but because I've actually been guilty of some variation of this 'maxim' during my early years as a teacher.

So if you're raising that digi-hand, I'm (embarrassingly) with ya, pal...

Seriously, I want to know who came up with this nasty, little lie so I can take their teaching certificate and rip it into tiny shreds (Ugh!).

*teacher-blogger laughs in jest*


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From passion to purpose: getting started with student-led projects

21st century tools Jan 21, 2019

In a recent post, I talked about why our students are learning without us these days, and how it has a lot to do with an imbalanced emphasis of cognitive work over building those tangible (AKA, 'soft') skills which are just as necessary in doing the real work of the world.

Now don't get it twisted here...cognitive work is important.

But even if the emphasis of our instruction is on higher-order thinking skills (HOTS), a lot of the cognitive work students are doing is exclusively carried out in the name of test preparation.

Case in point: consider why we teach students to write an argumentative essay.

First of all, it runs the gamut of HOTS, doesn't it? Among the highlights, they're learning to:

  • apply information, by including evidence and examples to back their claims
  • analyze information, when they consider the weight and relevance of the evidence they find
  • evaluate information, when they draw conclusions and drive home their point or perspective
  • express themselves...
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Our students are learning without us + how passion projects can fix that

pedagogy Jan 14, 2019

If you're not learning with intention, then why are you learning at all?

I remember sitting in our high school’s auditorium waiting for--what I expected to be--the usual, run-of-the-mill assembly to start.  (You know, the well-meaning kind that still manages to derail entirely my neatly-timed lesson plans. Sigh...)

But this assembly was different.  Way different.

In lieu of the usual, hackneyed modicum of topics scaring-or-shaming high schoolers away from (or toward) a given behavior, the audience was being offered something entirely unique this time around.

There before us was the AP Language teacher, Mrs. Garofalo, holding in her hand a DVD.  In her small but mighty voice, she told us we’d be taking part in a school-wide documentary viewing.  

Now, you would think that such an event might give some 3,000+ teenagers a shot at the Guinness Book of World Records for ‘most young adults napping in the same room’, but instead, it...

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Mastering the basics: foundational elements of an essay

pedagogy Jan 07, 2019

If there’s one thing I know about mastery, it’s that experts master the basics first before building upon them...

Some of the finest athletic coaches will agree--including Vince Lombardi, former head coach of the Green Bay Packers and arguably one of the greatest football coaches of all time:

‘become the best in the league at the basics everyone else takes for granted.’

Lombardi won 5 NFL championships in the span of 5 years, 3 of those in a row...and I’m no football fan-freak; but as a teacher, I do consider ‘coach’ as one of my many hats, so yeah, that’s pretty impressive.

Or as Pablo Picasso apparently saw it (you can’t trust these ‘quote’ websites for nothing):

‘Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.’

Long story short, a focus on the fundamentals can be a game-changer because it’s been known to drive results, and build the shoulders from which to stand...

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Why I left the classroom (+ how I'm a better teacher because of it)

pedagogy Aug 29, 2018

I've been doing a lot of thinking about our learners these days.  As teachers, we strive to make an impact on their lives by pointing them in the direction of their future.  Now maybe it's just me, but the more I think and the more I dig, I'm beginning to feel like we're failing to hit this mark in the traditional classroom setting.

(Like...something's got to give type-of-feels.)

In the days leading up to my decision to leave the classroom (AKA '2nd biggest heartbreak of my life'), I felt like I could’ve taught writing until my face turned blue, but it wouldn't necessarily mean that my students were going to apply these principles beyond the paper-pencil exam we were prepping for...or past the handful of college essays they'd go on to write for the application process or as part of their 'intro to comp' classes.

...and I definitely didn't like that feeling...

That my blood, sweat and tears would only carry them as far as a lifeless essay lost on the collegiate...

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Using Twitter to Empower Classroom Learning

21st century tools Nov 15, 2016

So there I was, thirty sets of eyes on me, fumbling awkwardly at my computer, trying desperately to get the school’s video announcements going before my class went into technological mutiny.

The Wifi appears to be working…that’s not it.

I tried refreshing the page…that’s not it.

I even pasted the link into the browser myself…no such luck.

Why won’t the video play, dammit?! With the ‘abandon all hope’ sign looming ominously above my computer, I started quietly praying to the YouTube gods for access into the Multimedia City before this band of teenagers ties me up with my own HDMi cables and hangs me from the overhead projector...

“Um, Miss?” I heard a voice proffer. “I think you just need to log in to your YouTube account. Just...hit the button in the top-right, there.”

First, I felt the golden warmth of a miracle descending upon me before the sting of stupidity snuffed...

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Build Perspective, Deepen the Convo

foundational Sep 26, 2016

How do we take our writers to the next level?  Sure, we can teach them to generate and organize ideas, but how do we get them to engage with these ideas on a more critical level?

It's all about perspective, brave teachers.  Getting our students to appreciate just how intricate the conversation is involves an awareness of who thinks what and why, and how these viewpoints impact the issue entire.

Here's a brief activity that reinforces the concept of perspective.  By activity's end, your students will have:

  • considered context
  • identified line of reasoning, perspectives
  • analyzed perspectives
  • drawn evidence-based conclusions
  • engaged in critical thinking
  • engaged in public speaking

Suggested span of time? ~ 1 Week


Put students into Socratic seating and pose the following issue:

A newborn baby is suffering from a life-threatening heart defect.  Doctors recommend she immediately undergo heart transplant surgery....

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