Tag Archives: Motivation

Things ESPN Has Taught Me about Teaching and Coaching: Dean Smith Edition

While I am not a sports fanatic by any stretch of the imagination, ESPN seems to find its way onto our television quite regularly.  Okay, daily. Increasingly, I have found myself overhearing little tid bits of news or commentary that I find incredibly relevant to my classroom.  Many of you likely know by now that UNC’s storied coach Dean Smith passed away this weekend, and Sunday evening I cooked dinner to the tune of a great Smith tribute.  As I cooked, I found myself pausing more than once to jot down a quick note that related to my work as English teacher and lacrosse coach. So, here we go.  Things ESPN taught me about teaching and coaching this weekend.

Lessons from Dean Smith (Really, I can’t come close to doing the man justice, but here are the items I am bringing up with my students and players this week):

  • He helped to integrate a restaurant and neighborhood in Chapel Hill.
  • He took players to a prison each year to scrimmage for the inmates and to illustrate for his players that the world was bigger than the one they normally occupied and the importance of valuing all humans.
  • When coaching Michael Jordan, he told him that if he didn’t pass, he wouldn’t play because teamwork is The Carolina Way.
  • More than 95% of his players earned their degrees.
  • Even the legendary Coach Wooden said of Smith that he was the best basketball teacher he had ever seen.
  • A nice tribute online: Grantland

Education Applications: Any discussions about social justice, the civil rights movement, or teamwork can benefit from the good Coach’s legacy.

I would highly recommend you check out the short (three-four minute) video clip from ESPN here:  “Dean Smith: Lasting Impact On, Off Court”.

(ESPN provides an embed code for the video, but I can’t seem to get it to work with WordPress.  If you have advice on how to embed the video into the post, I’d be happy to hear it!)


Beyond Classroom Walls: Encouraging Independent Reading and Engaging the Community

Too often, students, at least those in middle school, maintain and apply the skills  and habits we seek to build in our English classroom struggle once they walk out of our doors.  Of particular interest to me today is how we build up students to read for pleasure.  There are many great classroom practices, such as free-choice book units and independent reading time built into the school days.  One of our hopes in these practices is that students will find an appreciation for reading within the school day that they will eventually pursue on their own.  For many students, though, even if they enjoy the practice of selecting their own titles and reading independently at school, it becomes more of a task in the real, often chaotic worlds they live in outside our walls.  Lately the question of turning a reading practice into a reading habit follows me everywhere I go.

Star Wars ShakespeareOne thing I think is key to creating independent readers among young teens, especially, is showing them that they are  surrounded by independent readers and that those independent readers are not only their peers.  I try to keep a book I am reading for pleasure on my desk at school at all times.  It usually takes me a long time to finish these titles since there is not much time for pleasure-reading in my day, but it’s presence and the slow progress of its book mark is still valuable.  Right now, you will find Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher presiding over my desk.  Despite my significant lack of Star Wars knowledge, it is clever, funny, and surprisingly well done, but I will provide a review when I finish in a few weeks.  My hope is that they will see that not all reading is assigned and that there is a surprising amount of variety out there.  Star Wars written in the style of Shakespeare? Who would have thought!?!

A screenshot of outrteacher book collage from my class website.

A screenshot of outrteacher book collage from my class website.

Still, I am their English teacher, and of all the adults they know, my students expect me to be one who reads for pleasure.  I needed to expand the picture for them.  I reached out to my fellow 8th grade teachers and asked them what they were reading for pleasure that would also be appropriate for our students.  The response was great!  I created a collage/slideshow on my class website (see screenshot to the right) to illustrate for students that reading for pleasure is not reserved for English teachers alone.  Math teachers read! Science teachers read! History teachers read! And, they read things you may be interested in!  I also wanted to provide these teachers with a new avenue for reaching out to their students by showing the kids what their teachers are reading and hopefully inspiring some new conversations and connections.

So, now students know that there are adults out there who read for pleasure, but you may have noticed by now, that one critical element is missing.  Parents.  Teachers are a unique subset of adults in the minds of teens, and what applies to teachers does not always apply to the world around them.  Teens need to see adults in the world outside their school, and their parents in particular, reading – maybe even reading to them!  On numerous occasions, I have had eighth grade parents share with me that their children used to be readers, but that their enthusiasm has drop as they progressed through middle school.  Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon pattern as students go through dramatic changes that seem to consume their thoughts and more demands are placed on their time.  Just because it is a pattern, though, does not mean it needs to persist.  In communication with parents, I usually give three pieces of common, research-based practices in encouraging a student’s at-home reading practice.  Feel free to share with the parents of your own students:

  • As a family, make sure that reading for pleasure is a visible act from time to time.  If reading for fun is modeled, it will become a more normalized activity that teens are more likely to pursue on their own. 
  • Have casual conversations about what your teen is reading.  These conversations should not feel like work or a quiz.  For instance, I know that [insert student’s name] just started a book for independent reading titled [insert title and author].  This title could be a great jumping off point for some dinner table conversations.
  • When appropriate, recommend something you have read to your teen, or read a book you may both be interested together. 

Hopefully,at least some of these practices are already a part of a family’s environment, but even when they are, I remind parents that being a little more intentional in them can make a difference.

How do you move beyond reading logs and book reviews to help students turn reading independently into a valuable habit?

And Then, Sometimes, They Get It.

There have been moments where I have told my students that they cannot silently out-stare me.  “When I ask a question,” I say, “you cannot stare me down to the point that I feel awkward, give in, and spill the beans on the answer.”  They try any way.  Among our students there seems to be a growing pattern of passivity.  They would rather be told than find out; they would rather get than build.  On a recent survey of my students, one in particular complained about the fact that I don’t just tell them answers but instead make them look it up and discuss possibilities with their peers.  The tone was negative, but I smiled slightly at the comment.  It meant I was doing something right.

As teachers however, we do not only want students to learn how to learn and think critically.  We also want students to learn to enjoy the process and make it a habit for how they approach and interact with the world around them – even if it’s hard.  As middle school students, the ideas and suggestions of adults are often dead-on-arrival.  What do grown-ups know anyway?  Still, we are planting seeds and hope that students will recognize the value of these days in the days to come.

Every now and again, though, they get it in real-time.  Some will share there revelation with you; others will try to hide it, but I bet you catch it anyway.  For my classroom, these moments most often come during my Romeo and Juliet unit.  There is much digging in of the heels and protesting at the start. “He wrote in Old English!” they cry.  “False,” I calmly reply. “Stomp your feet all you want. It’s okay. We will agree in a few weeks.”  Then, I get to catch them having fun.  It is the best kind of I-told-you-so.  Last week, I had a student verbalize this moment for the class.  We had spent several days writing our own sonnets.  On Friday, students were given the opportunity to share their sonnets if they wish, and a surprising number of students signed up.  Towards the end of one class period, one student shared with the class that she had been frustrated for most of the writing process and didn’t really understand why we had to do it.  “Today, though,” She said. “I’m so glad that we did!” Yes!  I wanted to plant her in each of my classes so they could hear her, as well.

Feel free to share your own “They get it!” moments in the comments.

Using Pecha Kucha to Help Students Review

Many of you may have heard of the Pecha Kucha presentation technique.  The general premise is this:  A presenter can have twenty slides and twenty seconds a slide in which to convey his or her point.  The slides advance automatically whether or not the speaker is ready.  There is more to it than that, and it has an interesting history; Those are the basics, though.  You can learn more about the concept in general here.

I want to share with you how it made a big splash in my 7th grade English class this week.  The class before a test, in middle school at least, is always interesting.  The students know it is coming, of course, but the realization that a few weeks of hard work is coming to a culminating assessment the next day can be overwhelming.  Middle school students are not always prepared to understand the reasons teachers have for assessing their understanding  or for understanding the ways we might go about it.

That is where the Pecha Kucha adaptation comes in.  We had been reading a novel, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, but the activity could be adapted to anything.  I divided my class into thirds.  One group was assigned literary devices, one was assigned plot points, and the other characters.  Each student developed one slide based on their assigned category and according to the instructions below:

For Review Activity

I had a number of goals for adapting and presenting the idea this way.  Mainly, it would help the students learn to think critically about what we had discussed, prioritized information, and present ideas in a manner other than simply regurgitating the way we originally learned it.  The following is an example that I showed my students.  I had them time me as I explained it in under 30 seconds.  It may only make sense to you if you read the book!

Regarding the book DRUMS, GIRLS, and DANGEROUS PIE by Jordan Sonnenblick

The kids loved the concept and how we adapted it.  They got creative with how they portrayed their thoughts, as well.  A number of students did some interesting work with the wordle-like website Tagxedo.  I pulled all of their slides into one presentation and they could come by to get at the end of the day if they wanted to use it for review at home.

What other ways could you use Pecha Kucha to help kids?  I think it could be a valuable tool for growing their critical thinking skills.

Practically Paperless

The idea of going paperless, or even practically paperless, in the classroom makes a lot of teachers – and parents, too – nervous. In my own attempts to use less paper this year, I have discovered that the students do not seem bothered by it at all. In fact, they appreciate it, especially the more disorganized among them.

From a student perspective, there is always an extra-copy of hand-outs available, it is nearly impossible to lose things, and if you do misplace something, you have a handy search box to help you find it.

I find myself both wary and excited about the potential for a near-paperless classroom. My fears simply stem from a residual distrust of technology that I find gradually diminishing the more I work towards my goal. I love using technology, view myself as reasonably adept at it, and like to experiment with new uses in the classroom. However, a fear that my computer will spontaneously lose all of my hard work nags me from time to time.  However, be smart, back-up your work, teach your students to back up theirs, have a contingency plan, and those pesky fears should gradually be abated.

There are a number of reasons to pursue a practically paperless classroom.

1.  The benefits for helping students with their organization we have already discussed.

2.  Students are receiving training in communicating and managing resources in a technology-rich environment.  They will encounter similar environments in college and the workforce, except that they will most likely be expected to already have an understanding of how to be productive within them.

3.  As a teacher, you can take more of your resources and grading piles with you to more places.

4.  Students find technology rich lessons engaging.

5.  With such a wide variety of presentation and assessment options out there on the web, differentiating instruction becomes more manageable.

Now, I understand that different levels of “going paperless” are going to be reasonable for different school environments.  Schools that are limited in their access to technology will not be able to implement everything I have outline.  However, I’ve tried to come up with some modifications help such school better use the resources they do have.  If you have ideas for increasing technology use in a technology-limited environment, I am sure your comments would be greatly appreciated by both myself and other readers!

In the meantime, here are some ideas to try if you are setting your own “practically paperless” goal.

1.  The Flipped Classroom:  Especially for student bodies who may not have easy access to computers or the internet at home, try a modified version of classroom flipping so that non-technology based lessons might become more home-based to allow maximized computer time at school.

2.  Use web-based services to manage the “paper” load so that documents can be accessed both at school and at home.  I like using Drop Box for keeping track of student work.  I pair it with the DropItToMe service, and now I can access work that students have submitted from any computer.  By having my students save their submitted work based on a period-name-title (ex: 2_Smith_Mythology Essay) formula, submitted work is automatically organized for me, first by period and then by last name.  Easy access to my files and automatic organization leads me to prefer this method to email submission of work.

2.  I have my students organize their work using the Microsoft OneNote program (Software Website).  If you are unfamiliar with it, this program works just like a binder.  Each notebook can be customized with tabs and document-like tabs are stored within each tab.  I use share a notebook with students over our school server as a means of passing out handouts, sharing links, etc.  Students keep their own notebooks for my class to house their personal notes and work.

3.  Blogs!  Writer and Reader Journals have morphed into blogs in my classroom.  The theory and practice remains the same, except now they have an authentic audience of peers sharing with them and providing motivation.  Student blogs also provide a nice window into our classroom for the parents.  I plan on writing a post detailing my students’ use of blogs in the classroom next week.

Below I’ve linked to other websites an blog posts that can help you go paperless.

Scholastic Classroom Solutions: Going Paperless

The “Teach Paperless” Blog

The Free Technology for Teachers Blog

Thoughts on a paperless classroom (and OneNote) from the Cool Cat Teacher blog

Another Cool Cat Teacher blog post (She’s on a roll!)

From the education blog of my grad school Alma Mater – USC! “Visions of the Future Classroom”

If you have any questions, please let me know!  You can leave a comment or use the “Contact Me” page.

If you have any great paperless comments or ideas, please share!  Collaboration is wonderful.

Happy Teaching!

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