Friday, August 29, 2014

Make things bigger for those who like to move

As promised, I administered the VARK learning styles assessment today to my three groups of students.  They delivered exactly as I had expected - highly visual and kinesthetic, and one of them even had the audacity to score a zero in the read/write category!  Thankfully, I've been in this business long enough to know that this is exactly the type of kiddo who would struggle with reading, and that is why I placed her into my intervention reading class.  She and I giggled about it today.  She was so far on the other side of the scale, that she really was highly kinesthetic and nothing else.  That's hard to do!

So I started thinking today about these kiddos.  The ones who need to move.  And I researched it a bit tonight to see if others had the same thoughts about it as I did - make everything BIGGER.

Face it, public school is confining and restrictive.  We expect our students to walk in, make their home in their one little desk in a row or a "table", walk down the right side of a hallway, and act like miniature adults.  But some of them are just not ready for all of that.  They need to move and shake.  Adolescents - especially the boys - are like mini-firecrackers, ready to explode at any minute with all of the energy they've saved up.  How can we work with this in a traditional classroom?

Kinesthetic learners need to move.  Even the act of writing is better than just sitting, and they certainly do not have time to listen!  But what if we made it all bigger?  What if those kiddos who were kinesthetic were allowed to write on larger pieces of paper or small white boards where their entire arms moved and the other one was busy holding the paper or white board?  What if we allowed them to draw things on these pieces of paper where they were making larger, loopier, gestures rather than simply writing.  What if we created word sorts and matching activities where both of their hands were moving - or what if we made those sorts larger so that they had to put them on the floor to manipulate them?

Just yesterday I noticed my eighth graders glazing over at about one o'clock (late lunch on Monday), so I made them get up and walk across the room to answer a question.  Kind of a big deal to answer just one question, but they were awake afterward, and it gave my kinesthetics a duly needed break.  
So when the ants-in-your-pants kid looks like he's ready to vibrate himself right out of his seat, think quick, grab a large piece of paper and some markers and sit him in a spot where he has a little bit of room.  Ask him to do whatever you're doing - just bigger.  Chalk on sidewalks works really well, and so to those white boards that you can keep at their desks.  I know they're distracting, but you're going to get better attention from the kinesthetics (and the visuals, for that matter) if you give them white boards and colored markers.

What other things can you make bigger for these kiddos?  How can you appeal to their kinesthetic side in a more effective way?  Share your ideas with us below.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Digging into the Frayer Model for word understanding

Word knowledge happens in layers.  We are first introduced to a word, learn the meaning, how it might be used - but then over time we begin to place that word on a continuum where we can relate it to others that may have slightly different connotations.  Our ultimate goal should be to add the word to our word bank so that we might communicate more effectively over time.  Studies show that the word-exposure gaps between children in poverty and children of affluent families are staggering - millions of words!  What does that tell you about the communication skills of some of those kiddos who come to us everyday from low-income families?  It tells me that I need to work double hard to ensure that these children have a competitive chance!

One of my go-to strategies is the Frayer Model.  Now I've seen this strategy morphed into dozens of different organizers - all with the same outline but different prompts.  The ultimate goal here is to add the word to a continuum of words so that we can pick from a variety of words that might mean similar things.

The Frayer is a great tool for our visual /  spatial students who like to see relationships and information organized spatially.  You can have them draw pictures or write in the boxes.  Make the boxes big enough and your linguistic kiddos will enjoy this one also because there is potential for lots of room to write (although may of them like lines on which to write).  Put it on the sidewalk in chalk and now your kinesthetic students will have to bend down and crawl around to write on it.  Make them move!

Here's how it works:

  • Place the word to be studied in the middle oval.  
  • I prefer to write "What it is" instead of definition because it leaves for some wiggle room on a definition.  Definition, to many students, means open up a dictionary and copy the first definition for the word.  Before any of my students write down what it is, we discuss, and then they write down what it is.
  • When using characteristics, be sure that the word has some distinct characteristics.  This could take some grappling, but it's not supposed to be easy, either.  Characteristics can be replaced with "What it is not".  I LOVE asking kids to identify what it is not because it makes them think in a way that requires more distinct lines drawn between words.  This will also require some discussion and grappling as well.
  • Examples requires students to take it a step further.  Now they can't just define it, but now they have to apply the information, which is, again, a visual strategy.  Don't forget you can have them draw. They don't have to write.
  • Finally, non-examples, again, requires students to stop, back up, and think backwards.  I've also used the prompt connection here to make my students connect the word somehow to their own background knowledge.  Research clearly shows that linking new knowledge gives the information a better chance of sticking.  
Keep in mind that once all is said and done, having students reflect on what the strategy did for them as a learner is always beneficial.  It'll be painful at first, but drawing attention to them, as learners, keeps them thinking that these strategies are not just gimmicks but true learning tools.  

And that is it.  A quick (yet not-so-quick) vocabulary acquisition strategy that can be used over and over and over again and in every content area.  You can use it on paper, make it miniature and put four on a piece of paper, or create gigantic ones on sidewalk with chalk.  What are some ways you can see adapting this simple strategy to your teaching?  Have you used a Frayer before?  What are some of the ways you have used it, and how have you had your students reflect on their learning afterward?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Five Love Languages and how they can be applied in the classroom

Just yesterday my daughter came to me with an acorn top, handed it to me, and told me to put it on my dresser so "you can remember me every time you look at it."  For years she’s been doing this with random items from nature, and my usual response is a hug and a “thank you”, and then I place it somewhere in hopes of remembering to put it back outside.  But after I ran across GaryChapman's Five Love Languages series, my views on her behavior have changed.  

Chapman started out with the book itself, and it morphed into one specifically for men, for parents, and even for the workplace (which I am currently reading).  The word love in the title was originally put there because he started out this idea by helping married (sometimes almost un-married) couples figure out how to reconnect.  After reading that book, I easily understood how the same principles can be adapted to any situation if you open your mind to the idea of really understanding other people.

Over the last year I've researched intrinsic motivation up, down, backwards, forwards, and inside out.  One of the main philosophies of rebuilding lost motivation is getting to know a person at the foundation.  I've discussed learning styles, intelligences, skills, and types of learners, but one thing I've never really delved into is the idea of making a child feel appreciated and (yep, I'm going to say it) loved.  This may partly be because of the state of today's education system.  Love doesn't really fit into the data collection and analysis equation, does it?  But yet we have large numbers of kiddos who step through those doors feeling worthless and unappreciated.

Before you do anything else, take the test yourself.  You'll be amazed at what knowing the results does.  The basic gist of the philosophy is that any person gives and recognizes love and/or appreciation in one or more of five ways: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch.  To know your love language is to understand that you both express appreciation through that language and recognize it the same way - whether or not another person expresses it to you in that manner.  The problem comes in when one person expresses appreciation in a language that goes unrecognized by another - not because the other person is a bad person or is unwilling to recognize it, but because the other person simply doesn't speak that language.  This is how relationships break down, and this can happen at lightning speed in a classroom.

Teacher/student relationships are always rocky at the beginning. Thirty eyes staring at you the first day, no matter how veteran you are, can be unnerving.  You have all sorts of kiddos in that group and from all sorts of backgrounds.   There is almost no point in trying to teach a kid who is angry or upset because the brain chemistry won't allow that information to store.  We need to put our students into a mindset that says they are appreciated.  All of them.

So what can we do to express this appreciation?  Below are some ways to shower your students with appreciation and hit all of the languages so that your students' brains are ready for learning.

Words of Affirmation
In his February Kane County teacher inservice, Rick Wormeli spoke a great deal about providing feedback to our students.  The trouble is, we fall into this trap of destructive feedback rather than constructive feedback.  The words good job and great work are so overused that they become meaningless.  Our kiddos are seeking meaningful affirmations.  

One example of this might be, "That's an interesting thought, Jessica.  I heard you say that Edgar Allan Poe's relationship with his father may have impacted his writing.  That shows me that you're putting things together and are really thinking about his purpose for some of his writing.  I'm wondering if we can hold on to that thought as we continue this discussion."  This not only gives the student an affirmation that she is on the right track in her thinking, but it also shows her you were really paying attention to her (see Quality Time below).  You've now made a connection.

Acts of Service
"For these people, actions speak louder than words."  Keep in mind that what one student recognizes as an act of service might not be what another recognizes.  It might be something as simple as stopping by a student’s desk to help him start a paragraph or picking up a book from the library for another one.  An act of service might be helping a student get organized during the last five minutes of class or helping him figure out a logic puzzle for fun.

Chapman warns his readers, however, that if you plan to serve somebody, keep a few things in mind.  Always ask before you help; sometimes kids just want to do it by themselves.  Be genuine and positive, but not over the top.  And for heaven’s sake, do it their way.  If you’re going to help out with something, don’t start dictating.  That defeats the purpose of an act of service.  And always finish what you start.

Quality Time
When Chapman suggests quality time, he means make the time that you do have with your kiddos count.  Have undistracted conversations.  Keep eye contact.  LISTEN and don’t interrupt, and watch for body language.  This is a perfect place to throw in the idea of mindfulness in the classroom

When one practices the language of quality time, instead of focusing on what you are saying, like in words of affirmation, you focus on what you are hearing and observing. 

Gift Giving
From now on I plan to really focus on what my students give to me and each other.  At Valentine’s Day some of our girls walk around giving each other cheap little stuffed toys and hearts on sticks.  Pencils, erasers, and other school supplies that can be purchased cheaply at the dollar store or in August when everything is on sale are great gifts for kids who will appreciate them.  Tickets for special privileges are cheap and easy as well. 

Physical Touch
The final language of appreciation is one that comes with the most controversy.  There was a time in education when hugging a child or putting your arm around her was okay, but today many school boards frown on this type of touching, and some teachers have actually seen disciplinary consequences for these acts of appreciation.  So what is one to do to fill the need for physical touch from the large number of kiddos whose primary language IS physical touch? 

Chapman gives a few suggestions.  First off, don’t underestimate the power of quality time.  Closeness doesn’t have to always be physical.  It can be emotional or social, and that can take on the form of uninterrupted conversation and eye contact.  But things like firm handshakes, fist bumps, a high five, or a pat on the shoulder should not be underestimated either.  I have even made jokes about our “no hugging” rule, and now we do “air hugs” in my classroom where we open our arms in front of each other and then wrap our arms around ourselves.  It’s the feeling involved with the physical touch that makes it wrong or right, and who can go wrong with an “air hug”? 

The toughest part of using the love languages in your classroom is figuring out which ones to use and when.  Use them all and use them often, and you will begin to see who responds to what.  Maybe even give your students choices.  Something as simple as, “Would you like me to help you now during class or would you like to come in at lunch?” might allow you to understand if a student is looking for and act of service or quality time. 

Can you think back to a time when you’ve noticed differences in the way kids respond to different ways you’ve shown appreciation?  What new acts can you try this year to support more languages than you have in the past?