A full day of learning and sharing at #VAIS2016

I spent the day today attending and presenting at the Virginia Association of Independent Schools Leading Learning Conference (#VAIS2016) and had a blast! The day started with a thought-provoking keynote presentation from Jessica Lahey (@jesslahey), the author of the book The Gift of Failure. If you have not read her book, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy and share it with every parent and teacher that you know. I have given copies of the book to the parents of my advisees and will be facilitating a book club discussion on the book with our parents’ association this winter. My presentation on the neuroscience of learning followed Jessica and was well received by the crowd of approximately 350 Virginia educators who had assembled. After a couple of concurrent sessions that included a wide range of interesting and engaging topics, the day was over and I was exhausted. Exhausted but energized at the same time by the plethora of ideas that I came away with after engaging with fellow educators for an entire day of professional development. Kudos to the VAIS staff who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to put together and pull off a fantastic day of sharing and learning!

Now on to the Friday 4 items for the week.

  • Should School Be More Confusing? is a piece written by John Spencer (@spencerideas) that I serendipitously ran across this week that dovetails nicely with one of the themes of my talk, namely, desirable difficulties.
  • Are We Afraid to Let Students Make Mistakes? appeared on the Faculty Focus website this week. I bet Jessica Lahey would have a few things to say about the ideas in the piece! 😉
  • I found a new blog that I truly love this week after reading a piece shared by a member of my PLN. Here is one of my favorite posts from the site, Farnam Street, that really resonated with me. How To Think.
  • Here is a nice short piece from the teachthought website that is pretty self-explanatory: 20 Observable Characteristics Of Effective Teaching. How many of these characteristics are observable in your classroom?

Writing and Wondering

This week’s Friday 4 includes several pieces about student writing and how we are/should be teaching it in our classrooms. My inspiration for the topic was this past week’s Open House in the Writing Studio and the “soft opening” of the space. I am extremely optimistic that the Writing Studio will be seen as a valuable resource for all Loomis Chaffee writers and look forward to watching its evolution in the coming weeks and months. Kudos to Sally Knight and the Writing Initiatives Think Tank for bringing this valuable resource to the LC community!

  • Are We Teaching Composition All Wrong? is a recent piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education that conveys some of the frustrations that many of us have felt about teaching writing to students. The piece does end with a number of suggestions that may address some of the frustrations.
  • A response piece to the Chronicle article appeared on the Inside Higher Ed website titled Getting Better at Teaching Students Writing: Work With What They Know. The author offers a “simpler” straightforward strategy that seems to be spot on to me.
  • For those who want a few more pragmatic suggestions, 4 Strategies for Teaching Students How to Revise will offer up a concise set of strategies.
  • The final two pieces this week (I know….3 + 2 = 5 NOT 4…so sue me!) are more philosophical in nature and might be great fodder for discussions in departments or at a Thursday morning PD session.
    • The Examined Life explores the value and purpose of Socratic discussions and mentoring. The first half of the article is certainly targeted more towards the public school world, but the second half of the piece is well worth pondering.
    • Think Like a Fitbit:Measuring What We Value is another conversation-starter-type of article that is certainly relevant to our school culture and the hyper-testing environment we now live in.

A Soggy Friday 4

A rainy long weekend is in store as we put September in the books and begin the first chapter of October…a perfect opportunity to do a little reading and reflecting on teaching and learning. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a few suggestions to get you started on that journey? Well, lucky you! I have a few items that fit the bill.  😉

  • The first piece recently appeared in the NYT and seemed to be perfectly suited for our student clientele. Teaching Teenagers to Cope With Social Stress explores a few recent studies that focus on ways in which we might be able to use some well-timed and designed writing exercises to reduce student stress. Perhaps worth exploring with our advisees.
  • The next two items, which come from the college world, look at two issues that are certainly front and center for our students as well. The fact that the topics are being addressed in pieces targeted to college folks suggests to me that the issues are certainly not limited to high school students.
  • The last piece resonated with me specifically because of a conversation I had recently with a new colleague about the benefits of lesson planning and how my own planning has evolved over my career. The Most Important Teaching Skill for the Modern Educator to Master is loaded with nuggets for the novice and experienced teacher.

Curl up with your favorite electronic reading device and enjoy the rainy weekend! (Not a sentence I would have written 25 years ago!)

Still Friday ;-)

While I might be coming down to the wire on actually calling this a “Friday” 4, I hope that you do not think that the late hour suggests a dearth of items have crossed my radar screen this week…quite the contrary! 

  • The first item this week is actually a 2-fer. A pair of blog posts from the Edutopia website on the topic of grading practices. The first of the posts, When Grading Harms Student Learning, explores some hot-button issues when it comes to grades and grading. The follow-up post, Do No Harm: Flexible and Smart Grading Practices, offers a few more specifics about the topics broached in the first piece.
  • 7 Surprising Facts About Creativity, According to Science includes some items that tie in nicely with this year’s school theme of Mind Over Matter. Another item that might be nice to share with advisees.
  • Got two hours to kill? If so, there was a show that recently aired on NOVA titled School of the Future that is worth a look. The show explores how the “new” science of learning can/should influence the educational system at large and the individual classroom.
  • I am including this last item a little bit sight unseen, but am confident that the content will be worthwhile. A friend and colleague of mine that many of you may know, Kevin Mattingly, is one of the lead intructors in a MOOC that will be starting on November 2nd. Kevin is one of the founders of the Mountain School, formerly taught at Lawrenceville and among other things, is one of the instructors in the PRMT program. The MOOC is The Science of Learning – What Every Teacher Should Know and will run for 4 weeks. If you have never participated in a MOOC, this would be a great one to try. Can’t beat the cost….FREE!

Enjoy Founders Day and have a wonderful weekend!

Fall Follies

If you only have 15 minutes or don’t normally click on all or any of the links in the Friday 4, I would encourage you to skip right to the first item and take the time (15 minutes) to watch the TED Talk “How to Raise Successful Kids – Without Over-parenting.” I am trying to figure out a way to “gently” share this video with the parents of my advisees. Perhaps I will show it to my advisees first and let them bring it home. 😉

This week’s nuggets that have crossed my radar screen:

  • How to Raise Successful Kids – Without Over-parenting” is a phenomenal TED Talk by Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former Dean of Freshman at Stanford, that is chock full of sage advice for parents, teachers and students. Thanks to my colleague Bill Sullivan (@bsullivan35) from Suffield Academy for this item. If you are interested in project-based learning, I would encourage you to follow Bill on twitter.
  • No Friday 4 would be complete without a few brain related items. The first one comes from Todd Finley’s blog and is titled Everything Your Brain Needs to Know about Engagement: 40 Strategies to Enhance Student Engagement. All sorts of good ideas that are germane with our new schedule.
  • What’s Your Memory Style? 5 Ways to Accommodate the Way Your Brain Works comes from the informED website. The beginning of the piece describes a study exploring the differences that exist between individuals when it comes to memory and the regions of the brain that are involved. The second half of the piece offers up some practical suggestions for teachers based on the preliminary findings.
  • The final piece was sent my way by Eric Styles and comes from The Chronicle of Higher Education. The topic of the article, laptop use for note taking, is one that has appeared in previous Friday 4 pieces and continues to be a hot topic in certain circles. No, Banning Laptops Is Not the Answer.

Enjoy and have a wonderful weekend!

First Four Finally Finished

(I could not resist the opportunity to throw a little alliteration into the title of this week’s missive after attending a meeting of the Writing Studio working group this morning.)

Four days into our new daily schedule and the earth has not tilted off of its axis nor has the ground in the middle of the Grubbs Quadrangle opened up and swallowed all unsuspecting passerbys. Actually, according to the vast majority of people with whom I have spoken, the new schedule has been great and presented teachers with desirable difficulties that will need to be mastered over time. How do I properly pace a lesson? How much homework is enough but not too much? Instead of thinking about what will be covered in class, teachers are focusing on what the students will be doing during class. This is a significant shift in perspective that has and will lead to generally better and more engaging lessons and experiences for our students.

Now a few nugget for your reading pleasure.

Enjoy and have a wonderful weekend!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

Happy first day of classes!

It may not be Friday, but I thought you might like a few nuggets to get your year started. For those of you who are new to this blog, let me explain what “The Friday 4” is. On most Fridays (or sometimes on Saturday or Sunday!), I post interesting or thought-provoking articles that I have come across during the week in an effort to stimulate thought and conversation about the work we do with our students. Most of the articles come from my Twitter stream, but some are ones that fellow colleagues have sent my way. So, if you run across something that you think I or others might find interesting, send it along! 

Here are a few pieces that I curated over the summer that are relevant to the start of a new school year that I hope you will find intriguing.

Have a wonderful first few days of class

Finish Line within Sight

As any independent school teacher will attest, the middle of May is one of the busiest times of the year. AP exams are winding down, prom season is winding up and the seniors are counting the days until graduation. Special schedules are the “norm” and any sense of routine has gone out the window. In an attempt to inject some normalcy and predictability into this crazy stretch, I offer up this week’s Friday 4…even posted on Friday this week!

The first two pieces I ran across this week come from the same website…an interesting URL to be certain. Some good advice for all teachers as they work with students to improve their communication skills.

  • 10 top writing tips and the psychology behind them
  • The 4 questions to ask before you write anything: ROAM
  • The NPR website includes an “ongoing series of conversations with thinkers and activists on education issues.”  They recently posted a conversation with Ken Bain, author of the book What the Best College Teachers Do. I have read the book and highly recommend adding it to your pile of summer reading. The conversation on the NPR site will give you a sense of what his book is about.
  • A colleague passed along the following link to a bunch of great resources for designing rubrics to assess both traditional and  “non-traditional” student work. Valuable information for anybody who is incorporating multimedia activities or projects into their classes
  • BONUS find…could not help but include this recent post from thegooru.com website for those of you Chrome users. I installed a couple of the extensions myself and love them already.

Enjoy the craziness that is the month of May!

Pre-Mother’s Day Friday 4


The thermometer is expected to crack 30 this afternoon and I am ecstatic! (That would be 30 degrees Celsius and not Fahrenheit for those of you who have not yet converted to the metric system.) Warm weather is a mixed blessing as most teachers will attest….nice to be able to shed the winter clothing for spring duds; but if it gets too hot, students and teachers alike can struggle to remain focused in toasty classrooms. I can think of no better way to beat the May heat than a new edition of the Friday 4, so here you go…

May Day! May Day!


Spring has finally made it to New England and I think it is finally time to put away my snow blower and snow shovel until next winter. The chance of flooding in the meadows where my JV Baseball team plays is of course still a distinct possibility so I am not out of the winter/early spring woods just yet!