December = the acceleration of time

While the wall calendar may show December as one of the longest months of the year with a chart topping 31 days, all teachers know that the number of full “regular” teaching days that you get in December is almost countable on one hand. Weather-related disruptions and special events seem to be the default in December. This is one reason why I love teaching in December…when everything and everybody else is in a state of constant discombobulation, I find the classroom to be my island of sanity. Once I get into the classroom, the craziness, and disruption that is December disappears. I can focus on the things that really matter…teaching and learning…my passions. Eventually, the period does end and I need to poke my head out into the “real” world and join the rat race, but for those 75 minutes, all is good.

At the risk of adding to one more thing (or 4 perhaps!) to your already full plate, here are this week’s Friday 4 nuggets. Find a quiet place, click on one of the links and pretend that you are in your classroom where you are insulated, at least a little bit, from the outside world.

  • Soon after I wrote the piece on retrieval practice (RP) for the Learning and the Brain blog, I ran across yet another reason for intentionally incorporating RP into our courses. The article “Practice testing protects memory against stress” appears on the TuftsNow website and describes a recent study that was published in the journal Science. If you have been at Loomis for more than 3 years, you may recognize a former student in the video clip that accompanies the article!
  • Are your students dragging a bit in the long blocks? Perhaps you are not proving enough “brain breaks” for them during the period. In a recent piece on the Edutopia website, one of my favorite neurologist/teachers, Judy Willis, explains the neuroscience of brain breaks and how to incorporate them into a lesson.
  • Assessment is a particularly germane topic during this stretch of the calendar year as we approach a longer break and many teachers are trying to complete a “unit” before the vacation. 34 Strategies For The Stages Of Assessment: Before, During & After might offer up a few new ideas for how you can effectively plan for and use assessments of and for learning.
  • Most would agree that the ultimate goal of learning is for students to be able to transfer new knowledge and skills to new and different situations without being prompted or being shown how to do “it.” I happened to run across a wonderful blog post from the late Grant Wiggins that does a good job of explaining what transfer is and is not. This piece ties in nicely with the previous one on assessment.

Enjoy this week’s items and your classroom in December!

Are We There Yet?

keep-calm-it-s-almost-vacation-timeLet the craziness begin! We have arrived at that frantic stretch between Thanksgiving break and the winter break when the days begin to blur and the number of “extra” appointments/meetings/special holiday events and causes for disruption increase exponentially. Just enough time to complete a unit’s worth of material if we are lucky and having a good day and the weather gods smile down upon us and do not deliver any of that fluffy white stuff from the sky. Sounds like a perfect time to add one more thing to your plate…a December edition of the Friday 4!

Consider this week’s items an early holiday gift from me to you! Unwrap and enjoy. P.S. Please feel free to regift any of the items with a family member who does not regularly get the Friday 4!

  • Those who know me, know that I am a big fan and user of twitter for my own professional development. Recently, I happened to run across a creative way for newbies to get their toes wet with twitter. The #12daysoftwitter challenge. The challenge started on December 1, but you can easily join in now and benefit from this introduction to the use of twitter as a self-directed professional development tool. Even power users of twitter can benefit from participating in the challenge and inject a little freshness into their twitter feed. It only takes a couple of minutes a day!
  • Apply Yourself is a piece from the Harvard GSE website that offers up some good advice for seniors who are deep in the throws of the college process as well as for advisors of such students.
  • Are you a coach looking for ways to leverage what has been learned about cognitive science with your athletes? Here is A ‘COGNITIVE SCIENCE READING LIST’ FOR COACHES
    from Doug Lemov that will get you started.
  • For my English teacher friends, here is a piece that I stumbled on that you may either hate or love. I am eager to hear which camp you fall into after you read Teaching Grammar Through Rhythm.
  • My bonus item this week is a shameless plug for a blog post that I wrote for the Learning and the Brain website. I have been asked to join the team of regular contributors for the blog and had my first piece CLICK HERE: THE TECHNOLOGY OF RETRIEVAL PRACTICE IN THE CLASSROOM posted this week.

Enjoy and hang in there…vacation is only a few weeks away!

All Treats and No Tricks!

booWith Halloween only a few days away, I was tempted to provide a few “tricks” in this week’s post but decided that I would resist that temptation and only hand out “treats” for your enjoyment.

  • The first item was passed along to me by a colleague and adds to the growing list of articles addressing the topic of multi-tasking and technology. Don’t Look Now! How Your Devices Hurt Your Productivity.
  • The Faculty Focus website had two nice articles this week that look at topics that are common in discussions of teaching these days. The first one Teaching Critical Thinking: Some Practical Points looks at a skill that we all talk about but most of us have a difficult time actually teaching.
  • Finding Signs of Progress When Learning is Slow looks at one of my favorite topics, namely, effortful learning and how difficult it can be for students.
  • The last “treat” this week is a longer piece that is a good primer on the topic of Design Thinking (DT). DT has become very popular in education circles of late and provides a framework and way of thinking that can be used in every discipline. This primer is quite thorough and includes a bunch of excellent links for those who find the topic intriguing. Well worth the time!

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