Monday, July 26, 2010

Safe Classrooms: Social and Emotional Learning

The basis of what Keith and I teach in our classes is for educators to provide a safe environment for students. This "safe container" includes emotional as well as physical aspects and pays huge dividends in better attitudes towards each other, the teacher, and the school in general. This translates into increased opportunities to learn.

Check out this video from Edutopia about Jefferson County, Kentucky's Caring for Kids Initiative which
seeks to"build positive, caring, learning communities," and you may learn some interesting concepts around safe classrooms. Security monitor Richard Little says that when kids come in with a smile and leave with a smile his job is done. What a wonderful thought. Principal Alicia Averette says that activities and games around social and emotional learning do not necessarily cut into instructional time (a comment we hear quite a bit), instead they cut down on having to take time to settle conflicts during instructional time, because the work has been done upfront.Teacher Joanna Clark says that kids want to be there and tells the story of a young girl who was home sick and cried because she wanted to be in school. If we can actually work towards having kids want to be in school, then what a difference it will make in our school and classroom climates.

"We are standardizing our kids to fit the test" -Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson elaborates on many of his earlier points in this conversation at Penn State with Patty Satalia. Many things resonate with me here, but one thing that stands out is he uses the term "teacher-proofing" and says that the teachers are being told basically how to teach and it's "stripping them of their professional skills and integrity." He also comments on how teaching to the test is not only stifling to students but to teachers as well. A fact that comes up in every course we teach. Some interesting things to think about here- give it a shot.

Education innovation expert Sir Ken Robinson is changing the way people think about creativity and talent. Hear him detail what the world needs to change about its educational systems and find out what it means to find your “element.”

Sir Ken Robinson is a “creativity expert.” He has dedicated his life’s work to examining how children are educated. He champions a radical restructuring of school systems by acknowledging that there are multiple kinds of intelligence and they each require a different educational method.
Robinson led the British government’s 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education—a massive inquiry into the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy—and was knighted in 2003 for his achievements.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The "Power of Poetry" Rethinking Schools Summer 2010 Free online issue

If you've never gone to the Rethinking Schools website, now might be a great time. Their online magazine topic for summer 2010 is the "Power of Poetry" and contains some powerful ideas.

The U.S. poet Robert Frost said, “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a love sickness. It finds the thought and the thought finds the words.” Our cover section focuses on three teachers who guide students to find their voice through poetry, to take the lump in their throat and transform it into poetry that gives them a sense of their own power. At the same time, Tom McKenna, Renée Watson, and Elizabeth Schlessman show us how to use poetry to help students think critically about their personal experience and connect it to a larger social reality.

41 Ways to Go Beyond the Book Report by Erika Saunders

I came across this post on and thought it might be useful to those of us who are looking for new and interesting ways to get our students to interact with books. Take a look, you never know when you are going to find that gem that hooks a student in and ignites her curiousity and creativity!

The following is a guest post written by Erika Saunders. Visit her blog or follow her on Twitter @rozelialives. Interested in writing a guest post? Send me an email at! I’d love to set something up!

I have never been a fan of the “Book Report”, the traditional listing of characters, settings, and plots. Surely there’s a better way to have students relate to the books they read.

So, when the powers-that-be requested that our students write book reports, I just had to jump in – or rather, I was volunteered. In any event, there I was convinced that therewas something better, another way that would be interesting to 6ththrough 8th graders. And so I began to list all the things I could do after reading a book.

Then, something wonderful happened. I began having all kinds of neat, interesting ideas. The more I thought about it, the more ideas came. And not just ideas butways to approach the ideas: monthly themes and kids’ choice.You could even have students develop their own ideas.

So, here is the list I created as my mind delved deeper and deeper – some I’ve gotten from some really creative teachers – thanks Ian! – others I’ve done with my students.I consider it a work-in-progress and look forward to continually adding to it.

The beauty is that there really are no limits. We just have to allow ourselves to think “outside of the book report”.

◦Make a CD/Soundtrack for the movie with an explanation for each song choice

◦Create a 30-second movie commercial/trailer podcast

◦Make a PowerPoint presentation

•Why this should be a movie


•TV series idea

•Abridged version of the book

◦Design a room that a character would have

◦Make a new book cover with a “write-up” and short pitch on why this should be the new cover

◦Turn the book into a short play

◦Create a fan blog

◦Design a Movie Poster

◦Write a letter to the head of a production company convincing them to make a movie

◦Write a letter to the “Fan Club” of the book

◦Create an “Interview with the Author”

◦Be a Talk Show Host interviewing the author

◦Rewrite the story using a new setting

◦Tell the story through a different character

•Dress up like the character and retell the story

•Write a summary from that character’s point-of-view

◦Be a Costume Designer for the movie version

◦Be the Set Designer for the movie version

◦Create a Graphic Novel version of the book

◦Create your own summary of what you think the sequel should be

◦Create a rap/song summary

◦Create the TV Show theme song

◦Illustrate the book

◦Make a documentary

◦Be a newscaster reporting the story

◦Make an audition video fora part in the movie

◦Record a voice-over

◦Describe the conflict/problem as a sport’s play

◦Create a Jeopardy game based on the book

◦Cast the movie/TV show

◦Link a real social/societal problem that relates to the story

◦Create a theme list and include books that fit into the theme

◦Create a photo album based on the book

◦Create a magazine based on the book

◦Write an advice column for the characters

◦Be the author’s editor– change one part to make the book better

◦Re-write it as a children’s book

Erika Saunders is a Special Education and Mentally Gifted Teacher for grades 6th through 8thgrade at an inner-city school in Philadelphia. For more of her quirky views on life, visit her blog: or follow her on Twitter: @rozelialives.

How to Use New-Media Tools in Your Classroom | Edutopia

We have talked often in this space about bringing students' lives into the classroom and technology is certainly an important part of many of our student's daily lives. Here is a set of seven videos from Edutopia contributors that offer some interesting insights into using technology in our classrooms. While I don't agree with all of them, for example one of the videos discusses friending students on Facebook which I don't do for a number of reasons, they do have some merit. One thing I learned was that there is a channel that is there for educational purposes. There are others about things like using digital photography, Twitter, wikis, GPS, and even WII! Some interesting stuff-give it a look; it might help you connect with more students.

How to Use New-Media Tools in Your Classroom Edutopia

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Subtle yet Important Difference

In his seminal book The Secret Cause: A Discussion of Tragedy, Dr. Normand Berlin (my professor for Shakespeare and Eugene O'Neill at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst many years ago and best teacher I've ever had) makes a subtle yet important point in the preface. He thanks his students who were "prodded by themselves or by me to state exactly how they felt, rather than how they were supposed to feel, while reading and after reading" works of literature.

This should raise a question for all of us who are in the education field: are we trying to bring out the opinions and feelings of our students or are we furnishing them with what the work is supposed to be about?

I was shocked a number of years ago when after asking students what a possible theme of a piece of literature might be, a very intelligent young woman told me that her teachers had always told her what the themes of stories were and she didn't know she could discover them on her own. Many of the other students agreed. A sad commentary on our educational system and something to keep in mind as we plan our lessons for the fall.

Sir Ken Robinson: "Bring on the Learning Revolution"

Millions have downloaded Sir Ken Robinson's talk "Schools Kill Creativity" from the 2006 TED conference. Now he has come out with another entitled "Bring on the Learning Revolution." Check it out and spend a little time on his website; it'll be well worth your time.

From Sir Ken Robinson:

"In 2006 I spoke at TED about developing children’s natural powers of creativity and imagination. Returning to TED in 2010 I wanted to focus on the need for a radical shift in education more generally. Reforming education is rightly seen as one of the biggest challenges of our times. In my view, reform is not enough: the real challenge is to transform education from a 19th century industrial model into a 21st century process based on different principles.

Current systems of education are based on the manufacturing principles of linearity, conformity and standardization. The evidence is everywhere that they are failing too many students and teachers alike. A primary reason is that human development is not linear and standardized, it is organic and diverse. People, as opposed to products, have hopes and aspirations, feelings and purposes. Education is a personal process. What and how young people are taught have to engage their energies, imaginations and their different ways of learning.

In this talk, I make a passing reference to fast food. Let me elaborate briefly. In the catering business, there are two main methods of quality assurance. The first is standardizing. If you have a favorite fast food brand, you can go to any outlet anywhere and know exactly what you will find: same burger, fries, cola, décor, and attitudes. Everything is standardized and guaranteed. By the way, this “cheap” food is also contributing to the most costly epidemic of diabetes and obesity in human history. But at least the standards are guaranteed.

The other method of quality assurance are the star ratings guides, like Michelin. These methods do not prescribe what’s on the menu, when restaurants should open, or how they should be decorated. They set out criteria of excellence and it’s up to each restaurant to meet them in their own way. They can be French, Mexican, Italian, Indian, American or anything else. They can open when they choose, serve what they like and hire whom they want. In general they are much better than fast food and offer a higher standard of service. The reason is that they are customized to local markets and personalized to the people they serve.

Education reform movements are often based on the fast food model of quality assurance: on standardization and conformity. What’s needed is a much higher standard of provision based on the principles of personalized learning for every child and of schools customizing their cultures to meet local circumstances.

This is not a theory. There are schools everywhere that demonstrate the practical power of these principles to transform education. The challenge is not to take a single model to scale but to propagate these principles throughout education so that teachers, parents, students and principals develop their own approaches to the unique challenges they face in their own communities.

Standardization tends to emphasize the lowest common denominator. Human aspirations reach much higher and if the conditions are right they succeed. Understanding those conditions is the real key to transforming education for all our children."

I'm reposting the original just in case you didn't see it before.