9 Ways to Teach Tolerance

teach toleranceIf you watch the news, tolerance seems to be a lost art. College kids shout down speakers. Mobs throw chairs through windows. Hordes of hooligans loot stores. It’s not that we don’t try. The Kindness Movement is more popular than ever. TeachingTolerance.org even uses Black Lives Matter as a model for tolerance education. Martin Luther King Day is always chockful of admonitions against prejudice and intolerance.

But how do you teach it in the confines of a classroom? Another lesson plan? A movie about Mahatma Gandhi? Quotes like this from Helen Keller:

The highest result of education is tolerance.

These have all been done and by many measures, America and the world are more intolerant than ever. So what do you do in your classroom to get this important attitude across? Here are some fresh ideas that you may not have tried:

Model tolerant behavior

Words don’t stem the tide of intolerance. No matter how many times we say, “See the other’s perspective,” or “Be kind,” these words are meaningless to a dedicated zealot who feels the end justifies the means. Sometimes, the best way is simply to model tolerance. In writing, this is a powerful storytelling device called “show don’t tell”. It means instead of talking about tolerance, be tolerant. When a student gets angry over a grade, explain where they fell short or how to improve a grade.

Admittedly, in the current social media world, words are today’s doing. People join hashtag campaigns like #Nevergiveup or #Bringhomeourgirls. While these may raise public awareness, they don’t deliver the tolerance necessary to change the outcome. Don’t hashtag a sentiment; find an action for the words.

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Categories: administration, Education reform, Teaching | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Fake News or Fact? How do you tell?

fake newsKeeping up with national and international events was a lot easier when all the news came from one of three major TV news outlets and a few newspapers like The New York Times. Now, there are dozens of channels, hundreds of newspapers, thousands of bloggers, and tens of thousands of social media journalists — all trying to get your attention with the latest apocalyptic news flash. Stories based on gossip as much as fact used to be designated Yellow Journalism. Now, in what has been called a post-truth society (defined by Oxford Dictionary as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”), it is the reader’s responsibility to differentiate between fact and fake news.

What is fake news?

Here are two definitions of fake news:

“false stories that appear to be news, spread on the Internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke” — Cambridge English Dictionary

“a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.” — Wikipedia

In layspeak:

“Fake news is information reported as fact without reliable evidence, trustworthy sources, and/or proper vetting” — Jacqui Murray

Sounds like something every thinking person would want to avoid but a recent Stanford Graduate School of Education report shows that 80-90% of high school students had difficulty judging the credibility of news. So how do we teach students to know the difference?

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Why Mastery Based Learning is a Good Option

mastery-based learningLast year, only 61 percent of students who took the ACT high school English achievement test were deemed college-ready. In math, it was even worse — only 41 percent. Without doubt, we teachers recognize this as a problem but what do we do about it? An option several school districts I converse with are trying is called “mastery-based learning” — MBL. When I read this article about it, I got pretty excited. This could be a solution, if not for all students, at least for those who don’t excel under traditional teaching.

What is MBL

Also known as “competency-based learning” or “proficiency-based learning”, mastery-based learning is described by The Glossary of Education Reform as:

“a system “of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting … based on students demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education.” 

Learning is personalized, based on school standards. Students who don’t understand a topic and don’t do well on the summative assessment for that subject, aren’t automatically moved on because time allotted for that topic ran out. Instead, they are given additional support and then retested until they have the skills to move on to the next stage.

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April is Financial Literacy Month

The latest national data reports that while a growing number of students graduate high school, college enrollments are decreasing. Students cite a lot of reasons for that:

  • I can’t afford it
  • I can’t get in
  • It’s too hard
  • I have a good job
  • It isn’t worth it

Whatever is to blame, the result is that students increasingly take on the complicated economics of working and raising families without the knowledge, maturity, or experience to succeed at those. High schools are attempting to fill that gap by offering financial literacy classes that teach how to balance finite income from a job against infinite needs and wants.

Since April is Financial Literacy Month, I want to share my favorite online options, all age-appropriate for high school students and financial literacy classes:

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MS Career Planning: Moving in the Right Direction

I really like the recent trend away from presenting college as the goal for all graduating seniors, opening that up to include a wide variety of careers. Our job as educators is to encourage students in whatever their choice of post-school employment is, be it more education, a technical school, or a job. If we try to force students into a future not of their own choice, they disengage from learning. Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Bryce Welker, has some ideas on that I think you’ll find interesting:

As an educator, you want to help your students excel now and in the future. This means you have to do everything possible to prepare them for their careers.

One way school districts are ensuring this is by introducing career topics and studies to middle school students. According to the Association for Career and Technical Education, middle school is the time when students are the most likely to become disengaged from learning.

This is in part due to them going through puberty, trying to form their own personal identity, and overcoming other challenges that come with navigating new environments. So this is a vital time to introduce courses that teach students about various career opportunities.

Let’s take a look at how educators around the country are helping middle school students plan and direct their future careers.

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Categories: 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade | Tags: , | Leave a comment

3 Favorite Webtools for students (and teachers)

favorite appsI subscribe to lots of technology-in-education forums (here’s a list of my trusted education advisors) and attend as many webinars as I can. In this way, I push outside of my bubble, away from my comfort zone, and along the way, discover some pretty amazing tools that I can’t wait to use in my classes.

Here are three that I found just since school opened. I’d love to know your thoughts on these:

  • Scholastic W.O.R.D.
  • Peergrade
  • Mission US

Scholastic W.O.R.D.

Scholastic’s W.O.R.D. (Words Open Reading Doors) is an independent K-5 learning resource that is committed to the principle that all kids should understand the words they use, how to use them to express themselves, and that doing so powers their lives. With this web-based program, kids learn to understand the high-utility word families that make up 90% of all texts. Since the number of words in the English language is far more for anyone except a bibliophile would be interested in, W.O.R.D. gathers them into manageable learning groups. Using a game-based format, students receive repeated exposure to high-utility words in multiple contexts and authentic ways that seem natural and age-appropriate. Learning objectives include homonyms, synonyms, expressions and phrases, picturable words, tenses, affixes, compound words, analogies, idioms, derivatives, and more — all broken down by grade level. They are introduced via themes to spark interest and keep students engaged. These include All About Me, What is a Hero, Blast from the Past, and more.

In W.O.R.D. (which by the way, is fee-based), students start with a placement test to determine their comprehension level and be sure they are challenged by assignments without being frustrated. They are introduced to words in their “zone of proximal development”.  Teachers can monitor progress on the teacher dashboard, broken down by class and student. Robust reports are available to identify opportunities for enrichment, deeper dives, or additional support while providing feedback on which word skills students have begun and completed.

W.O.R.D. is pushed out to students in flexible twenty-minute sessions at a recommended pace of two-three per week. Lessons fit into most existing literacy programs. This is perfect for either a focused lesson plan or for students to play independently as part of a literacy center.

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The Importance of SEL to Education Success

social emotional learningLife is much simpler when you — as a parent or teacher — can point to one solution for a problem, solve it, and everything is golden. Success in school was like that when grades were the barometer and studying harder was the tool. Now, we know academic achievement is much more complicated.

“Students are telling us there’s a big missing piece in their education” –John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic

Today’s educators realize learning has as much to do with academics as how students get along with themselves and others. This is called “Social Emotional Learning” or SEL. It’s akin to the importance of play in teaching preschool kids to socialize with others, develop tenacity, and learn respect for those around them. If you’re not convinced of the importance of SEL, here’s what students say:

“Students and young adults believe SEL schools would create a more positive social and learning environment” — report by the Collaboration for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

A positive attitude about themselves and others is linked to not only academic success but correlated to lessening the negative impact of future-ending problems such as drug use. It should surprise no one that as of mid-2018, two states have passed SEL measures, sixteen SEL-related bills and resolutions have been introduced, and twenty-three states are working on SEL standards.

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15 St. Patrick’s Day Resources For Your Class

Getting ready for St. Patrick’s Day? Try these fun websites:st patricks day websites

  1. Color the shamrock
  2. Color the Pot-o-gold
  3. Color the leprechaun
  4. Puzzle–St. Pat’s Puzzle
  5. Puzzle–St. Pat’s puzzle II
  6. Puzzle–St. Pat’s drag-and-drop puzzle
  7. Puzzle–St. Pat’s slide puzzle
  8. Puzzles and games
  9. St. Patrick’s Day history–video
  10. St. Patrick’s Day quiz
  11. St. Pat’s Day songs–video
  12. Tic tac toe
  13. Webquest for St. Patrick’s Day I
  14. Webquest II
  15. Wordsearch

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Categories: Holidays | Tags: | 1 Comment

Pi Day is Easy to Remember–Celebrate With Students

Throwback Day–I’ll republish this Pi Day post from last year, just to remind you of this wonderful mathematical event:

Pi Day is an annual celebration commemorating the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is observed on March 14 since 3, 1, and 4 are the three most significant digits of π in the decimal form.

Daniel Tammet, a high-functioning autistic savant, holds the European record for reciting pi from memory to 22,514 digits in five hours and nine minutes.

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Peer Feedback That Works

Assessing student learning traditionally is accomplished with tests. The problem teachers have with this approach is managing them. If they’re short answer or essay —  the preferred way to check understanding — grading takes a long time. And unless assessments are frequent, it’s easy to miss the student who is lost or just doesn’t get it. Even with the advances technology offers in responding directly to students, it can be too time-consuming for large classes.

A solution that has become popular is peer feedback. This isn’t new; in fact, it is prevalent in universities. What exactly is peer feedback and how is it being applied to lower grades?

What is peer feedback?

When used as an assessment strategy, peer feedback is much more than casual comments shared between classmates. It is the logical evaluation of one student’s work by another using predetermined characteristics and measures. Through the implementation of a prescribed rubric, a student’s classmate looks at their work and determines if it satisfies the goals of the lesson, the Essential Questions, and the Big Ideas.

One important difference from teacher evaluations is that students don’t grade each other.

Why peer feedback?

Peer feedback has become popular as teachers move to a “teacher-guide” model of education rather than a “teacher-lecturer”. When the time comes in a lesson to assess student learning, instead of a formal test in a quiet room with a clock ticking, teachers employ a system of peer feedback. For many, this is more effective, less stressful, and maintains the goal of encouraging lifelong learners. Sometimes, this is an excellent way to address school budget cuts, large classes, and the burden of too many pieces to be graded. Other times, teachers employ this method because not only the one being reviewed benefits but so too does the reviewer as they must know what the lesson is about to effectively review classmates. As a pedagogical strategy, it teaches critical thinking, one of those traits that is hard to teach but essential to being a productive adult.

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