Stories Clear Familiarity Fog

Familiarity with an idea can be a really good thing. Having some exposure to a certain word or concept can speed along the learning process and build deep understanding. However, the opposite is also true. Familiarity can dull our minds and prevent us from deeper learning.

Selflessness is something we talk about a lot in my class. I want the student to understand our class as a learning community and think about what it looks like to put the needs of others before their own. Even though I want this to be a central focus of the classroom, if I come back to it in the same way too often, it loses its power and students are lulled to sleep by things they have heard before.

Fresh Stories Clear the Fog

One solution to counteract the fog of familiarity is to tell fresh, powerful stories that illustrate selflessness in a variety of ways. They allow my students to gain deeper perspectives and have fresh inspiration to serve others. Stories are also a secret weapon to engage the head and heart of a person in a way that is impossible when communicating with bare principles or propositions.

One recent example of a story that brought the concept of selflessness to life was in Suzanne Collin’s book, Hunger Games. Last week, I was re-reading the story and was struck by the selflessness of Katniss Everdeen as she volunteers as a tribute at the reaping.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the reaping ceremony is required by the Capitol to remind every district in the country of Panem of their submission to its power. Two child tributes are chosen from every district to compete in a lethal competition called the hunger games. The games require a male and female representative from each of the Districts to fight to the death in an enclosed area. Katniss is one of many impoverished residents of District 12. Her mother and younger sister, Prim, are all that is left of her family after her father died in a mine explosion years earlier. As a result of her father’s death, her mother falls into a paralyzing depression and Katniss is forced to be the primary caregiver and provider for her family.

On the night of the reaping ceremony, the mayor gives a speech reminding District 12 of their historic defeat by the Capitol and why they must offer tributes to the hunger games every year. The district’s female tribute is chosen, and to Katniss’s horror, it’s her 12-year-old sister, Prim. The crowd is disturbed by the draw of such a young tribute who will surely meet a sudden death in the arena. Katniss shakes off the shock of the moment and volunteers as tribute in her sister’s place.

To acknowledge her heroic act, the residents of District 12 touch the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and hold it out to Katniss. Collins describes this gesture as, “old and rarely used…occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love (p. 24).”

Katniss’ powerful act of love for her sister is contrasted by the selection of the male tribute that follows. Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son, is also chosen as a tribute but his only brother, that can volunteer to take his place, refuses. His refusal to risk his life for his brother underlines Katniss’ radical act on her sister’s behalf. It is a love that goes deeper than family devotion.

Effie Trinket asks for volunteers, but no one steps forward. He [Peeta] has two older brothers, I know, I’ve seen them in the bakery, but one is probably too old now to volunteer and the other won’t. This is standard. Family devotion only goes so far for most people on reaping day. What I did was the radical thing.

The Hunger Games — Suzanne Collins

“The radical thing” is what my students and I need to be reminded of every day. We want to be a community marked by radical devotion and servant leadership that puts the needs of others before our own. Stories like these grab our attention and inspire us out of our familiarity fog to be what we hope to be.

Do you have a story that has inspired your class lately? Tell your story or link your blog post below. I’d love to read it. If you would like to share this section of Hunger Games with your students, it is available from scholastic here.

Teachers as Human Beings

Building relationships with students is a foundational skill of a teacher. However, sometimes particular modes of instruction obstruct the teacher’s ability to build relationships, and therefore, the ability of students to learn. Teachers occupy numerous roles in their craft.  They act as tutors, counselors, evaluators, presenters, coaches, first-aiders and hosts (just to name a few). Many of these roles conceal the human-ness of a teacher.  In other words, a particular role can increase the relational distance in the teacher-student relationship making well-intentioned teachers into aliens.

Another way of illustrating this issue is to think about parenting. One role of being a father is much like law enforcement. There are certain rules of fair play in our family and when someone breaks a rule, I deal with the grievances that are reported and work to facilitate reconciliation. This often involves facilitating a small courtroom scenario where I listen carefully to both sides of the story and make an official ruling on the case. If I didn’t function in this role, I can only imagine the cycle of revenge that might occur. However, I don’t think that I would be a very good dad if I couldn’t switch out of my law enforcement role to also become a friend who has fun with them or a counselor who gives them advice. Teaching is similar to parenting in this way because no one wants a teacher that is always functioning as the rule enforcer or evaluator.

Of course, it’s easy to know that you should switch roles but difficult to create spaces where the switch can happen. In my experience, it often requires a different context and intentional planning. Struggles to find resources or parent support for experiences in different settings are real. With parenting, something as simple as taking one child out for ice cream might be all you need to create the space for a meaningful conversation. With a group of nearly 30 students, that switch of context isn’t so easy, and yet, if you are intentional about finding new opportunity to connect with your students, they seem to appear.

Finding Different Relational Spaces

Winding down the first term of school as we approached the Christmas break provided a number of opportunities to get to know my students as fellow human beings. Many of the year-end Christmas traditions in my class are focused on community-building.  In the past, I’ve approached these events as time-fillers or ways to manage students as their pre-holiday excited grew. This year was different because relationship building has become a bigger priority in my classroom.

One unexpected opportunity to connect with students was our Middle School, Christmas assembly that involved a teacher, lip sync battle. Even though performing on stage in front of 300 middle-schoolers was way out of my comfort zone, I accepted an invitation to pair up with another teacher and join the competition. Finding a Justin Bieber costume wasn’t easy and All I Want for Christmas is You was an awkward song to sing with another teacher but, in the end, we had fun with it. More importantly though, for those few moments on stage, I stepped into a different role and showed the students a different side of myself. Instead of being the “talking head” giving instructions in the classroom, I was the awkward, tall guy at the front doing my best pop-star impersonation and Fortnite, victory dances (which were terrible).

Ice skating was another grade-wide, Christmas activity that provides a unique opportunity to build relationships with students. Skating circles around an oval sheet of ice provides the perfect setting to talk with students about a variety of non-school topics. While it is still my responsibility to supervise everyone on the rink, it also provides a great space to throw some snow and have some fun with them–things that you may rarely get the chance to do in the classroom.

Rather than subjecting the students to another holiday movie, one of my teaching partners suggested that we have a class-verse-class dodgeball game. One unique part about this dodgeball duel was that both teachers jumped into the game as players. Because I don’t teach P.E. regularly, this was a rare opportunity to be on the same team as my students. Even though my class lost the game, we had a great time together and this shared experience bonded us together in a way that regular classroom interactions fail to do.

Sharing Your Experiences

I’m curious to know how other teachers create spaces to build relationships with their students as a fellow human being. I would love to read your thoughts or experiences in the comments below.

Imagination and Empathy

At a recent conference, I was asked to identify the dispositions that I valued most in a learner.   A list of words was supplied to help advance our thoughts on the question.  It included words like: resilient, innovative, persistent, disciplined and imaginative.  I selected and defended the imaginative disposition for many of the typical reasons.  I spoke about how imagination inspires innovation and how it creates a movie in the mind of readers that is necessary for reading comprehension but I never talked about one of the more important reasons that I have learned since then. Namely, the importance of imagination for developing empathy for others. J.K. Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech called, Very Good Lives, recently helped me connect the two.  In this post, I reflect on the relationship between imagination and empathy and suggest a few strategies for developing both in ourselves and others.  

What is imagination?

During the course of her commencement speech, Rowling acknowledges the role of the imagination in innovation and invention but emphasizes its transformative power.  The transformation Rowling envisions isn’t just a changed mind but also a changed heart.  In other words, she understands the imagination to help us feel what other people feel, without ever experiencing their circumstances.  

“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation; in its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

J.K. Rowling

How does imagination produce empathy?

According to Rowling, imagination creates empathy by allowing us to think ourselves into other peoples places.  She illustrates this from her own life telling how an early day job at Amnesty International’s headquarters required her to read horrific stories of tortured victims, executions, kidnappings and rapes.  These stories changed her life forever because she was able to think herself into the place of the victims she read about.

“Unlike any other creatures on this planet, human beings can learn and understand without having experienced.  They can think themselves into other peoples places.”  

J. K. Rowling

The evidence of this transformative impact in Rowling’s life is everywhere in her writings.  The Dursley’s treatment of Harry Potter in one small example of how Rowling invites us to feel her own compassion for those victimized and oppressed.  In her famed Harry Potter series, the Dursleys are a family of three, composed of Harry’s aunt, uncle and cousin. Harry is an orphan who is forced to live with the Dursley’s after his parents are murdered by the power-hungry Lord Voldemort.  The Dursley’s keep Harry safe but treat him harshly, including confining him to a cupboard, locking him in his bedroom without meals and treating as their servant.  As the reader, thinks themselves into Harry’s place, they are provided with an opportunity to feel the loneliness, rejection and powerlessness of anyone in his position.     

Those who refuse to imagine

Of course, imagination is not automatic and sometimes it is even suppressed.  Rowling’s speech contrasts the imaginative person with the unimaginative.  Those who refuse to know about suffering and intentionally plug their ears to the voice of its victims.   

And many chose not to use their imagination at all….they refuse to hear screams or peer inside cages; they close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

J.K. Rowling

Rowling extends this logic to show that those who don’t choose empathy actually participate in acts of evil through their apathy.  

What is more, those who choose not to empathize enable real monsters.  For without committing an outright act of evil ourselves, we collude with it through our own apathy. 

J. K. Rowling

Cultivating Imagination and Empathy

Reading Rowling address challenged me to think about how I am intentionally taking time to read and listen to those who are less advantaged or suffering.  It also made me think about how I’m providing opportunities to empathize and take action on behalf of the vulnerable groups in my classroom.  I thought of two units that I have used in the past to create these spaces for empathy.  The first required my Grade Seven students, to complete a personalized novel study using a historical fiction novel where the hero/heroine is from a different culture, class and race than their own and suffers physically or emotionally in some way.  

Another opportunity I have given students to practice empathy for others is an oral storytelling unit.  To prepare for the final project in this unit, students are asked to read part of a biography on the hero of their choice who has overcome some type of adversity.  In the end, the story is told from the first person perspective–as if they were the hero.  Last year, I can remember listening to one girl in my class telling the story of how Rosa Parks refused to move bus seats in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.  At points in the story, she embodied the voice of Parks so well that it felt as though Parks was there telling us the story in person.  The class rose and gave her a standing ovation when she finished.  This was just one opportunity to identify with a person who did not have the same privileges that many of us enjoy.    

Taking Action

In the last part of her speech to the Harvard graduates, J.K. Rowling sounds a call to action that challenges the class to identify not only with the powerful but the powerless—to really enter into their story.  I hope you were challenged, as I was, to do the same.  

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful but the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existance but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change.

J.K. Rowling

 I would love to hear more examples of how you are giving students opportunities to raise their voice on behalf of the those who have none in the comments below.  I’ve attached the video to J.K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Speech below. 

Math Projects that Matter

Math matters when it’s connected to authentic tasks and situations in life.  Doing loads of textbook questions that aren’t connected to authentic situations isn’t engaging for anyone.  This is one of the reasons I have shifted my approach to teaching math over the last few years.  At the beginning of my teaching career, my math class consisted of marching chapter by chapter through the textbook.  In the past few years, I have moved to a project-based approach that has benefited my students in many ways.  In this post, I want to share a few of reflections that I hope will move more educators in the same direction.     

Adaptable to learners at different levels

One difficult part about teaching math is engaging students at different levels.  Unlike the textbook-driven approach, math projects can easily be customized to fit learners at higher and lower levels.  Often this is because the task is more open-ended and can be more or less structured to fit the learner.  Instead of boring advanced students with a set of questions that they quickly motor through and become disruptive to the rest of the class, math projects are easily expanded or made more complex.   

For example, in my pool project last year, I had my students build a circular, model swimming pool out of cardboard to show their knowledge about the area of circles and the volume of cylinders.  I also gave them certain requirements for the pool, such as its capacity and the target audience it would be designed for.  I made sure the target audience included people with a range of heights so that their pool would need a deep and shallow end. Once the advanced learners had this information and we developed success criteria, they began working independently.  I knew a few of my students were very advanced and challenged them to design a pool with a graduated floor.  Others, who were struggling with the general concept of volume, designed two, joint, circular pools with a flat floor.  

This adaption of the project was much more efficient than the traditional textbook approach I had taken in the past.  This adjustment didn’t require research to find more questions and answer keys.  There were no fancy math websites needed for advanced students to stay challenged.  Separate tests or evaluations weren’t necessary. Nor, did it require dividing students into ability groupings that may have prevented the more advanced learners from helping their peers.  In short, the open-ended-ness, that scared me when I started, proved important for customizing the learning to fit my students.  

More side-by-side time

One disadvantage of project-based math units it that they require more time on the front end.   The learning maps, assignment guides or learner playlists are more like a little unit a syllabus than a lesson plan.  In my experience, inquiry-based units often take many more hours of preparation than traditional units.  However, this additional time at the front-end of the unit has also bought more time mid-unit to do mini-lessons with small groups, or work side-by-side with students who need extra support.   This is a huge advantage when you consider that many parents don’t know how to help their children with math at home and others simply aren’t there to help them.  Students need assistance delivered during school and teaching math projects has been extremely helpful for this.

Student choice and engagement

I didn’t actually think about how passive my math class was until I started teaching with projects.  The first large math project I attempted asked students to design their own vacation.  Not long after the project launch, I received dozens of questions from students about the design process.  “Mr. Mayer, will I need to rent a car?” To these questions, I often answered with a question like, “How close is your hotel to the activities you are planning?” My students weren’t used to being able to make choices in math.  Narrowly defined problems with a very specific scenario and a single outcome were the norms.  Giving students dozens of choices to create and design gave them a sense of ownership and pride while engaging them deeply in mathematical thinking.  Recently, one of my students was so proud of the trip she had planned to Vancouver Island that she suggested that her family actually go on the trip at Spring Break.  Her parents adopted the idea and she was able to experience the trip she planned and budgeted for.

Cross curricular and cross competency 

In a textbook-driven approach to learning math, it’s sometimes hard to find opportunities for students to communicate about the math decisions they are making or improve financial literacy.  However, teaching math projects gave students multiple cross-curricular learning opportunities.  For example, in my vacation design project, the students were required to write a travel itinerary for their trip and make a commercial on Abode Spark to “sell” their vacation package to the class.  Writing appealing summaries and video-editing are typically not skills that students associate with math.  In fact, there were a few competencies that seemed quite unique to a project-based approach.  Skills like:

  • Students generating their own ideas about how to solve problems
  • Students comparing information from different sources before completing an assignment
  • Students answering questions in front of an audience
  • Students justifying their financial decisions using math
  • Student presenting their findings to an audience

I think it’s often this lack of complexity and cross-competency work that makes math boring for students.  Working on bigger projects allowed them to use many different compentencies while building their number sense.

If you would like want to shift your practice toward a project-based approach, I’ve linked some of my favourite resources below.  Or, if you have some have a resources that you would suggest, please link them in the comments below.  

Suggested Resources

No Friends in the Factory

Sometimes “eureka moments” come in that strangest places.  Two days ago, one unexpectedly arrived at a student-led conference.  The format of the conferences was slightly adjusted from the year previous.  After the students were finished explaining three areas of learning, three goals would be set. The student, parents and teacher would all set one goal based on their reflections on the term.

Having parents involved in goals-setting paid off in ways that I didn’t anticipate. In one particular conference, a parent hesitated before setting a goal for her son (let’s call him Jack).  She reluctantly added that she could only think of two areas that didn’t really relate to school.  I urged her on by telling her that it didn’t matter if they were school specific.  Her first goal was about Jack living peacefully with his younger sister.  He was always bickering with her and he needed to show more maturity and patience.  The second, suggested better eating and sleeping patterns for next term.  Jack was frequently staying up late and eating too much junk food before bedtime.  This was causing morning grogginess and making him miss breakfast on school days. 

Before the conferences, I had written out my report card comments for each of the students but hadn’t yet published them for the parents to see.  Jack’s comment communicated two areas for improvement that paralleled the two areas his mother brought up.  One was attentiveness during class, I mentioned that he seemed tired and his lack of attentiveness regularly left him confused about instructions in class. The other was constant bickering and joking with other students that distracted him during independent work times.  What first seemed like unrelated behaviours in different contexts were actually linked.  Relational patterns at home mimicked those at school and bad sleep habits at home minimized his focus during class.    

My “Ah ha” moment in this situation wasn’t the link between home and school.  Every teacher repeatedly observes direct links between the home and classroom as they get to know their students.  The surprise was how often views of education in our society exclude or minimize social and emotional learning.  Why do we compartmentalize social and emotional learning and pretend that it is a non-academic skill that doesn’t influence academic areas? 

Schools modelled on factories

Ken Robinson elegantly explains one answer in his TED Talk called, Changing Educational Paradigms. 

 He shows how our current system of education was modelled on the interests and in the image of industrialism. The result is that schools today are still organized along factory lines.  Examples of the factory influences that persist in school are ringing bells, grouping children into batches based on their “manufacturing date,” separating curriculum into separate subjects and standardized testing.  

Further, Robinson argues that the current educational system is also structured on an enlightenment view of the intelligence.  Knowledge of the classics and deductive reasoning were the primary marks of an intelligence in this period.  The educational system was built for compliance to this narrowly defined type of intelligence.  Consequently, the western world was split into two types of people, the academic and non-academic.  As it turned out, most people, who didn’t happen to be good at those few valued skills were ostracized by the system.   

Factory thinking persists

Robinson’s explanation, of what I’ll call, factory education and intelligence, continue to be very deeply embedded in how we think about education.  I think it is one of the reasons that we minimized social and emotional learning (SEL) in our schools.  Examples of this are everywhere in my teaching experience.  Over the last few years, our Middle School has developed house teams across our school to build relationships between students from grades 6-8.  Every student, teacher and educational assistant in the school is divided into four houses team. Each is associated with a colour and an animal–almost like the house system in Harry Potter.  A couple of times throughout the year, we have full days of school that are dedicated to house activities.  These are jam-packed, fun days, full of activities that help students forge relationships with one another.  The response of the school community to this initiative was mixed. Some students fully embraced the day–turning up in the team colours–excited for a day of competition.  Others decided to stay home because we weren’t doing any “work” at school.  The message from the latter group of students seemed clear, building relationships with students wasn’t what school was for.  School was exclusively for “academics.”

The factory view of intelligence also explains why many parents in our school communities wrongly diagnosis their children’s learning struggles.  For example, take the parent who sees their child’s difficulty with math skills and automatically concludes that enrolling them in Kumon is the solution. Kumon may help their student, and I certainly think this program does occasionally help children learn.  However, linear connections between lack of academic skill and additional practice questions often misses the true problem because of a dumbed-down view of human intelligence.  In this type of scenario, considering SEL type questions is just as important, if not more important, than considering the skills themselves.  For example, a parent in this situation might ask:

  • What are my child’s beliefs about math? Does he/she think they are good or poor at math? Why? Are their experiences or people that are perpetuating these beliefs?
  • What is my child’s level of confidence in math?  How could I boost this confidence level?
  • Does my child understand the purpose of learning this particular skill math?
  • Would it be more motivating to try this skill in a real situation?

Education for the head and heart

These kinds of social and emotional realities have a huge effect on student learning and academic performance.  The research to support these connections is well documented. Students who are more self-aware and confident about their learning capacities try harder and persist in the face of challenges (Aronson, 2002; cited in Durlak et al., 2011; Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014).   According to a 2011 meta-analysis of 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students, those who participated in evidence-based SEL programs showed an 11 percentile-point gain in academic achievement compared to students who did not participate in SEL programs.  

UBC professor, Kimberly Schonert-Reichl who is a leading expert on SEL, also makes a connection between academic performance and the implementation of social and emotional learning programs in schools. 

In the video above, Schonert-Reichl also references the CASEL organization who have documented similar studies.  Another helpful place to reference SEL research on this point is Vanessa Vega’s article for Edutopia updated with the current research in June 2017.  Her summary of the current research makes Schonert-Reichl’s same point.  Human intelligence involves the whole person-including their emotional life, beliefs, and past experiences.  

That is not to say that academic achieve legitimizes SEL programs.  The development of SEL dispositions and competencies are connected to a greater vision of human flourishing that stands on their own merits. However, showing that SEL development influences academic performance proves that our enlightenment views of intelligence are too simplistic.  When education ignores the heart of the learners to focus on their heads both suffer.   No friendships in “the factory,” means less learning. 

To move our school culture away from the factory model, we need a new paradigm to think about learning.  We also need a different metaphor for thinking about schools and how we define intelligence.  Robinson gives us an alternative picture in his TED talk called, How to Escape Death Valley.  He reminds us that “…education is not a mechanical system, it is a human system. It’s about people.”  Robinson suggests that we should think about schools as organic, living environments that need to be nurtured.  At about 16:25, in the video below, Robinson compares schools to a dormant garden that need to be tended and nurtured in order to grow.  This metaphor is infused with incredible hope for the future. As teachers tend and care for their students, they will flourish.    

I would like to encourage you to take a few minutes to listen to Robinson’s whole talk.  It’s one of my personal favourites. I would also love to read any of your thoughts on these ideas in the comments below. 

Reasons to Read Aloud

It makes you a better reader and writer

A few weeks ago, a friend recommended that I listen to an episode from the Read Aloud Revival podcast that changed my view on teaching writing.    Host, Sarah Mackenzie, asked Andrew Pudewa how students become better writers.  His answer, in a nutshell, was they need to listen to books that are read aloud.  

Pudewa’s link between reading aloud and writing starts with the belief that you cannot get something out the brain that you have not put in.  Reading feeds the brain with new characters, story plots and vocabulary to help it produce written work.  In another article on the same topic, Pudewa quotes Louis L’Amour saying, “A writer’s brain is like a magician’s hat. If you’re going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in it first” However, the input-output cycle is not quite that simple. Good readers are often not good writers.  One of the reasons for this, according to Pudewa, is because the writer is not listening to good reading.  By listening to stories, that are just above their current reading  level, students build up their brain’s database with advanced vocabulary and better absorb formal grammatical structures used in writing.

writer’s brain is like a magician’s hat. If you’re going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in it first

Louis L’Amour

He holds that reading by yourself doesn’t always yield this same result because the literature may be too simple, words or sections may be skipped and grammar may be ignored.  By contrast, a good reader will help their listeners catch the nuances in meaning, grammatical structures and cultural or knowledge references that readers may not have. 

Are homeschooling, read-aloud fanatics the only ones who think this way? Clearly not, in a 2018 study, conducted by researchers Colin Macleod and Noah Forrin at the University of Waterloo and published in the journal Memory, found that a number of significant relationships between hearing words read aloud and memory retention.  If you are interested in investigating this further, Dylan Hendrick’s recent blog post summarizes a few of Macleod and Forrin’s findings. 

It builds community

This summer I listened to The Hobbit with my kids.  They loved it!  The narrator was amazing. His different voices alone, had my three-year-old captivated even though she barely understood what he was saying.  As we built a listening routine, I was surprised to find that it was good quality time with my kids that led to significant conversations. The same is true of the time I have spent reading aloud as a teacher.  When I find a book that excites a fair percentage of my class, they always ask for and look forward to read aloud time.  As I read, we laugh together, experience the high and low emotions of the characters together and usually watch the movie together.  All of these things created a shared experience and build relationships.      

What is true for students is true for you 

Listening to books that are read aloud not only makes students better, it also makes teachers better. Let me explain what I mean.  I have four children under the age of eight.  From the time I get up in the morning, until the time I sleep at night, these little people swarm our house.  There is little time for any kind of uninterrupted reading.  Perhaps you don’t have four kids but I’m sure you can identify with the busyness that can plague our lives.  Listening to audiobooks is a way to stay literate and relevant as a teacher.  Even when I don’t have time to sit down with a coffee and a book, I do have slices of time when I can listen to books.  Listening to books also inspires me to read other books and buy more books.  The result is an improvement in my reading and writing ability–improving my ability to teach reading and writing . Realistically, it will help me teach everything with more clarity and understanding.   

Tips for Reading Aloud or Listening to Books

  • Pick the right book.  If you are reading aloud to your family or to your class, it helps to have a book that is written for reading aloud.  Some books have short, choppy prose that difficult to read.  One the other hand, picture books–like The Lorax–are written using rhyme and rhythm that is intended for listening pleasure.  One of my personal favourites for middle school students, is the illustrated version of The Lightning Thief .  A family favourite is The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden.  Yan Glasser’s smooth writing style and short chapters are perfect for reading aloud.
  • Pick the right genre. Certain genres are easier to follow as a listener.  For example, listening to one of Malcom Gladwell’s stories, is much more compelling in audio than persuasive writing with fine distinctions and detailed arguments.   
  • Find the right audiobook app or supplier . If you don’t want to read aloud, you could find an app that does it for you.  The app I would recommend is Audible –Amazon’s audiobook app.  It has the best selection of audiobooks, is very user-freindly and reliable.  Our library also has a few apps.  One is called OverDrive, there is also one called Libby that I have on our iPad to download audiobooks–yours might too. There is also a good chance that your local library is well-stocked with a number with a number of CD audiobooks–if still have a machine that plays those.     
  • Pick the right reader.  When you download audiobooks, make sure that you sample the readers voice. If you are anything like me, it will be really hard to endure multiple chapters a voice that you find annoying.  If you are reading to your class, you will want to model the best expression, pacing and funny voices that you can.  But don’t be afraid to make mistakes–these will be instructive for your class too.
  • Pick the right time and place.  Scheduling in a routine of reading before bedtime, on Sunday afternoons or during workouts is a ideal but not always possible. The great part about audiobooks, is that you can download them onto an app and listen whenever you have downtime.  Are you going on a road trip, taking a hike, or doing an workout?  Why not listen to an audiobook?  Do you have a block after lunch that is set aside for reading or creative writing?  Why not mix it up and read a book to your class–or listen to an audio book? Having a reading space with ambient lighting and comfortable chairs or pillows is great for reading aloud to a class.  I often find a relaxed place in the library to read to my class.  

Reflection

  • Do you read aloud to your students?  Why or Why not?
  • What other reasons are there for reading aloud to students or listening to audiobooks as a teacher? 

Visible Learning PD

On November 5th and 6th, I had the privilege of attending the Visible Learning Institute in Richmond, British Columbia. Here is a summary of the event if you are interested in attending in the future.  To be honest, I’m not a huge advocate of conferences as a mode of professional development but I would highly recommend this one.   

Below,  I have complied a few of the major websites, schools and people that were mentioned during the conference.  I hope these resources will benefit those who want to dig deeper into Hattie’s writings and the professional development resources that his community is providing. 

Twitter Highlights

The Twitter hashtag for the conference was: #vancouvervl .  The Twitter note-taking was decent–there was about 50 tweets per day.  Ainsley Rose (@Ainsleybr) is a Kelowna-based member of the Visible Learning professional development team that was our presenter on the first day of the conference.  Connie Hamilton (@conniehamilton ) and professor/teacher Nancy Frey (@NancyFrey) addressed us on the second day.  Another notable Twitter mention, was Stonefield School (@StonefieldsSch).  This Australian school is one of the only officially recognized Visible Learning schools in the world.   

Visible Learning Resource Links

Corwin, the official publisher of the Visible Learning resources, has a  Visible Learning Plus website devoted to professional development.  The  resource page, linked below, has a number of articles and teacher surveys that are really helpful. 

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey are the authors of many of the Visible Learning resources referenced in the website above.  However, their own website has a number of great teaching strategies and literacy resources.

Sebastian Waack also has Visible Learning blog dedicated to gathering John Hattie resources.  Although Sebastian is not part of John Hattie’s official Visible Learning Plus community, he has collected some great podcasts, videos and infographics that I would like to investigating further.

The Teacher Clarity Playbook is one book in a series of Teacher Playbooks that Corwin has published.  It is structured like a professional development course for teachers.  This particular one, focuses on creating successful learning intentions and success criteria for organized, effective instruction.  The video and resource page, linked below, will give you a glimpse of the topics covered in the book.  Keep in mind that the Corwin website also houses a number of PD video resources like this one–should you want to explore further.  

Have I missed any important resources that you would recommend? Please link them for me in the comments below.  Thanks