Thursday, October 23, 2014

Getting Pummeled by First Graders

Sometimes being a teacher makes me feel like Rocky Balboa in the 14th round.  If you don't recall, Rocky would usually get his ass kicked for 14 rounds and look like he was about to be knocked out completely by his vastly superior opponent.  He would have his gloves up and take punch after punch, getting knocked down and struggling back to his feet only to get pummeled some more. 

That was me yesterday afternoon.  Round 14.  

Here is a link to Rocky getting worked over in case you are unsure what I am talking about: Rocky

I think of Rocky in moments like that because I have to believe that I too will come back in the 15th round and through my courage and tenacity, emerge scarred but victorious.  I have to believe that or I would probably just quit and go work at Starbucks.  I am sure making fancy coffee is harder than it looks but it has to be easier than wrangling 26 first graders.

Let's hope today is round 15.  

Yo Adrian! I did it!

"But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward."  -Rocky

Thursday, October 2, 2014

More Recess = Happy and Energized Kids

In my last post Time for MORE Recess, I argued that my students needed more recess.  Since then I have worked with my grade team and school leader to rework the schedule to add a 10 minute morning and a 10 afternoon recess in addition to our 20 minute recess at the end of the day.  It has only been a week since I began the new breaks, but I have noticed significant differences with my

The first change I noticed was that the students are simply more happy.  They smile more and argue less.  I knew that giving my students more free time would make them happy in the moment but I am thrilled by how that translates into being more kind to one another throughout the day.  It is not all flowers and rainbows, but it is so much more peaceful.

The other thing that I noticed was that the students have a ton more energy- especially in the last hour of class.  This a huge difference from the kids falling over and nodding off during lessons.  I am spending less energy on management and pacing my lessons quicker.  And the bottom line- I see more kids engaged and meeting the learning objectives.

I am very happy with the changes I see in my students.  However, I can't say that I don't miss those 20 minutes of instruction.  It is really hard to cut down lessons and independent practice to make room for the breaks.  I have to keep repeating my mantras- Less is More and Know When Enough is Enough.   There is a constant urge to cram more and more in.  The reality is that we need to slow down to teach less, and teach deeper.

One of the things I love most about my school is that my school leaders empower teachers to be leaders.  They listen to our feedback and then expect us, the teachers, to act to do what is best for kids. It is a great place to teach and grow as a professional .  I couldn't be more proud of where I work.

Love to hear you thoughts on recess and education, feel free to post a comment!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Time for MORE Recess

Sometimes when I am teaching in the afternoon, I feel exhausted.  I look at my first graders and see a glazed look in their eyes as they pretend to be interested. Occasionally a kid will just simply tip over and lay down.  I think to myself, if I feel this tired, they must feel ten times worse.  We get up and do some brain breaks, have dance parties and I throw in a random read aloud just for fun, but by 2:00 pm the kids are done learning.

Our recess comes at the very end of the day.  It is just how it works out in our school's schedule.  I am beginning to think though my students need and deserve more recess, especially earlier in the day.  I did some research about recess in elementary school and found that recess has tons of positive effects.

Some of the positive effects cited:

  • increased attention
  • increased cognitive functioning
  • increased memory recall
  • growth of social skills, such as leadership and negotiation
  • better health and fitness
One of the big mistakes we make in education is assuming more is always better.  If we spend more time doing something, then we should get better results right?  I would argue that the opposite is true- once you pass the point of "enough" then you actually get negative results.  The brain can become saturated, overwhelmed and and begin to shut down.  We know this from our own experience and research confirms it. 

So what do I do about it?  I need to find at least 10 minutes in my morning schedule for a recess and plan a break mid-afternoon.  My students need to have a chance to recharge their brains and blow off some steam.  These breaks will pay for itself with increased attention later in the day when I am normally teaching to kiddos in total shut down.  

Now I charge you to take a thoughtful look at your students' or child's schedule and advocate for them if needed.  They need and deserve it.

In case you want to read more:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Teaching: It's a Marathon not a Sprint

It is around this time of year I have to remind myself- dude slow down.  The excitement of a new school year makes me want to pour all my energy and soul into my work.  I talk too loud, move too fast and stay on my feet all day.  I eat poorly and get dehydrated.  It is hard not to give 120% right now.

BUT, there are 177 more days left.

We need to pace ourselves to go the distance.  Every year I see new teachers going like sprinters early in the year and then losing their voices and getting incredibly sick.  By November they look haggard, emotionally drained and ready to cry.  In some areas, up to 50% or urban teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years.  I have beat this statistic because I know that teaching is a marathon, not a sprint.  In fact, it is a multi-year marathon. 

So here are some tips from a guy who has done this before:

  • Sit down whenever you can.  Take a moment to sit and talk to students, reflect or just be.  Even cheetahs spend most of the day laying down or sleeping.  
  • Eat good food and drink loads of water.  Make sure you take the time to sit down and eat.  Be sure you have good snacks to sustain you and bottles of water on hand.
  • Talk less.  When we talk too much and too loud our students stop listening and we lose our voices, figuratively and literally.  Use non-verbal gestures whenever you can.  
  • Slow down.  Walk slower, talk slower, move slower.  It will help regulate your nervous and circulatory systems to a more sustainable level of excitement. 
  • Breathe deep.  I actually put a poster on the wall accross from where I teach to remind me to do this.  It helps everything.  Do it.  Now.
  • Have fun.  Take time to just have fun with your students.  Be silly, sing a song, read a funny book.  Laughter can renew us (and our students).
  • Share the pain.  You don't need to be a hero.  Share how you are feeling with your co-workers.  They are feeling it too and it is good to know you are not alone.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Grit and the Growth Mindset: Classroom Game Plan

In the past year I have come to be more and more convinced that the most important thing I can do for my students is help them develop grit.  Last March, I posted about what grit is and my thoughts on how it could be taught in the classroom.  Unfortunately, as I dabbled last spring in trying to foster a gritter classroom, I didn't see the results I had hoped for with my students.

This led me to my last post, Growth Mindset in the Classroom, What NOT to do.   I outlined some practices I am going to do my best to eliminate from my classroom.  I found that even if you teach students about and model a growth mindset, it isn't enough to overcome their own basises they have already developed at age 7.  Furthermore, I have come to believe that the way I was measuring student achievement, celebrating student learning, and responding to student mistakes may have contributed to students developing a fixed mindset.

This post is going to be a Game Plan for developing a gritty classroom which pushes all students to adopt a growth mindset.  I am going to write down my intentions as a starting place to develop my own teaching practice, and hopefully create a more effective classroom for my students.  It is my aspiration that I can help them develop a mindset that will last a lifetime.

Caveat: I am not saying I have all the answers.  In fact, if you, dear reader, have any ideas to add, please share them in the comments section.  With your help, I can make this plan even better.  I look forward to your juicy strategies and techniques.

The Growth Mindset Game Plan - Part I

1.  Celebrate Mistakes.  From the first day of school I will teach students that mistakes are how you learn.  I will model this by making my mistakes transparent and explaining what I am learning from them.  I will also create some simple posters celebrating mistakes to keep this idea present at all times and make it clear to anyone who is in the room teaching what this class believes.  Lastly, I will share stories of people, such as Helen Keller and Albert Einstein, that used their mistakes to learn to do great things.  And perhaps most importantly, I will try to always frame student mistakes as a positive experience.

2.  Growth Oath.  I will develop a growth mindset oath that my students and I can read at the beginning of class each day.  I am a big believer in "fake it until you make it".  Developing a growth mindset will be difficult for some students.  Stating our aspirations over and over will help them
make the mental leap when they are ready.

3.  Track Growth.  Last year we had a classroom tracker on the wall for reading levels.  It was based on trying to achieve a benchmark goal.  As students moved to a new level, they moved their name card to the next numbered level.  What this tracker didn't do was measure growth.  Some students were already meeting their benchmark goal in September but only grew one level all year.  Other students started as pre-readers and grew 5 levels.  I want a tracker that celebrates how much a student grows.  I plan on expanding this idea to other trackers such as math and MAP testing.  It will have all students beginning at zero and move up as they make growth.  Ultimately I want students to internalize that the way we measure success is by progress, not product.

4. Lessons on Grit.   One of my school's values is tenacity.  I will make grit an extension of what it means to have tenacity.  I will make grit explicit by teaching lessons about why it is important and how it is developed.  I will give lessons on how each person can actually grow their brain by making mistakes and learning from them.  Mindset Works has a program I plan to use as a model.

5. Teach Parents about Growth Mindset.  I am not sure how to do this yet to be perfectly honest.  I do know that it essential that I get parents on board to support this initiative.  This will include a letter home, part of our first Saturday school, and part of our conferences.  At minimum I want parents communicating to their child the key messages:  I believe in you.  You can do this.  I will not give up on you.  Mistakes are how you learn.

Pause for the Cause: Yoda

Yoda was the ultimate Zen teacher.  He never got mad, he always had just the right thing to say, he totally understood the forces governing the universe.  I am not Yoda, but I do try channel him in the classroom.  

Yoda knew that to do something worthwhile. you could not do it in half measure, or with fear in your heart.  You must instead believe in yourself with your full heart, banish self-doubt, and DO what you do best.  May the Force be with you.

Pause for the Cause: Bruce Lee

Today's pause is focused on the words of Bruce Lee.  I had always thought of Bruce Lee as a Martial Artists guru and movie actor.   Lee was also a teacher of the Martial Arts.  Teaching and learning transcend all field s of knowledge; the essence of what we do as teachers is common, no matter the content.   What makes Lee resonate so strongly with me is that he had a unique style of Martial Arts he developed himself- The Way of No Way.  Meaning he believed one must break from the rigid forms and styles of traditional martial arts and combine what works best for your own practice. 

As a teacher I couldn't agree more.  Teachers must find The Way of No Way for their own teaching style: find what works best for you and your students, be prepared to fail and try again, and keep positive outlook despite countless challenges. Go ahead, jump in the water today.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Growth Mindset in the Classroom: What NOT to do

A while back I wrote about grit and it's importance in the classroom.  I even included some simple tips that you can use to foster grit in the classroom.  Looking back to last year, I used those tips in my own classroom but still felt I fell short in inspiring my first graders to have a true growth mindset.  Maybe it was just too little to late.  Perhaps I didn't do enough to tip the balance.  It is possible I even had routines and language which ran counter to my own goals.  The beauty of teaching is that you get a "do over" every year.

Looking forward to a new school year, I decided I needed a game plan to follow to create the type of classroom culture that would nourish the grown mind set and set the stage for building grit in my students.  Before a student even steps through my door this August, I will have my Growth Mindest Game Plan ready to go.  That will be the topic of my next post.  First, I have to decide what I need to eliminate from my teaching practice and classroom that prevent the growth mindset from flourishing.

Like most people, I like to believe that I have a growth mindset and teach my students to believe in themselves.  However, the more I have read on the topic, the more I have come to realize that I have inadvertently been sabotaging my student's ability to maintain a growth mindset. I recently read this well written and cited post by Steve Gardiner, Stop the Pay, Stop the Play, which helped me define 4 things I was doing wrong in my classroom.  I need to clean the slate before I can begin my Game Plan.

So here is my list of what NOT to do this year:

1) Do not tell students they are smart when they solve a problem.  
This is easier said than done.  It even seems like a good idea.  Kids like to hear they are smart.  But telling kids they are smart actually reduces their motivation to seek challenging activities.  In a study by Carol Dweck of Stanford University, students who were praised for being smart on an IQ test, tended to choose less challenging later in the experiment.  Students who were praised for their hard work chose more challenging tasks.

2) Do not use rewards to encourage good work.
I am not typically in favor of rewards and incentives for kids when it comes to education.  There is plenty of evidence that rewards lead to lower intrinsic motivation.  Read Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn if you are a skeptic.  Here is a link to an interview with the author that is a quick and interesting read from Educational Leadership magazine. The momentum in schools to give rewards to kids is endemic.  I often find myself agreeing to different reward systems in the interest of "collaboration".  This year I will do better about making a stand.

3) Do not use praise to manipulate kids into doing something.
But it works so well!  "I love how Johnny is sitting!"  Boom, all the kids sit just like Johnny.  They want the praise candy too.  Growth mindset it about developing the intrinsic desire to improve yourself- not about pleasing others.  My praise candy will eventually erode my students' desire to work hard at self control.  Even if it works really well for the teacher.  *This is distinct from reinforcing language, which is not designed to manipulate other children.

4) Do not praise the product of a child's work without praising the the process that created it.
If you praise the product, say a 100% on a math test, it can actually diminish the student's desire to work.  See Steve Gardiner, Stop the Pay, Stop the Play for more details on this.  The main idea is that how the student was able to achieve the result is far more important than the result itself when building growth mind sets.  In addition, recognizing and celebrating growth is far more important than only recognizing the students who meet certain benchmarks.  For one child, 100% on a math test is easy.  For another child, growth from 50% to 70% on the math test takes an incredible effort.

So that's my list of what not to do.  I would love to hear from my readers their thoughts and insights in the comments section.  Stay tuned for my next post about my Growth Mindest Game Plan.

*Reinforcing Language: This is noticing what a child does well in order to reinforce positive behaviors.  It is different than praise candy because it done in private, or to a whole group.  It is mean to describe what was done well, and the process that created the positive outcome, so that the behavior can be repeated in the future.  In the about example you could say in private, "Johnny, I saw that you came and sat down right away.  That helped our team get started on our learning right away! What did you do that helped you get ready so fast?"

Monday, July 21, 2014

Farewell to Summer

Fishing at the lake.
I juiced this summer of every delicious drop of relaxation and pleasure.  It was fantastic.  I spent my hours cooking, lounging, traveling, building, planting, tickling, swimming, sleeping, reading, exploring, and eating.  It was a time to recharge, see my Minnesota family, old friends and soak up the joy of my own little Austin family.  And, as of this morning, July 21st, it is over.

One drawback of working for a school with an extended school year is a retracted summer.  I know that as a teacher I enjoy a lengthy summer break unheard of in other fields.  So I am grateful for my 5.5 weeks of summer bliss.  But I will admit to being jealous of the several weeks of additional summer my counterparts working for traditional schools are going to enjoy.  Jealous.

Delicious grilled chicken with garden fresh herbs.
At the same time, I am excited to be going back to work.  I would love to kick back to read another book or take my kiddos to the pool, but I know what I do in the next few weeks will make a big impact in the lives of the children and families of my community.  The extra hours and days of teaching and learning will add up to students who are prepared for college and ready to change the

So I am eager to get back to work.  I am excited to see my colleges and friends to hear about their adventures.  I am inspired to learn some new things to further prefect my craft.  But most of all, I am looking forward to the new group of students that I have the privilege to be teaching this year.

Enjoying a final glass wine in the chair I built.  Yep, I built it!

So farewell summer!  It is time to go back to planning, teaching, coaching, motivating, cajoling, disciplining, and inspiring.  This summer was so juicy and concentrated.  It's brevity made it precious, and it preciousness helped me appreciate every second.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Going to the Darkside- coming back from from a bad teacher day

Me at 10:30 a.m.- worst. teacher. ever.

Spring fever has set in.  The kids in first grade are gettin' ROWdy.  My patience, is well, a bit lacking.  I try to put on a Zen face but about 9:15 a.m. I starting to  By 10:00 I am considering the possibility of calling parents. By 10:45 I am considering that I might need to call 911 because I am having an aneurysm..

I call it, going to the Darkside.  

The movie Star Wars was a big thing when I was a little kid.  I had Star Wars underwear, Star Wars sheets, a Star Wars lunch box and I was Luke Skywalker and Yoda for several Halloweens.  So, you can see that the Jedi mythology runs pretty deep for me.

Basically, the Force is both Light and Dark.  Going to the Darkside means that you have succumbed to the lure or the Dark force and now are using your Jedi (teaching) powers for evil.

Going to the Darkside when you are teaching means that, even though you know better, you lose the ability to do what you know works with kids to get them motivated and engaged.  You lecture them about how they are not meeting EXPECTATIONS and that you are strongly considering sending them back to the previous grade.  You zero in on the tiniest infraction and use it as yet another example of how the students are not ready for the next grade.  "You dropped you pencil!  Do you think second graders drop their pencil?  NO!  And, BY THE WAY, they don't eat the ERASERS either!"

It is at this point either you A) continue on your dark path and become the teacher you always hated in school, or B) seek the path back to the Light.  The path back to the Light involves admitting that you are being an awful teacher and that you are sorry for not being perfect.  Once you have made this crucial step, you must regain the balance in the force.

The only way you can do this is by restoring the positive energy you lost with your students by doing something FUN.  And mean doing something fun WITH them.  You can't have your Jedi mojo back unless you get your Silly on.

Here are 3 things I will do with my students to get my Force back in balance:

I really hate this song but the kids LOVE it, so I will shake it to:
What Does the Fox Say

I like yoga and I like weird so: 
Cosmic Kids Yoga

This guy is amazing.  I wish he was my teacher.  I have used many of his "tips" in the last couple years.  If I can channel a little of his Force, I am golden:
Teacher Tipster

Hopefully, I will be a better, more cheerful teacher tomorrow.  

But, as Yoda says,

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

Monday, April 21, 2014

Turn Tattletales into Assertive Problem Solvers

One of every teacher's worst nightmares is the Tattletale.  These are the kids that constantly tell you about all the other people that are bothering them.  Everything that happens, all day long.  For some kids this means 20-30 complaints a day.

Let's check my log from today and see what we find from ONE particular child:

He took my pencil.
She is touching me.
She called me a bad word.
He pushed me.
She wasn't sharing.
.... it goes on and on.

As a teacher of 25 students, having several children logging their complains all day can be overwhelming.  When I first started teaching I acted as judge for my students.  I solved their problems by acting in their behalf.  What I found was that the Tattletale never runs out of complaints, no matter how often you try to help.  I tried different gimmicks like the Tattling Journal (notebook where everyone could log their complaints), a big ear on the wall to whisper your problems to, and having students write notes to the person that bothered them.  None worked.

The thing I didn't understand was that children need to learn to solve their own problems.  It is a life skill. It is a skill that some adults I know never learned, which makes me think this is very old problem.  So I searched for answers.

What I landed on was pretty simple.  It was a very easy conflict resolution routine that I could teach to my kids.  It removed me from the position of judge to the position of mediator.  Life got better.

The system in a nutshell:

1) Someone does something you don't like "You took my pencil!"
2) You tell them you don't like it "I don't like it when you take my pencil, can I have it back please?"
3) They can say sorry "I am sorry I took your pencil.  I won't do it again."  or 
4) You have 3 choices- ignore them, move away from them or ask for help

After teaching this routine and role playing situations for a few days, tattling declines significantly.  The Tattletale learns that they can stick up for themselves and doesn't rely on the adult to solve their problems.  For serious Tattlers, it might take a few weeks (or months in some cases) to break them of their habit of telling adults.  This also has an affect on the kids who are not being nice- people standing up to them and they stop (or at least reduce) their negative behavior.

For more serious conflicts, we do a Stop, Drop and Talk.  This is when two kids are in conflict on a regular basis, but have trouble solving the issue through simple dialogue.

The steps now become:

1) The teacher asks the first student, "What do you want ___ to do?"
2) The teacher asks the second student, "What do you want ___ to do?"
3)  The teacher tell each student what the other wants.  "Student1 wants you to stop calling them names. Student2 wants you to stop being mean on the bus with her sister."
4) The teacher instructs them to talk and find a solution that makes them both happy.  "Talk to each other and come up with a plan where you two can get along and be nice to each other.  Let me know when you have solved the problem."

I swear that most of the time not only does the conflict disappear- but the kids actually become better friends!  Something about finding a solution together is powerful.

There are some important distinctions I make though, so that child can still come to me when there is something big going on:
  • physical abuse/hurting others
  • sexual abuse 
  • someone is in danger
Kids need to know that these things are never allowable and need immediate intervention.

Teaching kids to be assertive is a life skill that they need to be successful in life.  As much as we want to protect our kids, we can't always be there when they need it.  Nor is it good for kids to think that only adults can solve their problems.  The assertive child know that they can stick up for themselves and solve problems.  They also know the kinds of problems that do warrant adult intervention. 


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

GRIT- why it is essential for kids to learn and how you can teach it

Angela Lee Duckworth uses "grit" to describe the quality that predicts success in school and life despite other differences, such as IQ.  In this TED talk she describes how grit is an important factor in why some kids struggle despite high IQ and other positive factors, and why others who are less talented reach high levels of success in the classroom and later in life.

Grit has become a buzzword in education and many schools are jumping on the bandwagon to teach it to their students.  But how do you teach it?  Can you teach it?  I would argue that you can teach it.  And that we MUST teach it for students and kids to be successful.  

Grit is about having a growth mindset.  Growth mindset is the belief that one's abilities can be developed over time with hard work.  A fixed mindset, conversely, is the belief that one's abilities are fixed and won't change over time.  For kids this translates into, "I can do this if I keep trying." vs. "I am just not good at this so I might as well give up."

The most important message my parents ever gave me as a child was, "You can do anything you decide to do."  As a little kid I just believed them.  Whenever I was successful at something, it was because I tried hard.  When I was unsuccessful it was only because I didn't try hard enough.  I still believe this today.  Unfortunately, not all parents give their children this message because they don't believe it themselves.

Which is why educators must teach students this important lesson- if you try hard enough, you will be successful.  Good teachers have a ton of grit.  If good teachers didn't have a growth mindset they wouldn't believe that all their students can achieve success or that they could develop the skills necessary to teach struggling students.  Good teachers are the perfect role models for teaching grit.

The big question is HOW to teach grit.  How can you teach a mindset?  Here are my recommendations of what I have found works in the classroom (but are perfectly applicable to parenting as well):

  1. Tell your students, "I know you can do this- keep trying!"
  2. Teach them that mistakes are how you learn.  
  3. Point out your own mistakes and tell them what you learned.  
  4. Tell them stories about how you struggled and were successful.  Be honest.
  5. Give your kids opportunities to try again and again. As long as they want to try, you will give them the chance to shine.
  6. Teach them about how the brain works.  Tell them how to grow their brain through practice, repetition, failing and trying again.
  7. Read books about characters and people who never give up despite the greatest odds.  
  8. Give your kids real time feedback on their work and teach them to correct mistakes.  Tell them what they do well and what is the one bit sized thing they could do to make it a little better.
  9. Celebrate growth over achievement.  It is not how high your score is, it is how much you improve.
  10. Encourage their passions.  Passion is what keeps us going when it get really tough.  Passion is what drives us when we want to quit.
Please share your ideas in the comments section below.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Talk Less, Say More

""Whah, wha, whaaa, wha whaa."

That's teachers sound like when we talk too much to our students.  If you have ever watched a Charlie Brown cartoon, you know the voice all the adults have when they talk.  Yep, that's what kids hear.

Sometimes I catch myself blathering on about bad behavior or how to solve a math problem and I look out at a sea of blank faces.  Or worse the tops of heads as they bend over to chew on their shoe laces.  I don't know why shoe laces taste so good to 7 years olds, but they do.  They taste twice as good when the teacher is talking too much.

So over the years I have adapted a few simple, easy fixes to Mr. A's diarrhea of the mouth.  Here they are in no particular order.  If you have any great ideas, please share them in the comments!

1) Don't talk so damn much.

Think through what you are going to say, reduce it to a short simple sentence. Instead of "I wish you kids would sit down and pay attention!  If you don't ...blah, blah, blah!"  Try, "Sit down and look at this word."  Say what to do.  Wait for it to happen.  When we go on and on, kids get bored and stop listening.  Who wouldn't.

2) Use non-verbals.

Never speak when a non-verbal will do.  Don't tell a kid to sit down, point at the chair until they do sit down. Instead of saying raise your hand, actually raise your hand when you want the students to raise their hand.  Point where you want them to look.  Use sign language.  Anything you can do to reduce the number of words you are using a day will make your job easier, help kids to meet expectations, and students will listen more when you do talk.  Here is link to several more gems of non-verbal classroom management. These are a goldmine people.  One of the best teacher trainings I ever attended. ENVoY.

3) Say things once.

I learned during my Shakespeare class in college, that the bard would often say the same thing three times- once nice flowery, once more simply and then just come out and say it in plain words.  That way every audience member would get the point.  (Even if they were undereducated.)   In the classroom, if you say things more than once, they students learn they don't need to listen the first time, because you will say it over and over.  Give your directions once, and expect kids to listen.  Better yet write it on the board.  (See Visual Exit Directions in the link above.)  Once you have state what you want done, say "go".  If someone comes up and asks you what to do, say, "Ask a friend who was listening."  or better yet, point to your directions on the board.  

4) Use interesting words.

I teach mostly Spanish speaking kids.  About half of the English speakers have pretty low vocabularies too. Kids tune in to novelty.  "Today I want you all to read ridiculously well!"  "Mr. A, what does ridiculously mean?"  BOOM, I have them hooked.  And they learned a new word.  Double bonus!

Please feel free to leave you best tip or idea in the comments.  I am always on the look out for new tools for my classroom tool box!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why kids don't need iPads

Maybe I am on old man, but it freaks me out to see a two year old with an iPad in their hands.  I see it when parents bring their little ones to school. I see it in stores and when I am visiting relatives.  2-5 year old's holding hand held devices, like iPads, lost in their own little world.  It almost freaks me out as much as all the adults I see staring at their phones all the time.  It is depressing to see people out for dinner looking at their phones instead of talking to each other.

So when I see a two or three year old tapping away on a pad, I get a little weirded out. I mean, shouldn't they be playing, or running or reading a book?  Shouldn't they be bugging their parents or irritating their siblings?

I have seen several posts lately about why iPad/handheld devices are good for kids, most notably this by Hipmombrarian

Her children, both on handheld devices, learning and laughing.

Her points sound reasonable, but are wrong. Lets take them one by one and I will tell you why.

1) Because banning things never, ever, ever works. 
Remember when your parents wouldn't let you watch rated R movies so you just went to your friends’ houses to watch them? I think I’d rather have my kids using technology and handheld devices with me beside them. Where I can engage with them, answer questions, and limit content if I have concerns.
Yes it does.  Kids can't smoke, drive cars or take drugs other than sugar.  Most kids can't look at porn, unless they have an iPad.  This is a defeatist attitude from someone who doesn't want to tell her kids "no".
2) Problem solving.
When my kids get really frustrated with not being able to do something, they don’t just quit. My oldest likes to draw. We often times draw together, using books or other tools to guide us. One day she could not figure out how to draw a cat and I couldn’t either.  Without even asking us she got her iPad, went to youtube, looked up tutorials on drawing cats and taught herself with the guidance of the tutorials. She is seven. She draws amazing cats now.
Kids learned problem solving before iPads and youtube.  It was called "figuring it out for yourself".  I learned how to draw cats by looking at cats.  Now when my kid is ten and wants to know how to draw a cat in the style of Gauguin, I will happily tell her to look it up on youtube.  But I'd rather she draw cats in her own style instead of copying others.   
3) Technology Skills
Let’s be honest here. We’ve seen what happens when people don’t have access to technology until their later years. (It is called the digital divide). America is already falling behind in technology skills, making us less employable and harder to train.
No adults alive today had an iPad, many did not grow up with a computer.  We "figured it out" for ourselves but frankly, it wasn't that hard.  iPads are even easier than a PC.  I call complete bullshit on this one.
4) Expectations in school
I spend a lot of time in classrooms as part of my job. If you really think we should ban handheld devices for children under 12, I hope you have spent some time in classrooms recently. Classrooms of the 21st century engage students in a variety of ways bridging technology and interactive teaching. I once witnessed a third grade  class making posters about specific animals, a task many of us are familiar with. But their posters had QR codes embedded on them that would jump to a GLOG (graphics blog) they had created about each animal. Mostly, from handheld devices.
Again I call bullshit.  No one needs QR codes to do a research project on animals.  Kids are expected to learn all the same stuff we were expected to learn.  I am a teacher and kids don't need early iPad education to learn about how to poke a screen to open an app.  They figure it out in about 2 minutes.  If they don't know, the nerdy kid who can't climb trees or throw a ball will teach them.  You know why?  He had an iPad when he was 2.
5) Interest
There are children out there who are motivated by technology. They are future coders. Future designers. Future engineers. I want my own kids to see everything technology has to offer. I made their Valentine’s Cards light up, because I want their minds to light up with the topics it introduces. They learn to code on Scratch, they practice Spanish on their own devices, and the possibilities are just beginning for them.
You can make Valentine cards with construction paper, scissors and glue.  Think Grandma wants an e-card?   No way.  She want a messed up kid made card.  If your kids are not interested in making stuff with glitter, glue, string and paper, step back and evaluate.  Why are they not interested?
6) Because I care about their brains.
There is a positive link to video games and brain development, that doesn’t get any attention! Yes, it is only one part of the brain and there are many other parts that also need to be developed, but creative thinking and problem solving in a virtual world is something I believe will be beneficial in my children’s future.
Really? Video games are good for your brain?  My three year old has plenty of time to "develop" her video game part of her brain.  Super Mario didn't make my friends super brainiacs. Mostly it just wasted their time and made their thumbs hurt. This is a completely stupid reason to give your kid an iPad.
7) Girls.
I’m raising two ferocious girls. Two girls who are currently very unlikely to get a degree in computer science. I want my children to know they can enter any field they want to, even the tech field.  (12% of computer science degrees currently go to girls). 
If you want your girl to get a degree in computer science, iPads will surely do the trick.  What?  Ipads are great tools for learning, work and entertainment, but they are not going to help anyone become a computer scientist.  Netflix won't help either.  I would get your girly enrolled in some awesome STEM programs when they are young if you really want to get them on that track.
8) Balanced Life
I am 32 years old and still trying to figure out how to balance my technology life. When do I turn my phone off? When do I stop checking email? It is not only something I want to model for my children in my own practice, but it is something I also want them to experience on their own. We turn the iPad off when it is time to go to a basketball game. Or climbing. Or gymnastics. They don’t throw fits. They don’t cry for it. They understand that it is one part of their day.
Okay, I will give her this one.  Adults can model good technology behavior.  If you can model it and your kids can handle it, great.  Most adults CAN'T.  Go out to eat, or a bar, or the mall or a college campus and watch people stare at their phones.  Think a kid can do better?  I don't, not most kids anyway.  
9) Literacy
I’m a librarian. I live and sleep literacy. I’ve watched children learn to read with books, with ebooks, with apps, with flash cards, and with cereal boxes. I want my children exposed to any text they will pay attention to. Including when it comes through a handheld device. We know that handheld devices can help with learning,especially when parents are involved with the interaction of the device.
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! A librarian?  You want kids to read apps?  What about books?  Every minute they are reading an app they are NOT read a book.  This one KILLS me.  I am a teacher.  I want kids to read books.  Weird huh?  You know why?  Books are AWESOME.  If we don't teach kids to value them, to treasure them, to read them over and over, then we will have lost a generation of readers.  Where the Wild Things Are.  Charlotte's Web.  Bridge to Terabithia. Tell me the app is better than the book.  Just try.
10) Reality. 
It is 2014. iPhones were introduced 7 years ago. Now, half of Americans own smartphones. We should probably embrace what is here and use it to our advantage, rather than fighting with reality.
Be involved in what your children are interested in. Learn with them. Stop reading “clickbait” articles about technology and instead explore it yourself for awhile. Don’t let your own fears about something foreign to you limit the opportunities you give your child.
I am not fighting reality, I am trying to protect childhood.  Making mud pies, coloring (with Crayons), reading REAL books, being bored, making crap.  Just because you can give your child something doesn't mean you should.  Just because they are interested in something doesn't justify allowing them to use their precious childhood being sucked into a screen. 
Bottom Line:  I will not give my kid a device that will hold her back from doing kid stuff like swinging and singing and pretending. It is bad for her.  It is bad for your kids too.

A Little About Me

I am a teacher at a high performing charter school in Texas that serves low income students K-4.  In have taught for 14 years in public and charter schools.  This experience has taught me a few things about schools, kids, teachers and parents.  In the last few years I have become a parent myself and now I am wondering about what type of schools and classrooms my kids will be part of when they go to school.  This blog will be about what I have learned as a teacher, what I am struggling with in the classroom and my views on current events in education.  If you have read this far, thank you.  Please post comments and continue the conversation!