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Posts tagged ‘teaching’

Great teachers? How do you know?

a fellow history guy, recently asked a simple question. It’s one we’ve heard before:

What principles define great teaching?

But Dave tweaked it in a way that I like. He’s asking the question but wants to break the answers down by sorting responses by who answers it. How do students respond? What do parents say? Teachers? Administrators? And while I’m sure that data exists out there somewhere, I haven’t seen it. (But if you know where that sort of info sits, I would love for you to share in the comments.)

So. An interesting question. Especially since I don’t really fit into any of those categories. But here’s what I’m thinking right now . . . on a slow Monday afternoon without any snacks in sight. Read more

So what’s my job?

An assessment researcher said once that

The role of the learner is not to passively receive information, but to actively participate in the construction of new meaning.

B. L. Shapiro, 1994

I would not disagree with that at all. In fact, much of the recent buzz in the K-12 social studies education movement has focused on the idea that kids need to be doing more and sitting less.

Thinking more. Analyzing more. Evaluating more. Creating more.

But if the role of social studies students is to actively participate in the construction of new knowledge, it sort of raises another question, doesn’t it?

What’s my job?

Complete the following sentence:

The role of the teacher is not to _________ but to __________.

10 things you can do this week that will make you a better teacher

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working together with a variety of different teacher groups in a variety of different places. But all of the conversations have somehow shifted back to the same basic compelling question:

What does an effective teacher look like?

It’s a great question to ask. We’ve always paid lip service to professional development and learning but it seems as if only recently has the question been taken seriously. The Common Core literacy standards for history and the newly revised Kansas history/government standards are demanding more from our kids – and from us.

So I started thinking about things we can do to get better as social studies teachers. Not stuff organized by our administrators. Informal sorts of things that can make us more effective. I came up with ten. I’m sure there are more but ya gotta start somewhere.

What would you add? Subtract from the list?

Read more

Thinking about teaching – Something new?

The Curse of Knowledge.

It can be a killer.

The Heath brothers talk about the Curse in their book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Apparently first used in a 1989 paper in The Journal of Political Economy, the Curse means that once you’ve become an expert in a particular subject, it’s hard to imagine not knowing what you do.

The better we get at generating great ideas—new insights and novel solutions—in our field of expertise, the more unnatural it becomes for us to communicate those ideas clearly. That’s why knowledge is a curse. Your conversations with others in the field are peppered with catch phrases and jargon that are foreign to the uninitiated. When it’s time to accomplish a task — open a store, build a house, sell insurance — those in the know get it done the way it has always been done, stifling innovation as they barrel along the well-worn path.

Sound familiar?

We teach the way we’ve always taught, using the same language, assuming that kids are getting it because . . . after all, we get it. Our stuff is actually pretty easy, right? And if kids don’t get it, we can’t figure out why they’re so stupid. The content is obvious, the steps are obvious. If students aren’t getting it, it must be because they’re not really trying. Read more

Are you an under-taker or a risk-taker?

I heard a presentation several months ago about different types of organizations and how the culture of those organizations can impact their success. It seemed to me that these descriptions might be applied to teachers as well.

Jaded Mrs. Krapappel from "The Simpsons"

The Under-taking Teacher – Always Looking Back

The under-taking teacher is someone who is always looking backwards. All they ever seem to talk about are the “good old days.” They miss out on all of the good things happening today in education because they are always looking back to yesterday.

The kids were better. We didn’t have NCLB. Parents were supportive. I only had two preps.

The problem with being an under-taking teacher is that any decision teachers like this make are based on what has worked in the past:

it was good enough then, it’s good enough now.

And, yes, we can learn from the past but you can’t live there. You have to live and adapt to where you are. Kids are different, parents are different, technology integration is important and the world is different.

Too many teachers today are spending their time and resources lamenting the past when they should be adapting to the future. What has worked in the past may not work in the present because the audience has changed. The question most under-Taking teacher asks is “why can’t we do it the way we used to?”

The Care-taking Teacher – Always Looking Present

Satisfied econ teacher from "Ferris Bueller"

The care-taking teacher is always concerned with pressing issues. They are busy and often have decent lessons but that they can only focus on the here and now.  Decisions by these kinds of teachers are based on immediate needs. The number one question seems to be “what do I need to get done today?” Much of what they do revolves around the demands of NCLB and state tests.

For the most part, care-taking teachers are pretty comfortable. And they’re not necessarily bad teachers, but as long as they have enough supplies, support from the administration is just okay and no one bothers them, most care-taking teachers seem to settle in and count the days until their 85 points.

After all, they’re tenured. Why worry too much? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The problem is that they are seldom very excited about teaching and so their students aren’t that excited about learning.

The Risk-taking Teacher – Always Looking Future


Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers fame

The risk-taking teacher is always looking forward. They believe that the best is yet to come. They invest a lot of time and effort in learning new things today so that they are better prepared for doing better in the future.

Risk-taking teachers seek to be cutting edge. They want to learn more about how kids learn and to use all available resources to make kids more successful. They’re almost always involved with local, regional and national history organizations, they look for better reading and writing strategies and they wrestle with technology questions.

One of the reasons that we as teachers don’t take risks is our fear of failure. We’re afraid that our state tests scores won’t be good enough or that we’ll look silly in front of kids or that the technology won’t work or that we’ll get calls from parents or . . .

But we also know that failure is often a prerequisite to success. Teachers take risks because they understand that screwing up is not necessarily a bad thing. Risk-taking involves possible failure. If it didn’t, it would be called Sure Thing-taking.

The question a risk-taking teacher asks is “what do I need to know so that both myself and education in general are better in the future?”

I think we’re probably all three at different times of the year. I can still remember years ago complaining that the district was trying to install some sort of new-fangled network laser printers when my handy-dandy 9-pin matrix printer was working just fine. And in the middle of January, it can become very easy to just assign worksheets.

But I also think that we all know which teacher we’d want for our own kids.

So . . . what risks will you be taking next year?

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History humbles and affirms

It’s been a great week so far with our Century of Progress summer session. We’re deep into Tim Bailey and Dr. Stephen Aron today. Yesterday, Dr. Matthew Booker finished up his time with an incredibly interesting discussion of the impact of the bison on the American West.

But before he left, Dr. Booker shared his vision of history and history teachers. It’s a view that I’ve not heard articulated quite this way before and so I’m paraphrasing it here:

History is the most important thing we can study. It is the most important thing my students will study. History speaks directly to the central problems and solutions of human existence.  It teaches us that we are not the center of the universe. It humbles us.

It also affirms our existence.   Nothing in our lives tells us that we matter more than the fact that we are connected to this web of human relationships.

History places us in a community of human beings which is vast and ancient and will continue into the future. History makes us aware that we are never alone. You are never alone if you think about the past. We are merely the latest in a long line of human beings who will continue into the future. And no other habit of mind has that power to make us feel connected. We feel that sense of connection when we look backward.

History both humbles us and affirms us.

What a great way to look at both history and our responsibilities for teaching it.

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