I think we sometimes forget that every time we step in front of a room full of students, we are performers. I’ve heard some make the comment:
“I’m here to teach. Not to entertain.”
I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that. But I’m not talking about entertainment here, simply trying to keep all the cats in a herd by doing a song and a dance without any real purpose. Think the last day of school around 1:30.
I’m talking about performing. The idea that I have information and knowledge and wisdom to transfer. And the way to get all of that stuff across is through a performance – the act of emotionally grabbing a group of people and sucking them into your world. There’s a difference. And there’s also tons of brain research out there that can help us make our performances as effective as possible. Find some of that research here, here, here, and here.
It’s not just educators who use this research to connect with others. A recent article over at Entrepreneur highlights what this can look like in the world outside of the classroom. The article describes the presentations of Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, and how he uses specific brain-based strategies to suck audiences into his world.
You need to head over to get the full details but I like how the article highlights five specific presentation techniques that Federighi does very effectively, techniques that you can — and should — use in your classroom: Read more
As my only daughter, Erin has to put up with my often expressed frustration with the current education process. Too much sit and get. Too many lectures. Too many worksheets. Not enough critical thinking. Not enough problem solving. Not enough authenticity.
As a junior in high school, she often echoes my frustration. It was several years ago, as an 8th grader, that she became a bit more vocal about it. She was heading out the door on her way to middle school and wasn’t too excited about it.
But bless her heart, she attempted a bit of humor to lighten the mood:
I’m off to change the world, one worksheet at a time.
One of my earliest memories of useful discipline-specific staff development was not organized by my school district or building. It wasn’t organized by my building or department chair.
It was designed by Ken Burns. Yeah. That Ken Burns.
The guy who directed and produced the awesome Civil War documentary that first aired in 1990.
I learned more about the Civil War and how to teach about the Civil War by watching that nine part series. Ken used amazing images, poetry, oral history, biography, and music to tell an incredibly interesting story. I began to realize that a big part of being a highly effective teacher of history is the ability to tell a great story. And more importantly, I realized that a big part of my job was to help my kids learn how to tell their own stories.
A recent article highlights a video that has Ken describing a bit about the process of telling great stories. It’s a sweet five minutes. Two things that stood out for me.
1. Ken says that a great story is the same as a mathematical equation. One plus one equals three: 1+1=3. A great story is greater than the sum of its parts.
2. Ken also uses a word that I’ve been using for years. And it’s a word that bothers some teachers. The word is manipulate. I love that word and I think we need to use it more when we talk about teaching and learning.
I starting thinking about manipulating the brains of history students several years ago while reading a great book by James Zull titled The Art of Changing the Brain. Zull suggests that a teacher’s job is to re-wire the brains of students so that new learning takes place. One way to do that is through positive manipulation of emotion.
So when I heard Ken Burns talking about using really good stories to manipulate how people respond to content, I got this deja vu / heard this before sort of moment.
The video is a nice reminder of what teachers can be working on between now and the start of school next fall – researching and perfecting great stories. Creating an emotional connection between content and kids so that their brains are re-wired.
Manipulation. It’s not always a bad thing.
Edutopia always has great stuff. Every once in a while, they’ll put out a teacher’s guide to help us do our job better. A recent guide focuses on ways to help you integrate brain-based strategies into your instruction.
In this resource guide, you’ll get practical tips across the K-12 spectrum, a reading list, and a variety of resources to help you learn more about this fascinating field. To help you and your students learn more about their own brain power, they’ve also included a bonus project that will get students thinking critically about how they learn.
What’s Inside the PDF?
- Create a Safe Climate for Learning
- Encourage a Growth Mind-set
- Emphasize Feedback
- Get Bodies and Brains in Gear
- Start Early
- Embrace the Power of Novelty
- Bonus Project: Build a Brain Owner’s Manual
- Recommended Reading
You’ll get specific strategies, tons of resources, lots of links, and useful suggestions. I especially like the recommended reading list.
Is social media, Web 2.0, and technology good for us? Or can it be so distracting that we (and our students) are unable to focus long enough to think and deliberate on important issues?
Can we use mobile devices and Edmodo and Twitter and all sorts of other tech tools to encourage learning, collaboration and creativity? If we really can’t multitask but switch quickly between tasks instead, is back-channeling and Tweeting and texting and other forms of social media just encouraging less comprehension and more confusion?
Let me be clear . . . I strongly support the use of social networks and technology as learning tools. But I’m beginning to believe that we’re not really sure how to use these tools appropriately as part of instruction. We’re not asking enough questions about the best ways to integrate tech into what we do every day.
Can students and instructors really use technology/media/social networks in ways that engage and keep students focused on the truly important?
I think so. But we should think about, and we need to train our kids to think about, finding a proper balance between indiscriminate use of “shiny” new doodads and quality use of technology tools.
A recent article over at Edudemic seems useful. They’ve put together a handy infographic that provides suggestions and ideas of how to stay focused “in an age of distraction.” The infographic breaks up your day into six categories:
- Managing your space
- How to work
- Create rituals and habits
- Managing email
- Take time to reflect and review
- Help for addicts
- Take a digital technology detox
It seems like the balance I’m looking for – acknowledging the fact that technology is necessary but understanding that we have to be careful how we use it.