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Posts tagged ‘teaching’

Running downhill is easy. But it’s not best for our kids

About a month ago, Kevin Honeycutt and I had the chance to spend a week together traveling around the great state of Minnesota. Kevin did presentations. I shook hands and carried Kevin’s guitar. It was a seriously great time.

It was great for a couple of reasons. First, at ESSDACK we don’t often get the chance to observe a colleague in their native environment – picking up tips, talking about best practice, stealing their good ideas. I ended the week smarter and better at what I do because of it.


Social studies nerd activities. We stopped at history markers, ate in greasy dives, and talked to lots of locals about Minnesota culture. But the best activity? Read more

Another day of teaching. “Another day wasted.”

Several years ago, I posted a quick story about Charles Francis Adams. With many of you trying to keep your heads above water, finishing state assessments, planning end of the year activities, perhaps now is a good time for a gentle reminder of sorts.


It’s a story many of you already know. I was reminded of the story while browsing through an old teaching strategy article from the Organization of American Historians.

Charles Francis Adams, grandson of John Adams and son of John Quincy Adams, served as a Massachusetts state senator, a US Congressman and ambassador to Great Britain under Abraham Lincoln. He was also very conscientious about keeping a daily journal and encouraged his own children to do the same.

Henry Brooks, fourth of seven Adams children, followed his advice and began journaling at a young age. A particular entry written when Brooks was eight has continued to catch our attention. Following a day spent with his father, he wrote

Went fishing with my father today, the most glorious day of my life.

The day was so glorious, in fact, that Brooks continued to talk and write about that particular day for the next thirty years. It was then that Brooks thought to compare journal entries with his father.

For that day’s entry, Charles had written: Read more

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