09 December 2008

Effective Teachers Have WILL

…..was looking over what has helped me the most in my teaching to reach my “getting organized” goal for 2008 and thought I’d blog it.

It’s fair to say that it takes a special type of person …. a certain chemistry … to be a teacher. Not everyone has it or is willing to make the effort to obtain it. I’m all for keeping the effective teachers and helping the ineffective ones, but from what I’ve seen and heard, usually the ineffective teachers don’t know the slide they’re on or won’t agree to being supported - they’re just doing a J.O.B..

I detailed my thoughts about teacher chemistry in the TeacherHandbook (free) that you can pick up at www.educationrebel.com so I’m not going to carry on about it here.

What is WILL? Very simply, it’s Whole children Influenced by Living Learning. I have being doing lessons with a WILL focus for years and I’ve been helping other teachers do them - because they saw the positive results in my classes. WILL starts with a martixed lesson using an OPTIMUM design which is easy to put together and implement.

There are two phases of this OPTIMUM design. The first phase is that a least 40% of your students must be familiar with working in student groups …. plus ….. your students need to be familiar with doing certain critical thinking exercises that are consistently woven into your lesson activities.

A matrixed lesson is built using Objectives, Activities and Resources. Activities are a part of almost every lesson in my classes. Students working in groups have opportunities to flex their social skill learning muscles. I use different “comparing” exercises to get them comfortable with looking at similarities and differences between things - thus building their analytical skills - and building those critical thinking skills too. Once you have 40% of your students familiar with working in groups you are on your way!

One “comparing” example is having students examine completed white boards (posters, models, pictures, reports, and so forth). The goal is to have them describe similarities and differences between whatever they are comparing. I like the completed white boards since students work on them in groups after I give all the groups the same prompts for a specific set of questions or challenge or scenario. There is never a wrong answer, make sure you always use student comments and work as a contribution to the learning objective, or a contribution to their critical thinking skill, or just a plain ole “good work” comment.

Note I didn’t say that 40% of your students are “comfortable” with working in groups. I’m not a believer in comfort zones in class. On the other hand, students need to be familiar or confident with working in groups. When 40% have reached that point they’ll pull the rest of the class with ‘em.

BTW, If you trust me enough to talk with your teacher friends then I’ll instantly give you three of my highly rated classroom resources. Click here to learn more.

The critical thinking skills develop as we educators help students ask better questions. While they are comparing the boards I always do a two minute talk about the constant comparing every one does all day:

- why did you wear those clothes today (you compared them to other clothes)
- when you go to the store, why do you buy some tomatoes and not the others? (you compared them to other tomatoes)
- why do you hang out with Anita and not Sally? (you compared their characteristics and choose one over the other)

This kinda conversation qualifies this “comparing” exercise as relevant to students. When kids see the link to class work and life “outside” they will participate. Bottom line is, we all compare stuff constantly without everything thinking about doing it. As a teacher, bringing the “comparing” activity to the surface is a potent relevancy tool for your arsenal.

Traditional education got students used to memorizing: the development of thinking skills that recognize the value of patterns, self-questioning, associations, and mental pictures ….. and you can use that as a starting point during “comparing” exercises. The more of these exercises you do in class the better worn the path becomes in the direction of boosting the core-thinking processes that naturally induce metacognition.

BTW, if you’re interested in some easy reading material about critical thinking to get 2009 started in a fresh direction take a look at my handbook. (Click here for free copy)

Enjoying a winter rain and wind storm, Jack

PS: After the holidays I’ll be detailing phase two about using WILL with classes.


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