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Lively Language: Lessons for Reluctant Learners

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 28, 2013 6:00:00 AM

reluctant learnersR.E Meyers’ book, Lively Language: Lessons for Reluctant Learners, does what most of us English teachers have been trying to do since the beginning of time: make grammar, spelling, punctuation and critical thinking lessons lively.

To do this, each lesson is infused with a dash of zaniness and a pinch of Meyers’ sense of offbeat humor which, in our opinion, helps inject new life into learning objectives that most students groan about.  

The lessons you’ll find in this book will get students writing, but they will also ask them to think critically about the human experience—things like being sensitive, being original, being aware of others’ emotions, hypothesizing, analyzing, letting humor flow, elaborating and the list goes on.

To give you a better sense of what you’ll find in the book, we’ve pulled one of Meyers’ writing activities called “Your Talk Show.” This is a creative activity that will help students practice their punctuation, formulate succinct questions and work with direct quotations.

“Your Talk Show”
Imagine you are the host of a radio talk show that features unusual guests and people phoning to express their opinions. You have a great show lined up for next Tuesday, including these guests:

  • A tea-drinking accountant from Okmulgee, Oklahoma, who has saved every tea bag he has used for the past 27 years. He drinks all brands but never touches instant.
  • A six-year-old boy who can recite the Gettysburg Address backwards. (It takes him a little longer to say it frontwards.)
  • A winsome 90-year-old great grandmother who can beat her 60-year-old husband arm wrestling any day of the week.
  • A man who rode from Washington, D.C. to Boston on a unicycle in January.
  • A salesman from Ohio who set a record for going around and around in a revolving door in a government building for 47 minutes. Since it was at the height of the rush hour, he was arrested by the local police.
  • A girl who talked on her cell phone for 18 hours without stopping, changing ears only three times.

Because of time limitations, you will only be able to ask three questions of each quest. Write three questions to bring forth the liveliest responses from each.

Now that you have written your questions, write one of your interviews to submit to the editor of your program’s newsletter. Use your imagination for the guest’s responses to your questions. Be sure to use quotation and punctuation marks. In a direct quotation, the words of the speaker should be given exactly as they were spoken.

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Tags: writing strategies, struggling students, Classroom Community, Classroom Climate, Writing, writing fluency, writing skills, student independence, student engagement, classroom, management, reluctant learners

4 Ways to Motivate Reluctant Learners

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 12, 2013 10:07:00 AM

reluctant learners“I just wish my students cared more.” Most teachers—first-year and veterans alike—have said or at least felt like this at some point.

But consider for a moment how subjective “care” is. What does a student who cares even look like? Care is an ambiguous goal, one that needs to be translated to concrete behavior if we are going to help our students become more motivated.

To help your students become more invested in your classroom, we’d like to share four tips from Robyn Jackson’s book, How to Motivate Reluctant Learners.

4 Ways to Motivate Reluctant Learners

The Investment Must Be Specific
Very often what looks like resistance is actually confusion about our vague requests. Consider the difference between the following:

  • “Will you try harder to pay attention in class?”

  • “During class, I want you to keep your head off the desk, keep your eyes open and on me, and have all of your materials out on the desk.”

You’ll notice how the former not only lacks specific instructions, but does not give the student a clear picture of what you expect from him or her. Always give your students concrete steps for making the investment. 

The Investment Must Meaningful
It’s frustrating when our students miss class or don’t do their homework. If only they knew how important attendance and homework were, we think to ourselves, they’d change. Wrong.

It’s not that students don’t think these things are important; it’s more likely that they don’t share the same value system as us. As Jackson suggests, “Unless we identify an investment we want that is meaningful to them, they will choose not to invest.”

So how do we determine whether or not the investment we want them to make will be meaningful to them? Ask yourself the following two questions:

  • Does the investment provide students with a way to use the currencies they have to get something they want? The investment should involve them using something they know and can do to accomplish a goal, acquire new and useful currencies, or solve an interesting problem.
  • Does the investment provide students with a way to use their currencies to satisfy a need? The investment should involve them using something they know or can do to meet a need for safety and survival, connection and belonging, power and competence, freedom and autonomy, play, enjoyment or fun.

The Investment Must Be Observable
We all want our students to care, to want to learn and to try, but stop right there and consider what these three things have in common. They are all emotions, which means that they are intangible. You can’t touch boredom, irritation or passivity and very often you can’t even see the physical manifestations of these emotions.

To keep ourselves from being frustrated, Jackson urges teachers to “couch the investment we want students to make in terms of observable behaviors” rather than emotions.

If you want your students to try harder, you must be able to articulate what “trying harder” looks like. Otherwise, you have no tangible way of knowing whether or not your students are actually trying.

Consider the difference between the following:

  • “I want you to try harder.”

  • “I want you to turn in all of your work according to the set requirements on the rubric, attempt to answer questions—even when you are unsure if you have the right answer—ask for help when you don’t understand, and revise your essay according to the standards we discussed last class.”

Unlike the former statement, the latter gives you a concrete way of determining whether or not the students see “try harder” in the same way you do.

The Investment Must Be Realistic
Most students respect teachers who challenge them and maintain high expectations, but pushing students beyond what they are capable of can lead to disengagement, hostility, even mutiny.

Ask students to commit to something that is achievable, but not insultingly simple. To find an achievable investment, Jackson suggests that teachers “pay attention to what the students are investing in already and then select and an investment that is similar but perhaps one step beyond—something achievable with support.”

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Tags: struggling students, Classroom Community, Classroom Climate, student independence, student engagement, classroom, management, reluctant learners, Relationship-Driven Classroom

Order Without Fear: 4 Tenets of Effective Classroom Management

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 5, 2013 10:58:00 AM

effective classroom management planWhy do you think a Google search for “Effective Classroom Management” yields some 79,100,000 key-word related results? We have a couple of guesses.

First, because teachers know that out-of-control classrooms don’t work. Learning cannot take place in chaos.

Second, because we know that teachers who cannot manage their classrooms usually don't last.

Fear of losing control has led too many talented teachers to rule by fear. No doubt, structure and order are critical to our success in the classroom, but as Rafe Esquith suggests in his book Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire, there are simple ways teachers can “ensure the class remains a place of academic excellence without resorting to fear.”

Effective Classroom Management Means Replacing Fear with Trust

Our classroom is built on trust. Of course, these words sound good to students, but they are vague. To better illustrate the point, Esquith uses the following example:

Most of us have participated in the trust exercise in which one person falls back and is caught by a peer. Even if the catch is made a hundred times in a row, the trust is broken forever if the friend lets you fall the next time as a joke. Even if he swears he is sorry and will never let you fall again, you can never fall back without a seed of doubt.

What is the lesson? Broken trust is nearly irreparable. Everything else can be fixed. Students may forget their assignment; they may break something in the class; they may disrupt a lecture or activity. No problem, all of these things can be fixed, but when trust is broken, the rules change. The relationship will be okay, of course, but it will never, ever be what it was.

Most students are proud of this trust and they’ll do everything in their power to keep it.

Effective Classroom Management Means that Teachers are Dependable

Too often adults make promises to children and don’t keep them. Here’s an example Esquith uses to illustrate the importance of fulfilling promises.

There was a well-respected teacher who once told her class on the first day of school, that at the end of the year she would take them on an exciting trip. Practically every day, kids who misbehaved were threatened with the punishment of not going on the special trip. Many students even did extra work to make sure they would be included. During the last week of school, the teacher announced that she was moving and would not be able to take them on the trip. This betrayal not only ruined anything good she had done with the kids that year, but soured many of them on school and adults in general.

Trust goes both ways. When you tell your students you are going to do something, do it, even if it is inconvenient and seems trivial.

Effective Classroom Management Means Fair Discipline

Most students want to be challenged. They don’t mind a tough teacher, but as Esquith puts it, “they despise an unfair one.”

Be fair. Be logical. If you’re not, students will see you as unreasonable—and once they see you as unreasonable, you’ve lost them.

Treat Knowledge as the Best Reward

Too often, teachers rely on rewards to manage their students’ behavior. In a way, this reliance makes sense. We’ve read B.F. Skinner in college; we know when humans are rewarded for behavior, they are more likely to repeat it. Rewards may appear to “work,” but their effectiveness can be deceiving. Consider Esquith’s example:

I have visited middle school classrooms in which the teachers use rewards to encourage their students to finish homework. One history teacher I met pits his classes against each other in a competition to see which of them can complete the most homework. The winning class gets a prize at the end of the year. Apparently this teacher has forgotten that knowledge of history is supposed to be the prize. When I spoke to the class that did the most homework, I learned that they were terrific at completing assignments, but their understanding of history was shockingly limited.

For an even more convincing reflection on the problems with a rewards-based classroom, check out an article by Dr. Richard Curwin.

If you're looking for more ways to develop a classroom management plan, check out our guide, 25 Effective Classroom Management Tips for Teachers!

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Tags: struggling students, Classroom Community, Classroom Climate, student independence, student engagement, classroom, management, effective classroom management, effective classroom management plan

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