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Using Tongue-Fu to improve teacher student communication

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 6, 2014 3:23:00 PM

classroom communicationMost of us have seen the popular Verizon commercial featuring actor Paul Marcarelli, an affable “test man” who roams the most remote parts of America, repeating “Can you hear me now?” into his mobile phone. The message Verizon wishes to send, of course, is that unlike those who subscribe to other cellphone providers, Verizon users can rest assured knowing that they will never enter “dead zones” that interrupt their service.

Verizon subscriber or not, the truth of the matter is that many of us live in a “dead zone” when it comes to positive teacher student communication. Why?

Well, if you buy what Sam Horn suggests in his book, Tongue Fu! at School: 30 Ways to Get Along with Teachers, Principals, Students, and Parents, miscommunication happens because we often fail to redact simple words and add other, more constructive ones to our working list of vocabulary.

We recently picked up a copy of Horn’s book and wanted to share a few tips to help educators better communicate with students.

2 Simple Steps to Help you Improve Teacher Student Communication

  • The first step: Remove the word “but” from your vocabulary.
    Why? “But” may technically be a conjunction, but it does very little to connect us to those we are communicating with. Think about it for a second. When we respond to what someone has just said with “but,” we are actually undermining everything he or she just said.
  • The second step: Substitute “but with “and.”
    There’s a simple way to disagree with someone and legitimize their viewpoint at the same time: Substitute the word “but” with “and.” Below is a simple script to help you put this play into action.

In the following scenario, a student—who has been absent from class for a week without explanation—returns, but does not have two major assignments that were due when s/he was gone.

On the left column, you’ll see what happens when you use “but” to make your point; in the right column, you’ll notice why using “and” is a more constructive alternative.

classroom communication

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Tags: classroom management, Relationship-Driven Classroom, classroom communication

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

5 More Ways to Build a Relationship-Driven Classroom

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 20, 2013 1:36:00 PM

relationship-driven-classroomLast week, we talked about building relationship-driven classrooms and covered five simple ways for teachers to connect with their students. Because this topic is so important to us, we’ve decided to share five more of Allen Mendler’s tips with you.

5 More Ways to Build a Relationship-Driven Classroom

Send home birthday cards
Think about the last time you sifted through your mail and found a handwritten card in the pile of mortgage payments, cell-phone bills and pizza coupons. It felt pretty good, didn’t it? It was nice to know that a friend took the time not only to pick out a card that made him or her think of you, but also that s/he handwrote a message, sealed it, stamped it, and dropped it off at the post office instead of sending you a text message or “Facebooking” you.

Now imagine how your students will feel when they receive a handwritten birthday card from their favorite teacher.

Keep pictures of your family or friends posted in class
In seventh grade, one of my teachers had an entire bulletin board devoted to pictures of her friends and family. Whenever she went to a movie or a concert, she’d save the ticket stub and pin it to the board; over time, we got to know her friends’ names, what they did for a living, what their talents were, and what our teacher did over the weekend.

Every Monday morning we’d arrive to find that the bulletin board contained a new piece of ephemera. After a while, we developed a Monday morning ritual centered on the bulletin board: Our teacher would tell us about her weekend, grab pictures off the wall, pass them around, and ask us to tell her about our weekends.

Reach out to a student who rarely speaks up in class
In graduate school, I took a course on Romantic poetry. Out of the 15 students enrolled in the course, I was by far the quietest. I saved my opinions and “close readings” for the two-page responses we submitted each week. My second response essay was returned with a personal note from the professor that said, “I’ve been enjoying your responses; they offer a unique perspective and I think our class discussions would benefit from your opinions. I don’t want to put any pressure on you, but I’d like to encourage you to share these insights in the upcoming weeks.”

This simple gesture not only impacted my self-esteem, but inspired me to contribute.

Think aloud
Share how you work through ideas and conflicts aloud, especially when choices aren’t clear. This works with both academic and interpersonal conflict. Say, for example, that you hear students using inappropriate language, you might say,

“Whoa, when I hear words that sound disrespectful, there is a part of me that wants to argue and yell, and another equally strong part that wants to try to understand why it is that we sometimes forget where we are and what is appropriate. It’s upsetting to hear this kind of language, but I think it would be more productive to get back to the lesson.”

Engage Students in a How-Can-I-Help-You? Approach
We’ve mentioned this one before, but think it’s worth repeating: When your students aren’t focusing on what they are reading or when they submit careless work it is bothersome—but many of us are bothered for the wrong reasons. We’re bothered because we’ve taken it personally; we’re bothered because WE wouldn’t have done it that way.

When you engage your students in a how-can-I-help-you approach, your frustration manifests through care and respect. Next time your student disrupts class or fails to turn in assignments, catch the student on the way to lunch and say, “Hey, I’m worried about X. Am I seeing this correctly? I want to do everything I can to help you. Do you have any ideas?”



15 Ways to Kick Start the First Day of School

Tags: effective teacher, impact on students, improving academic performance, effective feedback, Relationship-Driven Classroom

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