MAT Blog

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

“You Are a Star”: A Quick and Easy Way to Connect with Students

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Oct 31, 2013 1:11:00 PM

connect with studentsOur students all live rich and interesting lives outside the classroom, but often we only see one side of them. There are lots of simple ways teachers can connect with students and learn more about them, but if you’re looking for a new approach, we’ve got one thanks to Diane Mierzwik’s book, Quick and Easy Ways to Connect With Students and Their Parents.

Creating a “You Are a Star” bulletin board is one method Mierzwik uses to learn more about her students, congratulate them, and highlight accomplishments that take place outside of the classroom. Here’s how it works.

Subscribe to the city newspaper
You may not live in the same city as your school, but you can still get your hands on a copy of the monthly city newspaper. Often these publications highlight sporting events, theatre productions and community-service projects that our students are involved in. The school newsletter and newspaper are also good sources of information.

Post the clipping on the “You Are a Star” bulletin board
When you find an article in the paper, clip it out and make a copy of it. Create a bulletin board in class with the heading, “You are a Star.” Post the clipping to the bulletin board with the student’s name highlighted. Don’t make a big deal about it. Just post it and wait for students to notice.

Write a short note of congratulations
When you hand back papers, give the student the actual clipping and attach a handwritten note congratulating the student. You’ll find that some students are shy and will simply accept the clipping, but others will want to talk about the event, activity or organization more. This is an opportunity for you—and the rest of the students—to learn more about the student.

Ask for students to volunteer clippings and pictures
After you start posting events, odds are that other students will approach you with something they have done so you can add it to the board.  Post them, even if they aren’t “timely” and encourage all of your students to bring in their own artifacts for posting.

Use this information to help students make choices in class
The “Star” bulletin board is not only a great confidence builder, it’s a treasure-trove of information you can use to help guide students’ choices in class. Many times, teachers leave an assignment open-ended so that students can take it in a direction that suits their interests. Of course, we’re then faced with, “I don’t know what to do.” If you know your students’ interests, though, you can help guide their choices.

Something to keep in mind
If you have trouble finding articles that feature your students, you can still create a “You Are a Star” board; you’ll just have to take a different approach. Start with students writing a journal entry about something they have done extremely well outside of school. This can be followed by a writing activity that asks students to share their “star” moment as if it appeared in a newspaper. Use background paper that looks like a newspaper (or use this free newspaper generator app) and leave a space for the student’s entry. After they write their account, students can add a photo to go with their article. The teacher can select one to post to get the ball rolling.


Principal Appreciation

Tags: student recognition, struggling students, Classroom Community, Classroom Climate, student independence, student engagement

Creating a Positive Classroom Environment: 2 Free Lesson Plans

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Oct 3, 2013 11:01:00 AM

student engagementAs a kid, I went to a small, private school. Because of its affiliation with the local Lutheran church, every Wednesday morning the entire school met in the gymnasium for “chapel.” It was a fairly standard Lutheran service, but every week a different teacher gave a talk. These weren’t exactly sermons—more like pep talks or updated parables infused with little nuggets of pop-culture inspiration to get us through the rest of the week. One particular talk still stands out.

Looking back, I presume this teacher’s goal was to help us count our blessings. And, by gosh, if we weren’t going to count them, he’d do it for us: We didn’t have to work. We didn’t have to put food on the table or pay for our tuition—all we had to do was come to school. We had it easy, so why did he hear so much complaining all the time?

He was right, of course—at least generally speaking, but from the sound of it, he wasn’t privy to the bullying that went on every day, or the fact that the school graded students on a three-point scale, which made getting A’s extremely challenging. In our inexperienced minds, life could be overwhelming. Our job felt pretty darn hard.

This teacher’s heart was in the right place, but I doubt his message resonated with many of the students simply because he approached it in a way they had trouble relating to.

We can’t expect to reach students, or truly connect with them, by dismissing their challenges. Most teachers know this, of course, but it’s easy to forget. After all, we’re the ones who have to create dynamic lessons, meet Common Core Standards, and help thousands of students succeed throughout our career. That’s challenging.

But students have their own burdens to bear and part of our job is to help them negotiate these challenges. To help you do this, we’d like to share two lesson plans we found through Jon Gordon’s site, Positive School. He is the author of several books including The Energy Bus, The No Complaining Rule, Training Camp, Soup, and The Seed.

To download a PDF version of the lesson plan, simply click on the links below.

“Feed the Positive Dog-News Stories”
There is a parable about a positive dog and a negative dog at odds with one another. Which one wins? Whichever dog you feed. This two-part lesson is designed to show students how, many times, the negative dog is fed through the news media. Students will take note of the amount of negative news, then in part two, take action to increase the amount of positive news that’s reported.

“They Refused to Complain-Research Paper”
In this lesson, students will be introduced to a wide ranging group of people who have overcome hardships of many different kinds. They may have had complaints and desperation along the way, but in the end these people refused to let that stop them; they refused to let their problem define them. They pressed on and pursued their dreams.

Through library, Internet, or any other available resources, students research the person of their choice and write a paper about that person. Through their research, they are instructed to focus not only on that person’s accomplishments, but also on the adversity that person faced on their way to achievement.


15 Classroom Management Apps for Educators

Tags: classroom management, struggling students, Classroom Community, student engagement

Helping your struggling students contextualize their challenges

Posted by Marygrove MAT on May 31, 2013 3:17:00 PM

struggling studentsThe older we get the easier it is to frame our experiences, measure their significance and contextualize them. The “little stuff”—that we can’t spell or do algebra to save our lives—is easier to brush off because we have a better sense of where our strengths and weaknesses lie. We also know more about how the world works. So what if we have to consult spell check before we hit “send.” So what if we can’t find X. We can still balance our checkbooks, can’t we? 

For struggling students, though, these minor inconveniences feel tragic. Obviously we have a responsibility to help them improve in the subjects they struggle with. Likewise, we are obliged to help them unearth their special talent and contextualize their struggles.

Below is a video you might consider sharing with your students. We’ll admit that it’s a bit campy; nonetheless, it still serves as a fine allegory about the importance of individuality.

Guide to Reading Comprehension

Tags: struggling students, student independence, student engagement

Uncommon commonsense ways to empower struggling students

Posted by Marygrove MAT on May 4, 2013 6:00:00 AM

struggling studentsWhen we were students, it quickly became apparent who was “smart” and who was “not so smart.” This writer happened to find himself in the latter category, especially when it came to math. How did we figure this out? Those who struggled with math, for example, simply interpreted the arrangement of the math groups: Group A, who was often first to work with the teacher (and the first to finish), was obviously the “smart group.” Group B, who went next, was the “decently smart group” and so on and so forth. “Smart kids” earned A’s in math. “Not so smart kids” didn’t. “Smart kids” went outside during recess. “Not so smart kids” had to get extra help during recess. Most teachers know A’s say very little about a student’s intellect. Unfortunately, most students don’t.

Whether our struggling students know it or not, they have a unique gift. And it’s up to us to unearth that special talent and find ways to empower them.  

Uncommon commonsense ways to empower struggling students

Have your students talk about their interests
There are myriad ways to find out what your students are passionate about. One way is to have them write about it. We’ve had success with prompts like, “What are three things you want me to know about you?” and “Describe three things that you are really good at.”

Another way to discover your students’ special talents is to have them go around the room and talk about them. Or you might pair students up and have them interview one another and report back to the class.

Publicize the strengths of each student
In fifth grade I sat next to a student named Marcus for most of the year. He had little interest in most of what we were asked to do and received low marks because of it. If you would have asked his peers where Marcus fit, they would have relegated him to the “not so smart” category.

A typical day for Marcus went something like this: His group would work together on a project; meanwhile, he would pull out his notebook, place it on his lap beneath the desk, and sketch. Even at that age, he was supremely talented. One day, as the class worked in groups, he was finally caught—but instead of punishing Marcus, our teacher quietly whispered into his ear. He nodded and handed over the notebook to her. Then the strangest thing happened: She asked everyone to stop what they were doing and held up his sketch. As we looked at it, she raved about its sophistication. Then she walked around the room so that every student could see. Marcus beamed. When she finished, she returned the notebook, which he closed and promptly put back in his desk.

Prior to this, Marcus’ strengths had never been publicized. This simple, but brilliantly executed decision by our teacher had a lasting impact on his learning experience—and we all began to notice a change in him.

Spend more time talking to parents about the student’s strengths
When we meet with parents to review our students’ progress, it’s tempting to gloss over the A’s and B’s and quickly move on to the D’s. The reasons for this are obvious enough, but doing so may come at the cost of building on our students’ strengths. Spend an equal amount of time talking about the A’s and B’s as you do the D’s. Though higher marks have little to do with intellect, they do point to where a student’s strengths lie. Spend time investigating the meaning of that A; explore ways to develop that strength, both inside and outside the classroom.

Encourage students beyond academics
Are some of your students in the school play? Are others on the baseball or soccer team? Why not spend five minutes before class talking about yesterday’s game or tonight’s performance. Not only will this ease your students into the work that lies ahead, it will give your athletes and artists an opportunity to share talents that they might not get to share otherwise.  


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Tags: struggling students, student independence, student engagement

Four Square Writing Method: Free Webinar for Teachers!

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Jan 26, 2012 11:53:00 AM

Marygrove MAT offers free webinar on Four Square Writing MethodIn an increasingly time-sensitive learning environment, finding extra minutes to differentiate student instruction can be difficult for teachers. Particularly with respect to writing instruction, early learners’ abilities vary dramatically, making differentiation an essential goal for teachers everywhere. But where do you start?

According to the 2011 Nation’s Report Card™ there is a positive increase in the amount of time being spent on language arts instruction in classrooms across the country. Nonetheless, most teachers continue to crave simple, effective strategies to improve writing proficiency scores in their states. That’s why we are presenting The Four Square Writing Method by Judith Gould and Evan Jay Gould (Gould, 1999).  It is an easy way to differentiate writing instruction, and can be incorporated into your lesson plans in no time at all!

Register For Our Webinar on The Four Square Writing Method Feb. 1 at 4 p.m. EST!

Join Marygrove College’s Master in the Art of Teaching (MAT) Academic Director, Dr. Diane S. Brown and Department of Education Assistant Professor Dr. Mary Anne Dalton, CSJ as they discuss this research-tested strategy… that gets results. You’ll see how a simple sheet of folded paper can transform into a wonderful writing tool, appropriate for students of every every grade level.

Marygrove MAT Academic Director Dr. Diane Brown walks you through The Four Square Writing Method process and answers your questions about differentiated writing instruction.

She'll explain:

•How Four Square can address students who may differ in abilities by as much as three to five years!

•Why it’s important to motivate students to organize their thoughts quickly and easily for writing coherence.

Topics covered in this 30-minute webinar:

•How to use graphic organizers for effective writing instruction.

•How to use this writing strategy across curriculum and grade level.

•How this method reinforces relationships between ideas in a text. And much more!

Meet our Presenters:

Dr. Diane Brown has been the Academic Director for Marygrove College’s Master in the Art of Teaching Program for the last five years, and has 21 years of experience in the trenches as a K-12 teacher in both public and private institutions. Her teaching assignments have taken her all over the country, from a Navajo reservation in Arizona to a group of non-speaking 10th grade Russian students!

Sister Mary Anne Dalton is Assistant Professor for Marygrove College’s Department of Education, with a career that spans nearly 50 years in education. She taught high school English, Speech and Drama for 12 years, and still loves learning and teaching.

Both women have dedicated their lives and careers to education. Not to mention, both women whole-heartedly subscribe to taking swift action when something needs to be done to help students. Don’t miss this passionate demonstration!

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Tags: writing strategies, struggling students, webinar, differentiation, free webinar

A Simple Change Can Do Wonders for Struggling Writers.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Jan 24, 2012 11:53:00 AM

Marygrove MAT shows teachers how a simple classroom management rule can make all the difference in a struggling reader and writer.Sometimes making a SIMPLE change in your daily routine can have more benefits than you ever imagined.

In my first few years of teaching I was given the opportunity to teach fourth and fifth grade in an inner city school which had just opened. The staff was given many challenges, such as developing curriculum, creating new policies and procedures, and moving from building to building in order to make better use of space, etc. At times it felt pretty much like inventing the wheel.

Since we were a new school, this opened up opportunities for students from other schools to move to ours. Many of these students transferred because they were not succeeding at their current schools due to behavior problems and/or poor academic performance.

Being a new teacher, I was stretched to the max, trying to fit everything that I could into the few short hours I had in the evening to prepare for each day. At times I would have to “wing it” because preparation time just wasn’t there.

I found that many of my students were performing below grade level— often at first or second grade reading and writing levels— due to all of the trouble they were having in their previous schools.  

A few months into the school year, a new student joined us who had been expelled from his former school. It turned out that he had to repeat fifth grade and was having a very difficult time adjusting. His mother decided to move him to my school for a fresh start.

He came into my classroom at a first grade reading level and disliked writing intensely. During journal time he would write three words and then hand it in, saying he was “done.”

Because I was struggling to complete all of the morning procedures and needed an extra few precious minutes, I decided to implement a simple new rule. First thing in the morning, ALL students had to write at least three sentences which contained at least five words in their journals. (This bought me a little time to get the attendance and lunch count finished, among other things).

Five words! The new boy would sit in his seat at times with his fingers in the air, counting-- but he would always complete the five words. Success! I know this seems minimal when you are teaching fifth graders, but for me, and for this student, it was monumental. Then the big idea was born.

Each week, if I thought my students were ready, I would add another word to the requirement until we reached ten words per sentence. No matter what the students handed in, whether it was a math response, a science exploration response, or a writing sample, everyone was required to utilize at least the given amount of words within their sentences. My new student, as well as many of the others, blossomed! It was amazing to see the change in this young man’s skills. He went from writing nothing to writing three ten-word highly descriptive sentences!

The story does not end there. At the end of the year when MEAP awards were handed out, this student received an award for being PROFICIENT in writing. The surprise… and the smile on his face were incredible. This boy, who always seemed to struggle, had finally become successful because of something as SIMPLE as a new writing rule that was implemented in my classroom. Success!

Is there some routine in your day that you could modify in order to make a difference in a student’s development? Kimber’s story really drives home the need for teachers to take the time to organize and manage every bit of their classroom time, to the benefit of both teacher and student.

Kimber Peterson is a 15-year teacher who has taught third, fourth and fifth grades as well as art, music, and drama. She has been a mentor for the Marygrove MAT program for three years.

For some interesting classroom management tips, download this FREE classroom management guide today!

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Tags: classroom management, writing strategies, struggling students

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