Focusing attention

Separating what is important from what is not

Attention is the currency of human existence, our social selves. It is how we bond with our environment and each other. At times we want to escape its control. At other times we desperately need to be held in its embrace. Give me a hug, please. Or yell when I act out. It’s my way of demanding that you truly acknowledge me.

“Pay attention!”
When is the last time you heard that command – or plea?

Teachers and parents know that garnering attention is the secret to success in communicating with children or teens. Without focus, no amount of logic or reasoning gets through to them. Our voice becomes a continual hum of “blah, blah, blah.” Sound without meaning. So what is the secret?

Engagement is the way we focus the mind

Think of the foreground of an image versus the background. It is called the figure-ground relationship by psychologists. All of the information is present in the image, but the foreground stands out.

Parents begin developing attention with their children by pointing. Babies learn to connect pointing with importance. Eye-hand coordination is an early example of how we connect perception to objects.

Scaffolding instruction

Scaffolding and ladder of education

Engagement is like a staircase. It is built step by step.

Passive versus Active Processes

This fascinating new study raises questions about the efficacy of video and animation versus static images in learning. In many cases, a less cluttered field and less movement make retention and learning easier. The questions Cris Castro raises in the research are well framed and worth thinking about.

pay attentionNeed some concrete teaching ideas?
Keep students engaged and focused with these discussion strategies for increased student engagement.

How long can we concentrate/

Is it really only 8 seconds? This article by Pattie Shank debunks the research behind the myth of declining attention span. She explains the multi-step model originally developed by Sohlberg & Mateer:

  1. Focused attention (easiest level)
  2. Sustained
  3. Selective
  4. Alternating
  5. Divided attention (most difficult level)

Attention and curiosity

Let’s think deeply for a minute and ask: Does learning require curiosity?

Curiosity is as much the parent of attention, as attention is of memory.
Richard Whately

Curiosity is essential to the teaching and learning process. Therefore, we need to keep our conversations and instruction engaging and genuine. We need to encourage discovery. It is at the heart of motivation and strong, positive relationships.

Classroom Management in Age of Relationships

What is Classroom Management?

I have taught and administered in K-12 schools for 25 years. I have evolved over time, becoming more confidant, perhaps no more so than in the area of classroom management and learning how to maintain strong student relationships. It was natural for me to also teach graduate school at some point since virtually all teachers in California are required to obtain 30 graduate hours. I have taught Teaching of Reading, ESL/ELD/SDAIE, Educational Technology, and Educational Research. Yet one commonality had to do with the questions my students asked me on the first day of class.

Almost all of them were employed as K-12 teachers, and they wanted to know about classroom management. They did not want the theory. At least not at first. They wanted the nuts and bolts, the how-to, the step 1,2,3 of it all. So I built it into each course. What did I teach them about managing students? First, a little history and context….

Classroom management: engaging student inquiry

Classroom management is about actively engaging students

Some History

Prior to my own first day of teaching, I had planned for days. I barely slept that night. In college I had been a psychology major, and I had take very few education courses, thinking them extraneous. However, on my first day in teaching third grade, I found I only had 15 minutes of usable material. 25 eight-year-olds sat calmly looking for instructions on what to do next. I was up in the ethers, and they were on earth. What I also discovered on that day was that teaching is a living, breathing process. Yet one needs to plan everything.

Iteration #1: Just as no battle plan in war survives first contact with the enemy, in teaching no lesson plan survives first contact with students.

Plan, plan, plan, and be ready to discard at a moment’s notice. Yet teaching is about students and relationships, not just content. In Ithaca, New York, it all boiled down to a single needy boy in class named Ethan [name changed]. I had 25 students in that third grade classroom, and every one of them was unique. Some knew how to read, but others struggled with sounding out words. Some could write a full paragraph, but others could barely write letters without reversing them. Yet whatever they knew or did not know academically, they were young children looking for bonding, guidance and relationships.

Ethan was a lively, extremely impulsive boy in my class. He could barely contain his enthusiasm in all things. Sometimes his actions were entirely inappropriate. Yet as I learned more about him, I learned of a tragic family history that had altered how he behaved forever. His mother was murdered by his father right in front of him. He was now being raised by his grandmother.

I remember a class field trip I had arranged to a local meteorological station. As students began to get off the bus, my wife – who had volunteered to be a chaperone – jumped up. Someone had put their hand under her dress. We were both young and took it in stride. After the tour of the station, the children climbed back on the bus. Ethan ran up to us before boarding, “Do you want to know who did that to your dress? It was me!” He laughed gleefully and scampered onto the bus. My wife and I couldn’t help but laugh as well.

Ethan and I touched each other’s lives over the course of the school year. He was extremely bright, yet the trauma of witnessing his mother’s death was not something that would easily fade. He needed acceptance as a person, yet clear guidance in behavior. Both took time.

Other students in the class were nearly as complex. I learned over time that teaching is about developing relationships, not just about subjects and standards. If there is no meaningful relationship between teacher and student, then engagement in the learning process is severely diminished.

Iteration #2: In the classroom, the teacher and students learn together. They learn to move together as a single organism.

Some Management Guidelines

Many books and articles have been written about management. There are some good resources that I list below. However, my own approach can be stated simply.

  • Be authentic, be consistent, and be caring
  • Everyone can learn, but you have to make lessons engaging.
  • The classroom is a learning environment. Set high standards.
  • Develop relationships. Treat students with respect, and expect them to treat each other the same.
  • Keep rules simple. If you have more than fingers on your hands, it’s too many.

If you would like a useful article, try this from NEA. It is called Discipline Checklist: Socializing.

If you are a visual learner, then watch Classroom Management Techniques, a series of videos from Edutopia. You may also find this article very useful: Classroom Management: Resource Roundup.

Design for Effective Learning

Personalized Learning

At issue on today’s education world is how to develop higher order thinking in the midst of human diversity. To achieve that objective, one must consciously design lessons to maximize student learning.

Is there one right answer?

Does all learning need to look the same? How can it?

As the world becomes more complex, it becomes essential to require learners to solve complex problems. We need a method and framework that focuses on multiple pathways to mastery. This type of higher-order thinking and problem solving may be harder to assess, but it represents the future world of knowledge work.

Child learning by imagining possibilities

Child imagining possibilities

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an important framework for designing instructional goals, lessons and assessments. It helps us understand the Why, What and How of learning with an emphasis on multiple pathways. 

The link to personalized learning

How UDL can get you to personalized learning,” gives a very readable overview with concrete examples. I decided to share this with you, the reader, via Evernote. I wanted to illustrate the power of this great App for annotating and sharing ideas with others, and to improve the learning experience. 

Learn more about UDL and how you can use it in your classroom. There is no cost except time. Visit the Center for Applied Spatial Technology (CAST). It is the organization that developed and now promotes UDL. It is a leading framework in the educational reform movement. You can also follow on Twitter at @CAST_UDL.

Compare two different ways to share:

In the world of modern tech, there are at least two ways to do everything. That includes sharing:

My method: After I determined that the article was worth deep reading, I downloaded it with Evernote Clearly (a plugin for Chrome). I highlighted as I read. After I logged into my Evernote account, and I changed some font sizes, color and bold style to key concepts. I then shared it. You can share individual articles or whole Notebooks in Evernote (learn more). The beauty is that whenever I make a change to the annotation, the link is automatically updated for any readers. Imagine the power of that in the classroom!

Sharing and Content Curation in Education

The Evolution of Sharing and the Explosion of Content:
Mash-ups, Citizen Journalism, Citing Sources and Original Thought

Education offers multiple opportunities for taking sharing to the next level. The Internet gave birth to the World Wide Web in the early 1990’s with Mosaic and the Netscape web browser. The visual Web in turn gave birth to social media when Mark Zuckerberg first created Facebook. Social media and its many cousins are now an omnipresent part of the lives of most students and many teachers.

Using Social Media to share and curate content

The Sharing Wheel of Content Curation

For many years the emphasis in K-12 has been on obtaining information and then often regurgitating it or, as in the case of Common Core, testing for mastery.

The model of information sharing and curation appears to have shifted from linear hierarchy to a more organic or circular modality. How does this communication evolution impact the classroom?

What is the challenge for modern students in the 21st century? Will creativity and originality survive in a world of sharing, clones and wannabes?

A. Content Curation

Content curation is the first challenge of the 21st century communications shift. It has developed in response to the vast store of information now afforded by the Internet. If one looks at the various job boards, one can now find employment positions for content analysts. These are different folks than database administrators who manage the technology that underpins content and learning management systems.

Why you must curate content in 2015 is a well done article by Julia McCoy. It appeared in Search Engine Journal. McCoy clearly explains the necessity of managing the explosion of web content. She also provides free, cloud-based tools to accomplish that goal. However, one point that really grabbed me was her conclusion:

Though many new tools are appearing on a daily basis and making the job of content curation experts simpler, human involvement is still the most important factor for success.

Curation is only one aspect of managing vast information stores. In fact, the dilemma may be in the compulsion to manage and share as opposed to the creation of novel ideas or original analysis. We need a mental model. One of the most lucid is KQED Mind/Shift’s 4-part series by Justin Reich and Beth Holland (they are co-founders of EdTechTeacher).

The Mind/Shift Model of Curation, Creation and Connection

B. Levels of Sharing

Sharing is the second challenge of the 21st century communications shift. It needs to be seen as a gradient of experiences and interactions. Let’s differentiate between simple sharing (I found something cool); task-related sharing or collaboration to achieve an objective of goal; and the building of community.

  1. Simple sharing: little evaluation other than “liking” the item. Oftentimes there is little annotation. Current studies show that a large number of people typically share (for example, re-tweeting via Twitter) without even completely reading the article. This content surfing rides just above the surface waves of the content. A fascinating article by N. Bakshani entitled Binge Reading Disorder notes that the typical American reads more than 100,000 words a day. But does he or she actually understand even a fraction?
  2. Collaborative work: Sharing for the purpose of achieving a common objective is probably the new model of 21st century work. It is made possible by the “cloud.” Google Drive (often called Google Docs) has become a de facto standard for a collaborative workspace. Of course, there are other Apps as well. The point is that distance is no longer a limiting factor in work. Sharing at this level is more meaningful and typically produces a persistent product.
  3. Community: Over time the ability to share and collaborate can lead to persistent connections. One might call these communities. For example, it is interesting to see how Twitter Chats like #caedchat have evolved to become communities. Facebook friends and family setting has, for many, become the way to keep community alive when distance would otherwise prohibit regular interaction.

C. Creativity and Originality

Creativity is the third challenge of the 21st century communications shift. What is creativity? What does it mean to be original? In the context of the current blog, does over-sharing interfere with originality? Several issues and strategies offer some insights.

Project based learning

The movement to Project Based Learning (PBL) may offer some help into a higher level use of educational standards. The foundation of PBL might be said to be the driving question (sometimes called an essential question). The key point that differentiates it from lower order thinking is that a driving question is open-ended. It is not simply the search for one right answer. Because PBL admits to multiple right answers, it fosters greater creativity in inquiry as well as more original content creation.

Citizen Journalism

One might make the argument that citizen journalism began when the first user reported a breaking story on Twitter before the news rooms could put together their stories. It leads us to ask: What is journalism, and how does it relate to the world of high school students? Can a preconceived narrative interfere with an uncovering of facts? Is it more important to tell or story, or to tell the truth? Journalists put a lot of emphasis on getting the story first; yet more important is to get it right.

Given that many of the younger Millennial generation get their news from Bing, Yahoo, Twitter or an aggregator like Digg, it is important for educators to start developing lessons around standards of content curation and content creation.

Mash-ups, Paying Homage and YouTube

Kids love their music. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams produced the hit song Blurred Lines in 2014. The family of Marvin Gaye said they had copied the guts of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit song, Got to Give it Up. Thicke and Williams said they were paying homage to Marvin Gaye. However, the jury found in favor of the Gaye family, and Thicke and Williams were ordered to pay $7.3 million.

This raises the question: Where does homage end and infringement begin? Copyright has a long history. Many educators and others use short sections of copyrighted work under the doctrine of fair use. But can it survive the 21st century? By extension we can ask the same of sharing. There are excesses for sure. Yet where does sharing start, and when does it become simply copying?

Conclusion

We live in a rapidly changing world dominated by a flood of information, multi-leveled communication, and a wealth of sharing. It is an interwoven phenomenon of both process and content, and it is evolving rapidly. Teachers need to explore and understand how this evolution affects student behavior, student thought and classroom practices. The explosion of information as a practical matter requires both teachers and students to learn how to curate and to evaluate content. It requires that we explore models of sharing in education. When is an idea ours? When and how is it derived? Equal value has to be given to creativity and to one’s ability to use analytic skills.

Case Study in Narrative Seeking

The Rolling Stone case of errant reporting. The issue of sexual assaults on college campuses has been gaining quite a lot of traction recently as the public becomes more aware. In November 2014 Rolling Stone Magazine published an investigative piece about a purported gang rape on the campus of University of Virginia titled A Rape on Campus. The report outraged many. However, others dug deeper. After the Washington Post discovered many inconsistencies in the story – and after an in-depth investigation by the Columbia School of Journalism; and after an in-depth investigation by the local police department  – Rolling Stone Magazine retracted the story. The Columbia School of Journalism concluded:

Rolling Stone’s repudiation of the main narrative in “A Rape on Campus” is a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable. The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking

In psychology the phenomenon of seeking out information and sources that confirm our previously held beliefs is called  “confirmation bias.” As such it definitely has a legitimate place in teaching students to cite and evaluate evidence to support their arguments.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Reveal is produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The CIR originally produced the I Files. Check out some of their previous work.

The Shift in Privacy

This topic is really an extension of Levels of Sharing explored above. What people know about us has increased with the explosion of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media. What are the boundaries between you and me? Can we have any reasonable expectation of privacy in a world of ever present social media and the powerful algorithms of Google? It will have to be the topic of a future blog.

World without walls: Privacy may not be dead, but it has certainly altered. Most communication about which we are talking occurs in the cloud. The cloud, by definition, is somewhere out of our control. Transparency rules the day

The Classroom Feedback Loop

feedback

Reviewing, communicating and feedback.

When learning is the goal of any project, then teachers and students enter a constant feedback loop. How – and how often – that feedback is structured is essential to success. Educators refer to the importance of formative assessments that provide mid-course corrections rather than relying on final or summative assessments. How mid-course feedback occurs determines whether students actually understand where they are in the learning process.

In How Looking at Student Work Keeps Teachers and Kids on Track, Katrina Schwartz at Mind/Shift addresses the dilemma: most student work is only read by teachers. Not only that, but intermediate progress checks may be infrequent. One thing that research has shown is that good feedback needs to be targeted, specific and timely.

What is Good Feedback?

  • It is targeted. That is, it is linked to learning objectives.
  • It provides specific guidance to students.
  • It is timely.

Researchers such as Carol Dweck are working on helping students develop academic or growth mindset. It is important that students believe in their own ability to succeed. One thing Dweck notes is that students can influence their own learning.

Mindsets: How Students Can Influence Their Own Learning

  • Belonging to an academic community: feeling connected
  • Belief in the likelihood of success
  • The work has meaning and value
  • Belief that abilities and intelligence can grow with effort

When evaluating or reviewing student work, a rubric may be important, but it is not enough. When communicating with students, it is just as important to state why you, the teacher, are giving feedback at this point. It is how they will eventually internalize the ability to reflect on their own learning.

good, bad and the ugly

There is a critical difference between praise and feedback. Praise is not tied to learning results or performance, whereas feedback is. It is not a question of whether work is good or bad, but rather how the work expresses one’s goal. Feedback is an interactive, two-way street.

Sometimes teachers, parents and others are caught up in the dilemma of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Uncertain alliance

Many people have what can best be described  as an uncertain alliance with criticism. Rather than informing and strengthening a product, those in positions of authority who are giving feedback confuse the value of the person with the status of student work. Perhaps the question is whether the confusion is on the receiving end (the student) or the giving end (teacher). Nonetheless, it is a problem.

Students listen to their peers

Peer influence is huge with pre-teens and teenagers. Teachers can learn to leverage student feedback  by how they structure the learning environment in their classes. It is not always about whether the teacher is the only person who can give useful feedback, it is also about how students help each other understand.

work together