Becoming un-Difficult

A parent recently texted me about their child. To be clear, parents don’t usually communicate with me via this method. I just happen to know this parent outside of school, and honestly, it was quite nice to hear positive feedback. She wanted to let me know that her son had been raving about me all weekend. One of his comments to his mother was the most striking to me: “She never gets mad at me. I don’t get in trouble in her class.” When his mom asked how that was possible (he is notoriously ALWAYS in trouble), he replied, “She used to teach special ed.” That last comment made me chuckle, but his first comment made me think. Why is it that a student can be “difficult” for one teacher, but completely NOT difficult for another. In truth, I don’t have a coherent answer for that one just yet, but I do have a few ideas.

First, I believe in building relationships with my students. I am fortunate enough to teach in a small school (small in comparison to a public school). I have fewer students than a public school teacher. I have times in which I can engage with students outside of the classroom whether that is at my door before class, in the halls between class times, during sporting events, or in the lunchroom. I make it my business to know my students. I observe them. I listen to them.

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Erasing Doubt

“And though she be but little, she is fierce.” –A Midsummer Night’s Dream 

Recently, I was watching the regional competitions for American Ninja Warrior.  I’m obsessed with the level of fitness people must have to compete in this obstacle course. However, I was watching this particular Regional for one purpose—to watch Kacy Catanzaro. She was the first woman to complete the qualifying course and to complete the full course on American Ninja Warrior to qualify for nationals. I wanted to see her run for myself. The question in my head was why did it take six seasons for a woman to get this far in this competition.

In an interview following her successful run, Catanzaro explained why she thought no other woman had made it that far yet, “It’s just because there was always that doubt in the back of their minds, that no girl’s ever done it, or that some people might say no girl can do it, or girls aren’t as fast, girls aren’t as strong—all of these things that women are used to hearing.” She refused to listen to the negative thoughts, and she succeeded.

So, what does this have to do with education? Reading Catanzaro’s interview, made me think of my students. Those students that say they just aren’t good at _______.  By the time students reach middle school, they have a lot of preconceived notions about what they can and cannot do. Perhaps, their well-intentioned parents tell them that it was okay that their grades were lower in one subject. It must not have been their strength. Perhaps, a teacher told them they were good at math, but writing just isn’t their thing. Perhaps, a content area takes a bit more work for them, so they convince themselves that they will never be successful. Whatever the cause, I feel that teachers can work to erase these doubts. However, it is the “how” of erasing these doubts that can be harder to articulate.

While I am not always successful, here are a few ways that I feel I have helped students erase doubt over the years:

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Sketchnoting

UPDATE: I had a hard time getting great images of this activity to share. In my opinion, the process went very well. Some students loved it. Others didn’t care at all. In general, students learned yet another way to improve their comprehension. Those students who embraced it continued to use this methodology throughout the school year even when it was assigned.

I will be introducing formal sketchnoting to my seventh-grade classes this week.

According to Kathy Schrock:

Sketchnoting, in its purest form, is creating a personal visual story as one is listening to a speaker or reading a text. I also believe the interactive notebook, which includes the process of taking “regular” notes” while listening to a speaker and later creating a sketchnote of the text notes, would also be considered sketchnoting. This page will provide links, ideas, tips,and research evidence dealing with the power of sketchnoting.

I will give more details about how we accomplish this task. For older students, I would give less guidelines. However, given the age of these students and that this is a newer concept, I will give more framework for the concept. Students will have the choice of device and/or app. All finished products will be uploaded to their Google Drive to be shared with me and fellow classmates.

Intro presentation:

https://www.haikudeck.com/e/H0i3rUk0tK/?isUrlHashEnabled=false&isPreviewEnabled=false&isHeaderVisible=false
Sketchnoting – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires