At the end of October, I attended and spoke at the annual International Dyslexia Association (IDA) meeting in Dallas. IDA remains the best interdisciplinary conference for all professionals, advocates, and families concerned with reading, writing, and language difficulties. IDA meetings, over the past three decades, are where I’ve obtained my real education.
This meeting was as informative as ever. We heard from neuroscientists, psychologists, directors of interdisciplinary research centers, researchers in language acquisition, experienced clinicians, education advocates, teacher educators, public school literacy leaders, and families affected by learning difficulties. Through diverse perspectives, one theme stood out for me: We will serve students and families better if we are informed by the facts. Romantic ideas, though appealing, will not serve the needs of students or teachers. Let’s examine a few beliefs that we’re better off without.
Traditional algebra word problems have a bad rap and for good reason. Students are hardly enamored with content of the typical word problem, and its relevance to the real world is questionable at best. Amdahl and Loats (1995) captured this sentiment in their amusing tour of beginning algebra:
“Folks who write math books live very different lives from you and me. They seem to spend a lot of time on trains, for example, which leave cities you and I rarely visit, in hopes of meeting their buddies on trains at destinations in-between….They launch rockets across rivers, build bridges, and agonize over how tall various trees are. After a couple of years of math classes, you’ll be uncomfortable hiking through the woods without your calculator handy.” (p. 104)
I will start with full disclosure, I started my after-college life as a teacher, teaching students with special needs for six years. I have known many teachers throughout the years. My spouse is a teacher. My current work allows me to work with district administrators and teachers. Teaching is one of the most complex and challenging professions. For the most part, individuals who can’t stand the heat will leave the profession pretty quickly, ensuring that those who make a career of teaching do so because they believe teaching is a calling. I am one who couldn't stand the heat, and partly due to that experience, I believe teachers are the best thing since sliced bread, in an educational sense.
Graphic organizers are powerful tools that support conceptual development, language development, and skills acquisition when used appropriately. In the mathematics classroom, they can serve as powerful vehicles that facilitate discussion, provide formative assessment data, and allow students to demonstrate their thinking in creative ways.
In order to achieve success with the use of graphic organizers, the teacher has to select the appropriate organizer, understand it, plan for how the organizer will be used to promote thinking, and develop appropriate questions and tasks.
People who have read any of my work know I’m an expert at misappropriating titles, expressions, and other text. The title of this piece is a perfect example of a poorly executed mash up of talk the talk, walk the walk.
In this case, the point I’m making is that talking yourself through complex tasks (the walk) really works. We should be using this process when we teach and also encourage students to do it themselves when they are facing academic and other challenges.
How do we think? It depends.
As you undoubtedly know, thinking about some things is easier than others. Here’s an example based on two related questions.
Question 1: How many days are in a year?
Question 2: How many days are in 80 years?
To answer Question 1, you engage brain System 1. This is a relatively automatic set of responses that require little effort, at least for most people. Once you learn there are 365 days in a typical year, you can retrieve that information effortlessly.
To answer Question 2, you engage brain System 2. Using this system requires more effort and concentration. You might call it higher-level thinking, and it can get complicated.
Formative assessment is an important tool to take full advantage of, especially in this transitional era of implementing more rigorous standards.
When correctly incorporated into classroom practice, the formative assessment process provides information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they are happening. The process serves as practice for the student and a check for understanding during the learning process. The formative assessment process guides teachers in making decisions about future instruction.
I am more than a teacher. I am an activator. I'm tasked with lighting thousands upon thousands of little ‘aha’ moments in little minds each year. Not each spark takes hold, but others explode! Sometimes, I get to see the magic take hold in the most powerful of ways. Part 2 of 2.
Carmen came to me a reading-shy freshman. She was ever so polite, with a smile that melts my heart daily.
She'd forget her glasses. She'd quietly chat with her friend. She'd wait for someone to notice she was lost.
In the past, I would give her a heads up before calling on her and be met with panicked eyes. While another student read aloud, I'd go over to her and softly let her know I'd help her. When she started to shut down, I'd smile and let her know that ladies let people know what they need and move forward. I'd remind her that she was still moving ahead.
I am more than a teacher. I am an activator. I'm tasked with lighting thousands upon thousands of little ‘aha’ moments in little minds each year. Not each spark takes hold, but others explode! Sometimes, I get to see the magic take hold in the most powerful of ways. Part 1 of 2.
Periodically, I stop class for a five-minute life lesson. I teach transferable skills, as many of them as I can, on and off curriculum. As these teachable moments crop up, I seize them. I'm preparing my kiddos for life. I'd be shirking my responsibilities if I didn't teach them the soft skills that subtly support us as we move through the world. My pupils needed to be well read, analytical, adept at critical thinking, and savvy. Most of all, they needed to find their voice. They live in a world that doesn't always tell them their “value.” They are told constantly what they are “worth.”
In my previous blog, I argued for a dual topic approach to curriculum design. The framework outlined in that blog is based on a variety of research.
Some of this research is drawn from psychology and studies of human learning. These involve the development of automaticity and controlling cognitive load. Other design elements are associated with what we have learned over the years from international research, particularly the way successful countries focus on fewer topics with greater depth in their math curricula. Still other research is a synthesis of what we believe are best instructional practices in remedial and special education.