Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Doodling

Do your students like to doodle? Do you? What some might see as an off-task, even disrespectful behavior, I see as a way to process information. A way to make thinking visible.

My colleagues are used to my crazy notebook, pictured above (click on photo to enlarge). They don't bat an eye when I'm sitting in a formal meeting or important keynote address and I take out my Flair pens and manuscript book. With paper and pens at my disposal, I can focus. I can relax. I can think.

I'm not alone in my need to turn the audible into the visible. A few years ago I read a BBC article about how British Prime Minister Tony Blair was criticized when he inadvertently left some of his doodles on a table at Number 10 Downing Street. Those same critics were left speechless when it was discovered that the doodles didn't belong to Tony Blair at all. Instead, they were the creation of a guy named Bill Gates!

For two centuries, U.S. Presidents have doodled during critical briefings and while strategizing and brainstorming. Presidential Doodles showcases sketches from George Washington to George W. Bush, and almost every president in between. I was happy to discover this book. It lends a scholarly view to the practice that some of us, adults and kids alike, can't live without.

So what does this mean for classroom instruction? A recent study suggests that doodling aids in memory recall. Those who doodled while listening to information recalled 29% more than those who tried to attend without pen in hand. Consider asking students to sketch their way through a lecture, dry textbook passage or PowerPoint presentation. Allow students to create logos or other graphic representations of their learning, to aid in the synthesizing of new information. Encourage the use of color, creative font and multi-directionality on the page. Student engagement and motivation are sure to rise!

If you're a doodler, feel affirmed. If you're not, it's never too late. You, too, can join the ranks of John F. Kennedy and Bill Gates!


PS A shout-out to amazing educator Ian Jukes! Your recent keynote address in Columbus, Ohio inspired a page of colorful doodles and a mind full of new thinking for me. See Ian's signature right smack dab in the center of the photo.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

All Hands On Deck: Response to Intervention

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a problem solving process to assure success for struggling students. It is not a gateway to special education (nor a delay to special ed) and it is not a quick fix.

You’ll often hear us use the expression, “all kids, all schools, all hands on deck.” Following our Response to Intervention (RTI) professional learning session, I asked colleagues to help me create a recap. Here’s a compilation of what “all hands” have so say about RTI, plus helpful RTI links. 

What do teachers have to say?
RTI is a process teachers should use to help struggling students be successful in their classroom. It’s probably something teachers are already doing. But I think teachers need to do a better job of documenting the strategies that are in place for students and then collecting data over time to check and see if these strategies are helping the students be successful in the classroom. ~ Todd M, grade 8 Algebra teacher

RTI is something that most of us do most of the time, but in an unstructured, undocumented way. We do it for short term intervention and longer term intervention. In possible Special Ed cases, we need to make sure we have the documentation. In other cases, we need to make sure that the rigors of documentation don't cause teachers to avoid doing what they would normally do. ~ Ceil K, IB math teacher

RTI is a continuous process of pre-assessments, proper student placements into appropriate intervention groups, weekly progress monitoring to ensure that the intervention is working, followed by a post-assessment to document student progress backed with data. ~ Aarty S, ESL assistant

RTI is a multi-layered approach to get to the new/modern idea/ideal that all kids can learn at high levels. It’s a way of getting schools to move beyond the archaic idea that school is meant to be a "sorting" place. So, RTI is a real series of techniques to make this happen, but it's not a path to special education. It's sort of like scaffolding a whole-school response of what to do when kids hit a road block. ~ Angie F, freshman English teacher

How long does RTI take?
It’s a process without a specific time frame.  It’s okay for a student to have tiered supports in place throughout their schooling to help them be successful. ~ Julie C, work study coordinator

Why have we chosen this approach, K-12?
RTI allows us to focus our collective resources toward early intervention and toward providing appropriate help and supports that prevent academic and behavioral concerns from becoming bigger issues. Amy S, school psychologist

Most important to remember: We are all learners in this process. And we’re all in this together.

Here are some resources to help us as we learn. What resources or ideas do you have to share?


West Clermont’s RTI links
West Clermont's RTI Plan
National Center on RTI

Pyramid Respond to Intervention: RTI, PLCs, and How to Respond When Kids Don’t Learn
Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Digital Dictionaries

                                                                            Photo Credit: iStockphoto

 What image comes to mind when you think of a dictionary? A heavy, thick book with an infinite supply of words? A useful tool, but boring read? Actually, Noah Webster's first American Dictionary of the English language, published in 1828, became one of the best selling books of the 1800's. Webster's dictionary had 70,000 entries and took 27 years to complete. His work lives on and led to today's standardized and "American" spellings, i.e. color instead of colour, plow instead of plough.

  However, even Mr. Webster has joined the digital age. Today's dictionaries are online with audio, video and other student-friendly features. Merriam-Webster offers a Visual Dictionary Online, connecting words with images... a winning combination for today's visual students. Merriam-Webster also features Word Central, a gaming site that allows students to build their word knowledge.

A favorite online dictionary for middle and high school students (and adults) is Word Ahead. This site features vocabulary videos of over 900 difficult words. It also includes a Study Room with video and flash cards for ACT/SAT vocabulary. (You have to see this!)

 Another interesting visual dictionary for middle school students and above is Visuwords. This site offers word meanings and associations in a diagram that resembles a neural network. Students can explore word meanings and their associations with other words and concepts. The interactive site allows students to click on the background to pan around and drag the individual word nodes.

Here are some other student-friendly dictionaries worth checking out.
Do you have some favorite digital dictionaries? If so..let us know. We can build a list of  favorites, and it won't take us 27 years to do it!


Friday, November 6, 2009

Day by Day, Child by Child

On November 3, teachers gathered for our annual convocation and celebration of teaching and teachers. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Krista Ramsey was keynote speaker. Her remarks:

I work on the 19th floor of the Enquirer building, on the corner of Elm and 3rd streets very close to the Ohio River and, during baseball season, every time the Reds hit a home run, there are fireworks and, for a minute, everybody downtown stops working and takes notice.

I think the Ohio Department of Education, when it releases its list of Excellent schools, should set off fireworks across the state, in the middle of the day. It would be cool for every community with an excellent school system to hear the commotion and look up at the sky and say, hey, they’re winning!

But that, as we all know, is not how things work in the world of education. Unlike professional athletes, you are the quiet heroes. Your stunning plays are getting the girl who sits glowering in the back row to finally join a discussion. Your perfect record is 10 years of driving a bus accident free, keeping dozens of children safe day after day after day.

Your “save” is keeping the districts’ computers up and running every day, or filling every classroom that needs one with an excellent substitute teacher – or sending out good, clear information on the H1N1 virus, and patiently answering all the questions from angry, confused and frustrated parents that follow.

Your victories are quiet victories. If you waited for the fireworks, you’d wait your entire career. But you – and sometimes only you – know what you have won at the end of the day. You know when you see the socially-awkward kid who always glides along the edge of the hallway so no one notices him; suddenly find a friend in your classroom.

You know when the parents who have resisted for so long finally agree to have their child tested for learning disabilities.

You know when you as a guidance counselor have a student walk into your office to show you her college acceptance letter – and you know she’ll be the first generation in her family ever on a college campus.

You win when they win – when those children in your care as a principal or classroom aide or music teacher or basketball coach or food service worker or psychologist lose a little bit of their self-doubt or find the first inkling of something they’re good at.

But there are long stretches when you don’t think you’re winning at all. I was a teacher for eight years and I remember those stretches. I remember watching my 7th bell class walk out of my room – they were ALWAYS the rowdiest, most disrespectful class – and swearing that I was going to immediately go and apply to be one of those people who holds the SLOW and STOP signs on the highway crews.

Today I work on a daily newspaper. Every day, I have to produce a brand-new product. Every time I make a mistake, 200,000 people see it – and it seems like 50,000 blog about it. I am part of the media, surely one of the most suspect groups of workers in the world. And every day I have to answer to big and hairy editors who like to scream in people’s faces. And let me tell you, everything I do is way easier than being a classroom teacher.

I have been on the editorial board for the last six years, and in that position I have met with governors, ambassadors, presidential candidates, senators, county commissioners, Cabinet members, college presidents and CEOs. Some I have admired, some I have not. But over that time, I have come to realize that virtually none of them are the people who really hold the world together. The people who do that are far too busy to come in and meet with editorial boards. They are working in emergency rooms and counseling troubled teenagers, and doing therapy with stroke victims and caring for foster children and working in public schools.

YOU are the people who keep the world from splintering into pieces.

And if you’re tired of the feeling that the world expects you fix everything from teenage drinking to childhood obesity to bad grammar to poor hygiene, all I can say is I’m sorry.

Maybe we don’t actually EXPECT it, but we certainly do hope it.

You are the people we turn to again and again

  • to care for children who aren’t cared for anywhere else
  • to reach out to parents who have no one to turn to for advice
  • to model kind, considerate behavior for children who have been abused and neglected
  • to move the next generation of Americans to a new level of competence and creativity
  • to prepare today’s children for the world of tomorrow
  • to encourage, embolden and inspire.

Never think for a moment that your words or your actions are simply bouncing off the children you serve. Somewhere in this school year, every one of you will take some action that will change a child’s life.

It may be a simple kindness that made an unbearable day bearable. It may be praise that erases the misery of being absolutely average. It may be a second chance for a child who has almost resigned himself to being a failure.

Sometime this year, you will say something positive to a child that you will forget the next day, but that child will remember for the rest of his life.

There is no power on earth greater than that power.

So I challenge you to carry on with excellence. Not one drop of your energy, your intelligence, your passion, your compassion will be wasted.

I leave you today with one of my favorite quotes. The first time I read it, it was attributed to Shaquille O’Neal, but I came to find out he actually borrowed it from Socrates.

It is this: Excellence is a habit. We are what we repeatedly do.

Thank you for creating excellence day by day and child by child.


A former teacher, Krista Ramsey is columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer. She serves on their Editorial Boad. For a PDF copy of Krista's remarks, click here.