Sunday, August 30, 2015

Teach Like a Champion- The Ultimate Tool to Ramp Up Your Teaching

I am exhausted. What a great, but crazy, first week back to school! My feet are aching and I'm hoping the tickle in my throat is just from allergies....... I have a great group of kiddos and I have my work cut out for me this year! It's going to be great!

Tomorrow I am welcoming a student teacher in my classroom for the very first time. I'm a little nervous because I really don't feel like I have much to offer, but I'm hoping she will pick up some knowledge along the way. To ensure that she does, I insisted that she get the book I describe below and we use that as kind of our "textbook" for her student teaching experience. I have been meaning to share about this book for awhile, so now seems like the perfect time!

Several years ago, in the midst of one of the my toughest teaching years to date, I happened to stumble across this book:

Little did I know as I cracked open the first pages, that this book would completely transform my teaching.

People always say that "teaching is an art." Yes, yes, yes. I firmly believe that there is a definite art to teaching, there's a human and affective aspect that must be present along with having a deep understanding of content. However, what author Doug Lemov and his team have done is come up with concrete strategies they have seen highly effective, or who they call "champion teachers," use- strategies that are common between teachers across districts, cities, and states. Essentially, they have pinned down some of the "art" of teaching into directly replicable techniques. Not only does this book give a name to specific techniques, it also creates a common language among teachers so those techniques can be analyzed and discussed.

Sounds too good to be true, right? I thought so at first. But once I started reading, I literally could not put the book down. Remember, when I first found this book I was in my third year of teaching with a tough, tough, tough, group of kiddos. You can read more about that year HERE. :)

One of the first techniques that really hit home with me is called "No Opt Out." In a nutshell, this technique does not allow a student to simply "opt out" of answering a question. If you call on a student and they don't know an answer, Lemov gives you practical classroom examples of how to respond to the student, provide various types of cues, hints, or questions, but always returning to the student to have them answer the question- even if it comes down to them simply repeating what you say.

As a young teacher still feeling slightly intimidated by my class, this technique was hard to follow at first. I had boys that would get upset and and angry when I called on them. But with consistency and persistence, the class got used to knowing that they would be held responsible for answering every question. Slowly but surely the culture of my classroom began to change and I found my confidence.

Another small example he mentions in the book that has stuck with me, and I really don't even think this is its own technique or strategy, but it's the simple concept of standing still when giving directions. Man, I thought I was on fire those first few years. I could walk and talk and pass out papers and give directions, and find the pen I left on my back table, and correct little Johnny's behavior... I was a multi-tasking, let's-get-things-done machine. But inevitably, when I was through giving my directions and thought I would take a well-deserved deep breath, fifteen hands would shoot up in the air because they didn't understand a thing I said. They were too distracted by all of my movement to even think about the words I was saying.

Again, looking back now, it seems so obvious! I should have checked in to see that students were hearing me and understanding my words. But with my sense of urgency and feeling the time crunch, I thought I was making the best use of time.

The examples I gave are just a few of the many. The book is divided into chapters with overarching themes and it's meant to be read on a what-I-need-at-this-moment basis. When I first found the book, my focus was on the classroom management type techniques, as I described above. As I have evolved and grown, my focus is now more on the techniques that promote higher-level thinking. But of course, without strong classroom management, the environment isn't ripe for critical thinking anyway. I have revisited the book with a new lens each year as I get a new group of kiddos and add more tools to my toolbox. This book is a great resource for every teacher, whether you are just starting out, or a twenty-year veteran.

I realized after talking with my student teacher that there is a new and updated version of the book: Teach Like a Champion 2.0!  This version has even more techniques and expanded commentary. I am so excited to dig back in and revisit all the great things this book has to offer!

The new book is divided into four major parts with several techniques subdivided in the chapters within. Below is an outline of just the four parts and included chapters. These are not the specific techniques themselves!

I highly, highly, highly suggest looking into this book. There is always room for improvement and growth, and as a teacher, I never stop growing. In just the little bit I've looked through in the past few days, I already have some goals for myself.  It. Is. Fabulous. 

Have a great week!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Reading is Like Eating a Snickers

Have you ever heard someone say something in relation to a concept you have taught many times and you just want to kick yourself because you didn't think to say it quite like that before? The way they said it makes it so clear and you just go, "Ugh! Why didn't I think of that?!"

Well, that happened to me last week while attending a reading training. The presenter shared this amazing little analogy that rocked my world. Ready for it? Here it is:

Reading is like enjoying a Snickers.  

Allow me to explain.

This particular training was about fiction texts and how to make elements of plot more understandable for students. The conversation turned to struggling readers and the presenter told us a story.

She told us about an experience she had when she was working with struggling high school readers several years ago. She realized that they were not truly thinking about what they were reading, but rather just word calling. So, one day she brought in a mini Snickers for each student. The kids were obviously excited and wanting to enjoy the candy. However, she told them that if they wanted to eat the Snickers in class, they could NOT chew it at all.  Of course the students were upset saying, "What's the point of eating a Snickers if you can't chew it up? That's the good part!"


And so she explained to the students, "If you were to just swallow the Snickers whole, you miss out on all the great flavors. The best part of eating a Snickers is when all the different flavors mix together in your mouth: the peanuts, the chocolate, the caramel, and you get all that deliciousness swirling around. The same thing happens when we read. Something is supposed to happen. The words come off the page and swirl around in our brains. They mix with all the things we know and answer questions we might have. The words help us make a picture in our minds. That's what it means when we read and think at the same time. There's a lot going on in your mouth when you eat a Snickers, and there should be a lot going on in your head when you read."

I mean, seriously! How simple! How relatable! How perfect!

Struggling readers who lack the ability to visualize and truly think when they read miss out on the joy of reading, the deliciousness. Making this concrete connection to something so simple shows kids how enjoyable reading can be.

Why didn't I ever think of that?!

Here's a little graphic that puts it as succinctly as I could:

Thank you so much to the amazing lady who shared this great analogy!! ;)

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