‘Places’ – Catnip Cloud (feat. Tiril Hognestad

I’m about to be terribly honest.

Children are not interested in anything the standards say.

I am not so idealistic to think that most 4th graders enter our school with desires to “analyze and provide evidence of how the author’s choice of point of view, perspective, and purpose shape content, meaning, and style.” Obviously, they’d much rather be watching YouTube videos of kids overseas playing with Squishies (that’s a thing–YouTube it).

Even when presenting this important reading skill to students, the mere breadth of this standard gets in the way of bringing students to a place where they can find any interest in it. So the question is, how do we get students to “deeper places” in their learning?

If we take a look a the aforementioned YouTube, we have to acknowledge a few things about it: it has a variety of videos, and is sure to offer something to pique anyone’s interest, it can sustain entertainment for long periods of time, and there is an option for viewers to leave feedback. In a nutshell, YouTube offers voice to the viewer. This is exactly what we need to be providing students in our classrooms: student voice.

If we were to look at the 4th grade South Carolina College and Career ELA standard presented earlier (Language, Craft, and Structure, Standard 11), there are actually a few ways, using the gifts possessed by YouTube, to engage student voice in teaching this:

  • Variety: Allow students to study a text that interests them. This doesn’t have to be a book. It could be a poem, article, how-to guide, song lyric, or even a journal entry or blog post. Kids are going to be way more interested in something they have selected than a book you’ve pulled off a curriculum guide.
  • Sustainability: This type of learning can’t be limited to 45 or 50 minutes (try pulling a 10-year old away from their device after 50 minutes). Giving students the chance to explore in this matter requires a few class sessions at minimum, providing kids the chance to go off into directions that truly do deepen their understanding. Say for example, a student is analyzing an opinion article regarding the influence of the WNBA on women’s sports–this may send that student down a wormhole about the history of the WNBA, influential players, even information about Title IX. While setting flexible boundaries for our students, we have to give them the freedom and time to explore.
  • Feedback: Very little engages children like the opportunity to give their two cents on a topic. How often do we really allow them to be heard? When given the chance to be vocal about their learning, they are forced to think critically about their statements. This Edutopia article highlights two particular strategies for getting kids to think critically about their reading and sharing their own views on it.

Teaching in this manner allows students truly to engage deeper in their learning. However, it requires teachers to loosen the reigns, which is not as easy as finding entertainment on YouTube. Pardon the overuse of the word, but diving “deeply” into allowing student voice right away is not prescribed. Part of our role as educators is providing students with the tools to manage this type of learning more independently. We must lay the foundation first, guiding them with how to research and think critically, and how to respectfully share feedback supported with evidence.

Student voice.

“Such powerful exchange of human energy.”

‘Clarity’ – Zedd (feat. Foxes)

What is in an essential question? What is in an objective? What is in a learning target?

More than the acronym “TSW”, I can tell you that.

I pose this question seriously, however, because beginning with the end in mind is paramount in affecting student achievement. Furthermore, it helps set the stage for students’ engagement also.

Teacher clarity is a a research-based tool used to focus a lesson, and guides a teacher to the most succinct elements necessary to deliver specific and detailed instruction for the most pertinent parts of what students are meant to learn. Think of it as, what one of my good friends tells me, “Keeping the main thing the main thing.”

Doing this requires taking a laser-like look at individual learning standards to determine and identify what students should be able to know and do, and what success looks like. Once precisely defined, the teacher can then develop learning progressions for the intended learning. This is done for all the standards within a unit of study. Teachers then are able to support students by creating an image for success. Students are then empowered to learn and with explore with a better understanding of the objective and improved engagement.

How much more successful could our students be if we truly were their clarity? Sometimes in the haphazardly scribbled EQs on whiteboards, we fail to accurately show kids what the end outcome of their learning is supposed to be. My district is actually moving to learning targets this year, which I am excited about–it takes the guessing away from the students when they are trying to articulate the answers to the very broad questions they are sometimes presented with at the beginning of the day. With explicitly identified intentions for learning, our kids are set up for achievement before the leaning even begins!

State standard support documents are helpful in creating teacher clarity, but it is far from enough. This careful analysis of learning expectations requires collaboration amongst grade level team members and subject-specific teams; there would be great power, especially, in looking at these expectations vertically.

This, teacher clarity, could truly be the “remedy” our students need in order to fully engage in the tasks we present to them.

Read about how teacher clarity is included as one of Edutopia’s 5 Highly Effective Teaching Strategies. Also, check out Corwin Publishing‘s professional support on teacher clarity.