Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I have all the answers. Or not.

If you have a question, come to me.  I'll give you the best answer.  If you don't know how to proceed, just ask.  I'll tell you what to do next.  If you aren't sure of something, don't worry.  I'm sure.  If you can't decide which way to go, I'll point you in the right direction and tell you how to get there.  If you need a specific answer to a specific question, I will provide you with the answer.  If you need permission, you better ask me.


If you have a question, come to me.  I'll do my best to help you find the best answer.  If you don't know how to proceed, just ask.  I'll ask you some questions that may help you find your way.  What obstacles can I clear for you?  If you aren't sure of something, don't worry.  I'm unsure of many things.  I know we can support each other in our efforts to be better today than we were yesterday.  If you can't decide which way to go, I'll help you find like-minded people heading the same direction.  If you need a specific answer to a specific question, I might have that bit of knowledge.  If I don't, I might know how you could find it.  If you need permission, ask yourself.  I trust you to proceed wisely.  Be brave and have fun!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Stop light volume

Early in my teaching career, I had a construction paper stoplight in my room.  Each color on the stop light represented the desired volume.  Green meant talking was OK.  Yellow meant that whispering was OK.  Red was for silence.  I moved the light based on my desired volume for each activity.  It was well-planned.  I purposely chose the volume that would best fit each learning activity.  I also used it to control the volume when it seemed to get too loud.

Twenty years later, Amazon sells a Yacker Tracker for a hundred bucks and it senses the volume and changes the light automatically!

If the students were working on projects or inquiry-based lessons, the light was green.  Talking was OK.  Green was also lit for projects and cooperative learning activities.  Yellow was lit for independent work.  Red was lit during reading time and some independent work activities that I chose to be silent.  I can't remember why???

The problem with the stoplight was that my kids didn't always agree with the volume that I wanted.  So I spent too much time trying to enforce the "correct" volume.  It didn't seem to matter how many times we practiced the correct volume, I always had kids who showed me they didn't agree.  After too much time and energy, I finally asked myself, "Why?"

I asked several other teachers for better strategies to control the volume,  I wanted more tricks in my bag.  I tried several of them, but the results were the same.

I looked another direction for an answer.  I looked at my rationale behind the different volumes.  I tried to simplify things so that my students could better understand the expectations and more importantly, so I could maximize learning and spend less time fixing the volume.

I started by asking myself, "When does it absolutely need to be silent?"

I came up with two answers.  When someone is talking to the whole class, everyone else should be quiet.  That one seemed easy.  Also, some assessments needed to be quiet.  Several other learning activities crossed the board when I thought about silent.  What about reading time?  I decided that short conversations about reading made for better learning.  What about videos?  Short conversations about the videos made for better learning.  What about work that was to be graded?  This one was easy to let go as I strongly preferred a standards-based grading system!

I also asked myself, "When is whispering the correct volume?"  I listed several possibilities, but the only time that I could come up with where whispering was the best volume for everyone's learning was during silent reading time.  I guess "almost-silent" reading time would be more appropriate!

Looking at these new guidelines for class volume, it seemed to me that they were more natural for human beings!  When someone else talks, everyone should listen.  When the majority of people are concentrating silently, everyone else should respect the quiet environment by talking as quietly as possible.  Most importantly, when we are learning, we should be talking!

Now, when designing learning activities, rather than thinking about the best volume, I invest time thinking about how to elicit the best talk.  Evoking great questions.  Involving the learners in thoughtful discussions.  The one doing the most talking is doing the most learning!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Friends one minute.  Enemies the next.  Love-hate relationships.  These are the toughest social connections to take care of in schools.  The two of them want to be friends and they can't make it work.  Classroom teachers do so so much to weather these relationships in classrooms.  Parents want to make sure that their kid is in a good place.  Not easy when things are simply not gonna work!.

At some point, one of them sees that it doesn't work.  It won't work.  It is over.  Then what?  Letting the two of them battle it out every day is clearly not the right thing to do.  Oddly enough, we tend to wait and watch and talk a bit too long.  It seems that we try to convince these two that it is OK not to be friends, they just can't be enemies.  Really though, at this late stage of the frenemy zone, doing nothing won't fix anything.  Actual working solutions differ case by case and simply trying to talk through it is rarely the one that works.

In conversations with former friends, the only thing I have ever said that makes a tiny difference is one request given to both of them together.  "Tell me something good about each other."

Something caused the attraction in the first place.  Something made the initial friendship desirable.  Helping them remember those feelings is the only thing I have found that helps at all.

When friends become enemies, help them remember why they were friends.