Saturday, December 7, 2013

You Don't Need Much Time to Teach Students About Grit and Perseverance

Cultivate Your Own Story to Share

The first story I wrote, the second one I published, is titled A Humid Night. I submitted the story over twenty times before it was finally published by the small magazine Literal Translations.

Why did I submit it so many times, even after another story found a home so much faster? 

Because I believed in that story. I believed in its honesty, I believed it was good. I had also read numerous stories of perseverance from other authors and learned that if I did not believe in my work, then there was no reason for anyone else to believe in it either.

I share that story with students because I want them to develop a belief in themselves, a belief that a creative life is rewarding, and that anything worth achieving in life is going to require struggle, conquering self-doubt, a zealous passion for their work.

Short Videos to Make the Point in the Now

But I also realize my students are preteens and teenagers. I have been teaching longer than most of them have been in existence on this rock. So, what do we do for those students who have great ideas, but don't quite have the skills, or "the chops", to pull off their vision?

I share a few words of encouragement.  Even at their age, they are making strides in creating habits and skills that will allow their talents to shine.

Public radio personality and producer Ira Glass offers some profound words on the struggles that confront those who live the creative life.

This is a short video that all students should watch.  The message is don't quit when you face adversity, keep working. Education often stigmatizes failure and the message that we, as educators, often inadvertently send to students to "get it right the first time or else!"

A few years ago I was in a session on creativity with Janet Aaker Smith.  She shared a video about being stuck on an escalator.  It is a great metaphor for taking action towards making success happen.

And, if you have students who ask how to succeed in life or you just want to be proactive, this is the perfect twenty seven second video to show how people are responsible for their own success.

All three are powerful words of encouragement for our students as they engage in a creative life. 

Short Videos to Make the Point in the Future

It is true we are living in a society that wants things exponentially faster than ever before, that includes the recognition of success. But what is lost in our microwave society is the knowledge that most overnight successes take about ten years to achieve their dream. The article from Business Insider titled This Is How Long "Overnight Success" Really Takes is a reading you might want to share with your students.

After talking about the article you can share this nice two part series by Delve about The Long Game and the argument that Leonardo Da Vinci's success did not come from his genius but from his commitment to his craft, his willingness to iterate.

The Long Game Part 1:

The Long Game Part 2:

The conversation about grit and perseverance is important but we have to think about the conversation from a number of different perspectives. 

Students know us, connect to us, so our stories should be first because they ring with honesty and passion. We also need to share inspirational messages to show how much control students have over their success and how their journey depends on each step they take. Finally, we need to show them that it is okay if they stumble, they have to be in it for the long haul, that is what grit and perseverance is all about - forgetting your story has been rejected twenty two times because twenty three just might be the magic number.
For more in depth lesson ideas order a copy of Stand Up! Speak Out! The Social Action Curriculum for Building 21st-Century Skills available from Prufrock Press and Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Great Lesson for Back to School

Is it really time to be thinking about going back to school already?  Have you really stopped thinking about school?  Chances are if you are reading this post then you are a lot like me and your class is always on your mind.  In this case, it would the class that is yet to come that you are thinking about.

School will be back in session before you know it and anxious students will be walking into your room with packaged paper, unsharpened pencils and clog free glue bottles.  I am a sixth grade teacher so my future students are anxious about starting in a new school, seeing new people, adjusting to seven teachers instead of two, learning a locker combination, making it to each class on time and, of course, who they will sit next to during lunch.

The purpose of this lesson is to utilize technology to show our future students that we are approachable, and, in the case of transitioning to middle school, that we understand their plight. There is a lot of talk about flipping the classroom.  Whether you are proponent or a naysayer of the idea, one thing cannot be argued, current technology tools make it easy for us to allow students access to classroom information at home.

The Lesson

First, find some photos of yourself.  I don't know where you keep your old photos, luckily I found mine in my closet.  Lucky may not be the right word as I remember the semi-depressing feeling last summer when I realized that it had been 30 years since I was a sixth grade student in middle school.

You want to show students that you understand what it was like to be a student and share some of your interests, to find common ground before they ever walked into your room.

The best place to start is by finding some photos of yourself around the same age as your current students.  I quickly scanned in these two photos and put them in a power point slide.

Next what are some of your interests or passions that you think would be appropriate to share with your students.  My rule of thumb here is that if you hesitate and wonder if it is appropriate to share then it probably isn't.

What books do you like to read, movies you like to watch, games you like to play, and the hobbies you enjoy?  All of these will serve as ways to make you a more three dimensional person in your students eyes and to give them the idea, at least in my case, that there is life after middle school.

Technology Layer

After you find the images and create the slides its time to take the project one step further.

If you have used a video editing program before (MovieMaker, iMovie, WeVideo) then you could plug your pictures into the editing timeline and record your voice.

I chose to use a screen recording program so that I did not have to worry about timing my slides to my narration.  Screencast-O-Matic is perfect for a quick project like this.  Pull up your PowerPoint, adjust the area you want to record and press record.  It was that easy, the program recorded my voice and the images on my screen.

When the recording is done you may save it to a personal YouTube channel, save it to the Screencast-O-Matic servers or download your new video onto your computer.  The easiest option, if you do not have a YouTube channel, is to save the video to the Screencast-O-Matic servers because you can then send a URL address to your students and they can watch the video at home.

If you do not have the ability to e-mail your students before the school year starts then you can handout the URL address on the first day of school and they can watch your video for "homework."

Here is the copy of the video that I made last year:

You can make this project as simple or as detailed as you want to.  Here is a link to a very quick and easy version of this project that can be accomplished with tape, paper, a word processing program and some photos:   The Perfect First Lesson For Back To School

That's all there is to it, hopefully you and your students will find some common ground to start the year on and maybe, just maybe, share a laugh or two at the same time.  If you want some more ideas on how to start your first day of school check out this post I wrote last year.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Publishing Digitally: Sharing With Audiences Who Care

In a couple of weeks my sixth graders will begin their own Writer's Journey as they construct an original story using The Hero's Journey as a template for their writing.
Before we embark on that journey, I wanted the students to take some time to look at their writer's voice and how their unique voice came into being.  The initial idea for this study came from the book Parallel Curriculum Units for Language Arts, Grades 6-12.

I introduced the idea of writer's voice with a discussion of identity.  We started our investigation of voice with the following question:
  • What is the relationship between identity and voice?
From that discussion we looked at how a writer's identity influences their voice.  Before we looked at the literature, I pre-assessed my students with the following questions:
What are the parts of your identity that are constructed?
What are the parts of your identity that are innate?
Give an example of how your identity might change with a change in contexts.

There was a lot of confusion in the beginning about what is innate and constructed about our identities.  To help them understand the difference between innate and constructed we redefined the idea as "What is the difference between inheriting something and constructing something?"

Their understanding of innate and constructed identities became much deeper and interesting as students thought about their lives and the parts of their identity they inherited from their families (genetics and status) and the unique experiences that built their identities over time (broken arms, trips, competitions, pets).  Some of my classes even began to discuss their religious upbringing with some believing that religion is innate and others saying that it is constructed.  

With an understanding of innate and constructed identities, we started analyzing literature, beginning with a beautiful poem by George Ella Lyon titled "Where I'm From" As we read the poem we talked the parts of Lyon's life that were constructed and the parts that were innate. 

I then asked students to identify the part's of their lives that were constructed and the parts that were innate.  They listed 25 - 30 events or parts of their lives that were either constructed or innate.  I shared a few of my own stories about my identity to help get the ball rolling and to help the students feel more comfortable sharing personal memories and experiences.

Then the classes evaluated their lists, selecting the 10 -12 moments, events or things they felt had the biggest impact on their identity.  From there, we used Lyon's poem as a template to share that unique identity and voice.  Students did not have to use Lyon's poem as a template and could explore their own poetic structure.  But for many it was a nice scaffold to help them organize their thinking.

I knew from the beginning that the students needed to be able to share their poems beyond stapled copies to the wall.  The power of these poems lies in the connection family members can make to these children's lives.  How wonderful would it be to hear your child share their work?  How often does a grandmother or uncle or parent get to hear a child reading their work?  Especially an original work in which the student explores their identity and the most important moments that have constructed who they are.

I created a class account on Audoboo is a free app that can be downloaded on most digital devices but also has an online recording feature.  This worked for my classroom because some of my students have their own devices that they can use to record but many students needed to use school provided technology. Audioboo allowed everyone to record their poems regardless of device.

After the poems were recorded, I was able to paste the embed code from their recording into my class web page built using Weebly 

After the poems were posted I sent out a group e-mail to my parents and received nothing but positive feedback about the poems and the recordings.  Here is a link to the page where the poems were posted:

I hope you are able to have your students record and share some of their own writing this year.  Audioboo was an easy and quick way to extend my students writing to real audiences who cared about their work.