Monday, August 24, 2009

Motivation in the Classroom

Watch this great TedTalk by Dan Pink.

Being the educator I am I want to look at this idea from a classroom standpoint. How will this improve education?

If we really want to over simplify educational philosophies we can say there are two basic ideas in play right now. First, there is the NCLB philosophy that views education as a simple ladder and students work their way up the ladder until they ultimately graduate from high school and are accepted into college. Second, there is the whole-child philosophy that views education as one great interconnected blob where students absorb material from all sides as they work on projects that aren't focused on one specific skill.

I don't want to argue the relative merits of each idea, or even my over-simplification, I want to discuss how to motivate students in each philosophy. My oversimplification should make the choice obvious, but for those who didn't stop and watch the video first let's take a look.

If you have problem that has a narrow focus and straight forward rules and regulations than incentive through rewards is best way to motivate your students. If you have a problem with a wide focus and no clear path to follow in finding the solution then intrinsic motivators is the way to go.

How does that work in the classroom?

If you want your students to memorize the times tables then a teacher might hand out worksheets each day and give everyone who finishes on time with a certain percentage correct a reward. Is this bad teaching? No, not if your goal is to teach the times tables. If you want to teach HOW TO MULTIPLY the lesson would be very different. That lesson might be more along the lines of "take ten minutes with a partner and figure out 3 different ways of determine the total x groups of y objects. Then explain one way to the entire class."

Is one lesson better than the other? While I would like to take a firm side one way or another the real answer is no, or NO!!!

For example as a 4th grade teacher I never taught my students the basics of multiplying. I expected my students to know and use basic one digit by one digit multiplication. That isn't to say I wouldn't work with an individual student, but I would not spend a class period on that skill. Most 4th graders do remember how to multiply from 3rd grade, but they don't actually have the times tables memorized. (One reason I hate summer vacation) So as the 4th grade teacher I would have every student tape the times table onto their desk and encourage my students to use this aid. I would also use a fast facts worksheet at the start of math class to build speed and memorization skills using rewards for students who finished on time. Then the class time would be spent teaching or, exploring as I like to say, the concept of multiplying larger numbers.

Basically, the external motivations work great when students have already learned a skill and they need to practice. Practice builds skill, speed and recognition. So the question is how do these intrinsic motivators (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) look in classroom?

We have already seen it in the simple multiplication lesson. When students are asked to work with a partner they take charge and not the teacher. The purpose comes with the goal of explaining it to the class. The mastery comes because to explain a method usually requires a mastery of the basic skill.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How Do You Learn in This Kind of Environment

originally posted May 1, 2008 – 6:41 am by Brendan (On a blog that is now closed)

In Chicago, it is getting more dangerous to be a student. This year, 24 students have been murdered since the beginning of the school year. A pace that might exceed last year’s record of 32 murders. (None on school grounds)

The interesting twist is that according to a recent survey from the University of Chicago, many students feel safer in their classrooms than outside of them. They just need to get to school safely and during that time they can concentrate on learning I suppose.

Here we have schools, in the much maligned U.S. education system, combating gang wars in the neighborhoods that require parents and police to escort students to and from school, so that they make sure they get there safely, along with on average 85 percent poverty rates. Yet still, students manage to improve academically, according to the NY Times.

I am proud of the improvements that have been made in the educational system of the United States over the years. I know that we will continue to make improvements. And I hope that in the future when people forward spam emails that claim schools are dumbing down the educational system in this country, they might look around and wonder if perhaps teachers might actually be doing a good job.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

What personal characteristics define ...

What personal characteristics define an excellent administrator?

What Makes A Good Principal

I am hoping to start a leadership training program this summer, if I am
accepted. Moving on to administration has always been a desire. I had
the opportunity after my second year of teaching, but I thought I
needed more experience as a teacher. After seven years of teaching in
two schools and three grades I think I'm ready to begin learning.

preparation of a possible interview request I thought I would reflect a
bit about the principals I've known. In my seven years of teaching I've
had 4 different principals. (I've also had 6 superintendents, but that
is a different story.) I'm not willing to say any of them were out and
out bad, but I will say they all had their own way of doing things.
Let's just say I think one difference between principals is that good
principals hire good people then get out of the way, while fair
principals just get out of the way. I would then assume that bad
principals get in the way, but I haven't had to deal with that.

I was hoping to get some more views on quality leadership in education so I asked the following question of my Twitter network. "What is the job description of a school principal? What is the most important thing they do?"

I received two responses both retweets.

Well it was worth a try.

On the other hand my tweets also update my Facebook status. There I at least had one response.

worked for a lot of them. Let's see..... Leadership AND decision making
and *****IMPLEMENTATION. Styles differ but without these three working
in conjunction, nothing happens. The staff splits and the school
slumps. So however an admin. works, these must be cornerstones to keep
best practices
ALSO and just as importantly, supporting
teachers by knowing them and their professional strengths. By taking
care of business professionally even when a crazy parent is demanding
an instant beheading. By being IN THE SCHOOL and learning who the kids
are as well as he/she can.

It was a start. I moved on a Googled “What does a principal do” and I found The Dragon Page.

The Dragon Page Just What Does A Principal Do? Has some interesting observations in a podcast with a principal.

  • A principal is the instructional leader
  • Should have 8 to 10 years experience
  • Safety of students and staff is much higher importance than it used to be
  • Identify focus of school
  • Where needs/gaps are for kids to succeed.
  • Where needs/gaps are for teachers to develop.
  • A principal should have a sense of servant leadership - "What can I do to make you look good."
  • Funding should address needs of school.

few days later @principalspage tweeted his post on mistakes principals
should avoid when hiring. So I asked him if he would write a post for
those of use wanting to enter the profession. I figured he had one, but
I was wrong. He had two.

The Principal Page has 25 thoughts on what a new principal should know across two posts.

Some of my favorites are:

  • If you haven’t, [failed] you aren’t trying hard enough.
  • Find mentors.
  • Be in unexpected places.
  • Know a little about everything.
  • Make sure that if you say you are going to do something, do it.
  • Spend time with the entire staff, not just those with which you are most comfortable.

I think a good principal starts by surrounding himself with quality people and then supports them 100%.

I think a good principal listens, to teachers and students, and even parents.

I think a good principal knows he doesn't know everything, but is willing tolearn.

I wonder what you think.