Making Learning Real:Engaging Students in Content0

Making learning real should result in students that have a deep rooted understanding in the reasoning behind presented information. Students should have the ability to pose questions, construct their own interpretation and ideas, and clarify and elaborate upon the ideas of others.  Such skills empower students to acquire a level of understanding that provides them with the flexibility to respond to new situations and serves as the foundation for a lifetime of further learning.

In order to design pedagogy for active engagement in learning teachers must pose challenging problems, encourage significant discussion between students about the problem, allow sufficient time for students to wrestle with the problem and work through its multiple facets and finally, appropriately intervene at those times when students stray too far from the point or need further explanation or information.  The following are a few of the many teaching strategies to construct a learning environment that fosters active engagement.

Simulations-Simulation enables students to experience the consequences of their own and other’s behaviors. Simulations are meant to represent reality as closely as possible. An important quality of simulations is the self-feedback provided by the students experiencing the behaviors or consequences. Examples of simulations are Family and Consumer Science’s Reality Babies and Empathy Belly’s, and Heath Science’s CPR “dummies”.

Role Play-Role play enables participants to think, feels, and act as other people. It is an enactment or rehearsal of behavior with some reality and within a safe environment for trying out new ideas and making mistakes. Case Studies can easily be converted into role play.

Drama-Drama is a composition intended to portray life or a character to tell a story, often with conflict, emotions, action and dialogue. There are multiple forms of drama; teachers need to be creative to find forms that work well with individual curriculums.

Business Partnerships- Working with a business partner is an approach that links community with learning and gives student a firsthand experience in a non-school setting. “The community becomes the extended classroom; here students apply their knowledge and practice skills” (Fertmem, White, & White, 1992, p.2). Field trips, guest speakers, job shadows and internships are ways in which students use their leaning and experience to solve real problems and address real needs in the community as a regular part of their school curriculum.

Problem –based Learning-In problem-based learning, learners often work cooperatively in small groups to seek solutions to “real-world” problems (Ngeow & king, 2001). They are engaged in asking questions, creating solutions, and assessing their own ideas. In the process, they learn subject matter and content as well as the skills of problem solving.

Seeking out examples of teaching strategies that require students to construct meanings, create opportunities for discussion and gain greater understanding will engage learners far more than multitudes of workbook activities and stacks of work sheets.



Best Practices: Keeping Students Engaged and On Task0

Getting all your students focused, eager, and on task at the beginning of class is challenging. Once you have them locked in to the lesson keeping them from zoning out is another. Unless you manage to capture and keep students’ focus, whether at the beginning of or midway through class the student learning you desire is not likely to happen. The following are some tried and tested rules of engagement.


The teacher must stay engaged to keep students engaged.

There is not an effective learning strategy that includes the teacher sitting at the desk, on the computer or stepping out of the room. As soon as the teacher disengages it says to students, “you can do anything you want now”. Teachers should always be interacting with students, roaming the classroom, answering questions, checking for understanding and correcting misinterpretations.


Know your students.

Teachers should know the names of each student in the first week or two. Don’t be afraid to know more information about students. Knowing your students helps to intrinsically motivate them. Knowing your students’ name and background shows the student that the teacher cares about them. Students who have a better rapport with a teacher are more likely to do well.


Make information relevant to the students.

If a student is interested or sees merit in a subject they will be more likely to continue making connection between content information and their prior knowledge. Relate the class to the students’’ let them know how changes in a particular subject will affect them.


Teach from bell to bell.

Daily warm ups are tools that every teacher should have in their educational arsenal. Warm ups can be given to students at the beginning of the period to review a previous topic or to introduce new material. They give students something to accomplish of an educational nature while allowing the teacher time to take roll and perform other housekeeping duties. They communicate to the student that there is important work to be done. They can also reinforce the key points that you want students to remember. For ideas go to http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/teaching/esl/warmups.cfm  On the reverse side, students should feel that time is valuable and have activities that will engage them to the end of class. Teachers need to convey to students at the beginning of the semester that class will run to the bell.


Change activities frequently.

Today students are accustomed to getting information instantly. We cannot expect them to come into our classrooms and sit still for fifty or ninety minutes while we drone on. It helps to remind ourselves of the world in which our students live and adapt our teaching to it. This means lessons should be broken into shorter segments and topics should be changed frequently. Try moving from teacher-centered learning to student-centered active learning.

Use technology.

Teachers need to take full advantage of technology and the training to use it. We are very fortunate to have a plethora of equipment for instructional use. The availability of computers with internet access, clickers (turning point), document cameras, GPS, minios or start boards, LCD projectors and a vast array of software offer teachers tools to connect students to subject material. But none of this will help keep students on task if we don’t use it regularly.


As teachers we want to do everything possible to guarantee that more students are on task more of the time. The most straightforward way to engage students is to provide a stimulating environment that considers the needs of students. If done consistently the teacher will be facilitating learning and instill the importance of continually learning.


The How Verses the Why0

The “how” something works is often called procedural understanding: the child knows how to work long division, or the procedure of fraction addition or fraction division, for example. It is often possible to learn the “how” mechanically without understanding why it works. Procedures learned this way are often forgotten very easily.

The relationship between the “how” and the “why” or between procedures and concepts is complex. One doesn’t always come totally before the other, and it also varies from child to child. CTE teachers strive to teach for understanding of mathematical concepts and procedures, the “why” something works, and not only the “how”. In classrooms everyday we offer hands on application of these math concepts.

CTE teachers help students to be able to navigate their lives in this ever so complex modern world. This involves dealing with taxes, loans, credit cards, purchases, budgeting, shopping, cooking, and so much more.  CTE teachers enable students to understand information around them. In today’s world, this includes scientific information. Being able to read through it and make sense of it requires knowing the math concepts that are part of the CTE curriculum.

You are the teacher. You show the way, with your attitudes and your way of life. Do you use math often in your daily life? Do you like math? Love it? Are you happy to teach it? Enthusiastic? These tend to show up in how you teach. An excellent article on teaching math in CTE courses can be found at http://www.allbusiness.com/education-training/curricula-math-science-education/12267784-1.html

The author agrees that CTE teachers have a lot on their plate when it comes to delivering their core curriculum. Integrating academic math in the CTE curriculum can be intimidating, “CTE teachers may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by this new challenge”.  He offers tips and techniques to help teachers teach the math concepts imbedded in the CTE curriculum.


Insprie, Encourage, Energize0

 Caron Loveless asks the following questions: among all your former teachers, who is the one that to this day inspires you? Who first challenged you to “think outside the box”? Who took special interest in your work? Who motivated you to get to class early, stay up late, or dream bigger dreams? Which one of your teachers or professors awakened you to a subject that had a previous history of putting you to sleep? Which teacher stoked your courage to give a speech, try out for a play, or apply for a coveted scholarship? Of all of them, who was it you lived to please most?

Recall the wonder you felt in her presence. Think about the new direction you pursued as a result of his comment or her advice. Imagine what you would have missed had that teacher not been assigned to you.

 This week some student is looking up at you with the same sense of admiration you felt for your teacher.  Somewhere amidst the sea of often blank faces, a student is leaning in to catch your every word.  He is listening. She is getting it. Thanks to you.

 Lives are profoundly affected by teachers. Let the honor sink in. Let the thought of it invigorate your lessons. Celebrate the fact that long after you’re gone, your name and today’s investment will be alive and thriving in someone’s essence. One day, you may see these students again, hear of their achievement, and feel it was worth all the effort. Until then, bask in the knowledge that every time you teach, you invest in your own living legacy.

Good luck in the coming school year!


What Can Storytelling Do In Your Classroom?0

 *Stories are an excellent vehicle for learning, as true learning requires interest, which abstract principles and impersonal procedures rarely provide.

*Stories are memorable – their messages tend to ‘stick’ and they get passed on.

*Stories can provide a ‘living, breathing’ example of how to do something and why it works rather than telling people what to do, hence people are more open to their lessons.

*Stories address the emotional inner life. Stories give children characters to empathize with. Stories give words they need to express what they are feeling, and a context to help

*Living through experiences in the imaginary world prepares us for experiences in this world. Many professional athletes in preparing for competition will run through a course, routine, or race over and over again in the imagination, each time performing it flawlessly. Doing so enhances performance during the actual competition. The same is true with storytelling.

*Stories teach creative problem solving. Every story presents a problem or conflict that must be resolved. The story then takes the listener through each step of the problem solving process. In this way stories teach creativity, resourcefulness and persistence.

*Stories demonstrate action and consequence. Stories provide examples of failures as well as successes, of joy as well as sadness. They describe the results of each character’s decisions, whether positive or negative.

*Stories facilitate understanding of people from diverse places and backgrounds. Stories can transport the listener to any time or place, and they give the listener a person to identify with. This gives students greater appreciation of the differences of others.

* Storytelling supports and underpins literacy development across the curriculum. A storyteller can improve concentration, listening skills and help develop and enrich spoken and written language.

* Stories can stimulate the imagination, contributing to Speaking and Listening.

* Hearing and retelling tales can provide scaffolding for children’s own imaginative stories, giving the child a variety of frameworks to work from.

*Storytelling encourages a questioning attitude.  

* Stories can connect with all content area’s including the Math and Science curriculum.

* A storyteller can widen the range of children’s emotional, cultural and moral responses.

* Sensitive issues can be considered through the distancing frame of a story. 

How to Tell a Great Story

Story-telling is an ancient art. Even in our technology saturated society, story-telling is a valuable art worth learning. While anyone is capable of telling a story, becoming a good story-teller takes practice. Good story tellers use the same tools as all effective communicators. Learn these ten simple steps and you’ll be on your way to becoming a great story-teller.

1.  Start with a catchy beginning to draw listeners in. For instance, a suspenseful start such as, “One stormy night, as I lay awake listening to the wind rattling the shutters…” is a better attention-getter than this bland beginning: “Does anyone maybe wanna hear about my long, boring ride to Grandma’s house?”

2.  Avoid repetitive fillers like “and”, “uh”, “then”, “now”, “mmm”, “well”, etc. How long would you listen to someone who talks like this, “Well, let’s see. One day, um, as I was, uh, going to the store, I, mmm, saw, uh, now let me think, I, uh, I saw a, now just a minute, where was I, uh…”?

3.  Know your audience. Your story should be of interest to your students. They should be relevant to their lives and on their maturity level.

4.  Plan your beginning, middle, and end. Good stories always have a beginning (introduction to characters and situations), middle (usually a problem that needs a solution), and an end (how the problem was solved). Think about the beginning, middle, and end of your story and plan how you will move from one part to the next smoothly.

5.  Keep their interest. Using details that involve the five senses will keep them listening. For instance saying, “The soft black earth smelled damp and musty when my head hit the ground with a thud,” is more interesting than saying, “My head hit the ground.”

6.  Keep it short. Don’t tell what’s unnecessary or unrelated to the message you want to share. Get to the point.

7.  Use humor. If you can find a way to put into words the things that make you laugh, you’ll likely have your audience laughing, too.

8.  Express yourself. Effective communication includes the use all your communication tools: facial expression, tone of voice, voice modulation, gestures, body language, etc. Remember that verbal language (the words) is really only a small part of the whole message that you communicate to others.

9.  Use silence. Pauses emphasize a point and can be used to create suspense.

10. Satisfy them. Make your ending satisfying to your audience. A one-sentence summay can signal the finish of your story. For example, saying, “And this is how I came in first”, will let everyone know that your story is done.



Questioning as an Instructional Strategy0

In 1912, Stevens stated that approximately eighty percent of a teacher’s school day was spent asking questions to students. More recent research on teacher questioning behaviors indicate that this has not changed. Teachers today ask between 300-400 questions each day (Leven and Long, 1981). It is imperative that teachers understand why they pose questions and what to avoid, keeping students engaged in the classroom discussion.

Teachers ask questions for several reasons:

1.      Generate understanding.

2.      Check for lesson effectiveness.

3.      Encourage higher-level thinking

4.      Increase student participation.

5.      Enhance communication skills.

6.      Provide opportunity for self-checks.

7.      Give clues.

As one may deduce, questioning is one of the most popular modes of teaching. For thousands of years, teachers have known that it is possible to transfer factual knowledge and conceptual understanding through the process of asking questions. Unfortunately, although the act of asking questions has the potential to greatly facilitate the learning process, it also has the capacity to turn a child off to learning if done incorrectly. Six things to watch out for:

1.      The same students are asked most the questions.

2.      Higher-level questions are often ignored.

3.      Boredom without variety.

4.      Time consuming without preparation.

5.      Adequate wait time ignored.

6.      Used as only form of feedback.


Below are some specific strategies for involving non-volunteering students.

1.      Response Cards: Pass out index cards and ask for anonymous answers to your discussion questions.  Then group the responses to structure a class discussion or identify an issue for the class to explore through discussion.

2.      Polling: Use a verbal survey by asking for a show of hands on positions related to an issue. Students can also be asked to vote with their feet, walking to different locations in the room to show their position. Then follow up the diagnosis of group sentiment with a discussion based on support for positions.

3.      Whips: Go around the group and obtain each student’s point of view or a random sample of views. Use whips when you want to obtain something quickly from each student.  The information might be used to form small groups representing different perspectives on an issue or solution to a problem.

4.      Informal Panel: Invite a small number of students to present their views or knowledge in front of the entire class.

5.      Discussion Chip: Distribute the same number of chips or pennies (3-5) to each member in a small group of students.  Tell them that they are to use one chip for every answer, comment, or question as part of a discussion. Students need to use up all their chips before the discussion is completed or redistribute another equal number of chips for the discussion to continue.

6.      Talking Ball: Toss a small foam ball to a student with the understanding he or she must provide an answer to the discussion question, make a comment or ask a question. That student then tosses the ball to another student, and so on.

Nelson (2007) said “The ability to ask probing questions is important in learning complex subjects, especially subjects where there isn’t one right answer. Students must be active, critical thinkers, not passive receivers of teacher imparted truth”.


Creating an Effective Physical Classroom Enviroment0

Stop for a moment and think of your teaching environment….


What is it? Your environment is all that surrounds you at the moment: the sights – the sounds – the smells – the feelings – the temperature – everything!


As a teacher, you want to create the environment in your classroom that is most conducive to maximizing learning.

Every teacher knows that a safe, clean, comfortable and attractive classroom can stimulate learning. But for many teachers, setting up the physical environment of their classrooms can be quite daunting, especially when faced with older buildings, crowded classrooms and insufficient storage space. You can make the most of your classroom environment by carefully considering your needs and the needs of your students.


What do students see when they enter your room? You may want to create a well organized environment that includes:

·         An attractive room that is neat, colorful, and pleasing to the eye.

·         Desk placement that is designed to facilitate learning

·         A caring, child-centered environment


Easily accessible materials and supplies can eliminate delays, disruptions, and confusion as students prepare for activities. In poorly arranged classrooms, students spend a lot of time waiting — waiting in line, waiting for help, waiting to begin. To eliminate some waiting, store frequently used items such as textbooks and supplies in several different areas.


In most classrooms, the largest amount of space is devoted to the arrangement of individual student desks or tables. Teachers vary greatly on their preferred arrangements; some teachers like to arrange desks in cooperative groups of four, while many others prefer a U-shaped configuration, where everyone has a front row seat.


Arrange the room so that you can make eye contact with every student and reach each student with ease. Room dividers should be low so that all areas are visible to you. Areas that invite group work should not be next to quiet areas where students read or study independently. Messy areas are best located near a sink.


No matter how you arrange desks, don’t be afraid to make changes. Set your room up, and at the end of each unit or each month, evaluate and make changes. Move the students’ desks on a regular basis so all children learn to cooperate with all children. Don’t be afraid to make seat and desk changes if the arrangement doesn’t work. You are in charge. For more ideas on setting a the physical arrangement of you room visit www.ed.uri.edu/tic2002/readlit1/Classroom.html


Other environmental factors that effect classroom are the sounds, temperature and feel of the room. There is a substantial amount of research in support of relaxation being an important ingredient in improving and/or accelerating learning. Such research further supports the idea that instrumental music by such composers as Mozart and Bach are calming and actually help to raise student test scores. Soft music can be played as students enter class, during the introductory activity while roll is being taken, during class work times, as well as during testing, to help set a calm, relaxed pace and tone for the class.


Temperature is another important element in the environment. If you are in a classroom without air conditioning it is important that you do all you can, especially in warm weather, to get the best air flow to help keep students comfortable and alert. Research suggests that we are most alert in rooms that are on the cool side – in the low 70s. A well ventilated room is better than a close, stuffy one. Try to open as many windows and doors as necessary to create a good cross-ventilation. The use of a fan may help create a comforting air movement on warmer days. If your room is too cool you may want to speak to your administrator about the possibility of having energy management assess your room temperatures.


Creating an environment conducive to concentration, study, and learning is more than having attractive, stimulating sights, relaxing sounds, and good ventilation. It is creating a place where all feel comfortable and at ease, a place where the surroundings are neat and orderly. It is a place where there is mutual respect in a friendly, non-threatening atmosphere, a place where everyone can succeed and do their best.




Time Management for Teachers0

 As teachers we try to fill our classroom instruction time with the most up to date strategies to involve our students and teach curriculum content.  And as teachers,many feel like we run out of time to reach this goal.  Time management includes more than just the control of the clock. Time management is to understand and manage our selves and our relationships with others (English, 1990).

Time on task is a concept that deals with the actual time a student is engaged in the learning process.  There are multiple examples of problems within a classroom that can have a negative effect on time on task.  These include interruptions (people entering and leaving the classroom, intercoms, and emergency drills), transitions from one topic or activity to another, and discipline problems. Teachers should try to find ways to lessen the frequency of these or decrease their amplitude.  One example is to hang a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door during the actual lecture time. Students can and should be responsible for tasks in the classroom. Students should clear the room of trash and paper, straighten desks, clean closets and storage spaces, greet visitors, set up equipment, and be responsible for collecting and distributing papers.  Helping with class responsibilities keeps students engaged and takes the burden off the teacher.  This may require some preplanning but can save countless teacher hours.

One way to better use instruction time is peer tutoring. Peer tutoring is a win-win situation.  Peer tutoring gives both students the opportunity to hear new concepts expressed in another way and in terms that are familiar to them.  Most importantly, the teacher’s role shifts from being a deliverer of material to a designer and facilitator of learning experiences.

Curricular alignment can make a huge difference in classroom time productivity.  If each activity is truly aligned with a standard the students will stay more focused on the objectives the teacher is trying to teach. Johnson, Kahle, and Fargo (2006) found that when teachers had specific objectives tied to the activities done performance was increased.  Sometimes teachers can become so focused with making the classroom exciting that the standards and objectives become fuzzy.  It is important to provide ativities to catch the student’s interest but they need to be able to be directly related to a standard or objective.

The use of business partners is one way to create new learning opportunities and enrich curriculum. Guest speakers bring expertise to subject matter.  In addition to these adults, student aides can run errands, correct work, create games and resources and help with classroom management.  This assistance frees the teacher to plan and instruct.  Relinquishing control to others is difficult but the rewards can be numerous.  Teachers that can trust aids and students will have more time for curriculum design and instruction.  The teacher’s role will be more creative and less custodial.

Teacher organization is the cornerstone of time management and according to many teachers; a big time waster is” hunting and gathering”.  Some time wasters that have been found are; looking for the missing lesson plan, collecting tools and equipment from students after completion of a project, and procuring books for a unit. Teachers must formulate a management system that is workable and effective for them.

Teacher Effectiveness is the component that ties all the rest together.  The most important characteristic of effective teachers is enthusiasm, followed be preparation time.  This is where it all comes together. A teacher who spends the time to plan lessons that are properly aligned to the curriculum while still having a wide scope for students to see where it relates to them, and presents it in an enthusiastic manner, will bring meaning and understanding to their students in a way the students will never forget, and that is a productive classroom!


Differentiated Instruction0

        The movement towards inclusion has impacted classrooms by requiring teachers to respond to a broader range of academic needs. How can we reach all the students in our classroom when they are academically diverse, have special needs, are ESL learners, or have some combination of any or all of these factors? An answer to this question lies in differentiation instruction. Differentiated curriculum is one that is individualized to meet the diverse needs of all of the students in one class. Differentiating instruction is something that all teachers do, pretty much all the time. Good teachers do not “teach to the middle” or believe that “one size fits all”. All teachers recognize that there are different learning styles and levels among the students in any and every given class, so they customize the content of their lessons and their pedagogical techniques in order to reach all students. We do this willingly, fully accepting our role in an educational system and philosophy which is based on the premise that, among other things, teachers will and can “successfully work with students of widely differing abilities, preparation, and home lives in the same classroom”. Differentiating instruction is done intentionally, deliberately, and with a plan.

    “Tiered lesson planning is a differentiation strategy that addresses a particular standard, key concept, and generalization, but allows several pathways for students to arrive at an understanding of these components, based on the students’ interests, readiness, or learning profiles”( Pierce & Adams, 2004). Tiered Instruction is fundamental because it offers each student appropriate challenges as opposed to focusing on learning differences the focus is on the concept. Tasks or resources may vary according to students leaning profile, readiness or interest. In a tiered classroom, the teacher uses varied levels of tasks to ensure that students explore ideas and uses skills at a level that builds on what they already know and encourages growth. While students work at varied degrees of difficulty on their tasks, they all explore the same essential ideas and work at different levels of thought. Teachers address the student’s readiness to interact with a particular topic/skill/idea. Assignments should consist of different work, not simply more or less work. All assignments should be equally active, interesting and engaging. Tasks should be fair in terms of work expectations and time needed as well as require the use of key concepts, skills, or ideas. For more information and lesson plans on Differentiated Instruction and Tiered Instruction visit one of these sites: http://www.schoolsmovingup.net/cs/az/view/az_in/18 http://ideanet.doe.state.in.us/exceptional/gt/tiered_curriculum/welcome.html








PowerPoint Presentations1

Instructors ask themselves how students learn and then match instructional methods accordingly. It’s not the technology that creates learning; it is what the teacher does with it. Power Point has been an instructional tool for almost 15 years. Most teachers have transitioned from the old hand written or typed transparencies to this mode of presentation. But do we use this software to its greatest potential? Check yourself on your effectiveness with PowerPoint by answering the following questions:

·         Do you read the slides aloud verbatim?

·         Do you flip quickly through text-packed screens?

·         Do you use video clips and pictures?

·         Do you present a PowerPoint every day?

·         Do you use PowerPoint as a high tech blackboard?

The best use of this software is to bring ideas to life! To do this, instructors must maximize interactive features. Visually engage students in active learning!

·         Limit the amount of information per slide. Restrict the number of points to six or seven so as not to overwhelm students with information.

·         Avoid racing through presentations. Slow down so that students can absorb material. Microsoft says that more than three slides a minute is too many.

·         Use visual images that directly relate to key concepts. Only choose graphs, matrixes and videos that illustrate your points. Attractive but unrelated backgrounds may only distract.

·         Capitalize on the software’s unique features. Use color and tap animation and sound features to breathe life into concepts.  Show an image and ask students what questions it provokes.

·         Think beyond the prepared presentation. Open a blank slide, invite brainstorming and jot down students’ ideas as they think of them. Ask students to predict the results of studies, stories or make predictions on a graph.

·         Don’t let the presentation be the final word on the direction of a lecture of discussion. If valuable student learning leads in another direction be willing to abandon the prepared slides.

For more help and tutorials on PowerPoint go to http://www.microsoft.com/education/PowerPoint.mspx  or http://www.bcschools.net/staff/PowerPointHelp.htm