Responding to Tragedy

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about “teachable moments” that I will publish next weekend.

Today, I want to give my deepest condolences to the families who are suffering due to Friday’s tragedy. I grew up in Southbury, CT, one of the towns that borders Newtown. My parents rented a house in Sandy Hook for a short time while they searched for our home. As a kid, I went to Newtown to see my friends’ dance recitals, to visit my dad at his office, and to watch shows at the $1 movie theater. It was and is, in so many ways, the perfect place to be a child and to raise children. I feel immense gratitude for the people there, for the teachers, friends, and neighbors who loved and cared for me, and my heart breaks for their loss. Continue reading

A Primer on Smooth, Efficient Transitions

Triathletes know that races can be won or lost not just during the swim, bike, or run, but during the transitions in between. During my first triathlon, I had just completed the 12-mile bike when I entered the gate to the bike racks and ran my bike towards my row. Only one event to go! As I approached my spot, I saw my mom and my husband cheering for me by the sidelines. I smiled hugely, waved exuberantly, and… ran right past my spot. I finally caught on as my dismayed family started yelling at me to stop and turn around.

Not my best transition.

Transitions in teaching are just as important as they are in triathlons. More important, because student learning (and not just my bruised ego) depends upon them. Continue reading

Results Count: Homework That Really Works

This morning, I read that French President Francois Hollande has proposed that his country eliminate homework in elementary and junior high school. From the article on NPR’s website, it appears that members of the French government believe homework places too great a burden on children, especially children with difficult home lives. And because of the centralized nature of the French school system, there is little room for teachers to innovate and try new strategies.

I wouldn’t presume to offer an opinion on the French approach to education. However, here in the United States, we have the same debate: what is the real value of homework for young children? Is is possible to design homework that increases student learning and motivates kids after a long school day?

My answer is yes, and I have results to back it up.
Continue reading

Using Nets to Develop Children’s Understanding of 3D Shapes

Rectangular Prism Geoblock

Rectangular Prism Geoblock

It’s the first day of our study of 3D shapes. I hold up a rectangular prism Geoblock, and I ask my second graders what they notice.

“It’s a rectangle!”

“It’s a 3D rectangle!”

“It’s a rectangle block. It’s like a rectangle, but taller.”

And one student with a great memory for vocabulary adds, “No, it’s not a rectangle. It’s a rectangular prism.

I ask the class, “Where on this block do you see a rectangle?” One student notes that there is a rectangle on the front face of the block. “How do you know that’s a rectangle?” The student responds, “because it’s just like the rectangle on the paper. It has two long sides and two short sides.” (We’ll get to squares, rectangles, and right angles later.) Another student points out that there are rectangles on the ends of the block. Students continue to volunteer until they’ve identified all six of the Geoblock’s faces as rectangles.

Understanding the difference between a rectangle and a rectangular prism is a difficult job for many second graders, who often label 3D shapes with 2D shape names — or see 3D shapes as merely 3D versions of 2D shapes. Continue reading

Imagine You Don’t Get Your Way: Helping Kids Develop Emotional Resilience

This week, my second graders elected their Table Leaders for the first time. Each of the five groups in my class voted for a leader who will pass out papers, lead the group’s meetings, and have weekly Leadership Lunches with me.

In the lives of second graders, being chosen as a Table Leader is a pretty big deal. And the moment I announce Table Leaders — the moment when we do a drum roll and applaud — is exciting and emotionally charged. Many of the kids are hoping desperately to be chosen… and a few are hoping the opposite.

You can imagine how a moment like this one could go terribly wrong. Imagine the disappointment, the crying… the shouts of “why does she get to be table leader? I didn’t vote for her!” Now imagine how much harm that could do to the classroom community we’ve worked so hard to build.

Moments like this can bring out the best and the worst in children (just like in adults). If, as teachers, we want to bring out the best in our students, we have to prepare them for disappointment. We have to teach children to be emotionally resilient in the face of a difficult outcome. One way to do that is by having them imagine the outcome — and make a plan for responding — before it happens. Continue reading

Effective Effort and Eastern Approaches to Education

If you missed it this morning, you must listen to Alix Spiegel’s report on NPR about how Eastern and Western cultures approach learning. Listening to the radio this morning, I was cheering in my kitchen. It’s all about how Asian families and educators teach children that success comes from — wait for it — their own effort and time. Yes! Attribution theory! And Asian educators design tasks that are intentionally a little too hard for students. Yes! Zone of proximal development! And rather than giving up on kids, they make kids struggle with a task until they get it. Yes! I don’t know what that theory of learning that is, but we sure do it in my classroom.

What a pleasure to listen to a news report about something that really would improve American education… and not another report on testing, teacher unions, or textbooks. And make sure to listen through to the end, where Stiegel praises American strengths: teaching students to become creative and independent thinkers.

Teaching Leadership Skills to Kids

Some students are natural leaders. Even at seven years old, they just seem to know how to negotiate with others, how to give directions without being bossy, and how to offer help without being condescending. Whether it’s because they have a high emotional IQ or they’re just more mature, these leaders bring peace and harmony to their teams and inspire their teammates to do their best.

But for most children, these skills don’t come naturally. They have to be learned, and they have to be taught. Continue reading