August 30, 2016

Remember to Remember: Reflecting to Change

Imagine you are preparing to teach students a new skill. You do your due diligence by researching and planning a stellar lesson. You have a clear focus and engaging activities. You rehearse the lesson format and feel confident. You begin the lesson, but as time goes on students begin to lose interest and goof off. The lesson ends and students do not grasp the concepts. You are left feeling frustrated and confused. Sound familiar? 

This scenario is common across classrooms everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you are a novice teacher or a veteran, it is  incredibly difficult when instructional plans go awry. As hard as it may feel, this is precisely the time when you have to remember to remember. Put differently, reflect on the instructional plan and delivery. Intentional reflection can be transformative if done on a regular basis. Consider the following during reflection exercises, especially when lessons are not well received.

Focus on the positive. It does not matter how much experience you have. There will be many times when things go wrong. Teaching is a courageous undertaking that requires bravery. Try not to be negative with yourself or your students. Avoid negative thoughts by embracing successful moments during a lesson. Find at least one aspect of the lesson that was successful. Did you plan a great introduction? Were students engaged during a particular part of the lesson?

Don’t take it personally. It is easy to take misbehavior personally, but this is usually a symptom of something deeper. Rather than focus on student behavior, reflect on aspects of the lesson that caused disengagement.  Also, think about ways to address similar situations in the future lessons. Was the activity explained properly? Was the amount of content too overwhelming? Really pinpoint where the breakdown happened, so that you can identify effective solutions.

Ask for help. Now that you have a positive outlook and you've pinpointed areas needing improvement, ask for help. Look for resources. Brainstorm with a colleague. Bounce ideas off of mentors. Seeking help from others yields a variety of strategies to improve engagement during lessons.

How will you practice intentional reflection?


A very special thanks goes to
guest blogger, Kandice Cole. 
Kandice is a writer, teacher, and education consultant. 
She resides in Chicago with her husband and infant daughter.

August 9, 2016

Literacy Camp Lessons

Members of the JE Community email list have received updates about the Summer Literacy Camp. Six elementary students from different local districts gathered to build literacy skill. During sessions, participants engaged in hands-on activities, discussions, and games. Topics included written self-expression, cause-and-effect relationships, and sequencing events. Everything was planned: lessons were meticulously detailed, activities were aligned with standards. Then, parents and students arrived.

As the Summer Literacy Camp unfolded, we found a groove. Students developed an understanding of behavior expectations. The volunteers and I learned to work together in a new capacity toward development of more independent learners. Everyone learned to support one another in ways that facilitated learning while promoting curiosity and creativity. Three lessons were reinforced during this experience.

Lesson 1 - Don't go it alone.
Involve parents and family members in the learning process. In addition to sharing preparatory activities via email before each camp date, a peer tutor was invited to improve student-teacher ratios. Camps are designed to be inclusive; that is, each participant is involved in each learning activity. Having support, whether in the form of peer tutors or other educators, enhances engagement and amps up motivation.

Lesson 2 - Embrace curricular adjustments.
View the lesson plan as an instructional guide, not a law. Remaining flexible is imperative to leverage spontaneous teachable moments. This is particularly challenging when time is limited, which is almost always the case. Though ideal, transitioning from one topic to the next as outlined in a day's lesson plan may not be possible. During Literacy Camp, scaffolds were provided while students completed advanced activities. The objective was to engage all students, to improve individual performance through preparation.

Lesson 3 - Take time to reflect and learn.
Educators and parents adopt varying reflection exercises. Some blog about their experiences. Others prefer to curate portfolios and visuals. Whatever your approach, moments of reflection are invaluable. These moments provide opportunity to identify areas in need of improvement as well as successes worth celebrating.

In true fashion, reflection on the Summer Literacy Camp resulted in a number of new strategies for supporting parents and students. Feedback from parents prompted development of Multiplication Circles, the first event under the Jackson Education Support Circles umbrella. Parents of students enrolled in 3rd through 5th grade are encouraged to register here.

Jackson Education Support Circles are designed to improve parents' ability to help learners complete homework and assignments. Share skills you'd like to revive via email.