Bells & Whistles &/or Nuts & Bolts

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Bells and whistles.

Wow!  Look at that!  Whoa–get a load of the stereo in that car!  Blaupunkt–wow–turn it up!  That stereo rocks! I can’t wait to drive around campus listening to that. I can imagine those thoughts racing through my brother’s mind before he bought the stereo along with the car. Oftentimes, as consumers we are wooed by the bells and whistles, the extras that make something stand out. I learned the hard way that Hunter remote control ceiling fans will not last as long as the simpler ceiling fans with an old school string to pull, but I indulged in a ceiling fan with that “bell and whistle” that seemed so cool at the time. What I have found is that bells and whistles often overshadow the essentials of so much.

The bells and whistles  of a lesson may have the potential to transform a lesson from good to great; however, if the original lesson is not solidly formed with all its essentials, then there is not a solid foundation on which to build.  Of course, I am attracted by bells and whistles–the shiny stuff that glitters: the engagement factor, the perfect video clip, an engaging and timely text, the perfect real world connection, and the infusion of technology. Yes, these things have the potential to increase engagement and impact learning; however, bells and whistles are a cacophonous noise of distraction if the essential components of a lesson aren’t present.

At some point, you or someone you know well has been lured by the “bells and whistles” of something:

  • In the 80s, my brother bought a lemon, a Volkswagen Passat. While there were some warning signs, the bells and whistles wooed my brother; the car had a rocking Blaupunkt stereo. As a family, we joked that at least he had the stereo to listen to the many time he was broken down for hours on the interstate.
  • In the late 80s, I bought a bedroom suite of cheap black lacquer furniture that shined and shimmered, with trim of a grey marblesque design, a  geometric sort of design of mirrors, and shiny gold pull handles. My sister’s boyfriend criticized me for buying junky furniture, but I didn’t get it. All I saw were the bells and whistles of having furniture that looked good. I failed to notice the cheap construction of furniture that would begin falling apart after one move.
  • Last year, I decided I really wanted to improve my lesson closings, so I blogged about endings that would WOW my audience and wow me to the extent that I would never want to end a day without closing my lesson: Endings that Don’t Suck, Engage, It’s All the Rage, Thought Provoking Questions to End a LessonEndings that Don’t Suck, Part II, QR Closings, and From a Fizzle to a Finale. Even as I tried to frame my closings around the nuts and bolts, I found myself searching for the wow factor/the bells as my first priority.  In the end, I didn’t create lasting change in my practice. I created a some cool tools that I could plug in occasionally to end a lesson, and I fell short of impacting lasting change.

Fast forward to February of 2016, the students survey data indicates that there has been no improvement in the areas of closings on student surveys under the item, “My teacher takes time each day to summarize what we have learned.”

I could give you a litany of excuses to why that score is again lower than I would like:

  • One class surveyed was the lunch class–there isn’t time for closing.
  • I run out of time.
  • With all the differentiation going on, I’m not sure how to close a lesson.
  • We do different sorts of closings, so I’m not sure if the kids see it as a summary.
  • Summarizing a lesson seems like regurgitation, and that’s boring and falls short of the challenges I set forth in each lesson.
  • Did I mention that the lunch class was surveyed?

All that said, I believe my excuses need to be laid to rest along with my search for bells and whistles in everything I do. If I have too many bells and whistles, the kids miss the point as they are distracted by the noise that I’ve created. Furthermore, they won’t find what’s essential.

Admittedly, I have been distracted by the bells and whistles as I look for what shimmers and what shines. The bells and whistles are the add ons, and I can’t add on to something that’s junk.  In other words, I need to ground myself in the practice and habit of good closings before I try to add to them. If I fail to do that, then, I, too, will fail to find what’s essential. If I try to refine a practice I haven’t mastered with consistency, my bells and whistles are like the cacophony of a Blaupunkt stereo attached to a lemon of an automobile.

Before I get distracted by the bells and whistles of engagement as I try to fulfill my vision, I need to focus on the substance of the work that needs to be done. I need to be deliberate about creating a routine of consistent closing practice that focuses on making sure my students get what they need to master the content/standards. Once I’ve established that with fidelity, only then should I add the bells and whistles. I could suffice it to say that I am continually realizing that the nuts and bolts of lesson construction must come before (or at least work alongside) the bells and whistles, and perhaps I’ve found the root cause of the lesson of dots that I cannot connect and the underlying cause of a lesson that my principal refers to as “too busy.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Thought Provoking Questions to End a Lesson

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Slice Daily for the Entire Month of March

March Slice of Life Challenge

I may be sick and tired, but my hamster doesn’t stop running on its wheel, oh no. On a paper grading break, blogging in bed and wondering of what would be great thought provoking questions that would work well in ELA.

These thoughts were sparked because yesterday when I had a lesson follow up with the Instructional Design Team, I told my TechEds county person that I’d like to make my own randomizer of questions. Guess what she did? She made me a video with directions where even I can cut and paste and put things in HTML and make my own random questions to use with a QR lesson closing. I am excited to use this as a way to bring some excitement and higher-level thinking to closings. Of course, now that she figured it out and made a user-friendly video, I feel compelled to take that step.

I thought of even making my own QR die, Tony Vincent style:

vincent die

Here is what I used yesterday for my closing yesterday and last week:

QR reflection

 

While I like the above reflection questions,  I want to make at least some faces of the die more reading, writing, communication based; I want to make it my own and select my own questions. Still, though, I’m looking for great minds to help me. When I finish my die, I will share what I create in the comments section of this blog, so give me some good ideas and share your thoughts.

I might make one that is totally generic for any content, but that works well with summarizing and digging deeper into a lesson…like I said, the hamster is still running…just a little more slowly.

Thanks in advance.

 

 

 

 

 

Engage: It’s all the Rage

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Slice Daily for the Entire Month of March

March Slice of Life Challenge

Yesterday I wrote about the desire to create Endings that Don’t Suck. That writing helped me reflect and so did the responses I received from fellow teacher bloggers who affirmed me and gave me a few ideas, as well as the usual suspect, that blog reading princiPAL of mine who told me to go back and read all the good things on my evaluation.

I did. I like to see the nice stuff, but lately I like to see the other stuff, too. I like to see the challenge. I like to get the feedback. In fact, perhaps I dare even say I am glad I had 6 evals this year because I got something from each visit, and I did something to improve from each visit. The way my mind works, though, is the good is good because of where my passion and interests lie, so I don’t focus on that as much because usually that builds naturally for me.

Here’s what I thought about after blogging and reading responses.
All I need to do to figure things out is
be open,
listen,
stop,
think,
and reflect on what that means for me,
Then, I just need to do something.
Reflecting is who I am, but reflection without action is stagnation.

And so, I did a little Googling, did a little thinking, and I found myself thinking about comments from a few people about involving the kids. Then, I thought about buy in from the kids and from me, so today I tried out something new, “Anyone who has a QR reader, get your phone out.” We’re pretty nerdy in my room because I’m involved in a TechEd initiative.

That being the case phones are flying out of pockets and they are on the QR reader app (I-nigma is my favorite) and scanning my code.

QR reflection

This comes from the work of Tony Vincent. Here is some more QR fun from him.

After the students had fun answering random questions, we talked about QR codes,and what they thought of closings. The students collectively groaned–they don’t like closings. I told them that in a moment of learning (like yesterday) I would be involved working them and would forget, even shutting off the alarm and promptly forgetting it went off.

I asked them what they thought about creating closings using QR codes and technology. I said how about we try to think of closings that we’re excited about. So that’s where I am today–for me, all the rage is to engage.

If I’m bored, they’re bored.
If I’m not having fun, they’re not having fun.
If I don’t enjoy what I do, what’s the point.

Yeah, I know, it’s not all fun and games, but I’m passionate about learning, I’m passionate about my content, I’m passionate about loving what I do.

For me to consistently be “The Closer” I think I’ve got to find a way to add it to my schtick. Anytime I can combine fun and learning; there is buy in on all levels, and anytime I can put a little of my own flavor in something, well, that’s awesome, too.

I think as I look how I can use my strengths to build my weaknesses I am finally getting the hang of what evaluation is really meant to do for us as teachers. Evaluation should really, after all, be an opportunity to learn and grow. I’m really sounding like a Born Again teacher, ha.

Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. Slicing with y’all puts me in such an amazing community of teacher writers with whom I connect. People think I’m crazy for writing every day of March. Day 5 and I’m still inspired, and I am determined to post before midnight each night lest I turn into a pumpkin.

Endings that Don’t Suck

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Slice Daily for the Entire Month of March

March Slice of Life Challenge

As a reader and writer, I realize the importance of grabbing my reader as well as of crafting a thought provoking ending that leaves my reader thinking; however, as a teacher I easily craft a lead and build engagement, but my endings are like poorly written stories with fizzling endings or like common stories ending abruptly with trite lines,

“Oh, look at the time. Y’all better hurry up and go to your lockers.”

or

“I’ll see y’all tomorrow-make sure to remember it’s a BYOD day”

or

“Don’t forget to finish what you didn’t get done.”

or

“Help me out, and get a piece of trash off the floor before you go out the door.”

I have always struggled with taking the time to end the class.  Today a visitor (the usual suspect) entered my class for one of those drive by walk-throughs with minutes left in the class. I looked at the clock and smiled in my principal’s direction knowing that I had to make a decision with those few minutes I had left. I would either finish supporting the small group of kids with whom I was working, or I would send them back and close the lesson. Not wanting to put on a show and not wanting to send away struggling students, I opted to finish offering the support. However, had I timed my lesson better and paid attention to the clock, I would not have had to make that choice.

I am thankful for the constructive feedback I received today because actually being a better closer has been on my mind lately.  When having a casual conversation about the walk through, my principal said several positive things then, mentioned the “one” thing (you know, the one I focus on the most). I started to fall back into my typical MO,  “Well, those kids came to me and needed help, and I was working with them, and time–okay, nevermind, the excuse…” Thankfully I caught myself, and the conversation resumed.

A few years ago, I wanted to get better at closings, so I did a bit of research and found this great document online that I modified and turned into a ppt full of the closings I liked from the document: https://edc448uri.wikispaces.com/file/view/40_ways_to_leave_a_lesson.pdf. I was excited about my closings and got better for awhile.

At the beginning of this school year, I set alarms: one on my Fitbit, the other on my iPhone–to shock me and call me into my closings. I shake my arm and tap the Fitbit and resume instruction. I tap the iPhone if I have the volume loud enough, and then, I promptly forget why the alarm sounded (I do this also when the alarm sounds for me to go home).

Reflecting on this, I think on those days I am stuck in a moment, so are my students, and the dots I’ve worked so hard to connect have a critical disconnect; in fact, I guess they fall just a bit short of putting the final picture together. The puzzle isn’t quite built, and perhaps by the next day a piece or two might be lost.

Last month I read an Edutopia article about opening and closings of lessons,  “The Eight Minutes that Matter Most.” This article made me rethink my closings (once again) and reminded me that I need to bookend my lesson more effectively. In this article, AP lit teacher Brian Sztabnik writes, That is the crux of lesson planning right there — endings and beginnings. If we fail to engage students at the start, we may never get them back. If we don’t know the end result, we risk moving haphazardly from one activity to the next. Every moment in a lesson plan should tell.

The eight minutes that matter most are the beginning and endings. If a lesson does not start off strong by activating prior knowledge, creating anticipation, or establishing goals, student interest wanes, and you have to do some heavy lifting to get them back. If it fails to check for understanding, you will never know if the lesson’s goal was attained.”   

I read the article. I pedagogically pondered and thought about how I should really work on my closings, yet until outside eyes looked in on my room again, I didn’t stop and ask myself, “What can I do differently?”

Now I ask you, what works for you?   How do you prioritize your 8 minutes of beginnings and closings? How do you make sure you get to the crux of your lesson? How do you connect the dots at the end, the ones that create the big picture?  When kids are being productive, when time flies, when kids need to get more done, or when kids are getting help from you, how do you force yourself to STOP and make time for the closing?

Most days my endings are planned and purposeful on paper, yet often I fall just short of creating the complete picture. While I can check for understanding the next day, I often neglect one of the most important teachable moments.  I’d like to learn to PRIORITIZE my closings. My OLW (one little word to live by) for the year is prioritize, and I’d like to avoid endings that end like a bad story,

“And that’s my slice of life about bad closings. THE END.”

I cringe writing that. Maybe I should cringe teaching that, too.

After all, what I really want to master is creating

Endings that Don’t Suck.