* C is for competence

puzzleBlogging A-Z: C is for competence.  Struggling students are often competent in many areas, but it’s the one (or more) weaknesses which can falsely and unfairly undermine their sense of competence..  Our goal is to make sure that no student is defined solely by their weaknesses.  How do we accomplish that?  Competence can be experienced when:

1.  Students measure their success in those areas of relative weakness.  It helps to use undeniable, graphic proof of achievement.  In math, reading, and writing, a simplified diagram of requisite skills can be used for measuring growth.  Digital portfolios of skills are also effective.  (A caveat: students must have appropriate instruction in order to actually make measurable gains.)

2.  Students practice making positive self-statements to counter their negative self-talk.  Positive expressions can be prompted trough the use of rubrics and checklists.

3.  Students have opportunities to assist others, especially their peers.  Use student strengths and interests, along with a super job title (math coach or writing assistant), to make the process effective.

4.  Students understand their learning profile.  It is especially helpful for kids to understand how the brain works.  Now that instruction is more strongly influenced by neuroscience, help kids use that to their advantage.  It can demystify that global despair of “Why am I so stupid?” and also help kids better advocate for themselves.

This list is not exhaustive and will vary according to student needs.  Bottom line:  We need to promote an awareness of existing competence while building greater competence through effective instruction.

* Brain-friendly teaching #2

In my last post, I mentioned “neuromyths,” or ideas that we have commonly accepted as true but which have no basis in fact. In Mariale Hardiman’s book, “The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model for 21st Century Schools,” she discusses the myth that classical music can influence learning.  There is simply no truth to to “the Mozart effect.”

brain-targeted teaching modelI do remember when teachers first adopted variations of this myth.  One hopeful variant was that playing classical music would create a soothing environment.  Kids would be less likely to act out if those orchestral chords were playing.  The novelty effect did impact some kids, along with teacher directions that no one was to interrupt the music.  As a resource teacher, I was chastised for breaking the classical music spell as I came to the room and gathered my little squad.  In that classroom, the teacher was more influenced by the music than anyone else.  And to be fair, she stopped playing the music as the novelty wore off.

Despite faulty strategies, the underlying goal of using music was to create an optimal environment for learning.  Current brain research indicates that stress interferes with effective learning, while positive emotions enhance learning.  Hardiman states that “setting the emotional climate for learning may be the most important task a teacher embarks on each day.”  What a marvelous goal!  If we set about to create a positive and joyful classroom, our students’ brains will be much more ready to learn.  If we help students make positive personal connections with information, they are much more likely to derive meaning from learning activities.

Hardiman cites a study in which students were surveyed to determine what emotions they experienced throughout the course of a school day.  Anxiety was the most frequent emotion reported.  Our daily experiences as teachers confirms that kids are stressed at school.  Music may not be the key to stress reduction, but the relatively widespread use of it indicated our awareness of strong connections between emotions and learning.

Some effective strategies I’ve used for setting a positive tone in a class:

  • Before the kids arrive, review your own emotional state.  Acknowledge that you may be tired or frustrated about something, but deliberately set that aside.  You can (hopefully) take care of those issues later, on your own time.  Your first priority must be the kids who are entering your classroom.
  • Take delight in the opportunity you have to impact so many young lives!
  • Greet each child with a sincere smile and/or comment.
  • Adhere to morning routines that create a sense of safety and familiarity.
  • When students arrive, provide a quick way for them to share their current emotional state (such as rating their feelings on a chart).
  • Start with an overview of the day’s schedule or refer to a written (or picture) schedule.
  • Praise kids specifically for their behavior, especially those who are more vulnerable.
  • React calmly to crises, which reassures the class that you are not threatened.

We are privileged to create a fresh start each morning.  Make it a joyous one!