Be Clear. Be Concise.

Teachers need to be clear in all forms of instruction. Saying this much is obvious, but how to actually be clear is less so. We must first take our audience into account, our students. How old are they? Are they native speakers? How much do they already know?

Once we have a working knowledge of this, we have the hope of being clear.

Planning brings clarity.

Plan out your instructions/procedures beforehand. Do not plan the activity and neglect to plan the how-to.

Routines bring clarity.

Develop routines for daily tasks. Routines are especially helpful during transition times. When routines are established, students can instantly know what to do just by observing a teacher’s hand motion.

Teachers must be concise. Being concise helps to bring clarity because it is easier for students to remember a short set of instructions than a long set.

Editing brings conciseness. Look over your plan, cut out what you do not need. Remember, to base your cuts on your students’ background knowledge.

Start with clear and detailed explanations and then fade the explanations out over time to help your students master the content. “To tie an overhand knot we will first…then…and finally…”

Overhand Knot Tying Example
Novice Expert
Image result for overhand knot

(with teacher demonstrations and assistance)

  1. Tie an overhand knot.

For concise explanations, start with the goal. “We will tie an overhand knot.”

This helps your students follow the instructions because they know the end/goal at the beginning.

Cut what you say. Do you like, um, you know, use filler words? Be cognizant of how you speak and actively work to reduce how often you use unneeded words.

The meaning of clarity and conciseness is obvious, but actually being clear and concise is difficult. You should intentionally work at it.

Advertisements

Teachers and Workload

Teaching is a tough job, but we can make it harder than necessary. Hopefully your school is actively working to reduce your workload by reducing the amount of data drops and by reviewing its marking policies. However, even if you are stuck in a school with many data drops and onerous marking policies, you can work to reduce your own workload.

One way is to simply grade less! It sounds too good to be true, but it is. Grading student work is not a particularly valuable form of feedback. Instead, you can look into whole class marking. This will drastically cut down the time you spend grading, and, as an added bonus you will be giving actionable feedback to your students.

If you are saying you cannot do this because your school’s policy, you likely still have work arounds. Grade formative assessments on completion. Have more in class assignments. If you have book scrutinies and every student needs to have correct answers, don’t include your harder more summative assessments in it. Instead, choose easy ones that will look good to your school so you can get the paperwork done quickly and spend more time focusing on what matters.

If the school policies and enforcement are so strict that these work arounds will not work, I’d suggest looking for another job elsewhere. It is not worth the stress.

Another way to reduce your workload is to set a firm leaving time. I will leave work at X o’clock and be home for dinner. Setting this as a firm personal deadline can be immensely powerful. It will also help you realize that the work can wait, it will be there tomorrow. And generally, even if it doesn’t get done, you and your students will be ok.

Teaching is a profoundly important job. We change students’ lives. And we should celebrate that. However, it is important that we do not burn ourselves out in our drive to be good teachers and help students succeed. Remember, if we quit teaching, we will no longer have the same impact. Find ways to reduce your workload to increase your sanity.

Teaching and Truth

  1. Teachers must love their students.
  2. Teaching can be a good career and even a calling, but it is a primarily a JOB.
  3. Every student learns in roughly the same manner.
  4. Teachers should show their students the truth as far as possible while building their students’ knowledge of the world.
  5. Knowledge truly is power.

Finally, something that is not controversial. Students should learn the truth in school, as far as is possible. As far as is possible is the key phrase because not all subjects are concerned with truth per-say. English class would be the most obvious example. Students will read books of fiction and write opinion pieces. In history and science, moral dilemmas come up.

In these cases, the teacher’s role is to build their students knowledge of the world through the subject. You cannot prove Shakespeare’s work to be more true or accurate than Brontë’s. However, you can analyze the strategies each author uses, the genre of writing, along with the history and culture surrounding the author. When a moral dilemma comes up in history or science you can educate your students on the actors’ thought processes, the stakes, their level of knowledge, and worldview. You are also able to take advantage of hindsight (Even with hindsight, the right decisions are often not obvious).

This process of showing students the truth enables students to get the bigger picture and puts the content into a meaningful context. This gives students a more accurate view of the world and provides them with the fundamental tools of critical thinking: background knowledge and various procedures.

Every Learner is the Same

This is the third article in a series of 5 where I work to develop my philosophy of education. What follows should not be taken as gospel, yet, I believe it should be taken seriously.

A philosophy of education in 5 steps.

  1. Teachers must love their students.
  2. Teaching can be a good career and even a calling, but it is a primarily a JOB.
  3. Every student learns in roughly the same manner.
  4. Teachers should show their students the truth as far as possible while building their students’ knowledge of the world.
  5. Knowledge truly is power.

Everyone learns the same, roughly. This is controversial, like other aspects of my teaching philosophy. Yet, I believe it to be true, in a broad sense. No matter your views of education’s purpose, or how we measure it, learning is ultimately about knowing and doing. Educators differ over which is more important, yet few argue that only one is important.

Cognitive science has shown that, at a fundamental level learning is about the connections neurons make. When neurons fire in the same or similar patterns, learning is strengthened regardless of whether the idea generated by the firing neurons is actually true. For example, if a child practices 2+2=9, the more these neurons fire in that particular pattern, the more ingrained this learning will be.

As educators we can take advantage of this by using retrieval practice and spaced repetition. When students use retrieval practice, they are recalling the facts and or concepts, thus, strengthening that memory. When students use spaced repetition, we are taking advantage of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve as they recall the information again and again over time. Another effective strategy is to combine retrieval practice and spaced repetition with elaboration. Elaboration is when students make connections (identify relationships) between different facts and concepts.

The result is that the neurons responsible for the practiced knowledge/skill fire more and more in the same and similar patterns. And the memory gets strengthened.

As far as I am aware, what I wrote above is essentially a universal truth. I do not believe there are any exceptions to this rule. Different people may learn at different rates and have different limitations due to cognitive abilities/disabilities, background knowledge, and motivation, but the process of learning will be the same for all and all can benefit from instruction based on sound research. 

Teaching is a Job

This is part 2 of a post series where I explore my teaching philosophy. It is a very much in process document. Hopefully my efforts to formulate my thoughts are helpful for you too.

  1. Teachers must love their students.
  2. Teaching can be a good career and even a calling, but it is a primarily a JOB.
  3. Every student learns in roughly the same manner.
  4. Teachers should show their students the truth as far as possible while building their students’ knowledge of the world.
  5. Knowledge truly is power.

Even if you feel you were born to be a teacher or that teaching is your calling, like myself, you should view teaching as a job first and foremost. The reason being is that teaching can easily take over your life and those who view it as a calling are especially susceptible. When that happens, not only does your quality of life suffer, your teaching suffers, your students suffer.

I believe that teaching can easily take over your life because it is inherently intimate. You interact with the same students day in and day out. You see their struggles, failures, and successes. You learn about their interests and home life. The relationship we build with our students drives us to do more. And this is emphatically a positive.

However, this drive has a darker side. It can lead us to obsess over our job and we can become over-dedicated.

  • Regularly taking work home, and working unpaid
  • Taking on more responsibility at work, for the kids, and somebody has to do it
  • Planning lessons late into the night
  • When you have a social life, it consists of talking about work

When this happens to a few people in a school, the culture changes. Instead of being pleased by some teachers going above and beyond, it becomes an implicit expectation.

“Why didn’t you check your email over the weekend?”

“Look at all the great manipulatives Teacher Joe bought for his class. It would really help your students if you got some too.”

“Teacher Sally went to Wal-Mart and spent $400 on school supplies.”

“Have you donated tissues to the school yet? We really need them at the beginning of the year and during winter you know.”

When this happens at a few schools, the district’s culture changes. In a few districts, and the educational culture of the state begins to change. In a few states, and the nation’s educational culture changes. I believe that this culture is a major contributor to teachers becoming burnout and to teachers being taken advantage of by the school funding system.

The antidote, I believe is to maintain the view of teaching as incredibly important, inherently valuable, and fundamental to a flourishing society while viewing it as a job. A job has a “clock”. You are responsible to work from time A to time B. Before and after, is yours. A calling has no limit, jobs do. This is a freeing realization.

Now that I view teaching as a job (albeit, one I feel called to), I have found it much easier to go home with papers ungraded and imperfect lesson plans. This, in turn, has drastically reduced my stress. Which, then, has made me happy to go into work, and I feel that I am able to be more productive with my time there.

A teacher who is burned out is suffering and this teacher’s suffering is causing their students to suffer too. Sometimes doing less allows you to do more. Teaching is a job. A stressful one, but a good one. All teachers should strive to improve. But, to improve, you must stay in the profession and learn how to manage the stresses and temptations that come along for the ride. The best defense is healthy boundaries.

If you feel called into the field of education, welcome! It is a fantastically fulfilling place. But don’t make it your life, it will eat yours. If you make it your job, you just may fulfill your calling.

Teachers and Love

In my previous post, I began writing my philosophy of education that focused on 5 areas.

  1. Teachers must love their students.
  2. Teaching can be a good career and even a calling, but it is a primarily a JOB.
  3. Every student learns in roughly the same manner.
  4. Teachers should show their students the truth as far as possible while building their students’ knowledge of the world.
  5. Knowledge truly is power.

I summarized #1 like this.

My manifesto starts with controversy. Love, you say? Inappropriate. However, you are wrong. In the case of a teacher, love for students simply means wanting the best for them. You may argue that I should just drop the word love and go with “Teachers must want the best for their students”. I disagree with that because the word love is more powerful and brings weightier connotations. I want this statement to have that weight and those connotations.

Education is a service industry and its aims are best achieved when teachers seek to serve their students. I believe that this service is best acted out not simply out of duty or even affection, but love.

I chose to start my philosophy with love because it is both a tone and context setter. I firmly believe that our actions as teachers should flow from love. My main reason for starting here is not because I naturally love my students. My natural inclination is to teach my classes and get out because relationships are difficult and often frustrating (especially with young children). But I believe my default approach is incompatible with the approach a service industry job requires. Relationships matter. I started with love because I am a Christian and believe it is foundational and more important than knowledge. (1 Corinthians 13:2, If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”)

So, the next obvious question is what does this look like?

In my overview article, I described the love a teacher should have for their student as “wanting the best for your students.”

However, this is not so helpful as a road-map. It is too broad and vague. We must put this love in its context, education. What is the purpose of education? I propose that the primary purpose of education is to help students learn about that which is true and/or valuable while helping them learn about society and the world. I will unpack this more when I get to #4. In short, education should help students learn about the world and their culture’s values.

This then makes teaching the primary role of the teacher. While this seems commonsensical I feel it needs to be said. Google isn’t a magic cure all. Skills that are not based in knowledge are ultimately empty and not useful. Students must know stuff without looking it up.

The other way teachers can love their students is by enforcing the rules in a warm manner. I have seen some schools referring to this as “warm-strict”. I think this is a fantastic approach. Essentially this approach tells students, “We have rules, and you must follow them for your own good and for others.” But, and this part is key, it also makes clear to the students, I value you for you.

Finally, I will get to the most traditional aspect of love, the relationship. The reason I go to this part last is because I view teaching students and warmly enforcing the rules as foundational. They allow for relationships with students to grow. When students know that the teacher and school value learning, they are more apt to try and learn. If you are not teaching, you are not loving your students, plain and simple. Warmly enforcing the rules is important because it helps to embody the idea of love. When the students know what the rules are, that they will be punished for breaking them, and that they will be valued no matter what, they will be more likely to both follow the rules and learn.

Finally, it is in this calm, focused environment created by the warm-strictness and the focus on teaching and learning that allows the relationship between a student and a teacher to flourish. Here, the teacher can interact and get to know students and their academic interests in the classroom while learning their personal interests during breaktimes/lunch/etc. Notice my order. In the class, I believe it is important to focus on academics as a way to love your students. Sure, you will pick up on their personal interests in the classroom, you will have times where you tell jokes in the classroom, but your focus must be on educating them. Use the down times in your school wisely. Get to know your students. Make it clear that you value them. Even if you feel you can’t tell your students you love them, express it.

My Philosophy of Education

Consider this an introduction to what will be a much longer manifesto. Based on my morals, and what I know about education, this is how schooling should be, this is the start of my philosophy of education.

  1. Teachers must love their students.
  2. Teaching can be a good career and even a calling, but it is a primarily a JOB.
  3. Every student learns in roughly the same manner.
  4. Teachers should show their students the truth as far as possible while building their students’ knowledge of the world.
  5. Knowledge truly is power.

 

  1. Teachers must love their students.

My manifesto starts with controversy. Love, you say? Inappropriate. However, you are wrong. In the case of a teacher, love for students simply means wanting the best for them. You may argue that I should just drop the word love and go with “Teachers must want the best for their students”. I disagree with that because the word love is more powerful and brings weightier connotations. I want this statement to have that weight and those connotations.

Education is a service industry and its aims are best achieved when teachers seek to serve their students. I believe that this service is best provided not simply out of duty or even affection, but out of love.

  1. Teaching can be a good career and even a calling, but it is a primarily a JOB.

This line in my manifesto is important for two reasons, teachers and society. Society will tell teachers that they should do more with less, because times are hard and the budget is short, you should do it for the students. And so teachers give more for their students. However, many teachers give until they are empty and then their minds and/or bodies give out. It is important that teachers remind themselves, “While teaching may have fundamental importance both for society and the individuals involved, it is simply a job, there will be others if I need it.”

  1. Every student learns in roughly the same manner.

The above words are essentially seen as fighting words in the world of education. However, I believe they are words worth fighting about. We know that in order to learn, it takes multiple exposures spaced over time to learn the material (Spaced Repetition). We know retrieval practice, calling something to mind strengthens the brain’s connections, regardless of whether those connections are right or wrong. This is why it is so important for students to practice accurately. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes more permanent.

Teachers should teach with the understanding that all students who will be in their classes essentially learn in the same ways. This will free them from endless differentiation and allow them to focus on the structure of the lesson and delivery of the content to the benefit of all students.

  1. Teachers should show their students the truth as far as possible while building their students’ knowledge of the world.

There is objective truth and a large purpose of schooling is to reveal it to students. This is most clear in math and parts of the sciences. For example, 2+3=5. This is an objective truth. Or the law of universal gravitation. The “as far as possible” is included because in some subjects, truth is not the primary focus. For example, while there are certainly truths about the language arts that students must know (decoding, phonics, punctuation), showing students the truth when analyzing Shakespeare becomes harder. Because, often times this literature is subjective and about societal or individual preferences or moral and about what is ultimately good or evil.

In these cases, teachers should expand students knowledge of the world while acknowledging the challenges of parsing ethical decisions of characters in plays or people in history.

  1. Knowledge truly is power.

The importance of knowledge has not diminished in the internet age. In fact, at the very least, it has maintained its level of importance. Think simply. While going to the bathroom is a skill, when you break it down, it becomes apparent that even a rudimentary skill is built upon knowledge. A child must know what a bathroom is and how it is used before they can hope to apply the skill of successfully using it.

This rings all the clearer when we make the skill academic. Think about writing an essay. You first must know all the letters and how they work together. Then you must know the vocabulary and relevant grammar rules. But you still cannot hope to write an essay until you have learned about that topic. Even if you have the skills needed to write, you can only write well if you deeply understand the topic you will write about.

We will give one last example to bring the importance of knowledge home. The skill of decoding (sounding out words) is absolutely useless without comprehension. You can only comprehend words that you know. It may be the 21st Century, but knowledge is still king.