Some Ideas for Improving Teaching and Learning
In this article in Harvard Ed. Magazine, Lory Hough passes along a set of simple, clear recommendations from a variety of educators:
• Be kind. While many students know what’s expected of them academically, they also need explicit guidance on ethical expectations, say Rick Weissbourd and Stephanie Jones. They need practice taking the perspective of another person (What would you do?) and being respectful and caring.
• Slow down. “Slow learning involves radically expanding the typical timeframe devoted to learning about complex things,” says Shari Tishman. “It might mean spending a few hours looking at a painting rather than a few minutes, or spending an entire afternoon examining the pattern of weeds growing at the edge of the playground.”
• Let students move. “In our school day, we build in two full movement classes during the day along with short movement bursts, that we call brain bursts, to break up classes and get kids active rather than having them sit for hours and hours straight,” says Massachusetts principal Kevin Qazilbash. His school has seen significant gains in student achievement and attitudes.
• Create student crews. Meg Campbell, principal of Codman Academy Charter School in Boston, reports great success with single-sex, grade 9-12 advisory groups. “This means every ninth grader has a big sister or big brother in each of the other classes,” she says, which fosters deep friendships across grades and promotes a feeling of family in the school community. Why single-gender? “It gives students a break from what I call hormone display behavior.”
• Install a buddy bench. This is a place on the playground where students can sit if they’re feeling lonely or bored; the idea is that others approach students on the bench and invite them to play.
• Teach children how to deal with strong emotions. Christina Hinton reports on the success of sending disruptive, upset preschool children to a “safe place” – a warm, colorful area where they deal with their emotions. One safe-place game: Children pretend they are filling their bellies like a big balloon and then let the air out in one big gust. Another: children put their arms above their head and let them drop while making the shhhh sound of running water. Games like these teach young children “that emotions should not be suppressed, but rather experienced and dealt with in constructive ways,” says Hinton.
• Teach students to query. “When students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new
connections and discoveries of their own,” says Dan Rothstein.
• Find similarities. Hunter Gehlbach used a survey of ninth graders and their teachers to
identify common interests. Sharing these student-student and student-teacher commonalities boosted performance and grades. [See Memo 572 for a summary of this work.]
• Use personal stories to motivate students. Chris Hulleman and Judy Harackiewicz found that when high-school students were asked to write short essays linking science content to their personal lives, their interest and grades went up.
• Start the high-school day later. “Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a health professional, a sleep scientist, or educator who would defend starting high school in the 7 a.m. hour, now the norm for many U.S. high schools, as good for physical or mental health, safety, or learning,” said a recent New York Times article.
• Make meetings more useful. “One simple thing educators can do is to start every meeting by clarifying the objectives of the meetings and then dive right into tackling the most important objective early in the meeting,” says Kathryn Parker Boudett, co-author with Elizabeth City of Meeting Wise. Another time- and stress-saver is a checklist of key items.
• Use checklists. Boston surgeon/author Atul Gawande has written extensively about the power of checklists in airline cockpits and operating rooms. Checklists can also help young students be less forgetful at the end of the school day and prompt educators to remember important procedural steps so they can focus on deeper, more-creative tasks. [Memo 397 has a summary of Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto.]
• Help with transportation. The expense and/or inconvenience of getting to school can be a major reason for school failure, says Barbara Carletta Chen, who successfully intervened to get free bus transportation for a struggling San Diego student and saw her graduate on time and enroll in community college.
• Include dads. Boston principal Mairead Nolan organized a weekly “Dads Read” book club/dinner for the men in her students’ lives. Teachers and coordinators read stories and model how to read for understanding, and students take home a free book afterward. “Dad’s Read is a powerful twist on a book club,” says Heather Weiss. “It is a small intervention addressing a big, important question: How can schools successfully engage dads to support their children’s learning and literacy and make the learning fun?”
• Revamp the open house. Most schools’ open house meetings are not “linked to learning,” says Karen Mapp. These meetings should be structured in a way that allows teachers to share specific grade-level learning goals, and time for families to share what they know about their children’s strengths and weaknesses. Open house meetings should include the best school, home, and community resources to maximize students’ learning. [See Memo 554 for a short video of Karen Mapp making this point.]
• Simplify the financial aid form. Bridget Terry Long worked with H&R Block to simplify the FAFSA form and worked with parents so they could fill it out in eight minutes. The college enrollment of students from families who took part increased by seven percentage points compared to a control group, and downstream, the percentage of students enrolled in college for two consecutive years increased by eight points.
• Use texting to keep college-bound students on track. A few personalized texts over the summer can have a significant impact on “summer melt” – students who are admitted to college and don’t enroll in the fall – say Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page. [See Memo 556 for an article on this intervention.]
• Ask outside groups for help. “We cannot improve schools in isolation,” says Darienne Driver, newly appointed Milwaukee superintendent. She has reached out to dance and theater companies and local artists to beef up arts instruction in the schools.