Instructional Innovations

MCHS Instructional Newsletter: Week of December 7

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Redefining Our Locus of Control

We've all heard and sometimes muttered the Serenity Prayer as we journeyed through a difficult experience:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

If only this prayer was as easy to practice as it is to speak. Take the first line for example, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,..." My first reaction: No. I don't want to. I will not accept it. Who needs serenity anyway? Who wrote this stupid thing (I've decided her name is Serenity*...and I will refer to her as such from now on)? Obviously, I have some deep rooted issues; however, how many of us begin with a problem that we can't solve (at least on our own) and immediately disregard that we can't actually solve it? We let the problem gnaw on us, affect our mood and sleep patterns. This problem becomes the enemy, and we will not quit fighting until it's vanquished. We forget that WE CAN'T actually vanquish aka "solve" this problem on our own.

I firmly believe that almost every problem has a solution, but oftentimes the solution is much greater than anything one person can undertake (if ya gotta problem...yo I'll solve it--but I need help). We see the problem. We get angry because we can't solve it and we stop there. We don't move to the courage part--the part that will take even more than courage, it'll probably take a good bit of hard work. Instead we stay in a passive aggressive mood until we break.

Take educational legislature for example--specifically how test scores affect job performance and issues of merit pay. We can get upset. We should get upset. However, when do we allow these feelings to fuel action that actually acts--when do we call our local representative and voice our opinions? I know my answer. Never. We just remain upset and sometimes this anger becomes directed at the wrong person/source. We can't change it. The unfortunate end to our anger at larger educational issues often results in leaving the teaching profession. We throw in ye ole towel. Who suffers from your absence? Not the governor (he doesn't even know your name most likely). Our kids suffer. Not to get too socio-political, but our country suffers. What if we, like the cowardly lion, looked within to find the courage to take on some of the salient issues in education? I promise you that there are way more teachers than there are law makers. Think of the change we could create if we were to band together to build an educational system that is both realistic and idealistic--but at its heart does what's best for kids. Don't you want to teach in an environment like that? I know I do.

As for the wisdom part of this prayer. I would argue that the wisdom actually doesn't lie in knowing the problems we can or cannot change; rather, the wisdom comes into play as we courageously work to solve the unsolvable. The wisdom helps us realize that perseverance through obstacles constitutes success--that failure is normal and should be welcomed because it will only make us better.

My question to you is how will we unite as a school family to tackle the problems or constraints we encounter as educators? I know I don't have all the answers--heck I don't even understand some of the problems, but I know I work beside smart people and I feel like together, with courage and wisdom and Serenity, we can continue to grow in an educational environment that honors and respects teachers while dutifully working to enhance the educational experience for all stakeholders--especially our students. The answer might not be calling our local representatives, but there are answers out there. Who is ready to find them?

*Sources actually cite Niebuhr as the author of this ditty.

"Just because the book is done, doesn't mean the thinking is done." Kylene Beers

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Caught in the Act...

Mr. David Harrison is this week's "Caught in the Act" teacher spotlight. I have a few teachers on my "hit list" because day in and day out they provide great instruction while building positive relationships with students--Mr. Harrison ranks right up there. What I enjoy about Mr. Harrison is that he makes learning fun for his kids, and his AP Government scores reflect this. In his first year teaching this class he had a 71% pass percentage with 21 students receiving college credit for Government as freshmen in high school (one as a junior who was an aide in his class...amazing). It’s worth repeating: 21 students received college credit when they were freshmen in high school.

I asked Mr. Harrison to tell me a bit more about his key teaching strategies: "The two strategies that I believe the most strongly in are making personal connections/relationships with my students and including humor, fun experiences into the classroom. True, neither of these are specifically "instructional strategies" per se, but I think that these are essential to promoting student success. Taking the time to talk with students as they enter class, giving kids a piece of candy and a "happy birthday" on their birthday, taking a few minutes to discuss topics during class that they think are important, attending students extra curricular activities, etc. all help your students to know that you care. Students in my experience are much more likely to perform at a higher level in your classroom when they know that you want them as a person, not just them as a student or a name in your grade book, to be successful. And lastly, humor is a great tool/resource in the classroom. Learning can and should be fun. True, there are times when the content is not much fun and we've all had lessons that aren't very fun but are necessary. Regardless, there are a thousands ways that you can make your classroom an effective and well-managed learning environment, but also a fun one. Students often complain about how boring school is but it doesn't have to be!"

As you can read, Mr. Harrison truly enhances the educational lives of those he teaches. The success he's achieved is evident of his greatness inside and outside of the classroom. The students and faculty of MCHS are lucky to have him. Mr. Harrison--you rock!

Instructional Strategy: Using Likert and Semantic Differential Scales to Promote Thinking

I've been perusing Kylene Beers' When Kids Can't Read. It offers an abundance of strategies to help struggling readers. I want to share two of these strategies because I think they are a) simple and b) will help your students think more critically.

Likert Scales

Beers suggests using Likert scales (strongly agree to strongly disagree) to allow students to decide how much they agree or don't with a statement. You can use this in ELA with characters, etc. but I think it would be a powerful conversation starter in across the content areas.

Some Examples (forgive my ELA centered mind)

ELA: Nick Carraway, in The Great Gatsby, acts in unselfish ways.

Social Studies: Karl Marx's theory of socialism was good for the workers in Germany.

Science: New technology in genetic engineering is good for humanity as a whole.

Semantic Differential Scales

I love this one! Beers places opposite character traits on a scale and asks students to place characters somewhere on the scale. I would then have my students defend their placement of the character. I used the Semantic Differential Scale a lot in my discussion of Lord of the Flies.

Some Examples (again...forgive me)

ELA: Ralph (Lord of the Flies) is brave............................cowardly.

Social Studies: Jimmy Carter was honest.........................dishonest.

I am not a content expert in all contents, so I'm sure you can think of some better ways to use these two strategies than I have developed here. As you ask your students to write in your classrooms, this would be an excellent brainstorm activity to promote critical thinking in those grey areas. Then you can move them to use the ACE(R) strategy to begin their drafts (more on this strategy next week).

Send me an email about how you would use this in your classroom--you'll win a prize!

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December Testing Schedule

Wednesday, December 16

2nd, 4th and 6th period exams with NO advisement

Thursday, December 17

7th and 5th period exams with NO advisement

Friday, December 18

1st and 3rd period exams/EARLY RELEASE

Please plan productive instruction during non-testing times these three days.

Any requests for early exams MUST go through Mr. Bullock.

Melissa Conway, ISL

Have suggestions for the newsletter, or maybe you just want to chat about Kanye and Kim's new baby? Either way, I'd love to hear from you.