Instructional Innovations

Week of March 14

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The Learning Environment: A Little Smoke and Mirrors Goes A Long Way

By Melissa Conway


This week I am heavily borrowing from Michael W. Smith and Jeffrey D. Wilhelm's Reading Don't Fix No Chevys in which they discuss literacy in regards to teenage boys. I think a lot of what they say applies to all kids and especially kids living in poverty. The following four ideas are central to their theory of getting young men to read.


A Sense of Competence and Control

Most kids give up on things that are hard for a variety of reasons. They need to feel a sufficient amount of competence and control over what they are learning. Kids are not natural risk-takers (unless they're jumping out of airplanes); they need teachers to guide them as they take risks with safety measures in place.

The Take-Away: Kids will take risks in the classroom but not if they feel incompetent or that they have a total lack of control. We see kids as anarchists and risk-takers, but they are not apt to do this in our classrooms without our support.


A Challenge That Requires an Appropriate Level of Skill

While kids need to feel competence and control, they do like to feel challenged in the material. We just have to ensure that it is the appropriate level of challenge. This goes back to Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development.

The Take Away: Challenge kids enough to build self-efficacy. Help them build strategies to overcome challenges.


Clear Goals and Feedback

Without a clear goal, it's hard to identify an appropriate level of challenge. TKES focuses on students and teachers developing learning goals. Kids should do this, and we should give them feedback that aligns to these goals.

The Take Away: Teachers should help students set goals and provide feedback. :)


A Focus on the Immediate Experience

Kids will most likely experience Csikszentmihaly's sense of flow (becoming so absorbed in an activity that you lose active awareness outside of the activity) when the experience is immediate. A lot of our students enjoy playing sports, video games, etc. because they are immediately engaged in these type of activities.

The Take Away: Kids rarely care about instructional value, but they can become engaged in learning by focusing on the immediate experience of "doing."


I believe that all kids can (and depending on the day) want to learn; however, I don't think that all kids have access to the tools that help them learn successfully. We spend such a small part of the day with our students, why not maximize the fun and engagement in the learning environment by creating lessons that focus on these four ideas?


Smith, M.W. & Wilhelm, J.D. (2002). Reading don't fix no chevys: Literacy in the lives of young men. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Enrichment Survey

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Faculty Summer Reading

Are you interested in doing a book study on some facet of professional development with a group of colleagues? Sounds exciting, huh? Okay, maybe not--but you will probably collect an abundance of ideas for your classroom. Email me if you're interested and we'll start forming groups based on pedagogical interests. :)

Don't Stop Believing (in our students): Request by Mr. Coberly

Journey - Don't Stop Believin' (Audio)