If there’s one thing that unites members of USA TODAY’s All-USA Teacher Team, it’s that they don’t go by the textbook. The teachers honored in the newspaper’s annual recognition program develop ways to ratchet up learning and make academics get real:
On the sprawling campus of Felix V. Festa Middle School in suburban New York City, students are building a two-passenger helicopter. So confident is technology teacher Alan Horowitz in their work that he earned a pilot’s license to fly it.
At Parkway Elementary School in the Blue Ridge mountain town of Boone, N.C., Mary Jo Pritchard guides her eighth-graders in writing grants to expand the student-built wildlife habitat and bird sanctuary, where they teach younger students about ecology.
An increasing number of teachers are turning from classroom teaching to tuition in search of a more fulfilling experience in their chosen vocation.
With increasing class sizes and renewed demands on teachers to provide a standardized approach to all pupils in their classrooms, those teachers who wish to work with students in a different way feel stifled and frustrated.
Working with students using methods that don’t find a place so strongly in the curriculum and general syllabus can offer teachers a way to explore their creativity and find ways to stimulate their students learning that are tailored to individual preferences.
Benefits for tutors
When subject experts decide to take on the role of imparting their knowledge to others, teaching is the natural step from learning to sharing what has been learned.
Think back to your days as a college student. For many of us, buying used books was a significant way to reduce expenses. If we weren’t careful, however, we might arrive home with books previously owned by sufferers of “yellow marker syndrome.”
This university malady is easily recognizable: whole passages of text are randomly colored yellow, the legacy of a confused student with a highlighter pen.
College students rapidly discover that one of the most effective learning strategies is to mark as they read. Highlighting, underlining, and annotating can all help students cull what’s important from a difficult text and organize it for review.
Unfortunately, this highly used strategy is also one of the most abused – students really struggle with making intelligent decisions about what to mark and what to overlook.
Students need not wait until college to develop effective text marking skills. Although we cannot usually allow students to write in their textbooks, we can help build these skills in a variety of ways. Here are a few great tips:
Communication takes so many different forms, but increasingly it is taking place online. The impact of digital dialogue is enormous – just look at the burgeoning networks that are being established on Twitter.
Look at the success of Facebook. If there was any doubt about the potential impact of digital dialogue, we only have to look at the social and political impact of online communication in recent months. Just look at how our teenagers (and, of course, our politicians) organize their lives and identify with others through their online communications.
The Internet has evolved from an information source, an online “encyclopedia”, to a tool for social dialogue, shared game-playing, collaboration. And it’s the dialogue that takes place that seems to be having the impact.
Dialogue? It needs more than one person. It’s using communication to bounce ideas back and forth, to exchange and develop ideas and to refine our own viewpoint.
I give in, I´ll buy pink stuff. For one thing, it´s all my three-year-old wants. She has yellow goggles and floaters and this makes her frustrated because she sees ALL the other girls with pink ones, she wants the pink set too.
She tried on a green tiara the other day, “Green is for boys, pink is for girls”. I uselessly do my best to revert this: “No, green is for everyone, you even have a green tiara! It´s also my favorite color: green”. “But green is for boys…”
Luísa must find really strange that I keep insisting that there is no such thing as “pink is for girls and blue for boys” while it´s so obviously clear everywhere. Even younger babies can tell it.
She wants a pink bicycle. I´m gonna have to make it pink, I know that as much as I want her to enjoy other colors, if I buy her a red bike, she will be very frustrated every time she sees all the pink bikes the other girls have.
Many young children come to school with a great deal of knowledge about books and print by virtue of having been read to thousands of times over the years; other children are not as fortunate.
Research tells us that those children who have been read to frequently in the preschool years are off to a stronger start than children who have not had such experiences and that early gains tend to be maintained throughout children’s school careers.
Young children love to hear familiar stories read to them over and over again. The child’s memory for the story becomes so strong that if a hapless reader were to skip a page, he/she would be corrected immediately by an indignant young listener.
You may very well help a lot of parents with their efforts to develop some practical tools to become positive parents and train them how to best use the ‘Developmental Assets’, a research-based way that will help kids thrive!
Many school and agency teams have, through Parenting Partners workshops, trained numerous parents to get more engaged and involved in the education of their children, and empowered them through strengthening their practical parenting skills. Many individuals and school and community teams will benefit from these 2-day Training of Trainers sessions where they will be learning to:
What do you know? About Antarctica? Earthworms? Ultraviolet light? Ernest Hemingway? Chances are, if you were going to read a passage about any of these topics, you would spend a few moments recollecting what you already knew before you started. You would “take stock” of your prior knowledge.
Activities which guide students in marshaling what they already know are an excellent way to jump-start learning about a topic. Many researchers feel that a student’s prior knowledge about material is the single most important variable in their reading comprehension. Therefore, devising ways to activate what students know before they read can help them make connections to new learning.
Brainstorming activities provide one useful framework for eliciting student background knowledge before learning. Several classroom variations are possible.
Think for a moment a group of scientists sifting through mounds of data from a host of experiments. Certainly a great deal of information is available, but what they really need to decide is “What does all this mean?”
Eventually, after carefully examining and analyzing their data, they will develop an interpretation, a theory, and a definition of “the big picture” that emerges from all the separate pieces of information. These scientists, like proficient readers, are able to synthesize.
The strategy of synthesizing is perhaps the culmination of the other five essential comprehension strategies. Synthesizing draws upon making connections, questioning, visualizing, inferring, and determining importance.
College students frequently are required to purchase the books they will be reading for their classes, and as a result, they are able to employ one of the most useful comprehension strategies for determining importance: they mark their texts.
However, even college students struggle with this vital reading strategy; many of them wield their marking highlighters haphazardly. They color massive portions of their texts yellow, and when they are done and it’s time to study, they discover that they have marked too much. They did not do a good job “sifting the wheat from the chaff.”