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Habits

A continuation on my last post is to address formation of habits.  My students who did their homework immediately after school performed better in my class than those who didn’t.  However, there are students that procrastinate and still get good grades.  That is the category I fall into myself.  Procrastination is my most damaging habit in life.

When I was in 5th grade, I started the “homework during recess club”.  It consisted mostly of myself and a few other procrastinating friends.  Instead of doing our homework the day we received it, we would wait until the day it was due.  We would sit along the wall of the school and complete our assignments quickly right before the class it was due.  What a terrible habit to form at such a young age!

All through school and life I have struggled to begin projects before they are due.  I would always justify this by saying that it takes less time.  If I start writing a paper a week before it’s due, I’m going to spend a week thinking about it, writing and revising.  If instead, I wait until the night before it’s due, I know exactly how long it will take me to write because I only have a certain number of hours left.  Logically, it made sense to put every project off until the last minute in order to have the most efficient use of my time.  Of course, I didn’t calculate in stress and risk because those are difficult to quantify.

In high school, I still managed to be near the top of my class despite my terrible habits.  In college however, things got harder and I struggled to adapt and form new habits.  For the last 3 years, I have read and listened to many great teachers about character development, habit forming, and living with excellence.  I have tried time and time again to break my bad habits and form new habits.  For the most part, I continue to fail.  My weekends are often unproductive and I am flying by the seat of my pants to teach my students.

I shared this information with parents and students at conferences in order to urge them to make better choices than me.  If I could go back in time and change one thing about myself, I am pretty certain it would be this.  Procrastination has destroyed my life.

Success in life is not determined by GPA or academic performance.  Instead, it is determined by character.  There are so many people in this world that did worse than me in school but have accomplished so much more than me.  They may have struggled to get good grades in school, but they were forced to work harder than me to do as well as they did.  This hard work continued through their life, and they soon passed me up in abilities because of their character and habits.  I think of this as velocity vs acceleration.  I had a high velocity in life but small acceleration.  Others that worked harder began with a very small velocity but large acceleration.  At some point, they passed me up and left me in the dust.  Now, I have built up so much momentum in the wrong direction that it takes immense work to change habits.  Habits must be formed as early as possible to avoid having to work harder in life to accomplish what you want.

What is the best way to convince students of this truth?  How do we get students to form good habits?  I sense that most of my students have gotten their good work habits from their parents pushing them to do things right.  What do we do to help the students that don’t have that influence?

Athletes

During parent/teacher conferences this week, I noticed a pattern with my students and their families.  I have a lot of students that are also athletes.  Many of these are also the top performing students.  You’ve probably noticed similar patterns.  The question is, “Why?”  I asked the same questions to each student that came in with their parents.

  1. What are the things you are doing that are allowing you to do well in school?
  2. What do you think you could do differently in order to improve your performance?
  3. When do you do your school work?

I also asked them other questions like, “What could I do differently to help you and others learn more in my class?”  The question that had the strongest correlation to student performance was the third.  Students who said they did their school work every day immediately after school (or within an hour of getting home) had the highest grades in my class.  Students who waited until later in the evening to begin their work either had lower grades or less engagement and comprehension in my class.

This held true for my athletes.  The difference with athletes is that they have less time available and are often warn out physically when the get home.  How do they still get everything done and do well in school?  I have decided there are two types of athletes in school.

First, there is the athlete that says, “I’m an athlete.  I don’t have enough time to do everything I want, so I need to be very careful about how I spend my time.  I need to be self-disciplined.  I need to work hard on and off the court.  I need to try hard even when I am not at my peak performance.  I will fall down, but I will not give up.”

Second is the athlete that says, “I’m an athlete.  I don’t have enough time to do everything I want, so I am going to do what I enjoy and ignore the things that are not as fun.  I don’t need good grades in order to be a good basketball player.  Besides, how can my teachers expect me to get my homework done when I’m busy practicing sports?  That’s a good excuse for not doing well in school.”

Anecdotal evidence shows that the best athletes on the court also tend to be the best students in the class.  I would argue that this is not a causal relationship.  Instead, both are caused by something else: their character and habits.

Athletics and academics both require the same character traits and habits: hard work, determination, self-discipline, motivation, time management, goals, creative problem solving, endless practice of skills (think free throws and math concepts), recognizing that their good performance comes from practice rather than born talent.  While some athletes have honed these skills and done well on and off the court, others think they can succeed without putting in the work.

Athletes need to recognize that the same skills required to be a good athlete transfer over to the classroom.

Smartest Kids in the World

I really like the podcasts from American RadioWorks.  Here is the latest I listened to about education around the world and why other countries might be doing better than America.

[audio http://download.publicradio.org/podcast/americanradioworks/arw_7_02_ripley.mp3]

I should mention here that I taught English in South Korea for a year and have personally seen the differences in education in different parts of the world.  Clearly, students in countries like Finland and South Korea have more respect towards school than Americans.

At 6:10, she discusses how teachers are trained in America and Finland.  America does not value teachers or education because the belief amongst the general public is that teaching is easier than working in private sector industries.  This is where the terrible phrase comes from that says, “If you can’t ‘do’, ‘teach’.  If you can’t ‘teach’, ‘teach Phy Ed.’.”  I strongly believe that teachers need to be selected much more carefully.  They need to have much more rigorous academic requirements in order to become a teacher.  They need to really know their material.  If we set higher standards for teachers across the board, we will feel better about paying them more.  Also, by paying teachers more, we will be able to attract high performing individuals to become teachers instead of going into the private sector where they can currently make twice as much.  Along these lines, I also believe that teachers should not all be paid the same.  Certain subjects require a much higher skill set in order to teach them well.

Her next big point around 9 minutes is about the prevalence of sports in school.  Other countries do not have organized sports as part of school.  It is incredibly difficult in school to deal with students always leaving school early in order to participate in sports.  At my school, some athletes are released after lunch and miss the entire afternoon of classes.  This doesn’t only slow down that student’s progress in class, but the entire class as a whole.

As for her comments about parent involvement, it is very true that Korean parents push their kids very hard to do well in school.  Children push themselves extremely hard in school because it is their responsibility to bring respect to their families.  They clearly understand that “The harder you work, the more you will achieve.”  If a Korean says that they play piano, it doesn’t mean that they have had a few lessons and can play some songs.  It means that they can really PLAY piano.  They are likely classically trained and would blow you away by their abilities.  They achieve this expertise very quickly because they focus very intensely on one thing at a time.

In the podcast, she does not mention the difference in the amount of time students spend in schools between countries.  In America, students spend the entire summer out of school for some unclear reason.  Why do we need three months of vacation?  Whereas in Korea, Elementary students have about 3-4 weeks off in the winter and the same in the summer.  However, most of them spend this time attending academic camps such as English, math or science camps.  On top of school, most students attend private academies (called “hagwons”) almost daily.  As they get older, they spend more and more time studying and learning.  By the time they are in high school, they have class every single day with no vacation.  They are at school or Hagwons from 7 am until midnight.  Then, they still have to do their homework before going to bed.  On the weekends, they have special classes at school for science or other subjects.  This is all in preparation to take a college entrance exam.  The pressure put on students to do all of this results in a very high suicide and depression rate.  I do not think this is something America should try to replicate, but I do not believe students should have 3 months of vacation in the summer.

I think the key to her message was at the end (19 min) when she discusses teaching her son how to work hard and fail gracefully.  As I’ve mentioned in other posts, it is very important to be okay with making mistakes.  You need to be willing to take risks and put yourself out there physically and mentally.

Technology in the Classroom

Several weeks ago, I journaled the following:

At the moment, I’m listening to a great podcast about education: http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/personalized-learning/

We need to give every student an individualized education plan.  They should be able to go at their own pace much like a student with a tutor would (then, why do I require students to have homework done on the next day?  Shouldn’t I allow them to go more at their own pace?  What happens when they go too slow?).
A charter school named Carpe Diem uses an electronic curriculum for the instruction of new material.  Students are tested at the beginning of the year.  They start wherever they are (even if it’s kindergarten math when the student is in 9th grade), and go at their own pace to get to where they should be.  When they complete the day’s instruction, they have “workshops” where they develop critical thinking skills, work in groups, and complete projects.  I imagine this creates a similar feeling to a flipped classroom only they do it all at school.  note: I’d really like to flip my classroom.  Actually, their electronic curriculum would be more similar to my math assessment software I had thought about.  It is continually monitoring student progress and moving the student forward at their own pace.  That is something that teachers can’t do.
Another school they looked at had macbook airs for each student.  I would like that a lot better than iPads.  It’s extremely helpful to have a full keyboard.  Students could create full reports in class.  They could take tests electronically and see their results immediately.  They could research information much more easily using the internet.  In my classroom, I haven’t had my students open their textbooks at all yet.  If they had laptops, we might not need textbooks at all except for me to find possible example problems.

In the last several weeks, I have decided a few things about my classroom.  I no longer wish to flip my classroom.  Ultimately, a lecture is still a lecture whether students view it at school or at home.  I have talked to teachers that have tried to flip, but students still don’t do their “homework” even though it is just to watch a video.  How can you progress as a class?  Instead, I have been implementing some Math Modeling lessons in Physics.  Students conduct experiments to derive and discover the equations and relationships of nature.  I have had varied success with this also, but I am improving.

My heart is still set on creating a program to assess student’s ability to reach learning targets and notify them of it.  I have come up with a much clearer picture of what the program will look like and do.  However, I lack the time or knowledge to create this program myself right now and am in need of a programmer to help me create it.  Essentially, it will take data from tests to determine which learning targets students have achieved.  Then, it will e-mail each student with the list of learning targets they still have not met and need to continue working on.  This sort of communication is necessary for standards based assessment which is my ultimate goal.

Make Mistakes

The following is a rough draft for a speech I plan to give for Summer LIFE.

 

Have you ever made a mistake?  I have.  How did it feel.  Did you get hurt?  I broke my hand skateboarding.  Did you lose something or someone?  Maybe you lost money.  I’ve turned down easy jobs because I was tired.  We tend to regret the mistakes we make.  I regret not working that day and getting an easy $100.  Maybe you got a problem wrong in math class.

If mistakes hurt, should we do everything in our power to avoid making them?   Read the rest of this entry

TQ: No Grief Debrief

Recently, I have remembered the power of self-reflection.  One of my mottos is “It’s okay to make mistakes.  Just make new ones.”  This means learning from your mistakes.  Any time we do something, we have the opportunity to learn from what went well and what didn’t go well.  As a teacher, I always have a space at the bottom of my lesson plans for “Things to do differently next time.”  If I don’t take the time to reflect and assess, I will not improve my performance as quickly.

Read the rest of this entry

We’ll All Get There Together

This blog is an attempt to process my ideas about education and teaching strategies.  If I thought I had all the answers though, I would be writing this in a private journal.  Instead, I recognize that there are many other wonderful ideas that people have and we can all help each other succeed.  We can pull each other to the next level.

The name of this blog (currently) is “Teach a Teacher”.  This isn’t an arrogant claim that I am trying to teach others how to teach.  Instead, I am asking for help from you.  I need YOU to help ME become a better teacher.  I would like this blog to be a place where we can debate ideas, discuss research, and develop practical teaching techniques together. Read the rest of this entry