How to Talk so Kids can Learn at Home and School

I recently read How to Talk so Kids can Learn at Home and School by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This book provides insightful examples and strategies on how teachers can resolve communication conflicts that will leave the student empowered rather than powerless and ashamed. According to the authors, there ‘is a direct connection between how kids feel and how they behave. When kids feel right, they’ll behave right. How do we help them feel right? By accepting their feelings’ (p.23). As educators, we need to strive to cultivate an environment that encourage students, invite cooperation, and build natural desire to learn. I really enjoyed chapter 4 – Solving Problems Together: Six Steps That Engage Children’s Creativity and Commitment. This chapter provides teachers a step-by-step strategy to create a community of learners. By establishing this community, students will feel empowered and it will establish a safe space where each child is valued. Below are the six steps to create this community:

  • Listen to your students’ feelings and needs.
  • Summarize their point of view.
  • Express your feelings and needs
  • Invite the class to brainstorm with you to find a solution.
  • Write down all ideas – without evaluating.
  • Together decide which ideas we plan to use and how we plan to implement them.

By reframing conversations that focus on solutions rather than problems, teachers guide students to desirable behaviours that empower them. Student-teacher conversations will nourish a respectful learning environment where both the teacher and students can flourish. Moreover, instead of evaluating what a student has done, you should describe it. For example, when a student succeeds at an assignment, task or activity, rather than evaluating using words such as ‘good job’, etc. describe what the student did correctly and how they succeeded. This encourages the student to strive in learning, and builds their confidence. Furthermore, the authors assert that teachers should not label academic ability (above average, mediocre, brilliant, etc.) but rather every child needs to be seen as a learner and encouraged to experience the joy of intellectual discovery and the satisfaction of making progress – however slow or fast’ (p.212). The essence of teaching is the relationships we develop with our students, and language is a powerful tool to cultivate these relationships. As this quote from the book illustrates – ‘the difference between the words that demoralize and those that give courage; between the words that trigger confrontation and those that invite cooperation; between the words that make it impossible for a child to think or concentrate and the words that free the natural desire to learn’. To end, I am going to leave with a quote to why this book is an essential read for teachers:

“As teachers our goal is greater than just passing on facts and information. If we want our students to be caring human beings, then we need to respond to them in caring ways. If we value our children’s dignity, then we need to model methods that affirm their dignity. If we want to send out into the world young people who respect themselves and respect others, then we need to begin by respecting them. And we can’t do that unless we show respect for what it is they feel.”

A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science

A Mind for Numbers

A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley provides an array of techniques and strategies for learning math and science, although the techniques can be applied to other subjects. The book provides diverse methods and informative applications to help readers construct mechanisms that lead to successful learning – these mechanisms can be applied to any subject or concept not only math and science. The key quality of this book is it doesn’t provide an “one size fits all” approach to learning but rather recognizes the diverse needs of learners, and therefore provides the reader with a myriad of strategies. Also, the test preparation checklist (p.239) and ten rules of good studying (p.257) are great tools for students and teachers. I will summarize the main points from the book, and points that I found important.

  • Oakley provides two main modes of thinking, focused and diffused. She illustrates the importance of each mode for learning and problem solving. Oakley suggests that readers learn how to use the different modes and when and how to shift between the two modes  of thinking.
    • Focus mode – learner’s attention is fixated on the concept (activates the pre-frontal cortex).
    • Diffuse mode – learner reflects on the concepts or takes a break from learning. When you take a break from learning, you unconsciously switch to the diffuse mode (diffuse thinking is widespread throughout the brain).
  • Focused mode is concerned with analyzing and interpreting whereas the diffused mode is concerned with the ‘bigger picture’. Oakley attests that learning occurs when you shift between the two modes of thinking.
  • To learn new ideas, we must use focused thinking initially then switch to diffuse thinking.
  • Oakley claims that major discoveries and innovations happened during the diffused mode of thinking.
  • The two crucial memory systems are working memory and long-term memory. Working memory pertains to the material your are directly processing (Oakley suggests processing four ideas at a time). Long-term memory is the hard-drive of the brain. It holds large amounts of information that is accessible.
  • It’s important to connect new concepts between the working memory and long-term memory; it builds multiple and new neural connections. This is critical for creativity and problem solving.
  • Another strategy Oakley suggests to improve learning is recall new knowledge to get it imprinted in your long-term memory.
  • Oakley compares the process of chucking and time-on-task. She reveals that creating connections with information is more effective than rereading, over learning, and rote memorization. Therefore, learning and reading must be active rather than passive. In addition, she asserts that learning strategies of pausing and reflecting are more effective than cramming and stressful learning.
  • Three steps to chuck material are (1) simply focus on the information you want to chuck, (2) understand basic material you want to chuck, and (3) gain context to see how and when to chuck.
  • Visuospatial memory is important to learning. The learner should create analogies, visual images and narratives to cultivate the visuospatial memory.
  • A technique Oakley suggests to use is the memory palace technique. To create a memory palace, the learner should contextualize and integrate concepts into familiar memories. This will strengthen their visuospatial memory.
  • Two strategies to gain deeper meaning and understanding hidden meaning are (1) simplifying and personifying the object of study and (2) contextual transferring new concepts to previously learned concepts.

At the end of each chapter, Oakley provides the reader with question to deepen their learning (the questions also serve to apply the techniques she’s teaching in the book). I will provide a few that I found informative.

  • Describe an image you could use to help you remember an important equation.
  • Pick any listing of four or more key ideas or concepts from any of your classes. Describe how you would encode those ideas as memorable images and tell where you would deposit them in your memory palace.
  • Explain the memory palace technique in a way that your grandmother could understand.
  • Take a piece of paper and doodle to create a visual or verbal metaphor for a concept you are trying to understand.
  • Write a paragraph that describes how some concepts you are studying could be visualized in a play.

A Mind for Numbers is a great read for educators and students. Oakley has provided me with numerous techniques I will implement in the classroom. Great book!

How To Be An Effective Teacher: The First Days of School

My first blog post will be the book that helped me in my first year. Upon hearing I will be teaching my first classroom and be carrying the precarious title of ‘first-year teacher’, I researched which book will help me prepare the school year. The feedback I received from teachers were to read, How to be an Effective Teacher: The First Days of School by Harry Wong. Below, I write a few passages I believe helped me prepare for my first year.

  • “Effective teachers do not ask all the questions at the end of the discussion, class period, video, chapter, or lecture. The effective teacher who wants high-level comprehension intersperses questions throughout all class activities” (p.21). For instance, if you are watching a video, stop the video frequently and ask questions and hold discussions. Research indicates this is more effective compared to asking questions at the end of the video.
  • Research on Improving Student Achievement (p.31):
    • Aligned Time on Task: Students who are actively focused on educational goals do best in mastering the subject matter.
    • Cooperative learning: Students in small, self-instructing groups support and increase one anther’s learning.
    • Extensive Reading: Extensive reading, both inside and outside of school, result in substantial growth in vocabulary, comprehension abilities, and information base of students.
    • Wait Time: Pausing after asking a question in the classroom results in increase in achievement.
  • Warmly welcome students to school everyday.
  • High expectations have to do with attitude and behaviour. Effective teachers are caring, warm and compassionate people.
  • “The most effective classes are those where the students are self-disciplined, self-motivated, and self-responsible learners.” (p.97).
  • “You will greatly increase the chance that school will start successfully for both you and students when these four points are true: (1) Your room is ready, (2) You greet students at the door, (3) You have assigned seating, (4) You have the first assignment ready (the assignment should be short, successfully for all students and interesting)”. (p.109)
  • “Ask any student who enters the room inappropriately to return to the door and enter appropriately. Do not send anyone out of the room but rather to the door; ‘out of the room’ has a negative connotation”. Never talk negatively to student but rather talk calmly, and do the following: (1) Ask student to return to the door, (2) Tell the student why, (3) Give directions for correctly entering the room, (4) check for understanding, and (5) Acknowledge the understanding.” (p.109)
  • On the first day of school, tell the students who you are and your expectations.
  • It is imperative teachers decide before the school year what they want to record. For example, attendance, homework assignments, classwork, test grades, skills mastered, project grades, extra-credit work, class participation, and cumulative progress.
  • “The three most important student behaviours that must taught on the first days of school are (1) classroom guidelines, (2) procedures, and (3) routines”. (p.141)
  • “Effective teachers explain the posted guidelines and are willing to make change as the classroom situation requires”. (p.150)
  • “Effective teachers communicate and work cooperatively with students’ homes”. (p.160)
  • “Research indicated that engaged time should be about 75 percent of the allocated time. Academic time (teacher model or teaches skill set or concept should be around 35 percent of the allocated time. At the end, two questions that should be answered are (1) Did the students learn what you wanted them to learn?, (2) Can students show what they have learned?” (p.200)
  • “Effective teachers teach students, not the subject or grade level”. (p.208)
  • “Effective assignments have the following aspects: (1) What you want the students to learn, (2) Write each step and objectives as a single sentence, and (3) Write in simple language”. (p.210)
  • “Focusing on objectives and goals makes the most difference in student achievement. If students know what they are to learn, you increase the chances they WILL learn”. (p.211)
  • “The following is a guide to writing a learning objective: (1) pick a verb (Bloom’s Taxonomy), and (2) complete the sentence (ex. create a different system to catalog books in a library)”. (p.222)
  • “How to structure lessons for cooperative learning: (1) Specify the name of the group, (2) specify the size go the group, (3) state the purpose, materials, and steps of the activity, (4) teach the procedures, (5) specify and teach the cooperative skills needed, (6) hold individuals accountable for the work of the group, and (7) teach ways for students to evaluate how successfully they have worked together”. (p.258)

This is a fantastic book for fist-year teachers or veteran teachers who want to refine their skills. A sensational read to help you began the year.