MAKE THEM THINK!

I've got a big push in my classroom this year - I want my students to be the center of learning. The whole sage on a stage and guide on the side concept doesn't quite get it for me. I want to do more than just guide students in a direction. I want to be a sage on the side and mix the two ideas into one. I've become more comfortable with the fact that I know more about history than my students do. It's true. It should be true. I've been studying it for at least a decade longer than they have.

So I want to embrace my role as master of inspiration. I want to unleash curiosity in students. I want to spark interest by bringing up facts and stories that they would not have found in a simple Google search. I do not want to become replaceable. I want the opposite. I want the students to feel that I bring immense value to the class.

But I don't want them to necessarily realize all of that value until they're grown up and gone from my classroom.

I think that what I want to develop is independence. High school students, even the 9th graders, are relatively close to entering the adult world. Many of them will go to college or trade school. Some of them will immediately enter the workforce. All of them, at least in theory, will have learned the skills necessary to become independent, contributing members to society.

In class, we talk a lot about meta-cognition, which basically is the habit of thinking about your own thoughts. When you ask a student to think before they speak, you are asking that they develop their meta-cognitive abilities. These are difficult to develop, and we as teachers are often frustrated by the lack of meta-cognition that our students possess. Yet if you're like me, you've spent a relatively small amount of time thinking about how your teaching processes do (or do not) develop meta-cognitive skills.

So what do we do?

How do we teach thinking in a world full of standardized tests that, for the most part, don't value thinking at a particularly high level?

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The answer, as is often the case, I think is in the little things. Here are three strategies that I use to increase student independence without minimizing my role in the classroom. 

1. Daily Calendar
I use Google Slides to keep a daily agenda. It is posted on the classroom website. Many of the students have the page bookmarked. It is posted on the board when students walk in each day. This strategy is like the home-base in which I house all of my other independent thinking strategies. 

The calendar fosters independence and problem solving. When a student asks "What did we do yesterday?" I can now remind them to check their calendar rather than walking them through a step-by-step review of what they have missed.

Check out the daily agenda or click through the embedded file below:


2. Instructions 2.0
This one seems, and is, pretty simple. However, there are lots of educators who chafe at the idea of giving students too much guidance or "doing it for them".  It's like buying a piece of furniture at IKEA. Why do people love IKEA? It's not because their furniture is so much higher in quality than Wal-Mart or Target. It's because the instructions are so damn immaculate!

It should be the same when my students begin a project. They should have all of the instructions, rubrics, steps and requirements in front of them at the very beginning. If a student has a desire to work ahead, let them! That is how you keep students from being bored out of their minds in your class. We talk about differentiating for students who struggle all the time. This is a simple change in mindset that differentiates for our higher achieving students.

3. Tutorials
The last part is the 21st Century Learner piece.* Students will be learning from video tutorials their entire educational lives, so the least I can do is make as many of my own as I have time to make so that they are as personalized as possible.

*I hate that phrase.

I'll write later on how to make these, but there are a bunch of easy-to-use tools out there: Movenote, ScreenCast-O-Matic, CamStudio, SmartRecorder (if you have Smart Boards at your school) and more. Find one that fits your style, buy a $10 mic and record away. Also consider making a YouTube channel of your own. It gives you a quick, easy to use place to house your videos.

Here's an example that I made for the instructions from Step 2. It took a total of 8 minutes for me to create, upload to YouTube and link into my instructions. Not bad for a teacher short on time.


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Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

About Me:
My name is Alec Chambers. I am a high school history and government teacher at a small, urban public school in Kansas City called Center High School. We regularly kick tail. Among many awards, we were named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2014. I don't just teach at Center- I also graduated from Center in 2006 after attending Center Schools K-12. I have a degree in Political Science, a second degree in International Relations, a third degree in Education and a Master's of Arts in Teaching. I have an unofficial degree is soccer. All of those degrees have led me to the high-paying teaching profession! I have a newborn daughter and am married to the most awesome woman on the planet. Seriously. It's a proven fact.

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