The Power of Small Wins
We were very fortunate to host a Feedback for Effective Thinking conference at our school in Nanjing this past weekend. The weekend itself was an excellent learning experience and was made even better by the fact that three well known educational consultants were a part of the conference giving their own keynote presentations and leading other workshops as well.
The main presenter was Dylan William who led an all-day workshop on Friday, followed by Ron Ritchhart (Harvard Project Zero) and Judy Willis, a board-certified neurologist from Santa Barbara, California. Although I will be writing a number of blogs over the next couple of weeks related to my takeaway from the conference, today's blog will focus on a simple, yet powerful idea presented by Dylan during Friday's workshop and deals with the 'power of small wins' in our daily teaching practice.
As an educator for over 15 years myself, I am still sometimes focused too much on the bigger picture in regards to my teaching. Although it is essential to always keep this bigger picture in mind, we can sometimes forget those incredibly brief but extremely powerful moments in which we can have great impact on our students. As Dylan says, agile teaching often leads to better engagement and responsiveness within our students which is one of the essential keys to successful learning.
I want my teaching to be more focused on creating these small win situations whenever possible for it is these experiences that truly deepen our students' level of motivation in regards to their learning. It is very important to reflect on how we can create more of these small win situations in our teaching practice. Perhaps we need to use better questioning techniques or engineer more effective discussions in our PE classes. My takeaway from this part of Dylan's workshop was that I can certainly do a better job in this area. I look forward to trying new strategies learned this past weekend and applying them within my future teaching practice. Thanks for reading.
The Professional Value in an Observational Classroom Visit
I was surfing around the internet last weekend watching different Ted Talks and came across a really good presentation on the value of a plant-based diet in making a positive difference to our health. At the very end of the video, the speaker referred to the fact that he was inspired by a friend to begin this type of diet and wanted to inspire others to do the same.
While he was speaking, a great 'inspire-be inspired' image was projected on the screen and it immediately made me think and reflect upon the fact that inspiration can be found so easily when we really take initiative to look for it. I began to doodle out my own 'inspire-be inspired' drawing that you see above with the intention of writing a blog about the idea. Nothing immediately came to me, but I set it aside for a few days knowing that something would come to me that I could blog about later.
What I learned today is that inspiration can come in many different forms and when you least expect it. My computer was giving me lots of trouble today and I had to go back and forth to the IT help center to fix the same problem that kept reoccurring. Anybody reading this blog post can attest to the fact that IT troubles can sure be very frustrating in nature. Having work to get done and with no computer, I decided that instead of pouting about my lap top not working, I would make much better use of my time by taking a walk around to a few different classrooms and observe colleague teachers in action.
Stop # 1: John Rinker's Classroom: PYP Design Technology
Play is the Highest Form of Research
John is our school's PYP design technology teacher and always has such a wonderful way with the students. When I went into John's room today he was teaching a kindergarten DT class. The students were busily working away with lego and John was down on the ground tinkering away alongside them.
I walked around the room taking a few pictures really looking at John's teaching space. I came across a poster that John had created by taking a photo of Einstein and mashing it up in his own way to create a visual that reflects his strong belief that 'Play is the Highest Form of Research'. It was the first time that I had seen this poster in his classroom and it immediately reminded me of the importance of giving students time to figure things out on their own. They are all so capable of learning on their own when allowed time to explore and play.
Although I feel as though I give them opportunities to do this in PE, it was a super thing to really reflect on the fact that purposeful play can serve such an important role in our programs. Seeing the visual that John had created was a gentle reminder to always remain open to this idea when instructing children.
Stop # 2: Marina Gijzen's Grade 4 Classroom
Marina Gijzen has over 25 years teaching experience and is somebody that I really respect. She is so full of great ideas and is very passionate about education. My wife and I are lucky to have her as our son's classroom teacher this year. I decided to pop in on Marina's class to check out what was going on in their unit of inquiry.
When I went into the classroom, the students were all seated on the floor, each one with a mini-whiteboard in their hands. They were working on writing summaries related to their unit and were sharing their ideas in various ways using their mini-whiteboards and markers.
I have known of these mini-whiteboards for ages and have come across them numerous times over the years, however, I began to think of different possibilities for using these mini-whiteboards in PE and what I could have the students do with them. Many ideas came racing to mind, in particular, the opportunities for students to create their own self-assessments using these boards. I thought that it would be great to allow students to create their own self-assessments in whatever area we were working on in PE. Once these self-assessments were created, I could easily take a picture of their work and file it away in a digital folder (Evernote??) to be used later when reporting on the unit. Reflections could also be done in this manner. Quick and easy to erase once a picture is taken of their work and a valuable recording of their thoughts related to what they are learning.
My take on the value of observational classroom visits
I am happy I took a negative experience today (computer malfunction) and turned it into a positive by observing some excellent classroom teachers in action. I believe that there is so much value in observing our colleagues as they teach. As PE teachers, we can and will learn so much if we take opportunities to go and observe in the classroom. We might walk away with new class management ideas, greater insight into questioning, more diverse ways to lead whole group discussions, or find something new and refreshing to try out in order to improve our teaching space. Whatever it may be, I assure you that it is worth the walk down the hall to be present and observe the learning of our students back in their own classroom environment.
If you haven’t tried it out, I challenge you to take time over the next couple of weeks to visit at least 3 of your colleague’s classrooms. Have your phone ready to take pictures and your journal ready to record whatever may leave you feeling inspired. As teachers, we all have the ability to be inspiring to others and this is what struck me today as I observed Marina and John in action. If you would like to share something that you learned from a classroom observational visit, let me know what it was and I would be glad to post it on my blog. Good luck and get busy observing folks!
6 Tidbits of Humble Advice To Consider
#1- Beware of AUTOPILOT
I think that we must always be aware of our daily teaching practice kicking into AutoPilot. If you get a sense that your daily teaching practice has gone into AutoPilot mode, it is essential to disengage immediately. Recognizing the signs ahead of time can allow us to press the disengage button and bring some creativity back into our teaching practice.
If we are to feel a methodical boredom in our practice in any way shape of form, it is a warning sign that we may be entering unwanted teaching territory and to press the disengage button as quickly as possible. Seeking out something new to try, reading journal articles/blogs or great passages from educational books can inspire us to try something new. Taking the control wheel in our own hands and navigating our crafts can kick off autopilot mode and get us creatively thinking and quickly back on track.
#2- Our Daily Micro-Adventures
Each and every moment in our teaching is truly a micro-adventure unfolding in unknown ways before us. When we look into the eyes of our students entering our gyms, we can see their excitement.
Together we will learn about these micro-adventures.
It is great to have a planned route for these journeys but we must always remember that our students can and will find their own exciting ways to navigate through these micro-adventures with the final destination perhaps taking a different course. When I look back on my own teaching experiences, some of my best lessons have come as a direct result of these micro-adventures in learning.
#3- When in Doubt Ask or Connect on Twitter
Regardless of teaching experience, we must constantly remind ourselves that it is OK not to
know. During these moments ASK OTHERS for guidance, ideas, and suggestions. I know most of us already do this, but remembering to do it more can never be overstated. If you are already on Twitter connecting with other like-minded practitioners, great! If you are not, I encourage you to take the plunge and join Twitter. You'll find so many great people to connect with and learn from. Your professional journeys in education will be richly rewarded for doing so. I promise!!
#4- Low Motivation Part 1
No doubt that we all have moments of low motivation in our teaching. It's completely natural that this will happen from time to time. I strongly believe in the power of visualization and have practiced this technique with semi-regularity over the years (must do it more though!!).
If feeling a lack of motivation, I recommend that you take 10 minutes to be on your own in a quiet corner someplace. As you sit silently, begin to look back and recall all of those magical moments in your teaching or coaching. Imagine yourself back in that place and time. Soak in the feelings and memories helping to better define what made those moments so special.
For me, it instantly begins to lift my mood and helps me to reflect positively on why I am in the greatest profession of all time. I promise that this will work for you if you try it out with and open mind.
#5- Low Motivation Part 2
When motivation and inspiration go spiraling downward, devote 15-20 minutes of your time to watching inspiring You Tube videos. There are countless uplifting videos that, when watched, can and will help in immediately re-infusing inspiration back into our teaching and lives. It never fails to work for me.
Whatever you draw your inspiration from is an excellent starting point to search for these videos. Perhaps it is a motivational sports video or an educational Ted Talk. Whatever it may be, search it out and watch it when feeling that you need that little bit of lift within your teaching practice. Here is a good one that was once recommended to me. If you are a coach or athlete and haven't seen it, tune in. It is great.
#6- #YOU MATTER
Motivational speaker and educational consultant, Angela Maiers, began a #YouMatter campaign on Twitter a while back. So simple in nature but incredibly important to remember is that every single person has something positive to contribute to the world. As educators remembering that #WeMatter is essential to always take hold of. For some kids, the greatest moments of their day is when they enter our teaching space. Sit back and reflect on who these students may be in our lives and devote your next experience with them to making it the very best it can be.
When we are in the moment of knowing how important we are to students like this, how can that not give us such a huge feeling of professional satisfaction and serve to lift our morale and be very inspiring in nature.
THANK YOU FOR READING. May you all have the best teaching year ever. :)
Quick and Easy Self-Assessment in Striking and Fielding
Inquiry is such a powerful tool for getting students to find out important answers on their own and it is something that I strive to embed in all of my PE lessons in some way shape or form.
My goal in today's grade 5 striking and fielding lesson, was to have the students inquire into the reasons why striking and fielding skills are more difficult to put into action in games compared to when they simply practice the skills in class.
To make the purpose of today's lesson clear and explicit to them at the start of class, I specifically told them that we would be focusing on fielding skills and that they would be given the first ten minutes to practice fielding skills in whatever manner that they wish. I showed them the formative assessment task which you can see in the above picture. I told them that they would be self-assessing themselves in fielding skills after we complete our practice session and one more time once we finish playing in a modified striking game that I had planned for them.
I asked them to think of specific reasons how fielding in practice and fielding in games differs in nature and why this might be. I then set them off on their practice sessions. The initial talk lasted roughly 3-4 minutes.
Post Practice Session Self-Assessment Time
Immediately after the fielding practice session, the students gathered around the formative assessment poster that I had prepared for them. I had several markers of various colors ready to go. This self-assessment task required them to place themselves in one of 4 categories in terms of how well that they thought they could field a ball while practicing:
Not So Good
As more than one student could write their name down on the assessment poster quite easily, this task took no more than 2 minutes to complete and was a perfect time for them to take a drink as well. We talked about the fact that we were all learning together and that self-assessing yourself publicly was nothing to be afraid of.
In fact, I allowed them time to speak with an elbow buddy about the reasons why they placed themselves where they did on the assessment poster. To essentially justify why they were Super, Good, OK, or Not So Good. It was quick and easy and very effective in nature in terms of giving me some important feedback as to where they are at with their fielding skills. As well it was serving to get them inquiring into the difference between skills in practice and games.
Time to play the modified striking game
Once the students finished off the first part of the self-assessment task, we quickly got into teams and we played a modified striking game that we had played last class. To differentiate and allow kids multiple methods of striking a ball, I gave them 3 choices for hitting.
This was very much a maximum participation type game as nobody ever has to sit out. Besides the person hitting the ball, all of the other people on the striking team become runners. Once the ball is hit, all of the runners take off across the gym to the far wall. The batter is striking the ball to the left half of the gym where the fielding team is positioned. The runners are on the right side of the gym, so the fielding team and the runners never cross paths, so it is very safe in nature.
Once the hitter makes contact with the ball, the the first fielder must receive the ball then pass the ball to a teammate who then runs to put it atop a batter's tee in the fielding area. If they can get the ball atop the batter's tee before the runners make it to the opposite wall of the gym, the batter is up. Another batter then takes over and the batter who is out joins the runners. There are no strikes and each person gets a chance to hit. The hitter does not run. The maximum number of runs a hitter can earn for his/her team is 3. If they get 3 runs, they switch batters.
Once the game concluded, the students were required to self-assess their fielding skills in a game situation and compare the results when they had self-assessed their fielding skills in practice.
Important Discussion About Difference Between Practice and Games
To me this was the most important part of the lesson and where the best learning hopefully occurred. The students had to now tell me how putting their skills in action in games is much more difficult than in practice. Using this learning, I asked them to identify how they can better practice in order to enhance their skills in game situations. They came up with some excellent answers and really seemed to understand that they must practice as though they are playing in games. Have a look at some of the answers that the students came up with below.
How was this inquiry in action?
Everything about this lesson was student driven in nature. I simply asked them to critically think about some important questions that I had for them in regards to the difference between practicing and playing in actual games. Through the practice skills session and the modified game that we played, they were able to come up with important answers to the questions that I had. They clearly figured out that to improve upon their skills in game situations, they must practice as if they are actually playing.
The biggest victory, I thought, was some students discussing the fact that by practicing like they are playing in real games, they are putting more pressure on themselves, so when it comes to game time, they are more use to this pressure and may perform better. This came totally from them. I never expected it and they were able to discuss it with the class which was a critical learning moment for all of us.
Formative Self-Assessment in a Snapshot
My plan is to experiment with this type of whole class self-assessment more during my striking and fielding unit. At the end of class I took a picture of the self-assessment poster. On it I could see all of their names to help get a clear picture of how the students assessed themselves and where they are at. It can help me to better plan my next lesson and to keep, on file, a picture of this assessment. By collecting a number of pictures such as this that show the results of different formative assessment tasks, I will have some great info at the end of the unit to help me better assess their overall performance during the striking and fielding unit. If you have some quick and easy formative assessment methods in your PE classes, I would love to hear about them. Please share!!
In the words of Dr. Sam Goldstein-- It's ordinary magic!
I think that it is safe to say that most #physed teachers truly do understand the powerful role that resilience can play in a young person's life. During our unit planning, many of us, I am sure, go through various strategies in our minds that are ideal for helping students themselves to understand the importance of resilience. We are constantly thinking of ways that we can highlight and work on developing better resilience in each and every one of our students. Some students, of course, are already programmed to be more resilient than others and these students are easy to spot. However, for some students the concept of resilience is something that is very difficult to grasp on to and to put into practice in their lives.
There are many reasons for this that are very much beyond our control, but there are definite teaching practices that can tap into each child's ability to become more resilient. I am always on the look out for great Ted Talks on the topic of resilience or research articles that can provide me with more knowledge about the nature of resilience. This weekend I came across an excellent Ted Talk given by Dr. Sam Goldstein. If you haven't seen it, I recommend that you click on the You Tube video below to check it out. In the video he really emphasizes that how we go about instilling in children an understanding and appreciation of how to deal with a mistake plays a critical role in helping them to develop a better awareness of the importance of resilience.
In his Ted Talk, Dr. Goldstein refers to the fact that the day-to-day experiences with educators has clearly been found in having a powerful force in shaping the lives of young people. I think that most of us know and understand this, but it is through these connections with young people that the essential groundwork is laid for fostering relationships of trust, strength, hope, and optimism. He also points out that if we can connect our hearts with the minds of our students we are in even a better position to have positive influence over them helping them along their learning paths.
He says that making these connections isn't nearly as hard as people think and that it comes down to 'ordinary magic'. As educators, we all have the 'ordinary magic' that makes learning a very special experience for our students . I found Dr. Goldstein's short video excellent in helping me to reflect on the importance of these little day-to-day interactions with my students both in and out of my PE classes.
If we are to help our students overcome adversity, deal positively with mistakes, and learn to be more resilient in nature, we are definitely better preparing them for the difficulties and challenges that they are sure to face as they progress through school and into adulthood.