Posts for April 2012

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

Stone Henge

Photo courtesy of rupjones from Flickr Creative Commons.

People say that Stonehenge was built to be a giant calendar that marks the winter and summer solstices. To me, that claim has always seemed a little odd. Who would spend 1,500 years building a calendar out of stone? Invent paper, people.

But let’s think of a calendar in deeper terms. A calendar doesn’t just track the days of a year. It tells which days are significant and why: Mardi Gras, Passover, Tax Day, Bastille Day, Election Day, New Years. . . . More than that—a calendar tells us what we ought to be doing on these special days. It is a meeting place where we can plan our future. In that sense, Stonehenge is very much a calendar. It wasn’t meant just to track time, but to provide a space for people to come together for meaningful activity.

Your Class Calendar as a Meeting Place

If you’re like most teachers, you’re used to thinking of your class calendar as an organizational tool that you create to guide you through presentation of the material. It’s your plan. But what if your calendar could be a meeting place? What if you invited students into the process of building the calendar—or at least part of it?

Understand that the students wouldn’t be building the class calendar on their own. They would be participating with you in building it. Here’s an example of how you could build a calendar together:

As you know, group work can give teachers headaches and students nightmares. If set up poorly, collaborative projects often result in one person doing all of the work, while others contribute minimally or actually disrupt. Arguments, inefficiency, mess, and chaos follow closely.

When set up well, though, group work taps into the power of collaboration. Here are 5 keys to setting up successful student collaborations.

Group Expectations

Bring Out the Teacher in Your Students

Photo courtesy of marinakvillatoro
from Flickr Creative Commons.

“Look, Mom! See the turtle! He is scaly!”

Spend a day with a small child, and you will hear many such observations. That’s because all of us have an innate human desire to teach. Somehow what we learn isn’t real until we share it with someone else.

“Watch what I can do! Let me show you how!”

The exclamation points are almost mandatory, because we want to teach. “Show and tell” is one of the most popular times in elementary school—the chance for students to become teachers. And much of the appeal of social media is allowing middle and high school students to share what they have discovered.

“I want to show you something. You’ll never believe this—it’s so COOL!”

Teaching—Unique to Our Species

You’ve heard the expression, “Monkey see; monkey do.” It’s quite literally true. Great apes learn by mimicking what they see, but they don’t actively teach. Why not?

Teaching as Triadic Attention

The act of teaching requires “triadic attention.” When you teach, you have to pay attention to three things—yourself, the other person, and the topic you are teaching. If you lose track of any of the three parts, the teaching moment is lost. Triadic attention is a hat trick that other species can’t maintain for long. Human beings, however, are capable of this feat even before they can speak. That’s why toddlers do so much pointing—to teach you about what they are seeing. Teaching is so central to who we are that perhaps our species should be renamed Homo pedagogues.