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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.

How to Improve Media Literacy

On an average day, American teens spend more time consuming media than attending school. That's the shocking conclusion of a 2015 survey: Teens (ages 13–18) spend an average of 9 hours a day using media while tweens (ages 8–12) spend nearly 6 hours a day. What’s more, these estimates exclude time spent using media for school or homework!

So, how can we help students consume media wisely? How can we teach them to analyze media messages, test them for reliability, and search for bias? These three activities equip students with essential media-literacy skills.

Developing a Growth Mindset

We've all heard defeatist self-talk from students:

  • "I'm terrible at math."
  • "I'll never be a good writer."
  • "I hate history."

Of course, such beliefs make learning these subjects all the more difficult.

But sometimes positive self-talk can also be problematic:

  • "I'm great at math."
  • "I'm a natural-born writer."
  • "I know everything about history."

What's wrong with such statements? Like the negative self-talk, these statements limit learning because they create a fixed mindset.

This awesome photojournalism project comes from Cindy Smith of Karcher Middle School in Burlington, Wisconsin. Students research a historic spot in their community and create a slide show or digital story that portrays the history of the spot in images and words. You can use this project in your classroom to develop students' thinking, reading, writing, speaking, and literacy skills—all while connecting kids to the community and to history.

4 Writing Strategies for Creative Thinking

When your students think creatively, they discover new, original ideas. They open their minds to possibilities rather than seeking expected answers. Creative thinking works hand in hand with critical thinking to help students deepen their learning.

The word creative comes from the Latin word crescere, meaning “to grow.” Creative thinking grows when students are interested, challenged, and motivated. You can foster creativity by encouraging your students to take risks and learn from mistakes. Also, you can use the following writing activities to help students develop four traits of creative thinking: fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration.

How Project-Based Learning Motivates Students

How can we motivate our students? Rewards? Punishments? Brownie points? Rules? What works for one student may not work for another. That's why teacher-centered strategies often fail to create student engagement.

Not surprisingly, student-centered classrooms tend to have greater engagement. One method we can use to build a student-centered classroom is project-based learning (PBL). Research provides seven reasons that PBL helps motivate learners.

Reason 1: Students gain autonomy.

In an exploration of more than 50 years of research, Daniel Pink found that autonomy of work is a greater driver of motivation than rewards (grades) or punishments (88). Conversely, rote instruction with little student interaction or project work is a leading cause of apathy. Our students need to have a “sense of control over the work” in order to be engaged and motivated (Headden and McKay 4).

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