textbooksAt the end of a long day, a tired first grade student lifts her chair, flips it over and lays the seat down on the top of her desk. The story of the journey of how it got there can tell us a lot about what she learns at school and what it means to be a student.

Like the choice in Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, how a teacher chooses to get the student to put the chair on the desk might at first seem not too matter much, but in the long run it can make all the difference. Or does it?

Before we look at the choices a teacher has in getting the chair from the floor to the top of the desk, let’s examine what both choices have in common:

  • First-grade students in general are not intrinsically motivated to put chairs on the desks.
  • Even though they might not be motivated to do so, it is a worthwhile task for a student to do and learn to accept responsibility for.
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GlobeTo instruct or not to instruct has been a source of controversy in the field of applied linguistics since Krashen first introduced his comprehensible input theory in the 1980s. The debate over the utility of explicitly learned knowledge in language learning has come full circle again thanks to a new crop of digital immersion platforms, including Duolingo, Lingua.ly and Bliu Bliu. These platforms skip the grammar and go straight for the good stuff: target language content from the Internet.

The world of language education has seen several waves of change over the past two decades, not least the abandonment of the audio-lingual method in favor of communicative language teaching and the advent of language software with interactive exercises and extensive stores of content, but a new generation of digital tools is now coming to the forefront to change the game yet again. Combining the enormous wealth of content on the Internet with the power of super-charged language processing algorithms, applications are going where no language educator has gone before, implementing ideal conditions for language acquisition with amazing accuracy. (read more…)

iStock_000003772536SmallIn April, educators, parents and advocates across the country will help raise awareness about autism, highlight inspiring stories of families and hopefully explain the progress we have made in the classroom. Thanks to advancements in research, we are becoming increasingly aware of what makes our educators more effective in helping children with autism reach their highest potential. Perhaps the most exciting development is the discovery that students with autism can thrive in general-education classrooms.

Research shows that when students with intellectual and development disabilities are educated in mainstream education classrooms with their peers, they do better both academically and socially.

For educators who have worked with students with autism, you know the rewards are great. But for teachers who haven’t worked with students with autism, the challenges and unknown can seem daunting.

So how can educators make their classroom a welcoming and productive environment for all students?

  1. Location, location, location. Seat students in the “action zone” of your classroom, a place that is front and center, near the teacher and away from distractions.
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Children making music with instruments at homeThe math teachers at my school — Castle Park Middle in Chula Vista, Calif. — face the same challenges moving students to math excellence and mastery as so many teachers across the nation. Students must learn a difficult common core curriculum, catch up on missing skills from previous grades, as well as complete numerous rigorous practice problems. Students are often not engaged in this process due to variety of factors including poverty, different learning styles and English language issues. Some of our at-risk students find it easier to give up rather than face a daunting, difficult path to math proficiency.

As part of the Granger Turnaround Model, my team and I addressed attendance and behavioral issues, identified struggling students and arranged for time-on-task both in school and after school for academic supports. The missing piece was a set of math lessons that was rigorous enough to move students toward proficiency, yet engaging enough to keep our at-risk students excited, motivated and focused on mastering math. (read more…)

leadershipOver the years, I’ve read more than a few books, listened to audiotapes and CDs, watched videos and attended conferences where I’ve had the chance to consider viewpoints on what makes leaders excellent in their work. Leader media take up more than a few linear feet of shelving in bookstores and quite a bit of space on the Internet.

Researchers quantify and qualify leaders. Biographers document leaders.

Leaders write and talk about themselves. Search “leaders” and you come up with millions of hits that lead to habits of leaders, characteristics of leaders, skills and competencies of leaders, procedures and processes of leaders, values of leaders and so on.

A lot of media get generated and sold to people looking to understand what makes leaders tick — successfully.

From my own lifelong research, there’s no particular leadership “sauce” or recipe for excellence that appears consistently across leaders. Based on millions of search hits on leaders, one thing is for sure: We have no common performance rubric for leaders that allows us to say: Be this, learn this, do this and you will reach the five. (read more…)