classroomOne may argue that classrooms shouldn’t have to be magical. They may argue that classrooms are a place for rigor. However, I would ask, “What is more magical than learning?” The feeling you get when you persevere after multiple failed attempts or find out something interesting that changes the way you see the world is magical. At the earliest stages of learning, when a baby learns to say his or her first word, magical expressions ignite the faces of those who are fortunate enough to hear those treasured sounds. So, what does it mean to have a magical classroom?

The word magical can be defined as delightful in such a way as to seem removed from everyday life. Why can’t we cultivate learning experiences that seem so extraordinary that they capture the student’s interest and motivate them to be self-seekers to the answers we would have taught in daily lectures? If we take a closer look at our curriculum, wouldn’t it be possible to sit back and ask the “bigger questions?” What is it that we are trying to convey with this standard or objective? (read more…)

girl at computerOf Howard Gardner’s identified multiple intelligences, perhaps the one that we tap into least in the classroom is intrapersonal intelligence, also known as being “self-smart.” Examples of intrapersonal intelligence include quiet contemplation, reflection and analysis, where we ask our students to go deep within themselves to connect and make and offer meaning.

Intrapersonal intelligence can be seen as the opposite of interpersonal intelligence, or being “people smart.” In many ways, 21st-century learning has been a huge boon for interpersonal learning. The current emphasis on cooperative learning and collaboration has focused students more than ever on communication and idea sharing. We have moved away from the “isolated” approach to learning, where students would sit in their seats and refrain from talking, gesturing, sharing, etc., at the risk of begin labeled a miscreant and cheater. Through in-class dialogue and the use of e-communication and social media, our current crop of students communicate routinely about learning in ways that were previously neither possible nor desired. (read more…)

iStock_000003772536SmallAs a therapist in the school setting, I’ve come to realize the importance of preparing curriculum and therapy activities based on the whole child instead of one characteristic or attribute. You wouldn’t want people to define you by one characteristic, so why would we do this with disabilities? A person with autism or with a speech delay is much more than that one specific attribute.

While especially true in special education, this idea should be conveyed across education. A child who loves art doesn’t want to be identified solely by his or her outstanding science skills. Maybe the quiet student in class is secretly the best actor or public speaker. It’s important to look past disabilities and other labels and truly take note of the individual’s strengths and needs.

In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, here are a few tips to ensure you’re teaching the child, and not the label. These ideas can be applied not only to special education, but to every classroom across the country. (read more…)

Kids laughingAs I was pulling out of my driveway one morning, I looked over into the neighbor’s yard. Their two-year-old was on the edge of a small, sloped retaining wall, about two feet high. The toddler concentrated on the slope, rocking back and forth to gain some momentum, trying to find the perfect foot placement. I held my breath and kept myself from yelling out or running over. He leapt and made it to the driveway safe and sound. No NFL quarterback scoring a touchdown could match the joy in his victory dance. His jubilation was worth the risk of skinning a knee.

Go to any educational workshop or conference these days, and you are bound to hear about “grit,” the term psychologist and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Angela Duckworth uses to describe “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

NPR recently published a story on the topic. The piece begins, “It’s become the new buzz phrase in education: ‘Got grit?’” It then takes a careful, almost hesitant view of teaching grit, quoting Duckworth as saying, “We don’t know whether we’ve had any effect — the jury’s out.”

Thinking of the toddler’s victory dance, however, I wonder if we’re asking the wrong question. (read more…)

Brenda Overturf is the chair of the International Reading Association Common Core Standards Committee and a literacy consultant, providing professional development and assistance to schools and districts nationwide. She is a former member of the IRA Board of Directors, and has published four books on implementing the English language arts standards. 

What are the biggest shifts in K-12 language arts standards and how will they look in the classroom during transition and post implementation?

There are three major instructional shifts that everyone is talking about, and they’re all meant to make career and college readiness a reality for every student: 1) a focus on more complex text; 2) citing evidence from text when reading, writing or speaking; and 3) building knowledge through non-fiction text. This last one has probably become the most controversial of the three, which I’ll address in a minute.

When we look at the focus on text complexity, and the academic vocabulary that comes along with this more complex text, we can understand why students may struggle with this major shift. (read more…)