Posted in Miscellaneous

Seeing Beyond Your Eyes, Hearing Beyond Your Ears

A few weeks ago in one of my dance classes, our teacher, Alisa Gillespie, saw that the entire class was exhausted. Many of us were rehearsing for upcoming performances and our bodies were a bit worn out. Our movement was looking stale and she could tell we needed a change. For the entire class, we tried completely new activities and exercises. Instead of working on our dance technique, we became more connected as a class and learned more about ourselves. I know I took away a lot more out of that class than I would have just practicing technique. I was grateful that Alisa could really “see” us, “hear” what we needed, and was willing to change her plans.

ImageThe next week in class, on another tiring day, I thought Alisa would do something similar as the week before. Instead, she told us to work extra hard. We did some exercises to help wake up our bodies and minds as we continued with technique class. The “special” class we had done the week before had been a privilege, not an expectation. Though I was so tired at the beginning of class, by the end, I left invigorated and ready for the rest of my day.

A couple days later, right in the middle of working on an exercise, one of the students raised her hand and asked a question. After answering the question, Alisa could tell that we were still not exactly sure what she meant. She decided it was a valuable question and she took the rest of class time to work on understanding the concept this student asked about. Again, by the end of class, I gained so much out of the class and obtained a completely new understanding of something I thought I already knew.

So how did she know that this was what our class needed on these particular days? I am still not completely sure, and she may not know either. However, here are a few tips from Alisa’s class, as well as other experiences, that I appreciated and hope to implement in my future classroom:

    1. Whether it be vibes, intuition, the Spirit, or all three—be in tune and listen to it! Listen with more than your ears so you can understand the needs of your students. It can be difficult, it may take practice, and it may come easier to some more than others, but it is possible, and can be an important tool for success in the classroom.Image

    2. It’s important to value students questions or comments and be okay with adapting your lesson plan as needed. Get through the required content, but do it in a way that will be most beneficial to your students. This may mean pushing through the content, or it may mean changing it up to avoid becoming stagnant. To help with this, have a “toolbox” of ideas, activities, and exercises that you can pull from and aid your students’ learning and understanding.

    3. This concept applies to working with individuals as well. Learn to see with more than your eyes what an individual student may need. We are all so unique, so it takes time to really listen and understand them through what they are saying as well as what they may not be saying.

    Try to make connections and really look at someone today!

Any other ideas on how to see with more than your eyes and hear with more than your ears?

Posted in Miscellaneous

What I wish I had known then

As an incoming freshman, I knew that I wanted to study Special Education.  I knew that Special Education is a program you have to apply for, and I planned my class schedules carefully so I could enter into my major as quickly as possible. Now that I’m graduating in a month, there are a few things I know now that I wish I would have known before I was accepted into and started my program. Even though I can’t share these lessons with my younger self, hopefully they can be helpful to someone reading this blog post.

 

1) Plan breaks into your schedule.

I’ve been in classes since Fall 2011 without taking a single semester or term off. Most of those semesters, I was also working (usually 2 jobs) and taking an average of 15 credit hours. Though I loved my classes, I’m now dealing with major burnout and exhaustion. Just taking one term off would have helped A LOT.

My last first day of school.

 

2) Don’t over-stress about the Praxis.

I still would tell myself to study hard for the Praxis, but when I took it at the beginning of this year, I was so stressed out that I literally grew some gray hairs. I did not need all that extra stress in my life. I wish I would have known to be more confident and realized that as long as I studied, it was going to turn out well.

3) Education is collaborative, so have a good attitude about it.

Previous to entering the program, I didn’t study with others unless they were quizzing me. Group projects were torture because of many unfortunate grade-school projects where the other members of my group didn’t care and didn’t do anything. So, when I entered the program and we were immediately assigned a bunch of group projects, you can imagine my reaction.

Eventually, I was happily proven wrong about group work (even though coordinating schedules is still a challenge), but it took awhile to break down my negative attitude. That made my first semester in my program a lot more negative than it needed to be. I wish I had known that group work can be really positive and even better than working by myself.

4) It’s okay to not know everything.

From elementary school through the first part of college, I knew that if I came to class, did my homework, and studied, I would know all the answers I would need to in order to be successful.  It was a pretty straightforward process for me (minus Calculus. That took some extra help—thank you mom!).

However, when I started teaching actual students, I quickly realized knowing all of the book answers didn’t always cover every situation in my classroom. I wish I would have known that it was okay to not know exactly how to deal with every problem. Not knowing gave me the chance to build on the foundation my book learning gave me, get creative, and problem solve. This has been much more challenging, sometimes frustrating, and intensely satisfying than straight book learning ever was.

 

5. “It is better to look up.”

Several years ago, Elder Carl B. Cook shared a story in General Conference.

“At the end of a particularly tiring day toward the end of my first week as a General Authority, my briefcase was overloaded and my mind was preoccupied with the question “How can I possibly do this?” I left the office of the Seventy and entered the elevator of the Church Administration Building. As the elevator descended, my head was down and I stared blankly at the floor.

The door opened and someone entered, but I didn’t look up. As the door closed, I heard someone ask, “What are you looking at down there?” I recognized that voice—it was President Thomas S. Monson.

I quickly looked up and responded, “Oh, nothing.” (I’m sure that clever response inspired confidence in my abilities!)

But he had seen my subdued countenance and my heavy briefcase. He smiled and lovingly suggested, while pointing heavenward, “It is better to look up!” “

I found President Monson’s advice to be particularly poignant throughout the program.  There were so many days that I felt a lot like Elder Cook.  I was weighed down by projects, reading assignments, students’ behavior problems, the endless slew of lesson plans, attempting to spend time with my husband, earning enough money, and more.

Sound familiar?

We all have struggles that can feel like a million pounds of bricks teetering on our shoulders alone. So, I wish I had written this advice down in a place I could see every morning. When I remembered to look up, be optimistic, pray and ask for help, get help from family and friends, my life was so much easier and so much happier. Even though I wish I had known these things then, I’m glad that I know them now and hope to be able to apply them to my life after graduation next month.

Posted in Miscellaneous

Oops!: Creating a Classroom Culture of Improvement

I’ll be the first to admit it—I hate making mistakes. There are often times where I avoid answering questions or making comments in class because I’m afraid of looking foolish or making a dumb comment. In the English teaching program, though, I’ve had to learn how to get over this in-class shyness…and fast. In these classes, I am constantly required to answer questions on the spot, to communicate my thoughts to my classmates, and to present my findings to my class on a regular basis. Sure, I’m not fond of making mistakes, and I assure you I make them regularly, but through these various teaching techniques, I’ve come to realize that making mistakes is the norm in these classes.

My instructors have done more than simply use these techniques in the classroom, though. They’ve created a classroom community where less-than-profound comments or so-called “stupid questions” are not only accepted, but encouraged. As I learn to expound upon comments I make and explore my own questions as well as those posed by others, I think critically about what I know and how it applies to my experiences with students. And the fact that each student is encouraged to engage in this critical thinking means that everyone is allowed to make mistakes when learning something new.

I’ve come to realize that my classes have been exemplary models for me to follow as I begin teaching. I hope to create the same environment of welcome learning in my own middle-school and high-school classrooms.

Here are a few practical ways to incorporate a culture of error-welcome learning in your classroom:

  • Cold call—practice randomly calling on students, not just ones with their hands raised. This way all students will be more prepared to answer and the quieter students will have more opportunities to share their thoughts.

  • Admit you don’t always know the answer. If a students asks a question you don’t necessarily know how to answer, tell them you don’t know, but you’ll get back to them. Make an effort to research their questions and talk to them about it the next day. This will teach them that sometimes finding the right answer takes a little bit of work.

  • Don’t just dismiss a student’s wrong answer—take time to see what their thought process is and let them take the time to reach a correct conclusion. Mistakes are only beneficial if you have a chance to learn from them.

  • Don’t apologize for mistakes—think of them as opportunities to grow. Misspell a word on the board? Ignore your inclination to hide under a rock and thank your student for pointing out your mistake. Miss a word while reading? Explain to students how important it is to practice reading for fluency.

This has become my goal for my future classroom. I want to create an atmosphere where questions are encouraged and where it’s ok to not always know the answer. I want a classroom where every thought and opinion is valued. I want my students to know that making a mistake isn’t the end of the world—it’s the beginning of a new discovery.

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Posted in Miscellaneous

Bounce, Wiggle, and Learn

Imagine a classroom full of children wiggling and bouncing up and down while doing their work. These students are not sitting on typical classroom chairs. In fact, they are not sitting on chairs at all. They are sitting on stability balls.

stability balls in the classroom

Leslie Stilson’s third grade at Spring Creek Elementary

Five years ago, Leslie Stilson, a third grade teacher at Spring Creek Elementary in Provo, Utah, switched all her chairs to stability balls because of the many advantages they have over traditional seats. “Not only do they promote better fitness, they also enhance concentration through better blood flow to the brain, as well as let students constantly move if they need to.  A chair allows very little movement, and since our bodies were meant to move, using stability balls gives my students the chance to keep in motion throughout the day.”

More Benefits
When students sit on stability balls, they are actually more alert and concentrated, and their creative thinking improves. “It even helps improve handwriting (don’t ask me how—it just does!).” There are physical benefits as well, which include strengthening inner-core muscles and having good spine health. They can also move whenever they want. This is especially nice for those you always need to be moving in the class.

Many BYU elementary education courses talk about developmentally appropriate practice, which includes the size and height of desks and chairs. “The stability balls are custom fit to the students depending on their height. This helps students better able to balance and find their center of gravity. This causes them to actually be concentrating without even knowing it.”

Management
There are many things to consider when it comes to having stability balls as chairs. The biggest concern is management. How does a teacher manage a classroom with only stability balls? What are some of the rules and procedures. Stilson explains her management techniques:

“Before students even begin learning about them, I must get parental permission for each student to sit on a stability ball, so my management begins as soon as I meet the parents. Parents need to be on board with what I am doing so that they will understand the responsibility their child must show in order to be in charge of their stability ball. In all of the years I have used them in the classroom, I have only had one parent question their use then change their mind and give their permission a day later.”

“I have students line up according to height so they can begin by sharing a stability ball for a few weeks. I have each student sit on one 15-20 minutes in the morning and 15-20 minutes in the afternoon. This way, students’ inner-core muscles can get used to being in constant use. Otherwise, they would all have backaches if I let them sit on them all day long the first few days. Eventually, students sit on them longer until they are able to have their own stability ball for the entire day.”

“We have strict rules about how to sit on them (i.e. no big bouncing/no air between you and the ball, take care of it, no kicking, bouncing, or throwing it, etc.), and I actually have to teach the students 5-6 lessons before they can even sit on one to share with a partner. This really helps students become responsible and earn their right to have one to sit on. If they don’t keep the rules, they lose it for 2 weeks, or 3 weeks if this happens when there is a substitute. Students are also in charge of keeping track of their stability ball (they are numbered) and making sure it stays clean and free from contact with sharp objects.”

Other Questions and Answers
Q: Where did you get the money to buy stability balls for you classroom?
A: “I got the money to do this from a grant through my school.”

Q: How do you store the exercise balls?
A: “They are stored on top of the students’ desks or on the classroom counters when not in use.”

Q: When do you fill up the stability balls? Is it a class job?
A: “We fill the stability balls as needed. They usually need some more air every couple of weeks. I teach the students how to fill them up on their own, so I don’t have to do it for them all the time.”

Move to Learn
This idea of having stability balls as chairs in elementary school classrooms is starting to spread across America. Teachers are seeing the significant benefits in students’ learning from just having the ability to move around while learning. Stilson’s classroom is one that has already converted over and she would recommend this switch from chairs to stability balls to all teachers. She said, “In my opinion, this was the best investment my school has ever made. The extra stability balls we have are used with Special Ed and other special needs students. They really are great!”

For More Information about the Stability Balls
Website that Stilson got her stability balls are from: http://www.wittfitt.com

What are your thoughts on having stability balls instead of chairs? How would you manage the classroom? What would be some of your rules and procedures?