Posted in Miscellaneous

The Power of Attitude and Expectation

ImageIn IP&T 213, Foundations of Instructional Design and Assessment, Professor John Wilkinson emphasizes the ability teachers’ attitudes and expectations have to completely change the classroom environment and outcome. He describes attitude as the single most important teaching variable.

Attitude is defined as a way of thinking or feeling that affects a person’s behavior. As teachers, the attitudes we have about our students and curriculum affect our level of effort, decisions, actions, and expectations. When we have positive attitudes about our students, we will set positive expectations. What does it mean to set positive expectations? This means that we believe in the learner and that the learner CAN learn.

A study done by Harvard psychology professor Robert Rosenthal illustrated this point perfectly. Rosenthal randomly selected students from various classrooms and had them perform a fake psychological test. He randomly selected students from this group and told their various teachers that these students were predicted to succeed. Based on the information they were told, the attitudes and expectations teachers held about certain students changed. They started to treat these students differently. A year later, Rosenthal tested the students again. The results were astounding: the students he had told the teachers were predicted for success had progressed more than the other students in the study. We know this effect today as the Pygmalion Effect.

Because the teachers’ attitudes and expectations changed about certain students, they treated them differently, and these students rose to meet their expectations.

How exactly did the teachers treat these students differently? Rosenthal lists four things:

  1. They created a warmer climate in their classrooms by encouraging or disciplining the student.

  2. They taught more material. They believed the students could handle more information, so they provided access to more material than was necessary.

  3. Students were given more response opportunities. Whenever they responded, they were allowed to discuss for a longer period of time.

  4. Teachers gave students more effective feedback that provided specific praise, but also specific ways to improve.

These are four practices that we can all incorporate into our pedagogy and facilitate a more successful future for our students.

It might be hard for us to really believe that ALL students are capable of meeting our expectations and achieving academic success; however, perhaps we should take the advice of Audrey Hepburn: “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m possible.’”

Who are we to say we fully know the limits of a student’s potential? Who are we to doubt that they will reach it? Our role as a teacher should be to never doubt or to give up, but to inspire new faith and encourage students to press forward in difficult paths. Our attitudes can create possibilities.

Posted in Miscellaneous

Believing You Are A Writer

“I want you all to write for the next 5 minutes, okay? Ready….go!”

The room was soon filled with the sound of pencils furiously scratching away on paper. For a few seconds, I sat in frustration, my hands frozen in midair above my paper. I had a serious case of writer’s block, but I had to figure out something to write. The rule for this writing practice was that we had to write for the entire amount of time without stopping. So I started writing about the first things I saw: my hands. I didn’t know what else to write, so I stared at my hands and started describing their appearance. Next thing I knew, my mind had strayed elsewhere, and ideas and thoughts were pouring out that had been buried deep inside.

This was all a part of a practice that Professor Rebecca Walker teaches called “first thoughts.” First thoughts usually have tremendous energy and are the best starting point for writing about a topic. If we stop to edit our work, we sometimes lose the good ideas we had before. In her Expository Writing for Elementary Education class, Professor Walker uses this tool and many others to teach future teachers not only how to teach children to write, but how to write well themselves. It is her belief that in order for us to teach our students to write well, we need to be able to write well too.

From her very first lecture, you can definitely tell that writing is her passion. Her whole goal is to spark the passion for writing within us and our future students. One topic that she really emphasizes from day one of her class is this: if we want our students to write well and to believe that they can write well, they need to first believe that they ARE writers. This means that they need to view themselves as authors right now, and that they can create fantastic writing now.

One thing Professor Walker explains is that writing is just a way to communicate with others, and every single one of us has to write. It’s not just something you only do in school, but you use it every day. This makes writing more approachable for our students and

allows us to show them examples of how professional authors organize words and convey emotions or ideas and then let our students practice using those skills in their own writing. This not only teaches our students that they can write well, but it also teaches them specific ways of doing it.

This same principle is illustrated in the story of “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper. My father used to read this book to me all the time as a little kid, and it quickly became one of my favorite stories. The little blue engine has to go up a very large hill. She tries to go up it but struggles and decides she can’t do it alone. None of the other trains can help her either though, and she realizes that she has to go up the hill all by herself. So she tries again, this time chanting “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” and she reaches the top of the hill.

If we take Professor Walkers’ advice and teach our students to believe they are writers, we’re essentially teaching them to do as the little blue engine did. If they believe they can do it, then they will be able to do it.


Posted in Miscellaneous

Becoming a Superhero Teacher

ImageEducation is the ticket to a better life. Each morning, parents send their children to school, put their children’s futures in teachers’ hands, and hope that ticket takes their children to higher roads and better places.

Many public schools excel at preparing their students for their futures, but what happens when schools do not produce expected results and are instead severely underperforming? The 2010 documentary Waiting for “Superman,” directed by Davis Guggenheim, discusses this topic in depth by following several students who currently attend or will attend severely underperforming schools. The title is based on an interview with education reformer Geoffrey Canada, where he recounts how his mother told him as a child that Superman wasn’t real, and he was frightened because there was no one coming to save him. Dr. Robert Balfanz of Johns Hopkins University terms such schools “dropout factories.” Dropout factories are public high schools where more than 40% of students do not graduate on time. Failing elementary and middle schools feed their poorly prepared students into their local high schools, which end up failing too. These institutions of learning, which are meant to empower communities with the ability to live a successful life, instead leave them damaged and short-sighted. Children who had so much potential are left discouraged and broken. They don’t have hope for their future, they don’t have goals to reach any more, and they’ve just about given up on themselves.

Many parents wish to avoid these failing public schools and place their children in a school that will benefit them and meet their needs. Even if this option exists, however, getting into better performing schools is difficult. These schools – often private schools – have tuition fees low-income families are unable to afford. That, or the schools have more applicants than available openings.  

My point in bringing up this topic is not to overwhelm or discourage, but rather to discuss an important question: What can we as future teachers do to help fix these problems in our country’s education? In order for these failing schools to improve, we need better teachers – teachers who are willing to face these challenges and work in areas where public schools are really struggling, like D.C., New York City, or Houston. Whether or not you end up teaching in a “dropout factory” or in a relatively good school, there will always be a need for good teachers who help struggling students

According to GreatSchools, a national non-profit organization that provides ratings of local schools for parents, “the single most important factor determining the quality of the education a child receives is the quality of his teacher.” The first step as a teacher to improving the state of U.S. public education system should be becoming the best teacher you possibly can be. If you can provide a quality education for the children you teach, that’s one large step in the right direction.

So what exactly do good teachers do? Here are some ideas:
– Set high expectations for ALL students
– Have clear, written-out objectives
– Be prepared and organized
– Engage students and get them to look at issues in a variety of ways
– Form strong relationships with their students and show that they care about them as people
(To read more about these ideas, visit this link)

Change starts with us. If we want students to receive a quality education, we need to be quality educators. We can use the education we’re blessed to receive right now to help students achieve that same dream.

I’d really love to start a discussion on this topic. Please feel free to share your ideas of what being a good teacher really means.

Posted in Miscellaneous

What Teachers Make

A little girl drops an armful of stuffed animals on the floor and lines them up one at a time against the foot of her bed. She grabs a few of her favorite picture books and places them in front of the little row of fuzzy friends. Next, she places a piece of paper and a crayon in front of each stuffed animal. “Now class,” the little girl says as she grabs one of the books on the floor, “today we’re going to read Oh the Thinks You Can Think by Dr. Suess,” and proceeds to read the book out-loud to her “class.”

That little girl was me. When I played pretend, one of my favorite things to do was to play teacher. I knew from a very early age that this is what I wanted to do for a career. I don’t know if it was just something I naturally felt drawn to or if it was because of the profound effect my teachers had had on me. Whatever it was, I knew my dream was to become a teacher.

As we grow older, however, we acquire responsibilities that factor into our career choices, such as paying for food, housing, and family. When people think of well-paying professions, teaching probably doesn’t make the list. According to the National Education Association, the average salary in 2011-2012 for a public school teacher in the United States was $55,418. In comparison, the average household income in the United States was $52,762. As education majors, we realize that choosing to be a teacher will make us an average income, and will probably never make us wealthy. We still choose to become teachers though because the role of a teacher is worth more than the paycheck.

When you walk into the McKay Building through the northeast entrance, you pass a quote printed on the wall from President David O. McKay where he says, “I think it must be apparent to every thinking mind that the noblest of all professions is that of teaching…” The name of this blog was taken from a manual used in the LDS church called: “Teaching: No Greater Call.” What makes teaching such a noble and great profession?

Children spend more time in the classroom with their teacher than with any other person, second only to parents. Because of this position, what a teacher says, does, and believes can influence their students in a very personal way, no matter how small it may seem. When I think of people who really helped me become the person I am today, the names of several teachers instantly come to my mind. These people chose a smaller paycheck and gave their time and effort to help me grow. They inspired me, encouraged me, believed in me. They taught me to set goals, reach for the stars, be confident in myself, and never give up. Without these teachers, who were willing to sacrifice a larger paycheck to take the position they did, I wouldn’t be in the same place I am today.

So the question I want to pose to you readers is this: should money be the deciding factor in job selection?

In one of my classes last semester, we watched a clip on YouTube of a poem by Taylor Mali called “What Teachers Make.” Mr. Mali is a poet and former teacher himself. In this poem, he address negative comments made by an acquaintance in regards to what teachers make. Mr. Mali responds by saying, “I make parents see their children for who they are and who they can be…I make kids wonder, I make ’em question, I make ’em criticize, I make ’em apologize and mean it…I make a difference. Now what about you?”

Although teachers may not be able to change their salary, they can, in this sense, decide what they “make.” You can decide to be a positive influence. You can decide the example you set. You can decide to help your students leave your classroom better people than they were before. You can make a difference.