Tug of War

Tug of War Thinking Routine

I want to start today’s post by thanking the NEISD GT teachers who attended yesterday’s after-school training. Many of them came even though they then needed to go back to other campuses to attend PTA meetings. Despite the extra long work day, their enthusiasm and cooperation were amazing. Yesterday’s session was, “Frameworks for Facilitating Deeper Discussions and Learning,” which you can read about on my Professional Development page.

One of the Visible Thinking Routines we practiced yesterday was “Tug of War.” We used an example from the original Making Thinking Visible book by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. In the “Picture of Practice” for this routine, Clair Taglauer, an 8th grade teacher from Traverse City, Michigan, describes how she used “Tug of War” with her students when they began reading The Giver. This is a book used with 5th graders by many of the GT teachers in my former district. The Giver, by Lois Lowry, describes a dystopian society where as much as possible is “the same” to avoid conflict. Taglauer asked her students to think about the concept of an ideal society from the two opposing sides represented in the book: sameness and diversity. With this routine, students generate arguments that support each side, and then post them along a rope. A key part of the second step is placement of the ideas along the rope. Instead of just hanging them on each side, groups also determine the strength of each argument and rank them so that what they believe to be the strongest supporting statements for each side are at the opposite ends of the rope, growing increasingly weaker toward the middle.

“Tug of War” helps students to not only look at more than one side of a dilemma, but also to note the varying layers of complexities and justify their arguments. It’s a good routine to use whenever it seems like students are jumping to conclusions, and you can have multiple ropes coming together at one point if there are several sides to consider.

You can see one example of the “Tug of War” the GT teachers did yesterday below. (Note for those of you not from Texas: HEB is our beloved grocery store!) You can learn more about this Visible Thinking Routine by reading the book I mentioned above, visiting the Project Zero website, or clicking here for some videos and a downloadable template. I’m working on a Wakelet collection of resources for Thinking Routines, but in the meantime you can click here to see some other posts that I’ve done about them.

“Tug of War” Visible Thinking Routine using The Giver

Stories for All Diversity and Inclusion Calendar

The Stories for All project is based on the premise that it is “crucial for all children to have access to books that serve as both windows and mirrors.” On the page that features books in many categories that serve this purpose, you can also find some free downloads. One of them is the Diversity and Inclusion Calendar, which is a wonderful way to keep track of celebrations across multiple cultures and remind us of what we can do to include those who are too often marginalized. It denotes special months, such as National Bullying Prevention Month in October and Jewish American Heritage Month, as well as days that have been set aside to honor groups, people, and events like Ada Lovelace Day or Marcus Garvey Day. This calendar would make an excellent planner for teachers to remind them of ways to make time and space for all of the diversity in their students.

I will be adding this my Wakelet of Anti-Racism resources as I reflect with sadness on the anniversary of Emmet Till’s horrific murder on August 28th. We can and must do better in this country, and education and celebration of our differences are two of the many ways we can make sure such tragedies do not happen again.

Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

Assessing with Multiple Choices Instead of Multiple Choice

My newest post for NEO is all about empowering students with choices to “show what they know.” In the article, I make the case against multiple choice assessments, which: often make it easy for students to cheat, rarely allow students to demonstrate deeper knowledge, and aren’t authentic windows into student ability. I give some suggestions for other ways to learn whether your students have mastered a skill — and you may be surprised at the time you will save on reteaching and retesting in your classroom if you adopt some of these methods.

All of my NEO articles can be found here, and you can see a list of my published articles, including some that I’ve appeared in as “an expert,” here. I also continue to add to my public collection of free resources on Wakelet, which you can follow here.

Photo by Andy Barbour on Pexels.com

Getting Unstuck

The Creative Computing Lab at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education has released a new (July, 2021) curriculum to use with Scratch. The curriculum is free, as is access to Scratch, the online coding platform from M.I.T. “The curriculum reimagines the classroom as a design studio: a culture of learning in which students explore, create, share, and reflect.” It is targeted toward upper elementary grades as an intermediate step after students have learned Scratch basics using their Creative Computing Curriculum. In “Getting Unstuck” there are 10 modules, each of which focuses on a particular coding concept for which students will design their own projects. All of the modules include four components: Explore, Create, Share, and Reflect. Downloadable slides are provided for each module, and suggested time spans are recommended in each “Activities Overview.” The Orientation slides will help you prepare to get started and include suggestions for differentiation as well as for use in different learning environments (online synchronous, asynchronous, physically distanced).

Coding teaches students so many important skills, most of which can translate to any field. It can be weaved into any of your core subjects while giving students the opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving. I know that I sound like a broken record about it on this blog, but you do not have to be an expert to bring coding into your classroom. In fact, you may ultimately be more helpful to your students if you are learning along with them. It takes away the temptation to help them “too much” and allows you to model how to handle challenges. Advanced learners in your class would probably be more than happy to take this curriculum and run with it, though all learners would certainly benefit.

I’ll be adding this post to my new public Wakelet, “Coding Resources for Teachers.” You can see all of my public Wakelets, offering hundreds of free resources to teachers, here.

Templates and Tools for Designing Presentations

First of all, to all of my teaching friends who have started back to school, I just want to say from the bottom of my heart how much I appreciate all that you do. I hope that this school year will present fewer challenges than last. Many of you probably have mixed feelings about beginning another year, and my wish is that we can all support each other as much as possible. With that in mind, I wanted to publish this post of some tools that can help make things easier.

Last year, I posted this article that is chock full of interactive slide templates designed by myself and others, and are ready for you to copy and download for free.

Though many of you know about the SlidesMania website (which is very supportive of educators), you may not know that the author also has an IconsMania website where you can download free icons also. She also has a Facebook Group and Wakelet collection. And if you really appreciate all that Paula does as a community service to educators, click on the coffee icon in the bottom right corner so you can buy her a mocha or two. I put one of Paula’s recent slides, Funfair Exit Ticket, at the bottom of this post.

Another site I like to visit for free slide designs is SlidesGo. One fun tool that I recently discovered by clicking on the More button at the top is Storyset. On Storyset, you can find customizable illustrations that you can download for free (with attribution), and it’s easy to use the online tools to change colors, select certain features of the illustration to hide, and decide the file type (svg or png). If you really want to explore the rabbit hole of free design options, click on that More button at the top of SlidesGo yourself, and investigate some of the other sites.

SlidesCarnival has been a long time favorite of mine when I need some inspiration, and Canva is another spot where I find them (some options are limited on the free plan, though).

Matt Miller of Ditch that Textbook has Social Media templates ready to go for you. (Be sure to check out his ULTIMATE Google Slides Teacher Resource when you have time for a really deep dive!)

If you want to play around with color on your presentations, I highly recommend the Coolors tool. I recently published this post with some other options, too. It includes a link to a Slides activity where students design their own color palettes – which would be an awesome “Getting To Know You” lesson!

To add some interest to your presentation, you can include animated GIF’s. Or, find free images with Pixabay, Unsplash, All4Ed, Photos4Class, Pexels, or Pics4Learning.

Whenever you can, make your presentations interactive using PearDeck or Nearpod.

Lastly, if you need some reminders of what NOT to do in a presentation, you can chuckle at this Worst Preso Ever that was crowdsourced several years ago. It was always a favorite for my students when we started working on Genius Hour!

Chatter by Ethan Kross

During the last few years, the voice inside my head has been vehemently berating me and informing me that I am a failure. Despite over a quarter of a century of teaching experience, I felt less confident than my first year of teaching. Though the logical part of my brain argued against this critical inner voice, it was difficult to overcome. I knew I wasn’t alone in feeling inadequate, but that didn’t make it seem any less real.

Ethan Kross, psychologist and director of the Emotion and Self Control Laboratory, calls this mental self-criticism “chatter.” He has written a book by that name on what he and other scientists have learned about how to “harness” the judgmental thoughts that cycle through our heads so we can make them less destructive and more productive. Interspersed among the tales of athletes, scientists, and others, there are psychological studies that have informed researchers about chatter, and Kross offers suggestions for tools we can easily incorporate into our daily lives to leap out of those negative feedback loops.

One such tool is called, “distanced self-talk.” When I tell you how simple it is to do this, you will most likely doubt its effectiveness, but Kross has quite a few examples to back it up. The idea is to mentally advise yourself in the third person, as though you are an outside observer rather than the subject immersed in the situation. You can also temporally distance yourself by imagining that you are looking back on the circumstances from a time in the future.

In the chapter, “The Power and Peril of Other People,” Kross surprised me with the fascinating work of Bernard Rime, who found that “talking to others about our negative experiences doesn’t help us recover in any meaningful way.” In fact, what we often think of as venting can make our chatter worse. (Does this make anyone else think of Teachers’ Lounges?) He goes on to explain how this can be avoided when, “The interlocutor ideally acknowledges the person’s feeling and reflections, but then helps her to put the situation in perspective.”

I won’t give away all of the tools because I think Kross explains them best. (He includes a chapter at the end that recaps all of the tools mentioned in the book and offers suggestions for how to use them in different situations.) I will say that if you are experiencing the deleterious effects of Chatter, that you will find this book enormously helpful. If you are someone who teaches, parents, or in any way supports a person who battles anxiety, depression, or self-hatred, you will find this book enormously helpful. If you somehow managed to survive a traumatic event, a natural disaster, or a worldwide pandemic, you will find this book enormously helpful. And, even more importantly, you will find this book hopeful. I think quite a few of us can use a bit of that right now.

Click here to learn more.