As the documentary details, many teachers—and professors of education—are unfamiliar with the overwhelming evidence that systematic phonics is the most effective way to teach children how to decode written language. While there’s been some pushback, quite a few teachers who have listened to the documentary or an accompanying piece on NPR—or read the New York Times op-ed by the documentary’s producer, Emily Hanford—have expressed dismay that they were never given this information as part of their training……….
Consistently revising and improving education for everyone is a journey, not just a goal. With things as vital as great teaching and effective learning, teachers and students can benefit from a positive mindset of constant growth and development. According to Folwell Dunbar, the founder of Fire Up Learning, there’s a whole list of things we can start doing anytime to see immediate results in improving education.
In the Edutopia article 50 Little Things Teachers, Parents, and Others Can Do to Improve Education, Folwell lists 50 things we can practice to begin improving education right now. It’s the little things, he says, that make all the difference.
“While big, bold initiatives sound good, look pretty (cost a lot), and usually grab all the press, it’s the unheralded acts that, in the end, deliver results …”
It’s true; the little things make a big difference over time. The small steps we take today can have a huge impact tomorrow. Learn more about the small things (and some bigger things) Folwell suggests for improving education in his full article on Edutopia.
Which things from Folwell’s list are you using in your practices? Which ones would you like to try? What do you think might be missing from the list? Share it with us below.
50 Little Things for Improving Education
- Serve kids a good, healthy breakfast.
- Find out what your kids like and incorporate them into your instruction.
- Allow kids to explore topics that really matter to them.
- Use big words and encourage kids to do the same.
- Ask questions that involve thoughtful answers.
- Give kids time to answer those hard questions.
- Discuss paintings, films, books, plays, etc.
- In your discussions, expect more than “It was awesome!” or “That sucked.”
- Model the use of proper English (or Spanish, German, Chinese, etc.).
- Adopt efficient routines and procedures.
- Remove erasers: time spent erasing is time lost exploring creative ideas.
- When watching television, turn on the closed captioning.
- Make TV interactive by discussing the shows you watch.
- Post the name of the book(s) you’re reading on the door to your classroom or at home. Enthusiasm is infectious.
- Post things that inspire and ignite the imagination.
- Celebrate learning frequently.
- Create quiet and comfortable learning sanctuaries in school and at home.
- Provide feedback that’s constructive and actionable.
- Assign homework that is meaningful and engaging.
- Encourage kids to keep journals they write in every day.
- Tell and listen to stories.
- Be consistent with rules. Children flourish when they know their boundaries.
- Listen to and discuss all kinds of music
- Display student work, along with the criteria used to evaluate it.
- Use mnemonic devices and other learning “tricks.”
- Read with your child for at least 15 minutes every night, if not longer.
- Discuss, question, and debate what you read.
- Read and write just for fun.
- Keep pets and plants at home and in the classroom.
- Eliminate unnecessary distractions during the school day.
- Constantly relate what is being taught to the real world.
- Listen to audio books whenever and wherever possible.
- Allow kids time to reflect on what they’ve learned.
- Provide positive reinforcement whenever possible.
- Call on students in an equitable manner (popsicle sticks, playing cards, etc.).
- Find, bookmark, and visit great educational websites.
- Explore interesting areas in your community.
- Play intellectually challenging games like Scrabble, chess, and Sudoku.
- Take an interest in what children are learning.
- Eat well-rounded, healthy snacks.
- Have real conversations while dining. (Foreign Language tables can be fun!)
- Don’t stress out.
- Exercise regularly, and make it fun.
- Play sports of every kind.
- Don’t complain – it rarely does any good.
- Set high standards for yourself and your kids, and expect success.
- Travel as much as possible.
- Make sure your kids (and you) get a good night’s sleep.
- Practice what you teach.
- Smile a lot!
The Best Tool to Use
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Wabisabi’s prime features include real-time reporting against standards, media-rich learner portfolios, a vibrant collaborative experience, quality lesson plans from teachers all over the world, and much more. Get started with it below and see the possibilities for yourself.
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However talented, no one is a natural-born teacher. Honing the craft takes significant care and effort, not just by the individual, but also by the school at large. Though experience does matter, it matters only to the extent that a teacher — regardless of how long he or she has been in the classroom — commits to continued professional development to refresh his or her status as a transformational teacher.
Along those lines, even after a decade in the classroom, I don’t claim to be beyond criticism — not in the least. Still, I wish to offer some advice on constantly striving toward perfection, however elusive that goal will always remain.
Constantly Share Best Practices
As a first step, work toward recognizing that, no matter how long you’ve been in the classroom, there will always be someone else who’s more effective at a certain facet of teaching. When I was a first-year teacher, a veteran colleague inquired how I’d engaged such strong student interest in the American Revolution, something that he’d struggled with achieving.
I shared my lesson plan, which culminated in a formal debate about whether the colonists had acted justly in rebelling against British rule. Moving forward, I felt more confident and comfortable about asking that colleague for help with providing quality written feedback, which he excelled at doing.
Find a Trusted Mentor
No matter how much experience you have, it’s crucial to find and rely on a trusted confidant. As a new teacher, I spent countless hours chatting with colleagues about best practices and where I feared that I might have fallen short. Not once did they pass judgment on me, or suggest that whatever I had done (or failed to do, in certain cases) was beyond repair.
Instead, they offered thoughtful advice on how I might do things differently. No matter the subject, I value hearing fresh perspectives from new and veteran teachers about becoming even better at my job. Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.
Commit to Classroom Observations
I do my best to observe other teachers in action. This year, I benefited from watching a colleague inject humor into his English classroom to cultivate a more relaxed but effective learning environment. In turn, I tried to strike a similar balance in my history classroom, which helped students feel less afraid of sharing ideas and learning from mistakes.
I’m equally grateful for observing a colleague teach French to students whom I also instruct. She possesses a gentle firmness that learners respond to, but more importantly, students know that she cares about them — and they don’t want to let their teacher or themselves down.
Change Things Up
I also observe other teachers to see how they change things up, especially when I get too comfortable in a routine. It’s certainly easier to teach the same books and content each year, but it’s also incredibly boring, which can lead to burnout. This summer, I’m working to revamp some of my American history curriculum to fall more in step with what students are learning and doing in their American literature class.
For example, when juniors are studying the Cold War in my class, they’ll be reading Alan Moore’s Watchmen in their English class — an award-winning graphic novel highlighting many Cold War-era fears and tensions. For both classes, students will complete a yet-to-be-determined project to showcase their understanding.
Model the Usefulness of What You Teach
In line with changing things up, I’m always looking for new ways to model the usefulness of what I teach. More than ever, I find that students want to know how they can apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world. In American history, I continue to de-emphasize rote memorization in favor of activities requiring clear, analytical thinking — an essential tool for whatever students end up pursuing in college or as a career.
On most assessments, I allow students to bring a notecard. It seems less important in the age of Google to assess how much students know. Instead, I’m significantly more concerned with how much sense they can make of all this information so readily available to them. In all of my classes, I also make it clear that knowing how to write well will play a significant role in their future success.
Caring Beyond What You Teach
To motivate my students toward success, I strive to show that I care about them beyond the classroom. I do my best to chaperone trips, watch sporting events, and attend plays and other student-run productions. I advise the Model United Nations Club, which allows me to share my passion for diplomacy and fostering change.
I also coach cross-country to help students see that I value maintaining a healthy body just as much as developing an inquisitive mind. The most transformational teachers that I know have a deep understanding of how their role transcends far beyond any subject that they’re teaching. Such teachers have the most lasting impact on their students long after graduation.