Methods #5: The Three R’s: Reading, Reading, Reading

LouAnne Johnson shares her experience with her past students and how she fosters the desire for personal growth with her students in this section of Teaching Outside the Box.  Mrs. Johnson always takes the time to connect with her students in order to understand them and build trust with them.  She explains that any student can be a “disenchanted” student as her former students desired to be referred to as above “at risk students.”  It is funny to me that we continue to promote a certain level of disdain towards our students by giving them negative labels that imply the unlikelihood of success, but that is a discussion for another time.

Mrs. Johnson shares the simple technique she uses to build trust with her students as nothing more than having a conversation with them where they all share about why they love or hate reading and why.  She discovers that many of her poor students have adapted in ways to make them appear to be capable readers.  They memorize large amounts of information, mimic and agree with other strong readers, and they are skilled at reading body language and using that skill to judge if the response they are giving is correct.

I totally understand how these students are able to make teachers believe that they can read well enough to progress to the next grade.  Like many of Mrs. Johnson’s students, I barely read anything prior to graduating high school.  I could read but I hated it.  In third grade a teacher nearly ruined me as a learner for life.  I still dislike reading because I struggle with it.

LouAnne Johnson lists some of the most common reasons that students avoid reading.  That list runs from making their eyes hurt, to fearing that they will provide the wrong answer and a strong dislike to sub coming to authority.

She goes on to explain the solutions to the student provided reasons.  There is a great deal of provided in the remainder of this chapter from accounts of her experience to scientific evidence that many students with learning deficiencies are sensitive to light.

One part of this section that really hit home with me was where she talked about students being placed in the “slow group” (179) and how that made them feel stupid.  The slow group consisted of the struggling readers in the class.  Many teachers divide their reading groups in order to make accommodations for their students not intending to harm the student.  I know from experience that it does not feel fun to always be placed in the slow group because you don’t read fast.  I was almost always in such a group though I usually tested at or near the top of my class.

We must be wary of our students experience and have open conversation with them in order to promote a safe learning environment where students are willing to read and learn.

Methods #4: Teaching Poetry Outside the Box

One thing that I can completely agree with LouAnne Johnson about is students dislike for poetry.  I have not yet taught a poetry unit but my students shuddered when I told them we would be learning about poetry in the coming semester.  I think it is wonderful how LouAnne Johnson tackled introducing the subject to her resistant students through the use of song.  Like Mrs. Johnson I have had my students complete an assignment about their favorite songs, I used it to help teach my students about inferences, but I will go once again to the music well to help them learn about poetry.

Mrs. Johnson simply typed up several song lyrics to pass out to her class for the students to read.  Students began to identify the lyrics of songs and Mrs. Johnson asked her students if they thought that the songs were poetry.  One student prompted her questions further by asking why Mrs. Johnson didn’t simply tell them the answer to which she replies, ‘”You tell me.’ I insisted,’You know what a poem is don’t you?'” (198).

I found it amusing that she comments about loving how students walk right into what you want to teach them at times after spending a great deal of the book discussing how the mind cooperates more when presented with the unexpected, it seems she is further proving her point about this.

Her students did not expect to learn about poetry in the ways she was teaching them and she recognized the likelihood of resistance from them so she quickly transitions from reading the songs to a lesson on onomatopoeia before her students can resist.  This quick transition enabled her students to peak their interest while she prior to her introduction to poetic terminology and doctrine.

I have had classes at the college level where we shared our favorite song as a spoken word project and I remember being incredibly moved by some of them.  I hope to move my students as I was while engaging them in learning as Mrs. Johnson does.

Methods #3: Enjoying Some of the Psychology of Teaching

Teaching Outside the Box has been and enjoyable learning experience.  I have always enjoyed reading authors that are not afraid of telling it like it is while providing real world examples, especially when it is a ‘how to’ style of book meant to assist the reader in completing the same type of work of the author.  LouAnne Johnson utilizes many examples from her own teaching experience to help perspective, and current, teachers to master their craft.

I enjoyed the section about grabbing students by their brains.  In this section she explains that people are more subjectable to persuasion when their brain encounters something the is unexpected.  At first I was quietly saying, “Well Duh!” to myself as I read.  Johnson uses the first day of school as an example for persuading students because they are expectant of several things for which they can be taken off guard.  Everyone expects the same old, feeling out the teacher, hearing the same boring rules over and over throughout the day.  Johnson suggests using this as an opportunity to connect with students by showing a video or providing them with interesting relevant information and most importantly making an effort to persuade them.

Again, I thought, “Duh!”  But then, I recalled all of my years of education.  I was constantly bombarded with the expected one day one.  My teachers seldom disappointed the expectation of shear boredom.  It is groundbreaking science that Johnson discusses.  Authors and directors use this physiological technique a great deal when entertaining us.  They present something unexpected which has us following along with eager anticipation and in the end they shock us with something that is blatantly obvious.  If you have ever seen the movie The Sixth Sense you understand that M. Night Shyamalam definitely had us all seeing dead people.

LouAnne Johnson goes on to reveal some of her first day speech and the psychology behind some ideas.  For example, she tells her students that they start with an A in her class.  Though there is no actual difference between an A and a zero on the first day of class, research suggests that students will try harder to keep an A rather than trying to earn one from a zero due to the perception of having earned something for nothing.  Anyone experiencing their wife’s gravitational pull to a bogo sale at a shoe store when you are shopping for a gift for someone else understands this technique very well.

Digital Lit.: Final Reflection

Though I was tremendously pressed for time throughout this semester I learned a tremendous amount about perhaps the most important subject we can engage our students with – technology.  I have learned that one does not have to be a tech savvy guru in order to create a learning environment for students to flourish in.  Many students are beyond our means technologically prior to setting foot in our classrooms.  Now I can create and use technological teaching platforms for my students.  Perhaps the best tool that we can utilize is our own fortitude, our courage.  One cannot fear teaching or the tools to do such if one intends upon teaching.

I have learned a great many things while working on material for this class.  I learned that blogging is easier than one would think.  I learned that there are literally hundreds of ways to promote our students to learn by allowing them choices that can only be provided in a digital medium.  I learned how to use the power of the internet to resource and reference the knowledge of others in all of my teaching and learning.

I understand a great deal more than I did prior to this class.  I now understand some of my own biases and preconceived notions as a teacher and I am better prepared to overcome them.  I understand that Twitter is a tool that educators should fight for, and I intend upon fighting.

As I move on from this moment in my education, I am better armed to help my students succeed in the digital world in which we live.  I plan on utilizing Feedly to have my students follow areas that interest them and write about and share them with others, perhaps globally.  I intend on having my students create a blog to create a positive digital footprint.  In the future, I will expand upon my own PLN.  Since starting a PLN, mere days ago, I have more confidence in approaching my own teaching.  I will continue my blog to connect with others and to use as examples with my own students.

With my new knowledge and resources, like Kane I feel ready for the world.

Digital Lit. #13. Metaphors

There are several metaphors that jump into my mind when I think of teaching. The teacher is the coach is perhaps the first metaphor that I can think of.  The students are the athletes working together as individuals of the same team in order to have a successful season, or year


Though this is what I first think of it doesn’t take long for the negative metaphors to come to mind.  I have personally had several classes where the metaphor is more closely that of a dictator in a third world country.  The teacher spews information and demands the students to perform at an expected level.  When they fail to perform they are then ridiculed, reprimanded, and punished.  I feel that teachers end up like this after years of limited success and trying to met the irrational demands of the educational system.

A more functional means of education would allow for students to challenge themselves while being guided by the teacher like a climber on Mt. Everest.  I have shared my thoughts on this with my students when I became frustrated with a lack of effort in my classes.  I asked them to compare and contrast a guide with a Sherpa porter from the Himalayas.  At first, they thought the two were more alike than different, then after a while they started noting that a guide leads while the porters follow and carry the baggage.  I identified my desires to be the guide for my students and explained that some of their efforts made me more like the porter dragging them from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ in hopes that I could spark a desire for success within them.  Eventually, I warned them that I was capable of being a dictator if they did not make positive efforts towards success.

When my students were allowed some time for discussion and reflection I began receiving work that was more comparable to a mountain climber than a couchpotato, metaphorically.