The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 6
Jennifer Gonzalez, Host
Jennifer Gonzalez: Hey, welcome and thanks so much for tuning in. I am so excited about this episode because I am trying something completely new. My first five episodes I think they were great and I’m going to continue doing some like that, where I interview people and we get really in depth about one specific topic all the way through. But I really wanted to try something where I take in some of your questions and answer them on a variety of different topics.
So what I’ve done, on the website, on cultofpedagogy.com, I have set up a voice mail recorder. So if you go to cultofpedagogy.com/ask-cult (note: this page is no longer active), there will be a place where you can just press a button and record your question and I will get it and I will download it and I will use your question in a future podcast and I will answer it. I personally don’t know how to set up an actual call-in show. I don’t have the funds to hire someone to screen calls, and I don’t think we have a big enough audience, anyway. So this is the next best thing. And I also like this a little bit better, because it gives me time to think about your question and look for resources. Because the questions are going to come from all different kinds of situations.
Anyway, I would love it if you would send in your questions, because every time we hear about a new person’s situation, that is going to help other people with theirs. The kinds of questions that I am willing, able and interested in asking, or answering are: questions about instructional issues, if you’re trying to figure out a technique you should use, or if a lesson isn’t working, or if you’ve got classroom management issues or if you’ve got a professional development question, um if you have a question about a resource, if you are trying to find something and or are wondering if this exists, if you’ve got a technology question, if you’ve got a parenting issue, that’s related to learning or school, questions about problems with your colleagues, or if your administration, or if you are an administrator and you’ve got an issue with some of your staff members, pretty much anything related to education, in K through 12, or at the college level. I would love the opportunity to take a crack at all of these.
So, one thing that I’m going to do at the beginning of each of these “Ask the Cult” episodes, is, I’m just going to give you a quick tip, to just help you improve your teaching, so, the tip for this episode, I’m just going to call it, “Write it Down.” And what I mean by writing it down is, when you’re giving instructions to your students, one mistake a lot of teachers make is they just tell students what to do, and sometimes we’ll give our students multi-step instructions, like I want you to, complete the top half of this paper and then put it over in that basket, then I want you to get this card and then do this to it and then turn it in in that basket, sort of a multi-part set of instructions. And then we get real frustrated when students can’t, don’t respond appropriately, if they skip something or forget something. So, really simple way to get a better response from students, and get more completion on the things you’re asking them to do is to just write down on the board, a real quick, like list of what to do. and it can be shorthand, you know a slash and yellow paper, and then basket on right and then, just a real quick outline of what they need to do. You will get way more compliance that way, because it’s just hard for students to remember everything you want them to do.
Okay, we are going to get into our calls. We’ve got three really good calls. First one, is the caller is looking for looking for some very specific ways to make their materials more rigorous for their advanced students. The second one is a tech question, about a way of getting her bookmarks organized online. And the third one is a problem with colleague who is kind of, kind of bullying students a little bit, and this caller wants to know what she should do about it. So, let’s get started.
Call #1: How to Challenge Advanced Students
Nick: Hi Jenn, my name is Nick and I have a question for the Cult. I’ve been working in a Massachusetts Public School for about 10 years. The student body is composed of pretty typical variety of kids. I’m an Earth Science teacher and the students who enroll in my class have tended to be kids who are not interested in taking higher level Chemistry classes. So I get a wide cross section of college bound, non-college bound, special education learners and ELL students.
So my question focuses around the following: Over the years, I’ve become pretty good at making the difficult material more accessible so that a wider array of kids can understand it at on an equal level. Sort of like giving them all, regardless of their academic level, the ability to speak the same academic language. In doing this, I’ve always had success in reaching the kids who struggle the most. However, even though I have always know that my lessons were solid, I’ve had difficulty with making my lessons more challenging for the higher level students. So I guess I am looking for strategies to make my lessons more challenging for the higher level student. I’m aware of concepts like Bloom’s Taxonomy and terminology like synthesis, but I guess I am looking for more concrete ideas on ways to appeal to honors students. Thanks, Jenn! Hope to hear from you soon!
Gonzalez: Okay, first off, I’ve got a book for you, it’s short, easy to read, and if you don’t have a whole lot of experience with, gifted or advanced students, this is a good one to have on hand. It is called How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed Ability Classrooms and it is by Carol Tomlinson. And I will put a link to it in the show notes for this episode, on the website, so that you can go directly to it. I learned a lot from that one, so I’m going to give you just a few quick tips before we go into the specifics of how to improve or increase the rigor in what you’re actual doing.
When you’re dealing with advanced kids, here are, I’ve got some don’ts and some do’s. One of the don’ts — and this is a huge mistake that a lot of people make — don’t always make them help the more struggling students. That’s one a real common way that people decide they’re going to differentiate for advanced kids, “I’m just going to have them help the other kids when they’re done.” This, I think it’s okay to do it infrequently, but to make that your standard form of differentiation is a mistake. It doesn’t really challenge them. It doesn’t really give them the advanced work that they need. And so, they talk about this a lot in the book, so I’m just going to give you that quick tip.
Also, advanced kids, a lot of times, see it as a punishment if they get extra work to challenge them. If once they finish the easier stuff, then they get something extra, that’s not necessarily appropriate either, it just means that they have to work harder and longer than everybody else. And also, don’t necessarily insist on 100% accuracy before you decide that they are ready for something harder. Sometimes, if a kid is, you know, sort of feeling unchallenged by the work that you’re giving them, they may make some simple mistakes, just partly because they’re not super engaged, and, you know, maybe they just don’t so much care about the work that they’re doing. But if you feel that you can only give them more challenging work if they’ve gotten 100% on everything, then that’s also a mistake. So, those are just some basic don’ts when dealing with gifted students.
Here are some do’s. Do allow your gifted or advanced students to work together. Sometimes, I know when we break kids into groups, we try to, sort of, spread the wealth and have each group have mixed levels of ability. And there is a time and a place for that. But also make sure that you’re giving your advanced students opportunities to work with each other because then, they are really going to make leaps and bounds with your content, that they wouldn’t be able to do if they’re always carrying the weight of a group that has more mixed levels of ability.
And then there are two other techniques for if you have a group of kids who some are higher level and some are more average or lower level, that you can plan to give the more gifted kids or advanced kids harder work, without having to give the harder work to everybody. Two different strategies:
One is something called tiered assignments, it’s T-I-E-R-E-D. This would be where you would, say you would, in Earth Science. Say you’re doing something with maps. You would have three separate levels on one page. You’d have level 1, level 2, level 3 and each level has 10 problems. 10 sort of map problems that they have to do. Allow the students to choose which level they would like to work at. And you can even tell them, level 3 is the hardest. Okay, level 1 is the easiest. And what they need to do is, self-asses, so that say, they choose level 2, and it’s a little too hard. Then, they can stop themselves and move down to level 1. Or say they are working at level 2 and it’s still pretty easy, they can stop and move up to level 3. This gives each student the autonomy, and the sort of metacognitive practice of deciding or monitoring their own level of skill with each thing that you do. So, doing tiered assignments is great too, because it doesn’t give anybody extra work, it just has them work at different levels. And, you may find that your more advanced kids choose to work at the lower level sometimes, maybe they just don’t feel like putting any extra effort in on a certain day. But, and you may find your lower level kids trying to work at a higher level, which is also fine, certain tasks they may be able to do it. So, you want everyone to always be stretching. Okay, so, tiered assignments is one.
Another way to keep your advanced kids challenged is to have them working on ongoing, independent projects. This way, if they finish something early, or they get through your material quickly, they can go back to these independent projects. Ideally, it would be something in your content area, and so this obviously is going to require a lot of work up front, with you and that kid. But you could set this with your whole class, have each one of them decide upon an independent project to work on. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in your content area. I did just put up a post a couple of weeks ago about 20 percent time, which a lot of teachers are starting to do now. They are allowing students to spend 20 percent of their time on pursuing some other interest, outside of their content area. And if you’re an Earth Science teacher, and you kid, or your student is not really into Earth Science, but they can handle it, or they can get through it real quickly, I think it’s perfectly fine to let them get the work done for the day, and then let them use the last 20 minutes of class to let them continue working on their, graphic novel that they’re working on or continue to do research on skateboarding techniques, or whatever it is. You don’t necessarily have to challenge them in your content area. I think most teachers, probably, would want to, though. But, that is another option.
Okay, so suppose you just have a class full of advanced kids, and you want to figure out ways to push them harder. And you had mentioned that you’re used to, differentiating kind of down, to make things a little bit simpler. But, how do you actually ratchet up the level of challenge. Okay. You mentioned Bloom’s, so let’s talk about that. Not sure if you’re aware, but there actually, over the last say the last 10, 15 years, is a new version of Bloom’s, called the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. And I’m going to put a link to that on my website. But, they slightly changed the language a little bit. One of the things they did was, the last two levels, you mentioned synthesis, but the last two levels now are evaluation, or evaluate and create. So, those two levels of Bloom’s are actually, really, really great places to stretch your students, and have them work with the material a little bit more. On the lower levels of Bloom’s, you’re basically, and you’re aware of this, I’m sure, you’re basically asking students to sort of spit back the information that you gave them.
So let’s use the example, since you’re in Earth Science, of students learning how to read, and understand and work with maps. You can ask them to identify things on the maps, you can ask them to use the maps, to, you know point things out or answer questions, “How high is this mountain?”, “Which is the lowest elevation at this point?” and so on and so forth. Those are all on the lower levels of Bloom’s. You’re, the students aren’t really doing anything new with that information, they’re just showing you that they understand it and that they can sort of apply it. Even if you’re asking a student to read a map and understand, answer questions about how “What’s the distance between this one and this one?” That’s still sort of just applying map skills and that’s the third level of Bloom’s. So if we really want to push a student to higher-level thinking, what we need to do is get them up to the analysis and the evaluating and the creating level. I’m going to skip over the analyzing part, partly because the longer I talk to people, the less I understand that level. But, and I could talk about it for twenty minutes. But we’re going to talk about the evaluating and the creating level.
Suppose again that you’re working with maps. One thing that you could do and this could be an assignment, or it could be a question on a test, would be to present to students a quote, for example, it could be a fictional quote or a real one, from like a newspaper where someone is proposing some change in an area based on something geographical. For example, let’s say money needs to be spent on some project to like shore up an eroded area or something, something that would connect to a map. So, the question could be, here’s the quote, given the map of the area, students would need to judge if the conclusion this person had made is true, and whether there’s evidence to support it or whether they disagree with it, based on the evidence in the map. And they would actually be evaluating this claim that the person has made. Another something on a creating level, a lot of people would say that the student needs to create their own map, which kind of is on the creating level, but in a way is just applying map making skills. So, really they could be using their map skills to create a new product.
Say for example, this could be another question for them: Plan three hiking routes for a hiking trip. You’ve got people coming and you want to give them three choices for a hiking trip, here’s a map of the area. One hike has to be the easiest in terms of you know difficult, you know, inclines and that sort of thing. The other will be the shortest in length. And the other will have the most scenic views. Or you could give them different parameters: each one of them has to be about one hour long, and you know people will be walking at about this, you know, mile an hour, and you have to factor in inclines and that sort of thing. So then they have to actually map out the routes, and they have to explain why these are and how they know , the, how they know they’ve met the criteria based on what they’re seeing in the map and how they are reading it. Or here’s another example of a creating task: They have to add a new road to an existing map that solves some sort of a problem. Maybe it improves life for a population. Or it improves commerce for a particular industry or that sort of thing. And give them a set of criteria. Have them draw the road in and explain, in writing, how it meets the criteria. And that way they are using their map making skills to actually create something new.
I am going to put a link to, on the website, to a copy of this Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, that you can download for free, and, what’s really nice about it is that it’s actually a kind of a more advanced version of Bloom’s. It’s called the cognitive process domain and it’s got, each level is broken down into sort of sub, sub-tasks,that fit within it. And it kinda shows you really good examples of, of the thinking processes that fit within each level. I think once you start to see what those higher levels look like in examples, it should help you to, um to really boost up some of the tasks that you give students. And I’d say give it to all of them, and support them and show them and model that to them, for them, how to answer these types of questions.
Two other things I would suggest. And this could link to independent projects, or that sort of thing. One is to provide your advanced students with some challenging, real world reading in your subject area and, um, online is tons of great resources. Two things I found in your content area are Earth Magazine. This is earthmagazine.org and discovermagazine.com. Both of them have really good articles on issues that are happening right now in the world, with Earth Science, and the writing is pretty advanced. So, if you have a student just read these and answer some questions. Not questions like, you know, “Describe a problem that is presented in this article.” Because then that’s again, lower level, they’re just showing you that they understand it. But ask them some evaluation questions. Do you agree with the author on this point? Or, what do you think is a better solution for this problem? So, really asking them to come up with some new thoughts on this. And again, looking at that taxonomy really will help.
The only other point that I would add is when you consider the new Common Core Standards these apply to other subject areas beyond reading and math. And what they ask teachers in other subject areas to do is have students do a little bit more writing. And one of the primary things we’re asking other content area teachers to do — I say we, because I am a Language Arts teacher by trade — is have students support what they say in their writing by citing textual evidence. So, if you, this is a real easy thing you can do for students. Give them an article that you find online. Ask them a few questions about the article. And ask them to support their claim with some textual evidence. You know, where in the article do you see evidence for this? And that is another way to get them interacting with much more advanced material in your subject area. And it’s and it really gives it a real-world relevance. I would love to hear what others have to say about this. I could probably do an entire episode, and blog post, or series of them, just on this topic. But, hopefully, Nick, I’ve given you some, some ideas for how you can really challenge your advanced kids a little bit more.
Call #2: How to Keep Online Bookmarks Organized
Lisa: Hey Jennifer, this is Lisa, in Tennessee. And I’m looking for something I think I saw on your site, or maybe on Facebook, and I hope I can give you enough information to let you know what I’m talking about. I saw a blog post or article about a website organization tool on an app. I’m a grad student, and I’m constantly finding stuff that I want to look at later, or save for later use, for projects, and I do put things I find on my bookmarks or on my reading list. But both of those have become unmanageable, big messes. Like I said, maybe I saw it here, and I hope I’ve given you enough of a sense of what I’m talking about to answer my question. Thank you so much for anything you could recommend.
Gonzalez: Hi Lisa, I think I know exactly what you’re talking about. You’re talking about Diigo: D-I-I-G-O, and it is a really cool website, where you can, organize all of your online bookmarks into really, nice, neat categories, and so I did a, did an article about that. Just go to www.cultofpedagogy.com/diigo or you can find three separate video tutorials that I did on that. So they’re great for people who just want to organize their own stuff. I would add that I just recently started using something called Evernote, which I think I may be making the jump to that for personal organizing of stuff.
But since we’re on the subject of Diigo, I do want to mention how great it is for teachers. If you want to do some online research, with students, or put them in groups, it would be such a fantastic way to get students to work together on online research, because what you do is once you find an article, you send it to your library, and that organizes it. But, you can also comment on it. You can have a shared library with other people, and you can actually, um, exchange comments about the resources that you’re finding. If, I were a teacher now, I would assign students who were researching things together, I would actually give them points for the comments that they give each other on the, on the Diigo, the links that are put in the Diigo library. Another thing that you can do with Diigo, is you can annotate. So you can actually open up a webpage and you can highlight sections of it with one of the tools that Diigo gives you. And you can write notes about your highlighting, and all that. So you really can interact nicely with your online materials.
And if you’ve got a big project, like a dissertation or something that you’re working on, being able to set everything up in Diigo, would be just fantastic. So, if you do any type of research yourself, or if you teach students how to do research, I would definitely recommend that you look into Diigo as a tool. It’s completely free, and for educators, there are some special discounts, or not discounts but free accounts, so that you can actually manage classes with it. So, go onto the site, look at the review that I did, and definitely check Diigo out.
Call #3: How to Deal with Another Teacher Who Embarrasses Students
Caller: Hi, okay, so I have a little situation at school, and I’m not really sure what to do about it. I’ve worked with a resource teacher for about a year and I really enjoy working with this person. For our purposes today, I’d like to call this person Subject A. Subject A is a really hard worker, and everybody at school really likes working with Subject A. I recently, though, I’ve noticed some problems, during the course of class, with how Subject A deals with some student discipline issues. For example, if there’s a student in class who’s tapping their pencil on their desk, I might walk back to them and ask them politely to stop tapping their pencil. But Subject A might approach the kid and really draw attention to it, about how annoying the pencil tapping has become, and therefore the child’s face might turn red and the child might look like they’re about to cry. So, the whole class gets quiet and I know that the kid is completely humiliated. I don’t ever want a child to feel that way in class, and it’s not the kind of climate that I want to have, of mutual respect between students and teachers. So, my question for you is, what can I do about the situation? How can I approach another professional, whom I respect, and discuss how they handle discipline in the classroom? Again, Subject A is a great teacher, and is not someone you’d want to offend. Any help that you can give me would be completely appreciated. Thank you.
Gonzalez: Hey, thanks for calling in with this problem. This is probably something that a lot of teachers deal with, and it’s a really sticky one, so, I’ve got couple pieces of advice, and based on your current situation, you can decide which would work the best for you. I have definitely had co-workers, who treated the kids in a way that I really just felt uncomfortable with. And I really don’t think that I ever did anything about it but to sort of think bad thoughts about them, and probably said things to other co-workers about it, and really didn’t do anything to address the behavior. So the fact that you’re even taking, you’re thinking about taking steps to do something about it, is great.
Since this resource teacher comes into your room, and does these things right in front of you with your own students, my first piece of advice is that you wait until the next time something happens. Because I think it would be better to talk to this person about a specific incident, as opposed to generalizing about their behavior, over the long term. I think people get a lot less (note: I meant to say more) defensive if you’re like, “You know you’re always a bit bullyish with the kids.” And it’s easy to say, “No, I’m not.” If you could say, “You know today, when you crumpled up Jose’s paper and you threw it in the trash.” You know and talk about that. And it’ll be something that just happened, so the teacher will remember it, you’ll remember it, it’s something concrete that you both can kind of talk about. So, wait for a specific incident. And then, when you talk about it, I would suggest that you describe what you observed, as opposed to using any judgmental language. So, and, and describe the student’s reaction that you observed, and describe it in terms of the student. So, “When you crumpled Jose’s paper today, you turned away from him, I don’t know if you saw the expression on his face. But, he just looked so deflated, and so embarrassed, and I noticed that for the rest of the period, he got real sullen, and quiet, and wasn’t really participating as much.” So, in really objective, concrete terms, describe what you observed, as opposed to “I think you were being a real jerk.” or whatever.
I think it could also soften this conversation, if you choose to have the conversation with the teacher, it can help ahead of time to say something like, “This is very awkward for me.” You know, “I feel uncomfortable.” You could also say to them, “Would you mind if I gave you some feedback about something I noticed?” Sometimes asking to be invited to share the feedback, can help with some people. Especially if, if this person is a fantastic, well-respected teacher. They’re likely to have the personality where they’d say, oh yeah, definitely, tell me. And I’d also start with compliments. Just the same way you did when you called me, telling me this person is really great, everybody really likes them. Start with that information with them, you know, you really enjoy working with them, and that the kids really seem to enjoy them. And then, launch into the but: But, I noticed something today that made me kind of uncomfortable. And use those I statements. Talk about your feelings. It made me feel really uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know where to look. I felt really bad for Jose. You know, and, and, you don’t necessarily even have to have a request, or a call to action for them. Just let them know you felt uncomfortable. And let them take the ball. This person may get defensive. If they do, be ready for that, say, “I’m sorry, I just wanted to share this with you.” Or they may have a much more positive reaction. They, might sort of admit that they do this sometimes, and thank you for sharing it. I mean this doesn’t typically happen, but it can happen.
If you’re not comfortable talking to this person, I would carefully go to your administrator. But I would not go to your administrator if your administrator is a sort of retaliatory kind of person who is likely to make a big stink about this. If you have a good relationship with your administrator, and you respect them, I would go to them and say, this is something I’m noticing. And then, then the ball is in their court, to notice it and bring it up to the person. What you don’t want is your administrator to go to the person and say “Hey, you know the person you co-teach with third period says you’re really abusive to the kids.” Because then you’re trying to, if you’re not comfortable talking to the person yourself, then you’re obviously trying to avoid conflict with them. So, having the administrator come and say that you came to them is not good. So if your administrator is someone you trust, you may want to put the bug in their ear to keep the eye out for this. And maybe they can deal with it directly, through an observation or something like that. Sometimes, you know sometimes teachers, administrators, just need to be aware of something like that, and then they can find their own evidence. But again, only if you have a good relationship with your administrator. And if that other person has a good relationship with their administrator, because this is probably news they’re not going to love hearing, so you know, I’d say I’d handle it carefully.
I’d love it if anyone listening has dealt with a situation like this and you have advice, definitely call in. The call-ins don’t necessarily have to be for you to call-in about your own problem. If you hear about a call on this show, and you have your own advice, or if you think I’ve given terrible advice, and you want to give completely different advice, call in and I can also play those calls on a future podcast. This is episode 6, so just reference episode 6. You know, “The caller had the question about this…”
I am going to wrap up the show now. I am just really, really excited to get this published, and have people hear it and have you call in. So again, you would call in by going to cultofpedagogy.com/ask-cult. There is a voice recorder right there, you just click it, record your voice and I get an e-mail. If at that time you want to leave your name and your e-mail, that would be a great idea, because then if I have any follow up questions, I can contact you. But you don’t have to. This can be completely anonymous. If you’re listening to this on iTunes, please, please give us a rating on iTunes. Right now I am in complete no-man’s land on iTunes, I don’t even come up in a lot of searches. So, if you were just to leave a rating, or even a comment or a review, that will help get the show boosted up just a little bit. And get us a little bit more visibility on iTunes, and maybe we can reach more people and help more people. So, if you can do that, it’d be great. Please share it. Come on over to the site and hang out. Join us on Facebook and Twitter, and all those other places. And I am just super happy to have you with us. Thanks so much for listening.
Have a great day!
Click here to return to the audio version of this episode.