Encouraging young, creative teens in art and writing

More than 90 years ago, only three short years after founding Scholastic, M. R. Robinson created the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards to encourage our young creative minds and give them a fraction, if not more, of the encouragement for their minds as athletes receive for their bodily skills.  Still a relevant message today, the Awards program lives on and in last year's call for submissions received more than 230,000 submissions!!  Today, the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers which know runs the initiative opens the 2013-14 Call for Submissions for all students grades 7-12.  I'm still encouraged by today's quote from 1928 and I hope that you are too - enough to spread the word and encourage a teen that you know to submit.  To find out more and to see how winners of the Scholastic Awards are recognized and given the opportunity for scholarships, publication and exhibition, visit www.artandwriting.org.

Four instructional moves to get kids talking in math class

With so much attention given to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice, what has risen to the surface for math instruction is the need for students to talk about their mathematical thinking and reasoning. Here are four instructional moves to get kids talking in math class:

1.      Provide rich tasks. There’s not much to talk about when students are filling in blanks or doing simple computation problems. The first step in getting kids to talk is choosing a nice open task like the one below from About Teaching Mathematics, by Marilyn Burns:

Number Sorting

You need:     30 cards or slips of paper, numbered 1 to 30 (these numbers can change depending on the grade level of students)

Sort the numbers in these ways:

-        Into two groups

-        Into three groups

-        Into four groups

Record your sort and trade your paper with another classmate. Each of you tries to figure the rule the other used for sorting.

For more on open tasks see my previous post called, “How to make doing math inviting.”

2.      Use a variety of student groupings. During a whole group discussion, only one person talks at a time, using strategies like Turn and Talk and Think-Pair-Share allows for more student participation. Before teaching a lesson, consider how you will group students for mathematical conversations – partner? small group? whole group?

3.      Set expectations for talk. Sharing with students that there will be time to discuss their mathematical ideas informs them that this will be a regular part of math class. Establishing with students what that will look like and sound like helps create norms and sends the message to students that sharing their ideas is valued.

4.      Utilize prompts/questions. A good prompt/question posted in the classroom will generate rich discussion. Here’s an example of some prompts to use before students begin Number Sorting:

  • Predict another number that belongs in each group and explain to your partner why you think each belongs there.
  • Convince your partner that your thinking makes sense with examples from your sort.
  • Without giving away the answer, provide mathematical hints to your partner if they get stuck.

Using these instructional moves in the classroom takes purposeful planning. The rewards are great for students because when they talk out loud about their thinking, students typically reach a new level of understanding. The teacher is rewarded by observing where students are in their mathematical thinking as they listen in on student discussions. What stumbling blocks have you encountered when trying to get students to talk in math class?

Persons of Pinterest

Teachers have established a strong presence on social media site Pinterest, which allows users to virtually “pin” photos to categorized boards. Whether you seek book suggestions, anchor charts, or literacy centers, Pinterest contains a wealth of instructional ideas. Since the beginning of the school year is prime time to get “pinspired,” I've listed a few of my favorite pinners and boards:

Classroom Organization” by Melissa Alonzo-Dillard shares tips for creating systems to label and organize paperwork, supplies, and classroom spaces.

Library Spaces for Kids” by Andrea Knight makes me want to curl up in one of these beautiful spots with a treasured book.

Bulletin Boards and Charts” by Miss Kindergarten shows visually appealing ideas for displaying student work.

Alphabet” by Maria Manore (Kinder-Craze) has creative ideas to promote alphabet knowledge, including letter names, shapes, and sounds. 

Literacy” by Nicole Rios includes resources for reading comprehension, book lists, and anchor charts.

Science” by Jennifer Findley compiles creative and engaging science experiments, projects, activities.

We have our own page here at Scholastic too.

Teachers, are you using Pinterest in your classroom? Feel free to share your ideas or favorite boards in the comments!

Books and resources to help children learn about 9/11

Today marks the 12th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11. For most adults, it’s hard to believe that so much time has passed since that terrible day. For some older kids, this day brings back fear and anxiety. However, others may be learning about the attacks for the first time this week if they were born after 2001 or are too young to remember.

Here are some resources for parents and teachers to use with their kids today as the nation remembers.

  1. Today’s Scholastic News top story: Remembering 9/11.
  2. A collection of books for children and resources for parents.
  3. A collection of teacher resources and classroom activities.
  4. A guide to talking with kids about war, violence, and natural disasters.

We welcome any advice or useful links you'd like to share in the comments!

Ditch the distractions and listen up!

Several months ago, I was invited to do a radio interview.

"Why do they want you?" asked my 93-year-old mother.

"They think I'm an expert on the topic," I said.

"God help them."

My sentiments exactly.

These days, it's all about "leaning in" to get ahead. But as educator and editor Rebecca Alber notes, "listening up" is just as important.

"Good listeners are both rare and valued in our culture," Alber writes in this Edutopia post, which offers five ways to cultivate listening skills in the classroom.

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) is the latest poster child for distraction. He learned a valuable lesson on Capitol Hil recently: Don't play smartphone poker during speeches about Syria.

"As much as I like to always listen in rapt attention [to] my colleagues over a three-and-a-half-hour period," McCain told The Washington Post, "occasionally I get a little bored."

He has a point. Who among us hangs on Secretary of State John Kerry's every word—or, for that matter, John McCain's? We can all be a bore. Just ask my mother.

But indulging in continual digital distractions, like so many mouthfuls of virtual candy, is unhealthy, says MIT professor Sherry Turkle.

"People are texting in church, they're texting during corporate board meetings, parents are texting during breakfast with their kids," Turkle said today in a radio interview. "We're intolerant of the boring bits in life."

Why not edit out the boring parts? For one thing, our capacity for surprise is quickly diminishing. So is our ability to listen to and learn from those around us.

"We don't know in conversations when the important moments of revelation are going to come," Turkle says. "In normal human interchange, we find ourselves sparked at moments that are unpredictable."

So put down that gadget and listen up. Surprise yourself.

The Funds of Knowledge: An ethnographic approach to family engagement

The Funds of Knowledge, drawn from the seminal work of language researcher Luis Moll, sound like what they are: substantial, essential, hopeful. And I think of them as our best resource for a promising new school year.

I know the value of home visits, having participated in them with my own students’ families, but teacher-family meetings organized around the Funds of Knowledge represent something quite different. Within each household, family members collectively hold a body of knowledge about wide-ranging ways of living that might comprise cultural traditions, herbal knowledge and folk medicine, gardening and animal husbandry, household and automotive repair, construction and masonry, trade, business, and finance.

The idea is simple yet profound: Teachers visit student homes as ethnographers or social anthropologists, eager to learn about the vast reserves of historical and traditional knowledge that all families represent, and then find ways to build on this knowledge at school.

This might entail inviting family members into the classroom to share their particular expertise for managing a backyard chicken coop, crafting bamboo flutes, or growing a successful family business. It also offers rich research opportunities as you make it possible for your students to investigate the classroom’s collective Funds of Knowledge. Every family goes on record with their particular expertise and make themselves available for demonstrations, interviews and presentations.

While traditional home visits tend to focus on teacher as expert authority by reaching out to each family to share the work and mission of the school, a “Funds of Knowledge perspective” recognizes the abundant social and intellectual resources of each family and the school community beyond and embraces the resources as content worthy of deeper exploration at school.

Perhaps most importantly, it helps teachers approach each student from a position of strength. In other words, rather than focusing on perceived deficits in the child’s home experiences because they don’t align with school-sanctioned knowledge, we discover and build on the impressive strengths and resources each child brings to school. Rather than seeing language disadvantages and deficiencies and approaching our diverse students with lowered expectations, we see rich, abundant Funds of Knowledge that can enrich our teaching, strengthen our students’ learning lives, and create a vibrant culture of learning and achievement that binds home, school, and community.

What do you do at the start of a new school year to get to know your students? How do you tap and build on your students’ Funds of Knowledge?

For more on meaningful ways to form respectful, engaging partnerships with your students’ families, see  Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships and Tapping Student Potential: A Strategic Guide to Boosting Student Achievement through Family Involvement.


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