Ditch That Textbook

Teaching with less reliance on the textbook.

Archive for the category “General”

5 ways teachers can sell others on their ideas

Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Everyone lives by selling something.”

That goes for teachers, too. We sell our students on the benefits of using that last five minutes of class to do homework rather than take a nap. We sell them on the importance of the Pythagorean Theorem and how they’ll use it in their lives.

Teachers sell motivation. They sell their product: their content. They sell responsibility.

We sell, sell, sell, and the best of us teachers get our students to buy, buy, buy.

So when Dan Pink, an author and career counselor (www.danpink.com), penned a new book called “To Sell Is Human,” I instantly started thinking of connections to the teaching world.

(Pink also gave a Ted Talk on internal motivation and its three main components – mastery, autonomy and purpose – that I blogged about last March.)

In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, Pink outlined some ways that people sell that I think are good connections to teaching. Here are five of them:

1. Let them tell you why they agree with you. Pink suggests that you create the context for people to agree with you – and then get out of the way. Don’t force your reasons for agreeing on them. Let them draw those conclusions themselves.

So, as teachers, in our little sales, like getting students to participate in class, or our big sales, like helping them plan for their future, set the scene and let them make their own connections. “When people have their own reasons to agree with you, they adhere to them more strongly, believe them more deeply,” Pink said.

2. Decide whether to pitch with facts or questions. We’ve all made sales pitches to students, colleagues, administrators – even our loved ones. And we’ve all probably made them using facts and using questions.

The effectiveness of that pitch is based, in part, on whether we use questions or facts, Pink said.

Make your case with questions if the facts are clearly on your side. Why? Your questions elicit the answers that you want to hear. If the answers to your questions are obvious, your questions will lead your subject on the path you want them to take. If they’re not, your subject could wander off track.

Make your case with facts when your case isn’t open-and-shut. This more restrictive method is your best chance for success if your subject has many plausible choices and you want him or her to select a particular one.

3. Remember that your digital audience is wider than ever. Social media has the potential to magnify what you do in the classroom, be it positive or negative. An exciting learning experience in class may reach other students, teachers, parents and administrators if your students take to Facebook or Twitter about it. Results: building interest in your classes and your subject area. A misunderstanding or poorly chosen words could have the opposite effect, though. Pink compared this to a farmer selling sweet corn from the back of a truck. If he rips his clients off and they tell their friends and family, his business suffers. If he takes good care of them, word-of-mouth advertising makes him money.

4. Be a servant leader. The old tried-and-true selling approach of serving people first and then selling to them is still effective, Pink said. Relationships are key, and good teachers know that well. Students who have close relationships with adults in their lives are more likely to take their advice and see them as role models. It’s like the auto repairman who listens to a clanking car on his free time and later sees his business booming with trusting clients.

5. Help people find their needs. In the information age when answers to our questions are only a Google search away, sometimes people don’t need answers, Pink said. They need people who can help them identify their needs. “Identifying new problems is as valuable as solving existing ones,” he said. Students are often quick to find solutions to their problems. But they need caring adults to help them identify their most pressing problems or evaluate their solutions.

Don’t want to consider yourself a salesperson? That’s fine, but you’re acting, thinking or talking like one when you try to persuade people to your way of thinking. Let’s challenge ourselves to ditch the textbook concept of working with students and rethink our persuasion techniques. You never know how many lives you may affect.


How can we reach the Jeremys?

Meet Jeremy, a junior in my Spanish II class. (OK, his name really isn’t Jeremy. But that doesn’t surprise you, does it?)

Jeremy lives in the rural, low-income school district where I teach. He plays football and wrestles.

He’s just about the easiest guy to get along with you’ll ever meet – a guy that will treat anybody like a real person. Even a teacher.

However, for some reason – which I just absolutely can’t fathom – he’s not nearly as interested in Spanish as I am. Shocking, huh?

Sometimes he pays attention well – eyes forward, watching and listening – when I talk.

Other times, his head is hidden behind the flat-screen monitors protruding from all of my student desks. Not sure if he’s sleeping, resting his eyes or paying attention to me. (Probably one of the first two, I usually guess.)

Other times, he has a Sudoku puzzle out on his desk. I’ll be talking in Spanish – asking students questions, talking about things I think they’re interested in or creating a story with them in Spanish. And Jeremy’s there. He’s just looking at his Sudoku puzzle.

I’ve lost several Jeremys in my teaching career.

I’ve drown them in a sea of practice questions, irrelevant printed dialogues and verb conjugation drills.

They’ve departed from foreign language land with little to no desire to ever return.

The problem with this is that these are the ones we really must reach as educators.

This exchange, from an article on the Mind/Shift KQED website, illustrates it well. It’s between Joe Redish, a physics professor at the University of Maryland, and Lewis Elton, a famous physicist and one of his mentors. Elton asks Redish how his teaching is.

“Redish told him it was going well, but that he seemed to be most effective with the students ‘who do really well and are motivated’ about physics.

“Elton looked at Redish, smiled, and said, ‘They’re the ones who don’t really need you.'”

The ones who don’t really need us are our all-star students.

The ones who need us are the Jeremys.

A professor of mine once quoted one of her educator parents to my class: “The best students and the lowest students aren’t the ones with whom you can make the most difference. It’s the ones in the middle.”

Do the Jeremys of this world get motivated by my dry textbook content? Probably not.

Are they captivated by the best of our lectures? Not usually.

They’re the ones that need us to “ditch the textbook” the most. To step into the new era of students who learn differently.

Keep your minds open and your lesson plans in pencil. Be ready to adapt. Think outside the box.

The Jeremys will thank you.

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Super Learning: Encouragement from Super Bowl XLVI

Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

Teaching, as many professions, can be a thankless job, so a little appreciation can go a long way. Especially when it’s at the biggest sports stage in the world.

So when I received an invitation to go to a brunch honoring educators in Indianapolis, at the Super Bowl XLVI site — part of the Super Learning in a Super State program — it was a no-brainer. I love football, especially the Indianapolis Colts, and mixing that with my other passion sounded great.

It turned out to be a heartwarming reminder of how important educators’ work is and how much influence we can have.

Mark Schlereth, NFL analyst and former Washington Redskins player, encouraged educators with stories of his learning life. Former Colt Bill Brooks and other former players contributed.

Schlereth, who is dyslexic, talked about his struggles to read in school. A junior high journalism teacher humiliated him by forcing him to read from a newspaper in front of the class. After politely pleading the teacher to pick someone else, he went to the front of the class. And struggled. And stammered. And finally made his way through the first sentence.

That’s enough, Schlereth told us that the teacher said. He was finished because he was too dumb to go on.

Thankfully, that wasn’t his last impression of education. Another teacher saw potential in Schlereth and helped him to reach his potential in reading.

Now he’s an avid reader. He considers himself a “wordsmith,” underlining words he doesn’t understand in articles so he can look up their meanings later. He carries a speaking dictionary and a notebook with new words that he can review.

Now, his son struggles to appreciate the joys of education, and Schlereth hopes that his son’s teachers will inspire him in a similar way.

“I really appreciate all that you do,” he said. “Please don’t give up on kids like me.”

Those at the Saturday brunch were given a gift bag of trinkets with the “Super Learning in a Super State” logo, but I think that many of us took away more than that. Sure, the dignitaries at this brunch hadn’t gone to most of our classes and validated what we did on a day-to-day basis. But when there’s a huge force like the Super Bowl in town, and some of that force is used to lift up teachers for what they do, it can have a major impact.

Maybe one that we’ll live on for more than a couple of months.

The new textbooks are wired — and wireless

The print medium is dying a slow death.

Newspapers are declining in circulation as more and more readers look for their content online.

Libraries are being forced to either adapt to a new digital age with new equipment and programs or become ancient artifacts.

And then there’s the traditional classroom textbook.

No clickable links. No flashy videos. No interactive games.

Paper and ink. And at a high price, no less.

As we continue to move into this new technological world, our jobs as educators must change as well. Our students are much different than the students of decades ago — even a few years ago.

They don’t know a world without computers. The Internet. Digital devices.

They multitask like crazy.

Their media-innundated minds are wired for constant change.

And we can take two approaches. One is to continue teaching the way we always have. Good teaching is good teaching, right? And if we put the information out there and the kids want the grade enough, they can come get it.

Or we can step into their world. Change up our methods, but stick with solid pedagogy. Supplement with a blog. Engage students with a discussion board. Create a multimedia presentation. Use the vast communication ability of the ‘Net to connect to people with viewpoints our students would never see otherwise.

Go from the limited to the vast, unbounded limits of cyberspace.

But how do we do that? One-to-one computer initiative schools have an instant connection to the information superhighway, as do classes with abundant access to computer labs or laptop/iPod Touch/iPad carts.

But it doesn’t have to stop there. Our students carry more powerful computers with them every day than those that launched spacecraft many years ago. Smart phones — even more traditional cell phones — have powerful information gathering, recording and publishing abilities. Even if our schools have “no cells in class” policies, that doesn’t mean we can’t harness that power outside the walls of the school.

The information and options available to us is unlimited. Our tools are powerful and more ubiquitous than ever.

The digital natives are here. Now it’s up to us to reach them where they are.

Time for a change

I was frustrated.


Knew something was wrong and didn’t know what to do about it.

I’m teaching from a textbook. That’s what MY teachers did. We did book activities and workbook pages. We read passages from it in class and wrote sentences from it at home.

In my classroom, the students slumped in their desks, cheeks in their hands. They checked the clock. Dashed for the door when the bell rang.

Somewhere in my first few years of teaching high school Spanish in Indiana, I knew that I wasn’t connecting with my students.

It was time for a change.

Unbeknownst to me, that was my first step into the a new realm — the land without textbooks. OK, it wasn’t TOTALLY devoid of textbooks, but it certainly wasn’t dependent on them. Instead of having students open to a certain page of a book to start class, I was giving them study guides of the essential information for the week. Directing them to relevant websites to find pertinent information. Or (*gasp*) having them search out information on their own.

I was directing them to dynamic web apps that helped them do what we had done before and much more, but in a more exciting and powerful platform.

I jumped in with two feet. And, honestly, I never want to come out of the water.

So that’s why I’m here. I’m no expert in education theory, pedagogy, teaching methods of world languages or any subject. But I’ve heard the same gripes from countless teachers that I griped myself.

I have a message in my heart that I’m ready to share. Hope it helps.

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