Ditch That Textbook

Teaching with less reliance on the textbook.

Archive for the category “Teaching 101”

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.


5 lessons from my paperless class failure

I finally had all of my notes and plans finished, but I had been compiling them in my mind for months.

My class was going paperless. Totally paperless.

I am very blessed to have 26 desktop computers in my classroom. I’ve utilized them in various capacities for the year and a half I’ve been there.

But I was ready to take it to the next level. Bell-ringer activities done in discussion boards. Individual student blogs. Digital homework activities and online assessments.

I stepped into class the first day of school and laid out my plans to my classes. We jumped right in that week with bell ringers, and then it hit.

Log-in issues. Slow computer start-up times. Blocked websites. Our starter activities that usually took 5 to 10 minutes on paper were taking almost half the class on some days.

Boom. My paperless class had blown up in my face.

And I was bummed out. I had all of these ideas. The thought of less paper and more digital was the right move, if you asked me.

Here are a couple of things I learned from my “paperless class” bust:

1. Technology for technology’s sake isn’t good enough. That old educational technology maxim was right. Technology has to help the cause. I had digital activities that actually took longer than simply using paper and pencil. Kind of the opposite of what I was looking for.

2. Your technology must be up to the task. My bell-ringer activities are good for getting students engaged at the beginning of class. But they had to wait for slow computers to load up, wasting valuable instructional time. If we were a 1:1 iPad school, the load time wouldn’t be an issue; they would be online and working instantly. If I’m to have my paperless class, I need a better solution to the slow technology factor.

3. Your tech tools must be up to the task. I decided to use the MBC Documents feature on My Big Campus to submit these bell-ringer activities. My Big Campus’s version of Google Docs is servicable, but when students shared their documents with me, there was no way for me to unshare or erase those documents, and they collected in my documents folder. I needed to find a better tool for what I wanted to do.

4. Persevere through frustration and failure. My bust initially made me want to — gasp — give up on teaching with technology all together. I knew I was jumping to conclusions, and I knew I wouldn’t follow through with it. But since then, I’ve found some solutions to my problems and am making strides toward the digital class I envision.

5. Take it a step at a time. In hindsight, it was a mistake to launch all of these paperless initiatives at the same time. I really should have phased new parts of the plan in little by little.

I think I’ve licked all of my wounds and moved on from my earlier mistakes. My classes are more tech-savvy than they were last year, and I’m still trying to integrate new digital activities each week.

But my students are still doing bell-ringer activities on paper. Don’t worry … I’ll get there one day.

Use Facebook while studying, get lower grades (Mashable)

Technology can revolutionize how we teach. But like anything else, it has its ugly side.

The effects of texting and Facebook won’t surprise many of us, but it is interesting to see a direct correlation in a study connecting them to lower GPAs.

(Does this mean I should probably leave Facebook alone when I write tests?)

Use Facebook while studying, get lower grades

By Sarah Kessler, Mashable

Students should think twice before logging into Facebook or sending text messages during study time, suggests a study to be published in the journal Computers & Education.

The study — which controlled for demographics, high school GPA, internet skills and amount of study time — asked 1,624 students at a four-year university about their multitasking habits.

The study included questions about how often students IM, email, search and talk during study time, but only Facebook and texting ultimately correlated with a lower GPA. There was no relationship between grades and using other technologies while studying.

Scientists already know that the brain isn’t capable of successful multitasking. “Human information processing is insufficient for attending to multiple input streams and for performing simultaneous tasks,” write the study’s authors Reynol Junco and Shelia R. Cotton.

Previous studies have determined, for instance, that driving while talking on a cell phone can have more of an impact on driving performance than alcohol does. Even simply walking and talking on the phone at the same time can throw our brain off of its game.

In other words, one would think that any multitasking during study time — not just using Facebook and texting — would have a negative impact on grades.

Junco suggests the difference might have something to do with how students are using different technologies. Students may be more likely to email professors and search out of academic curiosity than to socialize through email or search, while they’re unlikely to text message their teaching assistants for homework help.

“It could be that students with lower grades just happen to do more Facebook and texting,” Junco tells Mashable. “But I think this study in the context of other research does seem to show that it is about what they’re doing while they study and not the other way around.”

On average, students in the study sent 97 text messages and spent 101 minutes on Facebook every day. Junco doesn’t think that they’ll leave either technology behind, but in his own classes at Lock Haven University he encourages students to think about how they use them.

“What I tell them is, ‘look, you’re going to sit down to study anyway,” he says. “You might as well make it the most efficient use of your time.’”

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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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