by Connie Dierking
With the new year comes reflection. Many teachers spend their winter breaks reflecting on the days gone by and the days to come. A hot cup of coffee and a sunny patch of a well-loved couch provides the conditions for reset thinking. Resets in education allow teachers to return from the winter break with the intent to implement new routines, new ideas, and revised practices. Resets usually start off strong.
However, all the newness sometimes fades into February and the air becomes stale. It’s time to push the doldrums of winter out and bring the energy in to stay! Resets can and should remain alive!
The world out there is tough for kids. Poverty, health concerns, homelessness, and just plain meanness envelop the news and the environment of way too many children. Google search indicates that words like bravery, kindness, and gratitude have taken a 52% plunge. Teachers strive to counteract the negativity and create the conditions in which students feel safe and connected and open to learning.
Marie Clay’s work is steeped in the belief that a child’s contribution to his or her own learning is paramount. There are daily opportunities for building engagement, energy, and inspiration for every child every day. Reset reflection in the new year reminds us to use them!
Dr. Yvette Jackson in the forward of the book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, by Zaretta Hammond, writes, “Neuroscience has substantiated a reality that we should relish: We are all wired for expansive learning, high intellectual performances, and self-determination.” Anyone who has watched a Reading Recovery lesson would not be surprised by that statement. Keeping the excitement and engagement alive so that these high intellectual performances can happen requires persistence and grit, by both the teacher and the child. Building lessons that provide the impetus for these stellar performances are within our reach. This is what I call keeping the reset alive!
Daily Opportunities for Building Engagement, Energy, and Inspiration
Start with a Hook
The hook happens in the first 15-30 seconds of a lesson. Offer up the key information from the start, just enough to generate interest. The hook is all about making a promise at the beginning of a lesson, enough to hook your students and fulfill that promise by the end. A good hook should:
- Connect to the emotions, what do your students care about?
- Get personal, we are alike but we are all different in wonderful ways.
Design Your Lesson Like a Work of Art
The design of a lesson is an engineering work of art. Each part should be intentional and connected. The teacher has tools at his or her fingertips to engage, keep the energy going and inspire students to keep going!
- Pacing – some parts of the lessons are fast and some are slow
- Lean talk – teacher talk should be to the point. Clay cautions that teachers often “underestimate how complex children find…the things that teachers say.” Demonstrate in place of talk.
- Use the voice of an actor – loud and soft, intonation varies, emphasis shifts
- Bring on the tools – charts, post-its, notebook, pointers, colored pens
- Use good technology – the internet, games, publishing
- Use pop-culture/student interests – find out what they are…again
- Use your own passions – when we bring our passions to our teaching we raise our energy which raises students
- Remember to celebrate – nothing excites more than a celebration
- Keep students active! MOVE IT!
Consider a Progression of Complexity
Any lesson should consider components that allow for students to ease into the learning. If we want students to persevere, we must allow students to engage in a progression of complexity. Lessons that are difficult and confusing will push students to abandon all attempt. Consider the following:
- Begin with oral, talk it out first
- Build interest in the topic with a photograph or a short text
- Use a variety of text, i.e. video, photographs, songs, poems, picture books, chapter books, plays
- Gradual release that includes time to practice with a partner and with and without the support of the teacher
Oral Language/Oral Rehearsal
- Include a focus on the language structures students bring to the learning
- Weave speaking and listening with reading and writing
- Whatever you want students to write, require students to practice orally…many times
- Ensure all students are heard
- Think, talk, talk, talk, write, read
- Add gestures or movement during all parts of the lesson
- Allow students to meet with many students to talk and share together
- Provide a common beat for students to emulate as they transition
- Have students move as they engage with the content
- Use music
Use the new year as a reminder to find opportunities to build engagement, energy, and inspiration. A famous quote of Marie Clay states, “If children are apparently unable to learn, we should assume that we have not as yet found the right way to teach them.” And that is the job of a reset!
Connie Dierking is a primary teacher, instructional staff developer, and curriculum writer for Pinellas County Schools in Largo, Florida.
She recently presented a session entitled “Teaching with Engagement, Energy, and Inspiration” at the 2020 National Reading Recovery & K-6 Literacy Conference.