How to Keep Your Students Focused During the Holidays

Student sitting at a desk with a computer and notebook open in front of them, image used for Robert Peters educator blog on how to keep students focused during the holidays

The holidays can be a wonderful chance to indulge in festivities, cultural experiences and more, but it can be difficult to keep your students focused on learning with all this excitement and their anticipation of the holidays. Many times, students of all ages and grade-levels are starting to tune-out and look towards the coming holidays and having some time off of school. These feelings are totally natural; you’re probably looking forward to the holidays too.

It’s important to remember that your students are children and budding young-adults, not robots. By recognizing this fact, and accepting that you cannot change it, it becomes much easier to instead tailor your teaching and lessons to this development. Now, let’s talk about some ways you can use the holiday spirit to keep your students engaged, focused, and progressing in their educations.

Maintain classroom structure

Don’t throw your rules and established expectations out the window. You can’t expect your students to not be distracted during the holidays, but students thrive on stability. Everyone, yourself included, performs better when previously established norms are followed.

Continue to assign your regular weekly or bi-weekly assignments, have homework due at the normal dates, etc. Don’t abandon classroom structure you’ve established, use it! Keeping with the same routine can help students stay focused because they know what’s expected of them.

Tailor your lessons to the season

The easiest way to keep your students focused and working hard is to tailor your lessons to the holiday at hand. Don’t ignore the fact that Christmas is right around the corner, embrace it!

Regardless of your subject-matter, you can find a way to tie it into the season’s festivities into at least some lessons. Your students will appreciate the much-needed break from “hard content”, and the creativity these assignments usually employ. Try to incorporate some fun activities that are relevant to the holidays that the students will enjoy while also learning something new.

Keep your pace, don’t overwork

It’s important to continue teaching at your normal pace. Don’t suddenly pile on two-weeks worth of work and expect your students to actually do it over their winter break — it’s called a break for a reason. They’ll only be miserable before and after break and you’ll have to deal with this attitude.

Keep this idea in mind during the rest of the school year. Make sure you get through key chapters and lessons with enough time to spare so you’re not cramming before the holiday!

A final word on holidays

Remember that holidays are a special time in every culture. Embrace this, and use it as a break from the factory-like routine of schooling. Enhance your lesson plans, ask your students what their plans are and share yours, and remember – you deserve a break, too. Use this time to recharge and revitalize, the year isn’t over yet!

5 Ways to Involve Your Students in Philanthropy

Textbook open to a page that has a chapter titled "we care", image used for Robert Peters educator blog on how to get students involved with philanthropy

Philanthropy is very important to creating a better world, so it’s vital that we teach children the importance of helping others. While most schools push this mindset by teaching children not to bully one another and by periodically hosting fundraisers, there usually isn’t a lot of discussion about philanthropy, its importance, and how young people can get involved in meaningful ways. Young people spend so much of their time in the classroom, that it’s a great place to start teaching them to develop a philanthropic mindset. Here are some great ways you can help students pursue philanthropy.

Start a classroom project

While your school may participate in some kind of fundraiser or philanthropic event each year, it can be beneficial to do something within your classroom as well. Even if you’re just raising money to donate to a specific cause, you’re helping students get involved with philanthropy. However, it’s important to teach them that philanthropy isn’t just about donating money. Consider choosing a cause that lets you make something, such as cards for people in the hospital or an activity that raises money. If you can take your students somewhere to volunteer, definitely do it! It could be something like cleaning up a park or visiting the elderly, just make sure you meet any standards set by your school district for trips.

Teach a lesson on philanthropy

If you can’t actually do something with philanthropy, just teaching students about it can make an impact. Teach them the difference between philanthropy and charity, talk about the history of philanthropy and its prevalence in society today, discuss the ways philanthropy can significantly impact someone’s life; any of these topics can lead to rich discussions and learning experiences for students.

Plan a career day…with well-known philanthropists

Typically, career days involve local adults coming in to speak with students or students dressing up as the career they’d like to have. Consider adding a philanthropic twist to this traditional event by having students research well-known philanthropists and then give presentations on these individuals. You could also have local philanthropists visit your classroom and talk about how they’re involved with philanthropy and why they do it.

Get parents involved

Ultimately, the people who can influence your students the most to participate in philanthropy are their parents. Send home handouts with a list of ways children can get involved with philanthropy and also highlight the benefits, for students and those who are helped through philanthropies. If parents understand the importance of philanthropy, they’re more likely to continue encouraging students to pursue philanthropic endeavours.

Offer outside resources

Like sending a handout home to parents, giving students the resources they need to participate in philanthropy is incredibly helpful. Provide them with a list of suggestions on how they can participate in general philanthropy, like picking up trash or helping out other people in their daily lives. Also consider handing out information on local philanthropies, such as their locations and contact information along with a little blurb about what the organization does. Give students information about community volunteer days as well.

Creative Ways to Encourage Students to Write

Notebook with blank page and two crumpled up pieces of paper on top of it with a pen, image used for Robert Peters blog on creative ways to motivate students to write

One of the most difficult challenges educators face is encouraging students to write. Whether it’s writing in class or at home, most students just do not enjoy the prospect of writing, especially if it’s for an assignment. However, writing is a vital skill for the real world and being able to communicate through writing is an incredibly valuable trait. Even if you can’t motivate students to write in class, but they do decide to write on topics unrelated to classwork, you’re helping their education because studies show that any form of writing can improve overall writing skill.

Use relevant writing prompts

Kids feel more motivated to write if they can relate to the prompt. If they are interested in the topic they’re writing about, they’ll enjoy the writing more. Make the topics about hobbies, local events, or their families and friends. When the topics are something they feel a connection to, your students will put more effort and detail into their writing and actually be interested in what they’re writing about. Depending how old the students are, you can have them debate issues they feel strongly about, such as a school dress code or local community issue.

Encourage them to share

For most students, they enjoy being able to share their work with one another, their teacher, or even their families. Encourage sharing because it’ll motivate them to write better and actually listen to the input they receive from others on their writing. However, if a student is really shy and reluctant to share, do not force them to read their writing out loud or show it to another student. Ask if you can see it and give them your feedback or even encourage them to write for themselves without sharing their work with others.

Teach them anyone can write

The problem most students face is that they do not believe they can actually be talented writers. They’ve either never been told their writing is good, believe it’s not something they can learn, or have never been given instruction on how to write. Give your students examples of great writers who met failure time and time again or teach them simple tricks to improve their writing.

Do not demand perfection

Writing can be daunting for students because they believe what they write should be flawless for it to be considered “good.” Teach your students it’s okay to make mistakes and they can always ask for advice or input on their writing. If their grammar or plot development isn’t perfect, gently offer them advice on how to improve, but also look for aspects to compliment so they don’t feel discouraged.

Celebrate their writing

Any student likes compliments and receiving positive attention. Find something in each student’s work to celebrate and show them that they’re making progress. It’s important to offer constructive feedback, but it’s also vital that you avoid giving a student the impression their writing is bad and cannot be improved.
Check out even more ways to inspire students in their writing!

Technology Resources to Use With Students

Image for Robert Peters's blog about technology resources to use to educate students in the classroom

Technology has become more prevalent in our world than ever before. Now, nearly every person has a smartphone and understands how to use a computer. This flourishing of technology has been seen in schools as well. Most students have personal cell phones and can navigate a school computer with ease. It’s a common experience for teachers to struggle with trying to get students to pay attention in class instead of to their smartphones. Instead of forbidding the use of technology in the classroom, here are some great resources teachers can use that combine technology and learning.

Figment

This site offers students a chance to publish their own writing of any kind and then receive feedback from other students. They can also comment on and discuss others’ writing that’s posted on the site, though it’s important to note that not all the content is appropriate for school or all ages, so you might want to check it out yourself before using the site. There are all types of writing on this site, so you may want to encourage young writers in your class to check it out.

Glogster

Students can create their own interactive posters on any topic and customize them as they see fit on this site. It can be used online as well as with a mobile app. Your students can easily add text, links, audio, video, and images to their Glogster and play around with the many features the site offers. It gives them a chance to be creative, while also creating an educational tool for a presentation or project.

CNN Student News

CNN offers informative news clips that cover current events and are only ten minutes long. You can start the day with watching the daily clip with your students and then have discussions about the events or ask a few questions about what they learned.

Free Rice

This website is a fantastic way for students to review different topics and also help out a good cause. FreeRice.com donates 10 grains of rice to the hungry for every answer you get correct when using the site. And yes, it’s legit. You can choose from math, humanities, English, chemistry, geography, sciences, and even various languages. It’s a great way to give students some downtime while also having them work on something relevant to class, but also fun. You might want to offer some kind of prize to the student who has the highest amount of rice at the end of the week or month.

DIY

Students can learn more about topics they’re interested in and also discover new passions through this site. It allows them to complete challenges and earn badges and can also be connected to an adult account so a students’ parents and teacher can follow their progress. The environment is completely safe and gives students the chance to learn more about themselves and what they want to do in the future. After students complete a challenge, you can have them create a tutorial or short presentation on what they learned.

Check out this list for even more technology resources for your classroom.

7 Habits of Effective Teachers

 

Playtime May Become Part of Curriculum in Early Childhood Education

children-playing-329234According to Ali Ingersoll of ABC news, 90 percent of development happens during the first five years of our lives. The more children are exposed to quality care and learning during their early stages, the better the child’s cognitive skills are in his, or her, later educational years. However our focus on educational “needs” may be misconstrued. More and more studies show that early childhood education should be balanced between work and play. Focusing solely on the school work, and ignoring emotional and physical development may be indeed missing the mark for childhood development.

Lynn Pullano, CEO of Child Care Resource Network believes that child development depends largely on playtime as much as “work time” Playtime brings with it an array of benefits for child development. “At those earliest ages, we’re really missing the mark if we’re not engaging the child physically as well as emotionally and mentally in learning. We do have to be careful not to expect from children things beyond their age,” says Pullano. Children must be allowed to use their imaginations and creative abilities. Playtime in certain activities can provide just the right amount of frustration and experience needed to develop cognitive abilities such as problem-solving and task management.

So, what kind of skills are children learning during playtime? For starters, playtime stirs motor skill development. This includes better hand-eye coordination, visual tracking, and muscle development which are used in physical activity. Playtime also allows for social learning. Cooperative play where children play amongst each other helps develop important social skills such as decision making, communication, negotiation, and conflict management. Of course, cognitive skills such as creative thinking, as well as problem solving, are also put into practice in cooperative play.

According to the Urban Child Institute, play also encourages language development. “Parents can encourage language development during play by speaking in longer sentences and introducing new vocabulary to describe play and toys.”

If you found this read useful, and would like to read more on children’s education and development, check out my blog here. Thanks for reading!

5 Practices To Avoid Misbehavior

child-433877_1280Misbehavior can lead to uncomfortable and tense situations, but these situations can also be revealing about underlying conflicts. Whether we like it or not, misbehavior is a form of indirect communication. For all people it’s a form of relaying to others that things are amiss. Acting out is a defense mechanism to avoid feeling vulnerable, embarrassed or betrayed. While misbehavior is frowned upon, it is also healthy, and normal. Misbehavior is a reaction to unfavorable circumstances, which breed negative emotions. While misbehavior should not be rewarded, is it seldom without cause. Misbehavior in the classroom should not be simply dismissed as the result of a bad attitude. We need to recognize the possibility of being the source of this misbehavior. It’s possible that we are creating the negative circumstances to which he or she is reacting. Admitting this does not make you a bad teacher, nor does it take the fault away from the student. To help a student work through their negative behavior, you need to avoid provoking them. Some of our day to day actions could be inciting misbehavior. Again, this isn’t a reflection of your teaching abilities, but instead a call action. To avoid provoking your students, you should avoid these common practices:

1) Do not highlight differences in ability.

It goes without saying that students certainly do not enjoy feeling stupid. While our intention isn’t to make them feel this way, our actions can inspire this feeling. Praising students for their intelligence rather than their effort is an example. Avoid highlighting some students by removing the significance of these differences. Do not attach value to them and avoid using them to rank your students, do not pit students against each other.

2) Do not grade practice work.  

Practice work is assigned to develop new skills and make the newly-learned knowledge stick. The key word is practice, and if we assign grades to this work, then we penalize a student’s attempts to comprehend the material. Do not grade work until students have shown that they understand the material.

3) Avoid having ambiguous and arbitrary norms.  

Avoid arbitrary and ambiguous norms, because students will be unsure of the boundaries in the classroom. Instead, recruit your students in helping you define and establish classroom norms. Everyone will be clear about what’s expected of them, and what will not be tolerated.

4) Do not let students pick seats.

In school, students are often battling the pressures of fixed social hierarchies and peer rivalries. The opportunity to select your seat presents a false sense of autonomy, and students then face the challenge of picking a seat among bullies, cliques, and crushes. Assigning them a seat provides them with a space that is theirs, and avoids enhancing the dynamics at play.

5) Stop using old scripts.

Using the same old lectures signals to students that their experience isn’t unique. Each act of misbehavior is unique instance, and should be handled as such. Please see the ASCD to read more about misbehavior in the classroom.

Seven Habits of Affective Teachers

teacher-702998_1920As a teacher you wear many hats. In addition to teaching the curriculum, teachers handle the emotional responses of their students. Compartmentalizing your life can lead to your own frustration, and then later down the road, miscommunication, blame and even anxiety. To avoid negative feelings, you should cultivate habits that will help you handle the emotional needs of your students. The changes you wish to see begin with your own initiative. Making minute changes in your behavior is one small step towards becoming an affective educator. Here are some habits to keep in mind:

 

1) Enjoy other’s success.

Becoming a teacher is a selfless pursuit. As you create a plan to reach your personal goals, do not focus solely on yourself. Find joy in the accomplishments of those around you. Whether it’s a student, or a fellow teacher, investing some of yourself in their happiness will only create more positivity for you. As you enjoy the success of those around you, you’ll be constantly reminded of the joy you find in teaching.

 

2) Reframe your perspective.

Oftentimes, your perspective on a situation will determine your attitude, and your actions. It can determine whether you feel empowered and optimistic, or pessimistic and defeated.  Step back and recognize what the issue truly is. Is it part of a bigger problem? How can you reframe the problem to effectively handle it? Reframing your perspective can create hope in situations that at once seemed difficult.

 

3) Stop categorizing people.

It’s easy to categorize the people around us into groups defined by basic attributes. But when you categorize people, you limit your expectations of them. If you view someone as a fully developed thinker, they hold more value, and you are less likely to dismiss their contributions. Avoid simplifying people, so you can really understand their strengths and contributions.

 

4) Discuss the ethics of teaching.

Spark a discussion with your colleagues about your teaching practices. While it may seem daunting to invite others to express their opinions on teaching, the result can be constructive professional development. Discuss your teaching methods, processes and goals. This doesn’t have to be a single discussion, and it can lead to developments throughout the academic year.

 

5) Value humility.

Before you embrace a new idea, you have to recognize that your previous method was less effective. You should not be self conscious of your previous methods. By embracing humility, you will grow more comfortable with being wrong. By revising our own thinking and inviting others to provide constructive development, we are demonstrating our own willingness to change and learn.

 

6) Value intellect.

Teaching the same curriculum year after year can foster complacency. Soon, you will simply going through the motions, rather than providing fulfilling instruction. Cultivate and embrace your own intellect by writing for other publications, exploring your own teaching goals, and reflecting on your own career. Growing your own intellect will strengthen your passion for teaching.

 

7) Keep teaching fun.

If you maintain a playful attitude toward teaching, your students will be engaged and enjoy learning the subject material. Having fun in the classroom will keep students entertained, and show them that you don’t take yourself too seriously.
For more about being an affective teacher, read here.