Friday, January 26, 2018

Teacher Tips: Teaching Kids to Learn

It may seem strange that you'd have to teach the idea or process of learning, but in reality no one is actually born knowing how to do anything, at least not on a conscious level. Until we start to think and become aware of specifically what we are doing and how, everything happens via instinct in a series of actions and reactions.

Originally published September 2012

Tips for Teaching Pupils to Learn how to Learn


Teaching pupils how to learn is extremely important to their academic success. It isn’t enough to have students memorize a bunch of facts and figures in order to pass standardized tests and matriculate. The ability to learn is an important life skill that can serve them through a variety of situations in and out of the classroom and well beyond their school years.

The key in teaching pupils how to learn is in getting them to think for themselves. Too often students merely repeat what they have been told without questioning why something is so.  These pupils are unable to define words they use daily, or even explain the most basic of concepts. Given an open-book test with fill in the blank questions phrased exactly as the information appears in their textbook, the majority of them will be unable to perform.

Having the ability to learn information for themselves provides pupils with an opportunity to “go beyond the book” or required reading (as they are often encouraged to do), and explore a subject further for themselves.  Learning becomes an adventure, and with any luck, develops into a passion.

The best way to teach pupils how to learn is to engage them in a mix of long and short-term activities, projects, and experiences that allow them to have practical opportunities for hands-on problem solving and discovery.  Having the chance to see for themselves why something is the way it is will ignite their curiosity, raise their awareness, and allow them to explain the subject to others, which increases their self-esteem and desire to learn more.

Lesson plans that follow a show and tell approach, that can provide students with tangible examples they can see and touch for themselves will provide students with a better understanding of subject matter and encourage them to want to learn and explore further.

Some specific classroom activities that encourage pupils to learn are treasure hunting with a map, cooperative exercises that rely on memory and/or problem solving such as building things, and art projects that are applicable to math, (i.e. art from fractions).

Playing games in the classroom is another way to teach pupils how to learn. When learning is disguised as play, children are engaged and don’t even realize they are learning. Charades and Boggle are two games that are great for the classroom. They encourage critical thinking and help students learn concepts, as well as expand their vocabularies.

Teaching pupils how to learn is fairly simple. Usually it just comes down to showing them that they can and using subjects and activities they enjoy to inspire them to do so. 

Teacher Tips: Passive student discipline

The following article was previously published in July 2009.

Using Passive Discipline in the Classroom


Teaching is a challenging task that is simultaneously as frustrating as it is gratifying. Even on a good day it can leave you feeling drained after just a couple of hours, especially if you have to spend a large amount of precious instruction time managing behavior.

Passive Discipline may sound like an oxymoron but if properly used it can be an effective classroom tool. Whether they realize it or not, students are already attuned to body language and hand signals. Non-verbal communication is a lot less likely to end up in a battle or control struggle.

Often times when students are chattering away amongst themselves and not paying attention a teacher will simply stand (or sit) calmly and wait for the students to notice he or she is waiting. At least one kid will notice and alert another creating a ripple effect around the room. If there are any holdouts a combination of eye contact and a raised eyebrow will usually do the trick.

The reason passive discipline is effective is that visual reminders serve as instant memory activators. It also creates a means to developing awareness so that students will be more accountable. Often a mere look will cause a student to stop and say "what?" If you continue to look expectantly at them quite often something will trigger and they will say "Oh!" and correct or adjust the behavior without you having to utter a word. They may even smile at you in the process.

Using non-verbal communication in the classroom has the added advantage of not disturbing students who are quietly working and the offending student can not succeed in baiting you into a non-productive verbal exchange while drawing attention to themselves and disrupting the lesson.

A Few Gestures and Hand Signals

Holding a hand (or both hands) up with the palm facing outward generally means stop, especially if you look downward while doing so. Unfortunately this gesture is also seen by some to be negative, perhaps because of the popular "talk to the hand" expression that was prevalent in the nineties. For an alternative gesture hold the hand out to your side with the palm facing downward.

The palm facing downward is a great gesture because it is multifunctional. If used in motion by lowering the hand slightly it can mean "slow down and walk," when a student is running in the hall. The same motion can also tell a student to bring the volume down when they are talking too loud.

Moving the hand across the throat vertically is universal for cut it out. A finger to the lips combined with eye contact reminds a student it is time to be quiet. The same finger against the lips combined with shaking the head "no" tells a student they are not following procedure when talking out of turn.

Often when you are assisting one student another will impatiently call your name over and over demanding your attention. Instead of responding with equal impatience holding up one hand with your index finger pointing up tells the student you will be with them in one moment.

If the impatient student persists you can combine the gesture with shaking the head no and holding the palm outward to say "stop" and then holding up the index finger again to let the student know you will be with them momentarily. If they continue to persist, stop what you are doing and look at them impassively while making eye contact and repeat the gesture.

Another non-verbal way to tell a student you want them to stop what they are doing is to place both hands in front of your body with one slightly above the other and move the hands outward to either side. Even if you have to repeat the gesture or combine it with another, the student will usually get the message without you having to speak a word.

Other Non-Verbal Options

When a student is off task and out of their seat, merely pointing from the child to their empty chair sends the message "please return to your seat." It is better to repeat the gesture than to plead with the student for several minutes in an attempt to get them to do what you ask. Not every student will comply easily, however and additional steps will be necessary.

Some schools use a mark system to manage behavior. Writing a student's name on the board can be a warning signal that some stronger form of disciplinary action such as the giving of a mark is about to be taken. If the student doesn't take the warning to return to their seat, for example, the letters OS can be placed next to their name. This is also a warning to the rest of the class not to join in to the behavior.

If the mark is ignored the next step will be to send the student out for disciplinary action. Most students do not want to serve detention or have their parents telephoned and once they see the situation is serious they will not want to be the next to be sent out. Having a step by step procedure beginning with a warning gives the student a chance to make the decision to comply before serious action is taken against them.

From the very first day, the class rules and expectations should be clearly outlined and if possible, reminders should be posted visibly around the room so that your non-verbal gestures serve to reinforce the behavior the students have already been told they should be exhibiting.

Passive discipline is an important tool that can often save valuable time in classroom management. Engaging with a student verbally can often lead to confrontation. Using gestures and body language appropriately to correct students can save you a lot of grief in the long run.

Teacher Tips: Putting An End to School Bullying

Originally published November 2009 with the headline Ending Bullying in Schools

School bullying is a widespread problem of epidemic proportion that is shared by educational institutions serving students from Kindergarten through High School across all kinds of communities. Ending school bullying is possible through programs that address creating a specific school culture that nourishes students and teaches them responsible behavior through social and emotional development. It won't happen overnight, but it is possible to curtail and maybe even completely eliminate bullying on school campuses.

One reason bullying is such a problem is that quite often the adults involved in children's lives are not taking the issue seriously enough. Kids who are victims of bullying are often told to shake off incidents or toughen up, sometimes even by their own parents. When left unchecked bullying can result in permanent emotional scars or other more serious consequences such as suicide or retaliation through large-scale violent acts.

The key to ending school bullying is in developing a school culture that helps students attain higher self esteem, anger management, improved communication skills and the ability to make better choices. Even without specifically addressing bullying behavior schools can begin to develop kinder students by creating an environment that inspires students to aspire to personal excellence that includes developing good character as well as academics.

No one sets out in life deciding to be mean. Children are often growing up in extremely difficult situations where they are powerless to effect change in their circumstances. This inability to change their environment and control the things that happen to them creates a sense of helplessness that will often manifest in their acting out negatively. Sometimes the response is subtle and may be directed inward, but quite often it is directed outward either verbally or physically and before long a bully will be born.

In some instances children may have a bully at home who is either consciously or unconsciously modeling this behavior for them and may even be encouraging them to bully others. Even teachers can be guilty of bullying in subtle ways by the language they choose when addressing students, especially in those moments where they begin to lose patience.

Children learn early on that bullies don't get picked on, they get to have their own way, they get lots of attention, are sometimes popular, and most of all, they are "respected" or feared by many, including adults. From a child's perspective this can seem like a pretty good thing.

Putting an end school bullying requires a comprehensive approach that addresses all of the root causes of bullying either directly or indirectly and, through school culture, sets out to resolve the problem by creating an environment in which individual students will choose not to bully others.

While appropriate consequences are important punishment is not the most effective way of redirecting a child's behavior. Character education, etiquette classes, enrichment programs that provide exposure to music, visual art, creative writing, dance and theater, as well as cooperative activities, are all effective tools in helping children find positive ways of expressing themselves while learning to get along with others.

Addressing the problem of bullies in schools is not solely the job of teachers and administrators. Parents have to take an active role in shaping who children ultimately become by reinforcing the lessons taught in character programs. This responsibility also extends into neighborhoods and communities at large.

How Important Is An Education Towards Acheiving Success

Previously published October 2011

Do you really need an education to succeed in life?


Everyone in life needs an education of some manner in order to be a success. This is an inarguable fact, whether a person is educated at home by family members or a tutor, in a formal institution such as an accredited school, or largely on their own via trial, error, and independent study; no one can function well in life without having learned the components of basic literacy and important life skills.

Many people tend to think of education only as the knowledge imparted in formal institutions such as written, verbal and math skills learned in schools. Likewise, many also tend to think of success strictly in terms of monetary measures; however, at the most basic level, both success and education are attainable without either.

Education is more than just computations of figures or miscellaneous facts learned by rote from a book or even another person. It is essential social and emotional development that shapes character, influences behavior and decision making, and ultimately gives way to effective problem solving, communication skills, and creative, critical thinking. Education is both the ability to digest information intellectually, and put it to use in a practical manner; it is impossible to succeed in life without it.

It is education that allows a successful person to achieve their personal, spiritual and material goals. Whether success is seen by an individual as having a certain amount of money, a home filled with expensive things, a life partner, a family, or simply good health and happiness, these ideals are only attained with the appropriate “how to” information that is what education at the most basic level comes down to.

It is less important how an individual person’s education is attained than the actual process of doing so. Just as it is widely acknowledged educators and behavioral scientists that there are many different kinds of intelligence that exist, there are also many forms of education by which a person can acquire the information necessary to move them from one set of circumstances to another.

While it is true that many people throughout history have succeeded in life, monetarily or otherwise, without the benefit of formal education, those persons have been in the minority of their respective societies rather than in the majority. Literacy, the primary goal of education, whether obtained formally or informally, affects every aspect of life and is the key to success of every kind at every level.

Keys To Teacher Success

Teachers and Teaching
Originally published under the headline Traits of Successful Teachers in April 2010


Traits of Successful Teachers


The most successful teachers in life all have one major thing in common; they build quality relationships with their students and inspire them to want to learn.  These winning teachers understand that real student achievement cannot be measured in mere test scores or even report cards but in the small day to day moments of their students’ individual triumphs.

Because they understand that learning is a process and children absorb information differently, successful teachers are able to get results from all students, not just those who are “good”, “gifted” or well-behaved.  These teachers achieve their success by creating stimulating classroom learning environments in which students are encouraged to think critically while being developed socially and emotionally as well as academically.

Successful teachers also recognize the importance of honoring and acknowledging diversity and of promoting cultural literacy.  They promote a positive school culture and employ the use of engaging lesson plans that provide hands on project based and experiential learning opportunities.

All teachers who have had consistent success in the classroom understand that it is not enough merely to dispense information.  They realize that in order for students to really learn beyond text books and worksheets and truly achieve they must develop the ability to be able to solve problems and find their own answers.


Teaching is a major commitment and those who have had the most success with their students are patient, observant, organized and creative.  They have won the battle of preparation and classroom management and can spend the appropriate time being attentive to the specific needs of all of their students.

By the same token, successful teachers are good communicators. They do not condescend or engage in sarcasm at the expense of their students and they are focused on helping their pupils to build confidence and healthy self-esteem. They understand that how well their students are able to build on fundamental skills is largely tied to how they see themselves and how they feel about their own abilities.

While it is a wide-spread common belief that successful teachers are generally those who have the ability to think outside of the box, perhaps the most important trait of successful teachers is their own ability to continue to grow and learn as individuals as well as professionals.  It is this open mindedness and the seeking out of new information and practices that insures their continued success in the classroom.

Monday, June 26, 2017

How Public Libraries Guarantee Access To Knowledge

Libraries are a valuable resource which should never be taken for granted. They provide the public at large with free access to a plethora of materials, the variety and diversity of which having expanded greatly in the last few decades to include everything from digital items to garden seed.

The following article was previously published September of 2012


The role of public libraries in guaranteeing access to knowledge

Public lending libraries have long held an important role in providing communities with valuable access to books, periodicals, and other materials free of charge. Libraries have also served as meeting places for community groups as well as venues for poetry readings and receptions.

The opportunity to walk into a public library and have access to more books than any one person could hope to acquire on their own on every known subject is invaluable. In addition to books, modern libraries also offer newspapers, magazines, literary journals and other periodicals, music recordings, and movies. Large libraries, usually the main branch locations, also offer microfilm, special archives and collections, and resource centers. Some libraries also offer tutoring to develop computer skills.

As the communities they serve have changed over time, the role of public libraries has evolved further and further. They increasingly provide more access to new media, which for some is the only hands-on access they have to new information and technology.

The guaranteed access to knowledge that public libraries provide is more important than ever before as underserved populations become aware of what libraries have to offer and the advantages afforded in using them. This is particularly the case in the age of ebooks as now proximity and location are no longer an issue.

In addition to books on how to do just about everything imaginable, individuals seeking information on grant opportunities can find a wealth of resources at public libraries. The extensive reference collections at public libraries, though not necessarily available for borrowing, are vital to students as well as anyone conducting historical research.

Children’s story time is a valuable resource for parents that also fosters the love of reading in children. For some children, attending these events may even spark the desire to become a writer. Public libraries that present author readings by poets, fiction writers, biographers, and others, bring communities face to face with role models and sources of inspiration, and afford them the opportunity to further engage and ask questions.

Since their inception, public libraries have provided countless individuals with limitless hours of virtual adventure and entertainment, as well as multiple resources for learning new information, viewing other cultures, achieving goals, and accomplishing tasks.

The role of public libraries in guaranteeing access to knowledge to everyone can best be summed up in the words of Ray Bradbury: “Without libraries what do have we? We have no past and no future.”

Friday, April 29, 2016

Why and How to Encourage Children to Read

Almost nothing in life is more important than literacy. Not being able to read or having a low literacy level affects everything from driving to taking medicine, not to mention applying for and functioning on a job. A favorite quote I often share on Twitter is "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." If you read to children when they are very young, and if they see you reading, they will develop an interest in reading and learning in general.

Originally published October 2011 via that site that no longer exists...

How to Encourage your Child to Read


Reading is an important component to success, and the best way to encourage children to read is for the adults in their lives to set an example as a readers. If children are read to from a very young age, they learn to appreciate it as entertainment long before they ever discover reading as a “work.” With the right foundation children can learn to look upon reading as the ticket to unending adventure as well as a gateway to unlimited knowledge.

All children love stories and imaginative play; if children are introduced to reading early enough, they will consider it a part of fun time – AKA play – and regularly ask (or even demand) to be read to. As they grow older, they will want to do the reading to their parents and others, and appreciate books as much as they do their most prized toys and games.

Aside from being read to on a regular (if not daily) basis, the next important factor that will encourage children to want to read is having an assortment of books at home. It is important that these books always be age appropriate with regard to both subject matter and reading level. Books with pictures but no text will encourage very early readers to use their imaginations while they interpret the pictures to make up their own stories, and chapter books will help proficient readers stay interested as they grow out of “baby books”.

Thrift stores are a great source of books to help build a young reader library as several books can usually be purchased for less than one dollar (U.S.), and often books are put on sale for half price, making them even more affordable. As soon as a child is old enough (or has facility enough) to read beginner books on their own, they should be taken to the public library. One of the best things that can happen in a child’s life is getting their own library card.

As children get older and become more independent, they also discover other interests. Having both fiction and non-fiction books at their disposal that help them learn more about those interests and other people’s experiences with them is another way to encourage them to continue to read.

Not all reading material has to be in the form of books, however. One of the best ways to encourage a child to read is to write letters to them. Even early readers can comprehend short notes and begin to write back. Jokes, funny sayings, instructions on where to find special treats, can help to start a tradition with children that will continue well into adulthood.

The most important factor in encouraging a child to read is “not dropping the ball.” It is not enough to get a child started with reading and provide them with books; the ongoing interest must be encouraged and kept alive by activities and discussion. It is extremely important for the adults in a child’s life to set aside both quiet time reading as well as time for reflection where the child can talk about what was read and share any thoughts or feelings he or she might have.

First at home, and later at school, children develop an appreciation for reading when it is practiced regularly in their environment. It is an easy thing to encourage a child to read when they have learned to value it early on.