Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A is for Apple

What does a five month old apple look like?

L - F - S.
Those letters cause some in my district to groan, or worse.
For those who aren't LFS literate, the acronym stands for Learning Focused Schools.  
I'm sure you're thinking, "well, duh... isn't EVERY school supposed to be a Learning Focused School?"  Of course the answer is affirmative.  Especially if you are on the board of directors for the LFS conglomerate.
  • Effective Teaching
  • High Expectations
  • Support All Students
  • Continuous Improvement
 Solid goals, to be sure.  Bottom line, it's good teaching strategies, sold in a professional development package to districts, with accompanying data to support the cost of the program.

Don't get me wrong.  A lot of the LFS training is very good.  Much of it causes mocking and groans from students.  Oh, and teachers.  Because in a perfect world, it's difficult to "teach to the echo of the bell" and still feel successful when there is an interruption or announcement in the final seconds of class while the "summarizing strategy" is being implemented.

I actually volunteered to go out of state for a week to be trained as an LFS trainer, and was slated to go, until my district realized that the cost would be nearly $10,000.  This was more than six years ago, so I can't even imagine the actual cost today.  (Oh, and none of that cost was going to me, but I still volunteered.)

So what really motivates and engages students?  Sometimes it's strategies that come from the LFS website, handbook, or trainings.  Sometimes it's just plain old good teaching, and the willingness and ability to work on the fly and recognize when a shift in plans is warranted.  

I'm thankful that I work somewhere that recognizes the need for flexibility.

Today's Te@chthought Blog Challenge:  Share what creative and innovative ideas you have done in your classroom to increase student engagement.

 First, a few questions for kids:
  • What are you doing?  
  • Why are you doing it?  
  • Who is going to care enough to see what you've done? 
  • Oh, and what would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?  
  • What would you do if you had no limitations?
Okay.  Go back and re-read those questions.  FOR YOURSELF this time.  (Unless you're a kid, in which case, well, still go back and re-read and think about your answers.)

Hands down, the thought of an authentic audience for any project seems to be the single greatest motivator.  When students are interested and engaged, their enthusiasm is palpable.  And it is most strongly felt and understood by other students.  Above is the apple that I've spoken about before.  In August, the apple was  placed in the bell jar as part of an art study designed by one of my students.  Betsy is an AP art student, and saw the potential for an authentic audience, as she worked through the decay process.

Betsy did some amazing work, but more than her work was the conversation she started.  Students were genuinely interested in the decay process, and in her attempts to convey the decay.  Kids I've never taught were stopping by during homeroom, lunch, or after school to see the fuzzy apple. 

The day the live fly was captured in the jar was actually talked about on social media as a highlight.  Seriously.  A fly.  On a decaying apple.  Tweetworthy.

There really is no one magic technique to increase student engagement, but empowering students to lead their learning through Project Based Learning, or define their own audiences to follow a passion, is certainly a great start.  

Oh, and now, a mini art show.  The subject, The Apple


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