Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Pathway 6: Empower

Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Pathway 6: Empower
Cleveland closes her book with very direct advice on how to empower struggle learners in your classroom. She begins though restating her original concerns over the lack of reading and writing skills that boys must possess, “literacy skills are a universal key to academic success.  There is simply nowhere to hide or “get by” if a boy cannot read and if he cannot or will not read, his ability to write is also greatly diminished in nearly equal proportion.”

Alarmingly, Cleveland quotes research, “ experts tell us that after grade 4, shortcomings in reading and writing become increasingly debilitating because the skill of reading is no longer taught explicitly.”  Cleveland points out to the reader the importance of testing and assessing kids beyond what they can write. Instead, it is so imperative that we test kids verbally as well. Kids can have difficulty showing their teacher their true understanding through only one method of assessment.  Cleveland reminds the reader:
1. We don’t see what we aren’t looking for- we need to look beyond our typical methods of assessment
2. Once a label is given, we seldom question the decisions behind it- labels allow us to box kids into stereotypes rather than continuing to work towards finding understanding.
3. We cannot expect skilled performance without adequate and appropriate opportunities for practice in a way that develops proficiency-need to offer learners the opportunity to acquire, practice and affirm their growth,
4. The mode of practice must support the desired skill if the aptitude is going to develop to its fullest potential-kids need to learn and practice in ways that differ rather than returning to regularly used methods.

Because if teachers don’t meet these needs then, “his diminishing belief that his efforts will result in success lead to gradual disengagement from learning, and when, somewhere in the midst of this disengagement, we also label him as incapable, slow or lazy, we further undermine his and our belief in his ability to be a capable learner. As his literacy deficits become more and more glaring, his perceptions of himself as a failure may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Cleveland revisits the four factors that contribute to the continuation of the “Code” attitude amongst young males.
1. The growing absence of positive male role models: the presence of positive male role models in the classroom may offer powerful, real world exemplars for boys about the ways in which real men use and value literacy.
2. Concurrent overabundance of hypermasculine, anti-hero models in the media: need to counteract the media’s restrictive definition of masculinity
3. An unspoken understanding that boys who follow the Code do not enjoy or make public the literacy
4. An acute fear of being labeled as different- it’s much harder to label or exclude someone when we see him as a human being with rights and abilities
Cleveland reminds the reader of her goals at the beginning of the book:
  • Replace a boy’s negative attitudes about learning with productive perspectives about the role of risk as a necessary and valued part of the learning process
  • Reconnect him with school, with learning, and with a belief in himself as a competent learner who is capable, valued, and respected
  • Rebuild his life around skills and learning skills that lead to academic success and also lay the groundwork for success in life
  • Reduce his need to use unproductive and distracting behaviors as a means of self-protection
In order to achieve those goals, Cleveland instructs her reader on Literacy Building activities.  She identifies common barriers to learning:

Barriers to Literacy Learning
Criteria for Re-Engagement
Sensitivity to his lack of skill
1. High Personal Interest
Fear of Public Failure
2. Rapid Success
Lack of confidence in his ability to succeed
3. Evidence of growth
A need for support but an unwillingness to ask for it
4. Access to support
Lack of opportunity to practice in ways that are helpful
5. Companionable learning
A feeling of hopelessness
6. Choice and control

How can teachers help re-engage struggling learners?  
1. Graphic novels: “it turns out that because getting a boy to read is for more important to his academic success than what he actually reads
  • High Personal Interest: images resonate with kids
  • Rapid Success: easier for reluctant readers to get into; can combine words with images to create understanding
  • Evidence of growth: supports boys building reading skills connecting to background knowledge
  • Choice and control: boys can peruse each frame for as long necessary
2. Enactments: “ the very process of reading a literary text may consume so much energy that a boy with weak reading skills simply turns out”.  Chunking reading into smaller segments reduces this fatigue. Also make sure to seek clarification before moving onto the next chunk.  Enactments are about making sense of the meaning that is hidden between the lines.
  • High personal interest: incorporates many principles that engage reluctant readers: active involvement, compelling situations, direct experience, enjoyable setting, informal learning, and patterns of connection
  • Rapid success- allows the boy to experience learning and make a personal connection
  • Evidence of growth: students are able to bring the story to life using their own language
  • Access to support: working with his teacher in a relaxed environment
  • Companionable Learning: works with others and responds in character
  • Choice and control: boys have a choice how to respond and what it looks like
2. Talking Cards:Underachieving boys may have difficulty in generating their own descriptive language...”
  • High personal interest: boys pick cards that match their interests
  • Rapid success: goal is to help kids talk freely of their images
  • Evidence of growth: descriptive language increases with practice
  • Companionable Learning: students take turns and respond to teacher’s prompts
  • Choice and control: teacher models and scaffolds their use; boys can pick images and choose how to respond

Talking Cards: are a set of 80 to 100 images laminated on large index cards or half sheets of cardstock. A teacher creates the cards using the images culled from common materials such as photos, magazines, calendars, or other graphic resources. The images share one of several characteristics, each of which is designed to stimulate descriptive language:
  • Variations in nature: shapes, heights, intensity, and denseness
  • Uniqueness: people, places, things and art from other countries and cultures
  • Commonalities and differences: members of families, clothes in a closet, food at a store, bugs on a tree, flowers in a vase, boats at a marina
  • Openness to interpretation: sets of tools, bowls of fruit, doors with peeling paint (ask questions about these items)
  • Complexity: scene in which multiple events happen, many different characters present, design with many colors, shapes, or patterns.
  • Cognitive dissonance: lion as a pet, the moon or sun shining at the same time

Monday, May 20, 2013

Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Pathway 5: Ignite

Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Pathway 5: Ignite
“Teaching is an instinctual act, mindful of potential, craving of realizations, a pausing seamless process where one rehearses constantly while acting, sits as a spectator at a play one directs, engages every part in order to keep the choices open and shape alive for the student, so that the student may enter in and begin to do what the teacher has done: make choices” (Giamatti).

Cleveland discusses the misinterpretation and application of the terms “active learning”.  She explains that active learning is often identified as racing or games or hands-on activities that stimulate a boys’ kinesthetic modality.  However, Cleveland feels that active learning should be “ less about physical activity and more about engaging boys as learners, finding new ways to help them become active builders of their understanding and owners of the processes in which they are involved.”  She explains in the following chart how active learning contributes to positive outcomes:

Active Learning Principles
Positive Outcomes
1. Active involvement: helps a struggling boys create connections to the knowledge or skill. Then, the boy is able to apply the learning to a new situation.
Active construction of knowledge
2. Compelling situations:  stimulates a boy’s desire to engage in real world  learning; learning becomes relevant of his time and attention
Added relevance and personal meaning
3. Direct experience:activate the boy’s senses and heighten the quality of his learning thus being able to recall his learning later
Increased attention and memory
4. Enjoyable setting: gives the underachieving boy a chance to interact with others in a safe and secure learning environment
Reduced anxiety
5. Frequent feedback: helps an underachieving boy feel safe while learning new things
Belief in the possibility of success
6. Informal Learning: underachieving boys reactions, observations, and perceptions
7. Patterns and connections:  supports an underachieving boys comprehension and memory: merge prior learning and combine ideas to make sense of new information
Consolidation of learning
8. Reflection: helps build a boy’s self awareness as a learner

Through a boy’s engagement in these 8 areas, he is able to own the outcome of his efforts and this allows for him to become more motivated to continue. As Cleveland states, “What truly makes active learning such a valuable tool is its ability to ignite the whole boy; his mind, his body, his enthusiasm, his curiosity, his love of social interaction, his problem solving capabilities, and his need for real-world experience.”

Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Pathway 4: Adjust

Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Pathway 4: Adjust
Cleveland begins by referencing previously mentioned challenges that teachers face in their classrooms such as location, size, etc.. but also reexamines some essential questions that face our struggling boys:
  • Is it possible that some of these behaviors are the result of a boys’ inability to function well within the physical environment itself?
  • Are there ways we can organize our classroom spaces that might minimize some of these behaviors?
  • Might some of these adjustments also help boys to learn self-regulation, building a stronger sense of self along with reducing the need for constant policing?
Cleveland argues that we could say yes to many of these questions because of the strong connections between the physical aspects of the classroom with boys’ needs. Cleveland points out that there are four intersections:
1. A need for increased physical activity: boys need to move their bodies before and while they are learning so that they can learn.
2. A need for social interaction: boys consider peer interaction to be the most enjoyable part of school.
3. A reduction of visual and auditory distractions: making simple adjustments to the classroom layout can minimize behaviors.
4. A need for physical comfort: when students feel comfortable and safe, discipline problems dramatically decrease and learning improves

Cleveland suggest Zones of Comfort to help boys maximize potential in our classrooms.  

Strategies to increase physical movement:
1. Moving time: create distinct seating and desk arrangements for daily learning scenarios:
  • direct instruction- desk face one direction
  • individual work, paired or small group
  • whole class or small group discussions
  • structured small group discussions
  • use of centers or stations
    • when moving desks into different configurations, students can create mental shifts into the new activities preparing their mind for the work ahead and refocusing.
2. Standing time: boys might need the options of walking to the back or side of the room to move about.  This also gives the boy a sense of freedom and responsibility to move around while others are seated. Clear expectations need to be set around this option.
3. Errands: the responsibility of running an errand for the teacher and completing the task helps the child to feel successful as well as gets them up a moving.
4. Energizer monitor: a boy is assigned to give a prearranged signal to move around and change the flow of the lesson to get the kids reacclimated and refocused.

Strategies to Increase Social Interaction
1. Study Buddies: each student has a buddy they can consult about learning matters. Students can leave their seat to discuss learning with their buddy. This enables the student to physically move around and work on his social interaction skills.

Strategies to Reduce Distractions:
1. One of Four: Make sure the front of the classroom where instruction is given is a calm place free of distractions.  
2. Traffic Lanes: make sure there are clear lanes for the students to utilize when moving around the room.
3. Testing circle: move desks in a circle facing outward to reduce distractions while testing.

Strategies to Increase Comfort:

1. Fidget grabbers: to give boys permission to hold objects that he can fiddle with during class that are quiet objects.
2. Kick Stopper: wrap something stretchy around the bottom leg of desk to allow kids to move without distracting others
3. Rocking Chair: having a rocking chair in class gives kids that need to move a quiet place to do so.  
4. Calm Down Vest: a physically weighty vest allows for kids to calm down as a result of the weight of the vest placed upon them.

Do It Yourself Modality Zones:
Ear Phone Zone: keep a pair of earphone headsets for boys who need quiet time to avoid distractions
Nonglare Zone: sun glasses or visors help boys who are light sensitive
Flex Zone: have a supply of clipboards available for boys who need to change their work stations during class.
Lamp Zone: some students might prefer their own light source to illuminate their work more directly especially if the classroom lighting is kept more dim.

As Cleveland explains about these small changes, “simple adjustments to his personal learning environment can optimize his ability to focus and concentrate in any learning situation, now and in the future.  The ability to control the quality of his learning experience is especially empowering for a struggling boy, who may often feel at the mercy of conditions over which he has no control or input.” Cleveland goes as far as to suggest that the classroom be designed by the students with different arrangement week by week until one final arrangement can be collaborated upon and voted on by the entire group.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Pathway 3: Reinforce

The next pathway Cleveland elucidates upon is reinforcement.  Here Cleveland explains the epidemic that many struggling learners face in the areas of communication and collaboration, two critical areas for success in the real world. Many boys fail in these areas because of a lack of role models showing them how to work with others and how to communicate as a professional. The best way to motivate boys to acquire these skills they are lacking is through a connection to their real world relevance..  This allows boys to see the applicability behind what they are learning as well as creating a “no limit application” to their learning.

First, Cleveland examines the communication skills.  She defines communication skills as “ the ability to speak to, listen to, and ‘read’ other people.” Because boys so often follow the code of stereotypical males, they have difficulty determining appropriate emotional responses for situations.  If boys can’t distinguish their own emotions, they will have trouble relating or interpreting others emotions.  By creating real world scenarios with our students in the classroom, students can learn to identify and handle the emotions they experience and deal with them in a constructive way. Cleveland includes in this section Adam Cox’s list of pragmatic communication skills that help boys who deal with their emotional literacy:

  • Maintaining appropriate conversational distance
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Linking gestures with ideas or emotions
  • Using facial expressions effectively
  • Attending to time and place
  • Taking turns
  • Voice modulation
  • Giving compliments
  • Greetings and farewells
  • Detecting emotions in others
  • Perceiving and expressing humor
  • Knowing how to make conversational transitions
  • Anticipating other people’s reactions

Cox argues that boys who lack these skills need to have a threefold approach to learning them: embed the skills in everyday activities, offer specific instructions, and connect the skills to real world relevance.  These approaches along with a strong teacher student relationship, access and relevance, distributed practice and repetition, and an authentic learning environment empower struggling students with life-long communication skills. Cleveland quotes from Ron Clark, “this kind of instruction leads directly to  self-respect, respect for others, and a positive environment in which to succeed.  These skills don’t just improve grades, they change lives.

Next, Cleveland explores the power of collaboration, “as boys work collaboratively in their groups, they begin to understand that two, three, or four heads are often better than one...Collaboration-giving and supporting in addition to receiving- allows the group to achieve what the individual cannot.” Cleveland suggests 4 different collaborative learning structures to help struggling learners: (adapted from Kagan)

Expert Group Jigsaw:
  • Collaborative task: The acquisition and comprehension of large segments of new information
  • Overview: The teacher divides the reading assignment into roughly equal portions, as many portions as there are members of each group. Each home group receives one set of the divided reading materials.
  • Suggested Roles: Task Master, Gate Keeper, Summarizer, Recorder
  • Each home group member is assigned a role that will help to orchestrate the interchange and contributions during sharing
  • Step 1: Each group member selects one portion of the reading assignment and reads it.
  • Step 2: After all the group members read their assigned segments, they leave their original groups and join with like embers of other groups as “experts.” Each expert group discusses its assigned segment and comes to a consensus on what key information to share
  • Step 3: Experts return to their home groups and share,using the roles to facilitate the interchange.

Turn 4 Learning:
  • Collaborative task: The review or sharing of information. Useful before, during or after a lesson or unit of study.
  • Overview: Students are organized into groups of four. The teacher provides each group with a set of questions in an envelope. Each question is written on a separate note card. Students rotate through the same sequence of steps to answer each question, each group member taking responsibility for one role during each round of question-answering.
  • Embedded Roles: Roles are embedded in the sequence of steps completed in answering each question: Question Reader, Question Answerer, Extender, and Summarize.
  • Step 1: Question Reader selects and reads a question card
  • Step 2: Question Answerer (the person to the Reader’s left) answers the question
  • Step 3: Extender (the person to the Answerer’s left) extends the answer just given
  • Step 4: Summarizer (the fourth and final person in the group) summarizes key points.
  • The four step cycle repeats, the responsibility for starting the sequence rotating to the left by one person for each successive question.

thinkDOTS:  (Navarez and Brimijoin)
  • Collaborative task: The review or sharing of information in which all students are simultaneously involved in discussion. useful before, during, or after a lesson or unit.
  • Overview: Students are organized into groups of three or six. Students take turns throwing a die to choose which question from a set of six questions they will answer. The six questions correspond to the six levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy. The level of Bloom’s Taxonomy is indicated by the number of “dots.” This, a question at Level 1 (Remember) of the taxonomy would have one dot on it. A question at Level 2 (Understand) would have two “dots” and so forth.
  • Often each card will have more than one question to accommodate the likelihood that a level may be selected several times during the random throwing of dice. If the due indicates a level for which all questions have already been answered, the thrower of the die may throw again, extend the previous answer to one of the existing questions, or create a question of his or her own to answer
  • Optional Roles: Task Master, Checker, Summarizer, Praiser
  • To use this strategy as a cooperative learning structure, roles may be added to enhance the quality of sharing. Roles may remain constant as the responsibility for choosing and answering the question rotates around the group or roles may rotate along with the responsibility for choosing and answering the question (e.g. the person to the right of the die roller is always the Praiser, the person across from the die roller is always the Summarizer, and so forth).

Cleveland also explores more of Kagan’s work with roles, gambits and structures, “ Collaborative roles and gambits reinforce the cooperative learning principles of positive interdependence and individual accountability, orchestrating the interaction during group work and enhancing it by building a cooperative mentality.” In order for group work to be productive, standards and expectations must be set with teachers working through the problem areas with the kids.  
1. Pick a specific PROBLEM during group work: talking during personal things, taking over conversations, not participating, etc...
2. Identify the COLLABORATION SKILL needed: stay on task, use time wisely, summarize, paraphrase, coaching, check for understanding, record information
3. Develop a ROLE: task master, summarizer, coach, checker, recorder
4. Develop GAMBITS for the role: TM: “Let’s move onto the next question; GK:” What do you think?”; Sum: “In other words, you mean...” Recorder: “Here are our main ideas”
5. MODEL, DEMONSTRATE, PRACTICE the skill’s role and gambits without content: looks like/ sounds like
6. APPLY multiple skills (roles and gambits) in context using structures: expert group jigsaw, numbered head’s together, turn-4-learning, thinkDOTS

The identified sequence for teaching roles and gambits works directly with Cox’s communication skills. In essence, boys are learning to communicate and collaborate together.  Additionally, these steps offer specific instructions for struggling learners helping them to achieve success with defined roles and expectations. As Cleveland states, “boys learn by doing, and these structures orchestrate their success.”

Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Pathway 2: Guide

Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Pathway 2: Guide
Cleveland informs her reader that Guide, “ emphasizes providing clear communication in the form of expectations, feedback, and reinforcement as a means of empowering a struggling boy to help himself.”

Cleveland begins by discussing the basic requests for communicating in order to assist struggling boys in taking charge of their learning:
1. Give kids a way out: let them know they behaved badly but give them a way to correct their errors
2. Help kids know their strengths: let kids know the areas they are succeeding as well as need growth
3. Help kids relax into learning: let kids see you laugh at yourself so they can learn to laugh at themselves as well
4. Help kids “save face”: don’t humiliate or make fun of kids in front of others
5. Inspire kids: share your passion with kids; enthusiasm for learning is infectious
6. Keep it private: be straightforward when kids mess up but let them know privately
7. Let kids know they matter: greet kids and let them know you care
8. Make it real for kids: connect learning to the real world
9. Notice when kids try: notice when kids do things well and make it a big deal
10:Speak to kids with respect: treat kids with respect and let them know what respect looks like

When boys have clear expectations regarding how to behave and role models showing them how to behave, they can succeed. This takes the mystery out of behavior.  Additionally, boys need clear instructions so they are not set up for failure. This is often problematic for boys because they have “somewhat less acute hearing than girls.”  Effective directions follow these steps:

1. Change state: bring closure to the previous activity and ready the student for the next activity.  Suggestions such as listen and clap, whistle stop, brain boosters
2. Explain relevance: explaining the relevance creates context for what we are going to teach; boys like connections and understandings, “In the last lesson, we did ____ as a way of gaining expertise in_____. Today, we will continue that process by doing_______. This will help us _________.”
3. Be crystal clear: It is extremely important when giving directions that steps are clearly laid out, and steps for success are not forgotten.  Make sure to use fewer words, use familiar words, and number the steps.
4. Engage multiple modalities: when teachers stimulate more than one sense in their students, engagement increases.  
5. Check for understanding: Make sure students are clear on directions and expectations before a task is started.  Some ideas are pair checks (review with a neighbor what has been asked), show me (thumbs up and thumbs down)
6. Announce duration: struggling learners are often concerned with having enough time to complete tasks; ensuring students that there is plenty of time allowed alleviates this stress
7. Pair verbal commands with auditory start/stop signals: creating dual commands of verbal warnings with stopping and starting signals creates a classroom environment with clear expectations. Kids know when it is their time to work versus their time to listen to make sure they have all the directions.
8. Provide back-up: boys who struggle in school often need reinforcement of directions; create an environment where it is ok to ask for clarification and acceptable that they do so. Students can record or scribe directions for themselves or their peers.
9. Give fair warning: It is important to give a heads up to kids that the direction your classroom is taking will be changing.  A verbal warning or reminder can help kids stay focused and manage their time wisely.
10. Acknowledge effort: verbal recognition of effort is so crucial to a boy’s feelings of success.  

Cleveland also explores the importance of feedback to struggling learners.  According to research by Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall, and Wiliam, “research is unequivocal about feedback as the great enhancer of achievement.”  There are two types of feedback given in a classroom: judgemental and informational.  Informational feedback “supports a struggling boy in some way, reducing his defensiveness, promoting self-awareness and responsibility, encouraging forward momentum, and inviting him to enter the learning process actively.”  Judgemental feedback “ is often given after the learning experience ends, at which point an underachieving boy can no longer use it to improve the outcome of his efforts.”

Judgemental feedback:
  • Focuses on judging
  • Often interpreted as judging the learner vs. judging the learning
  • Non specific
  • Summative: no opportunity to revise and improve
  • Learner cannot discern what has been done well and done poorly
  • Levied against student with no invitation to participate
  • characterizes success as winning over others

Informational feedback:
  • Focuses on learning
  • Central to classroom processes
  • Sensitive and constructive
  • Promotes understanding of goals and criteria
  • Helps learner know how to improve
  • Invitational; develops the capacity for self-assessment
  • Recognizes achievement measured against a standard

Informational feedback is far more powerful for struggling learners; it provides the on-going encouragement and direction that is necessary to help the child succeed.  It allows for the boy to realize he is capable of learning. Geoff Petty provides the following model that allows for the best use of informational feedback:

Step One: Before you say a word, stop and think.
Step Two: Describe what’s right or what has been done well (medal)
Step Three: Describe what needs to be done (missions)

By combining what a struggling learner has done well with where the student still needs to succeed in terms of a goal, the struggling learner can be successful.  By phrasing the areas of concern as missions,or as goals to target, the struggling learner sees himself as a capable learner. Also, then he is more likely to move forward.

I am thinking this would be an excellent way to provide feedback on papers to kids:
1. What did they do well?
2. What do they need to work on?

By reinforcing what struggling learners do well, we increase the success of our students in the long run.  They will see themselves as capable learners.