student at whiteboard


Dear Teaching

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Thursday, December 10, 2020


high school students in covid classroom wearing masks

Dear Teaching,

This year has been a tough one for us. Our relationship has been through so much over the past 12 months. We’ve been forced to change our ways, go long distance, and test our commitment to each other like never before. Yet despite all that, my love for you remains strong. 

Before the pandemic, loving you was easy. It was familiar and routine. It was the feeling of walking out of a classroom and knowing that I executed a near-perfect lesson. It was seeing a student smile at one of my stupid jokes or seeing that figurative light bulb go off in their head when they made a deep connection to what we were learning. It was giving high-fives and fist bumps in the hallway or sitting next to them at their desk to help them stay focused. 

Now, with one-way traffic patterns, limited social interaction, and an ever-changing combination of in-person and remote learners, I’ve come to see you in a whole new light. My passion toward you has only grown stronger as we've navigated these changes together. That same love I had before is still there, it just looks a little different. It's the challenge of planning engaging lessons, for students both in the class and at home. It's the comfort of a new routine that includes sanitizing every square inch of my classroom multiple times a day. It's the unpredictability of each day, like when a student says, "I didn't think your face would look like that," after seeing me without a mask for the first time. (I'm still not sure whether that's a compliment or an insult!) Finally, it's the surprising resilience of young minds that I've come to love most about you during this time. Seeing a community of teenagers adapt to a constantly changing world has been a beautiful thing to witness. 

So what I'm here to say, Teaching, is that my love for you is unconditional. It is not dependent on a physical space or the use of certain materials. It has no expectations for what the future may hold for us because I know whatever it holds, we'll face it together. And I know this love is mutual, because I feel it everyday. I love you, Teaching, and I always will. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, through COVID and beyond. 

Yours truly,

Scott Blanchette

scott blanchette landmark high school

Scott Blanchette attended Assumption College, where he received a bachelor's degree in English Literature. He has been working at Landmark High School since 2015, teaching Expressive Language Arts classes and is also a member of the Residential Department. He enjoys reading, writing, exercising, and watching sports in his free time. 

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Tags:  teaching

Why I Don't Teach Tolerance

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Sunday, October 13, 2013

Submitted by Ariel Martin-Cone 

I was asked to write this blog piece about teaching tolerance, but I want to start by changing some vocabulary. Teaching tolerance promotes that idea that you just need to put up with something you don't particularly value or enjoy (Brussels sprouts, regular exercise, etc), but you don't have to like it. If, instead, you teach, promote, and encourage understanding and acceptance, you can challenge a student to understand another perspective and find value in diversity – not just tolerate the presence of difference.

Teaching people to understand and value things or people that are different is a difficult conversation at any age. Starting each school year with clear expectations and standards for acceptable behavior and language enables you to have a positive, constructive conversation – rather than just respond to the inevitable issues with a predictable list of consequences. Establishing a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) shows students and staff that the community wants to recognize and support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) teens, staff, and family members, and can provide crucial support to students and staff alike. However, the goal of a GSA should be for the community to monitor itself, not for one committee to be in charge of deciding who or what is appropriate. A GSA can inform the efforts of teachers and parents working to help students see their peers as individuals, each bringing a unique set of values, beliefs, and behaviors to school right alongside their binders and sports equipment.

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) provides a wealth of information and resources, as well as hosting yearly events to raise awareness and foster acceptance on any campus. Starting the year with Ally Day (check it out here) clearly sends the message that you don't have to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender to care about gay rights, and that anyone can be an Ally. Turning the pledge into a poster, or handing out stickers or bracelets to indicate your support is a great way to make your campus into a welcoming environment. Fostering this environment isn't easy, and requires patience and vigilance on the part of students and staff alike, but starting with acceptance can make all the difference.

ariel martin-cone headshot

Ariel Martin-Cone is a Landmark High School teacher and academic adviser.

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Tags:  acceptance Ally Day bisexual diversity gay Gay Straight Alliance GLSEN lesbian tolerance transgender understanding

Just Effective Teaching

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Submitted by Bill Barrett

Although it is almost 16 years ago, I can still remember the feeling I had entering my first public school teaching job.  I was hired to teach four sections of 9th grade Civics classes and one section of an 11th grade honors US history class.  Mainstream regular ed and honors classes with a mix of students, some of which were on IEP’s.  This had been my goal at the time…to take my six years of Landmark experience and a graduate degree and attempt to effectively reach a wide audience of students while at the same time continue my work with students with language-based learning disabilities (LBLDs) in a mainstream public school setting. Approaching a class of 28 students, six of whom were on IEP’s (picture a Landmark class with an additional 22 students) made me immediately realize the importance of structuring my approach to make sure my students' skills and organization were up to par.  Content would absolutely have its place, but as a vehicle for critical thinking and most importantly, skill development.  Somewhat because of my inexperience in this setting, I began to fall back on some of the strategies I had learned in my six previous years at Landmark.  I will admit that I first used these strategies to buy myself some time as I began to get to know my students and gain a handle on the needs of my classes.  I had assumed during those first three weeks that I would move on from some of my tried and true Landmark strategies into a different realm of pedagogy more suited to a mainstream public school environment.

What I found out very quickly is that the strategies I had used during my time at Landmark were not just Landmark strategies…they were effective teaching and learning strategies for all student skill levels. As a teacher, the act of doing things such as putting an agenda on the board every day, using multi-modals as opposed to strict lecture, structuring writing through templates and outlines, giving credit for participation and organization, emphasizing test review as much as the test itself, teaching note taking as opposed to only dispensing “important” information, taking time to check on and reward notebook organization and break down specific tasks were strategies that benefited all of my students, not just the students with learning differences.

It remains my belief as an educator that when you assist in helping students acquire and learn the necessary skills with which they can access content knowledge on their own while also rewarding the attributes they bring such as cooperation and self-advocacy, you are providing them with a greater gift…the gift of control.  The ability to see themselves as a partner in the learning process engaged in the development of their own skills and not just an empty vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge.  In the end that doesn’t just represent Landmark teaching – it represents effective teaching, and worthwhile learning.

bill barrett headshot

Bill Barrett is the director of Faculty Recruiting and Teacher at Landmark School

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Tags:  effective teaching IEP language-based learning disabilities LBLD learning strategies self-advocacy Teaching Strategies

Building a Culture of Character

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Submitted by Bob Broudo

Being “peaceful,” or at least making the effort to become peaceful, is often associated with the holidays. However, the arrival of the holidays this year (2012) was accompanied by horrific visions of school violence that conjured up other visions of violence in movie theaters, malls, and on our streets. For so many people, including me, these visions were not conducive to peaceful feelings. Rather, they created difficult questions and a sense of anxiety.

Such social violence, portrayed almost daily in the news, is painful and impossible to understand. This violence is by no means specific to schools, yet health and safety concerns at our schools are increasingly on all of our minds. One of the swirling questions for me during our holiday break was how do we learn to balance what we so often hear, see, feel, and fear with who we are, what we do to maintain safety and help create change, and how we communicate with each other as adults and with our students. How do we stay balanced as we move forward in a healthy way while still carrying the emotions of such terrible events?

Often, when there is too much chatter in my brain, I retreat to a good book, and, at this time, I found the title of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet to be promising. Writing about introverts and our society’s evolution toward the “Extrovert Ideal,” the author makes the following statement on page 21: “America had shifted from what influential cultural historian Warren Susman called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality - and opened up a Pandora’s Box of personal anxieties from which we would never quite recover.” This is a bold and sweeping statement, yet it resonated with me.

The phrase Culture of Character describes that which we work endlessly to achieve in our schools, often against other powerful cultural influences. School cultures strive to build and reinforce character in the community as a whole, and within each student and adult within the community. In this context, who we are, how we respond, what we learn, what actions we take when confronted with overwhelmingly bad news depends on our character and almost forces us to strengthen our culture.

From this perspective, I felt more balanced knowing that our work is really about continuing to build a Culture of Character within our schools and communities wherein how we behave makes all the difference. While we cannot control external events, we can control how we respond to them, and we can seize every opportunity within our community to teach, grow, refine, and communicate. Focusing on the dignity of each person, acting with respect, and honoring our emotions and responsibilities in difficult times, do not answer all of the questions, but they are the hopeful foundation for a more peaceful existence.

bob broudo headshot

Bob Broudo is the headmaster of Landmark School.

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Tags:  anxiety Culture of Character Culture of Personality introverts peaceful quiet school violence social violence stay balanced Susan Cain Warren Susman

Dancing in the Rain

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Submitted by Amy Ruocco

andrew ruocco dancing

We are all faced with challenges in life, but how successfully we navigate through those challenges largely depends on how capable we view ourselves to be. Dyslexic children learn fairly early on that their peers are able to conquer tasks that are seemingly insurmountable to them. Even the brightest students find themselves shirking opportunities to participate in class for fear of being wrong or worse, different. Unfortunately, many of these students find themselves focusing all their energy on their weaknesses. Unless these children are allowed to also celebrate their strengths, they will find it hard to develop confidence in their own abilities.

Our son Andrew is a very bright, inquisitive, little guy, but not long after beginning first grade, we noticed his light was dimming. His love of school first turned into like, but after a while, it turned into dread. It wasn’t until Andrew began going to Landmark that we saw his light begin to return. Day by day, we felt our son was coming back to us.

One day after school, Andrew was especially eager to ask me something. As soon as he saw me he said “Mom, Landmark is having a talent show. Can I do it?” Of course, I said yes immediately. Naturally, I assumed he would choose to play the guitar, since he had been doing so since the age of four. However, when asked, he replied, “Nope, I want to dance.” “Dance, did he really just say he wanted to dance?” Since dancing was something Andrew would have previously avoided out of fear of embarrassment, I asked again for clarification. Of course, he confirmed that I had heard him correctly and began deciding what form of dance to perform. At that moment, I was both thrilled and scared to death. Here we were. Andrew was finally feeling at home again. He felt smart and liked and... happy. Although I feared what could happen if Andrew’s performance was not, shall we say, appreciated, I feared more what would happen if we did not support his decision.

The day of the performance, my hands were sweating and my heart was in my stomach. “Please let this go well,” I kept telling myself. Andrew proudly stepped out on the stage and began to dance. The more he danced, the more I relaxed, because I knew that Andrew was truly confident and happy. He finally felt safe enough to put himself out there in front of his peers and fortunately, they did not let him down. The support Andrew received that day was absolutely amazing. In fact, I would call it life-changing and he would too.

No one is able to get through life without challenge. In fact, many times, the challenges we face allow us to discover our strengths. Children, however, need to be reminded that their challenges do not define them. When provided with the opportunity to also showcase their gifts, and feel the praise that comes from doing so, children will begin to experience themselves as capable. The byproduct of those experiences is confidence, which is an essential ingredient in the formula for academic and social success. Looking back now, I find it somewhat metaphorical that Andrew chose “Singing in the Rain” as his performance piece. While some would seek shelter from the storm, Andrew chose to “dance” in the rain that day.

amy ruocco headshot

Amy Ruocco is a Landmark School parent.

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Tags:  academic success bright students capable celebrate strengths challenge develop confidence dyslexia inquisitive Landmark School opportunity showcase gifts Singing in the Rain social success

The Teaching Brain

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Submitted by Vanessa Rodriguez

We’ve been hearing long, loud, and numerous complaints about the state of education and the need for radical reform of our educational system. We’ve heard about the limitations of high stakes standardized testing and the need for more accountability for our teachers.  The problem of education in this country today is vast, complicated and emotionally charged. Educators, scientists, psychologists, government officials, and bestselling authors are all part of the mix of voices that are creating the conversation and, in part, prolonging the controversies.

But it seems the biggest elephant in the proverbial room is how we think about teaching and our teachers. Both sides of the teaching debate have sought to define “good teaching.” However this effort is as misguided as one that would label a student “good learner”.  We need to keep the terms “good” and “teaching” forever more apart. Indeed, the concept of a perfect teacher for all students is a complete myth.  Instead we need to be asking new questions.

Our questions should begin with one in particular:  “What is teaching?”  Teaching is a human, evolutionary skill.  In fact, though we may not be in a classroom we are all teachers.

Four years ago, as a doctoral student at Harvard Graduate School of Education, I made a startling and it turns out profound connection between the cognitive psychology and neuroscience I had been studying and the practice of teaching:  I realized that for all we know about the nature and science of learning, especially the discoveries in brain research, we have grown very little in our insight into the teaching process. Why is this? Why has teaching, an interaction so integral to the foundation of education, been given such short shrift? Quite simply it is because no one has ever really bothered to understand how the teaching process, and its corollary, the teaching brain, are separate and distinct from the learning process, or the learning brain.

As a former Science, History, and English teacher, I have spent over a decade teaching in the classroom and I’ve learned that learning and teaching, while inextricably related, are separate, distinct processes. And that in order for  us to understand the teacher in all of us, whether it be in the classroom or the boardroom, we need to demystify teaching based on a complete understanding of the cognitive, biological, and psychological processes of the brain. The series of studies that I have worked on are based on this quest to uncover these processes of the teaching brain.

vanessa rodriquez headshot

Vanessa Rodriguez is a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of the The Teaching Brain: The Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education.

teaching brain book cover

Order your copy of Ms. Rodriguez's book The Teaching Brain. Visit Ms. Rodriguez's web site.

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Tags:  cognitive psychology education reform Harvard Graduate School of Education neuroscience standardized testing The Teaching Brain Vanessa Rodriquez what is teaching?

Synthetic Phonics Accelerates Reading and Writing in Young Students

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Thursday, September 27, 2018

teacher doing phonics with student

By Jennie Smith-Brock, M.S.

It’s day eight of kindergarten in a public school in New England and the students are putting out their arms like the wings of airplanes " /nnnnnnnnn/," whisking ants off their arms " /aaaaa/," and puffing out candles (their fingers) "/p/."

“Nap!,” call out some of the skilled blenders in the group. The others may not be able to blend the sounds yet, but evidence from other synthetic phonics classrooms indicates they, too, will be skillful blenders before long.

Students Learn Letter Sounds Before Letter Names

Synthetic phonics programs reduce the cognitive load for students in several ways. For example, the sounds that the letters represent are taught before the letter names. Identifying letter names is useful for alphabetizing and talking about spelling but is not required for reading. Handwriting is taught with the same scope and sequence as the phonics teaching, with lowercase letters taught first since those are most useful for reading.

One synthetic phonics program, Jolly Phonics, has received acclaim from renowned reading specialists, and research supports the success of the program.

Given the effectiveness of research-based reading instruction in reducing the number of students requiring intervention, there are many of us who would be thrilled if all kindergarten classrooms included instruction in phonemic awareness and if the correspondence between the alphabet letters and their sounds were taught, along with the blending of words with short vowels.

U.S. Schools Beginning to Use a British Phonics Program

But what if even more decoding/encoding instruction could be expected, with greater acceptance of this instruction by classroom teachers? Several schools in New England have begun implementing the synthetic phonics method, which is now the primary approach to teaching reading in England.

It is not just the actions for the sounds that make the teaching of this particular synthetic phonics program so different from typical phonics instruction in the United States. Jolly Phonics uses stories and songs associated with each of the sounds to help anchor the learning:

If you’re strong and you know it, say “/ng/!” If you’re strong and you know it, say “/ng/!” If you’re strong and you know it, and you really want to show it... ... If you’re strong and you know it, say “/ng/!” [Tune: “If You’re Happy and You Know It” action and story: a weightlifter lifting a heavy weight above the head]

Students taught with the synthetic phonics method learn letter-sounds at the brisk pace of about four per week, rather than one to two per week in typical classrooms. Starting on day three of the synthetic phonics program, they practice segmenting words into sounds and blending sounds into words; phonemic awareness activities are incorporated into the daily phonics lessons, rather than as a precursor to phonics instruction.

Learning at a Rapid Pace

Typically kindergarten classrooms cover the 25 sounds represented by the alphabet letters (the letters "c" and "k" represent the same sound) and perhaps a few more, such as /sh/, /th/, /ch/, in which case about 15 sounds aren’t introduced until first grade.  In a Jolly Phonics classroom, however, by the end of only nine weeks, the students will have learned one way to spell each of 42 sounds of the English language! (Jolly Phonics focuses on 42 of the approximately 44 phonemes.) This even includes some digraphs (a two-letter spelling for a single sound), such as “ai” and “oa.”

Being able to write a phonically plausible spelling for virtually all of our sounds truly opens up the opportunities of written expression for students, far beyond what kindergartners elsewhere are able to do. Their stories are understandable both to themselves and to others.

The brisk pace also transforms many of the sight words, such as “for” and “out,” into fully decodable words. Later in the year, students begin to learn main alternative ways of spelling the vowel sounds. The split digraphs (“magic e”), such as the “o-e” in “hope” are not taught until after the primary “non-split” digraph for the sound is taught. For example, first “ee” (“tree”), then “ea” (meat) then “e-e” (“these”). This greatly reduces common confusion between the spellings and sounds of the short and long vowels.

Approachable for Teachers

This is phonics instruction that kindergarten teachers are very happy to embrace: the training is short and fairly simple; the approach is kinesthetic and engaging. Once the teachers see confident readers and writers in their classrooms, they spread the word to colleagues.

phonics success chart

Brown, R., Swan, J., & Smith-Brock, J. (2017) The Efficacy of Jolly Phonics When Used as Tier 1 Classroom Instruction with Kindergarten Students. Unpublished data.

Proven Results

In the past year in New England, we have had local data that have dovetailed with the results found in empirical studies and case studies elsewhere: this approach “lifts all boats.” Students who are English language learners (ELLs), have summer birthdays, or are disadvantaged socio-economically achieve quite similarly to the other students. The long tail of achievement virtually disappears. The percentage of students achieving above-grade-level results increases.

For example, in one low socio-economic status school in New England, a University of Southern Maine study indicated that while the number of students in the control classroom who fell below the 10th percentile on letter-sound fluency (L/S), phoneme segmentation fluency (PSF), and nonsense word reading (NWF) increased over a 14-week period, the number of students below the 10th percentile on each measure completely disappeared in the synthetics phonics classroom.

In case studies in New England, data from literacy assessments including MAP Growth (from NWEA) and the DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) has shown a doubling of the percentage of kindergartners performing above grade-level compared to those in comparable non-Jolly Phonics classrooms. Additionally, the data has indicated a reduction by 1/3 to 1/2 in the percentage of kindergartners performing below grade level.

Although neither the UK-style synthetic phonics approach, nor the Jolly Phonics program in particular, is well known in the United States, one of the studies involving the program was included in the National Reading Panel Report in 2000. Sally Shaywitz specifically pointed out the program in her 2003 book, Overcoming Dyslexia:

“According to the National Reading Panel, Jolly Phonics... seems to have gotten it right. It is a highly effective program that, according to children, is also fun. The program is intended for the youngest beginning readers in school; this means 4- and 5-year-olds in England and 5- and 6-year-olds in the United States... According to the panel’s review, when groups of children using Jolly Phonics or a whole-language approach were compared after one year of instruction, the children in the phonics programs were reading and writing significantly more words.”


About the Author

jennie smith brockJennie Smith-Brock is a Special Education teacher, phonics consultant, and certified teacher trainer of the Jolly Phonics program. Her career as an educator also included being the Director of the SMART (Southern Maine Area Resource Team) Learning Lab at the University of Southern Maine.








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Tags:  phonemic awareness phonics reading instruction synthetic phonics

Connected Letters, Connected Thinking: How Cursive Writing Helps Us Learn

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Saturday, August 22, 2015

cursive writing on paper

By Judy Packhem, M. Ed.

Cursive writing is an endangered species these days. Left out of the Common Core State Standards, cursive is now seen as inconsequential, and even obsolete, by some in the education community.

This is distressing to me, and it should be to all of you who care about educating our children, especially children with dyslexia.

There is ample reason to justify the teaching of cursive writing, beginning with the scientific evidence.

Your Brain on Cursive Writing

The development of the functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine made it possible to see activity in the brain and pinpoint which parts of the brain are being used during critical functions such as thought, speech, and writing, among others.

Brain mapping, as it is called, shows that during cursive writing both the right and left hemispheres of the brain are active. This is something that is not present either while keyboarding or writing in print.

Cursive writing is much more than an obsolete mode of writing. It is connected to our thought processes, to our retention of learning, and to our creative selves.

This right-left brain synergy, when both sides of the brain are used simultaneously, promotes improved language and memory functions. Some brain researchers go further to say the more we integrate the logical (left) and intuitive (right) sides of our brain, the greater our skill at innovation — the ability to analyze problems and solve them with out-of-the-box thinking.

Researchers studying Albert Einstein’s brain found that the right and left hemispheres of his brain were uniquely well connected. I’ll let you connect the dots on that one.

From Essays to Note Taking:  Why Writing by Hand Is More Powerful

There are two compelling studies that prove the superior benefits of handwriting versus keyboarding for learning.

Educational psychologist Virginia Berninger, who studied the writing composition of children in grades two through five, found that the students “consistently did better writing with a pen when they wrote essays.”

Compared to the students that typed on a keyboard, the students who hand wrote their essays were able to compose at a faster rate and they produced longer essays. They also wrote more complete sentences than the keyboarders and their essays expressed more ideas.

Another study by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer looked at college students taking lecture notes on laptops versus longhand in notepads. Students who took notes on computers produced a lot more notes, but the quality was poor. The typed notes tended to be mindless transcription of the lecture. The handwritten notes, while less lengthy, resulted in deeper learning and longer retention.

A week after viewing the lectures, the college students were given 10 minutes to review their notes and were then given a test. Students with handwritten notes performed significantly better on both factual and conceptual questions.

While computers may make it easier to take lots of notes, they may bypass the deeper thinking that needs to occur for effective note taking and, consequently, learning.

Benefits of Cursive Specific to Dyslexia

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA), in its handbook, recommends the use of cursive handwriting. This “reinforces a multisensory approach to reading and spelling.”

Diana Hanbury King, founding fellow of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham, published books and articles citing the benefit of cursive handwriting for dyslexics.

“In the case of dyslexics, there are several reasons for insisting on cursive. To begin with, in cursive writing, there is no question as to where each letter begins – it begins on the line. The confusion with forms is not merely a left and right reversal as with b/d and p/q; it is also an up down reversal as with m/w and u/n; hence the uncertainty as to whether a letter begins at the top or the bottom. Second, spelling is fixed more firmly in the mind if the word is formed in a continuous movement rather than a series of separate strokes with the pencil lifted off the paper between each one.”1

The connected letters in cursive result in increased writing fluency (speed and smoothness). The flow of cursive means your pen — along with your thoughts — doesn’t stop moving.

This characteristic of cursive writing is shown to be especially beneficial for many struggling learners with processing speed deficits or language difficulties like dyslexia and dysgraphia.

Cursive writing is much more than an obsolete mode of writing. It is connected to our thought processes, to our retention of learning, and to our creative selves.



  1. King, D. (2001). Writing Skills for the Adolescent. Cambridge, MA: Educators Publishing Service.

About the Author

judy peckham headshot

Judy Packhem, M. Ed., of, is a reading specialist/ consultant and dyslexia therapist with certifications from the International Dyslexia Association and the Academy of Orton-Gillingham. She helps struggling readers of all ages become successful learners. Related:

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Tags:  brain research college cursive dyslexia handwritring research science

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Wednesday, September 9, 2015

By Mark Drago

There is an old Staples back to school commercial where the dad skips down the aisle and his kids trudge behind him as the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” plays in the background. A totally different portrayal of the start of school from pop culture is John Green’s open letter to students starting school, asking a simple question, “How psyched are you for the end of summer?” As students make their way through the first day of school, constantly checking their class schedule and navigating where to sit, some seem psyched to be there while others trudge along. Here are some tips that teachers can share with students to get through the next month.

Get to Know the people in your class

Both the students and teachers you meet on the first day are the faces you will see for the rest of the school year. Take time the first day to learn their names, their hobbies, and what interests them. These are the people you will work with, learn with, and build connections with.

Learn the expectations

Every class is different. You might have a lab in science class, a writing assignment in literature, and a challenging problem in mathematics. Both the first day and really the first month, take time to learn the expectations. What materials do you need? What should you do at the start of class? What can you do to succeed? All of these questions are good to ask the first day.

Find out what motivates you

It is a new year with new people and classes. You’ve got brand new pencils and a brand new opportunity to make this year great. Try to find something that gets you excited about school and keep that in mind as you make your way throughout the year.

mark drago headshot

Mark Drago is a faculty member at Landmark High School.

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Tags:  back to school first day or school first month of school getting to know your students how to succeed in school John Green Landmark School motivating your students school expectations Staples tips for students tips for teachers transitioning back to school

An Interview with Vanessa Rodriguez

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Teaching Date Posted:  Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dr. Jessie Voigts from Wandering Educators recently reviewed Landmark360 expert blogger Vanessa Rodriguez’s latest release, The Teaching Brain: An Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education. Below you will find a brief review and interview with the author.

“Let me tell you about “The Teaching Brain”. I picked it up, and couldn’t put it down. It delves deep into how teachers teach – and provides an interactive model for teaching – and learning. The process of teaching isn’t simple. There are myriad factors we need to think of and there are a plethora of teaching models that have been promoted over the years. And yet, there has still been something missing, a common-sense approach to teaching the same way we live our lives – thoughtfully, interactively, developmentally, and with purpose. This book, this exciting research, is that piece of the puzzle that has been missing.”  – Dr. Jessie Voigts

Interview with the author

Voigts: Please tell us about your new book, The Teaching Brain 

vanessa rodriquez headshotRodriguez: The Teaching Brain challenges widely accepted theories of teaching and offers a unique idea based on a simple yet empowering truth: we are all teachers. This book draws on the science of human development to redefine teaching as a social cognitive skill that develops in all people over time. The book marshals a wealth of research and experience to construct an entirely innovative framework for thinking about, talking about, and supporting this essential social endeavor.

Voigts: What inspired you to write this book?

Rodriguez: I spent over a decade in a classroom trying to defend my teaching decisions. I often found that the language I was using was not what administrators, researchers, and policy makers felt was appropriate evidence. I thought that a doctoral degree would help me to do this. What I found instead was that we don't have an understanding of teaching as we do learning – we don't understand the natural development of teaching in all humans. It suddenly made perfect sense to me that for all of those years I struggled to describe my teaching because we have a very limited vocabulary and overall framework for what it is! I wanted to open the door to a new way of defining teaching.

Voigts: Your theory of teaching takes into account real life interactions — and the growth of teachers. Can you give us a few examples as to how you developed your theory?

Rodriguez: It's hard to identify a specific example within the development of this theory since this theory is just how I see the world.  Teaching is a human interaction. Any time something involves an interaction with another human you have to take into account the complex nature of the brain. Our brains are complex dynamic systems.  Because they are dependent on our personal context they are forever changing. I would also note that most theories of teaching are actually stemming from theories of learning which is why they don't account for real life interactions or the growth of teachers. They are learner-centric and not about how humans teach but how humans learn. My theory is specifically about how we all develop our ability to teach.

Voigts: Why do teachers need to read this book?

Rodriguez: We are all teachers from as early as age one, we have the ability to teach and we teach without any prompting. However, we've never considered why we naturally teach nor how that natural ability shifts when we teach in the artificial setting of a classroom. By understanding the natural development of teaching, you'll become enlightened on your personal development.  Rather than being told how to teach based on a one-size-fits-all approach, you can discover your own teaching awarenesses; and therefore how you can more effectively interact with your learners.

Voigts: What's up next for you?

Rodriguez: The book highlights the overall theory I've developed on teaching but there's actually a side of my research that it doesn't delve into much. I'm currently designing and conducting studies to further understand the development of how humans teach.  In the fall, I'll be looking at teachers and students brain activity as they interact. I hypothesize that when they feel like the interaction has been successful, we'll likely see their patterns of brain activity synchronize. So rather than just saying "when it's working you can feel it," we'll actually be able to say you can also see our brain activity synchronize and act as a cohesive system rather than individual parts!

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