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learning strategies

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

The Importance of Purposeful Play in Early Education

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Monday, July 31, 2017 Byline:  By Melissa Davidson

children running playing

Every time you see a child playing superheroes, digging in the sand, or chasing a classmate at recess, they are playing with purpose. To a casual observer, it may seem like they are just having fun and being kids. But it all has value and meaning to a child. “Purposeful play” can be play that’s guided subtly by educators through games, art, and general fun with the purpose of teaching something specific, or it can be play for the sake of play. Gaming, using interactive toys, and engaging in exercise are examples of purposeful play. “We have to change the narrative of play from something ‘fun’ or ‘cute’ or ‘for when work is done’ to one of play (all play) being purposeful and meaningful for the joyful intellectual and social development for children,” writes Kristi Mraz, author of the book Purposeful Play.

"We have to change the narrative of play from something 'fun' or 'cute' or 'for when work is done' to one of play (all play) being purposeful and meaningful for the joyful intellectual and social development of children."

Play as a Learning Opportunity

Many adults realize that pretending and playing can help children navigate the world around them, but some don’t consider play a part of formal learning. In reality, while they are playing, kids are also developing cognitive, linguistic, and social and emotional skills, according to Shael Polakow-Suransky and Nancy Nager in a New York Times op-ed. While engaging in purposeful play, children “make discoveries, build knowledge, experiment with literacy and math, and learn to self-regulate and interact with others in socially appropriate ways,” writes Vicky Sideropoulos, a teacher at Berkshire Country Day School. “Play is also fun and interesting, which makes school a place where children look forward to spending their time. It is so deeply formative for children that it must be at the core of our early childhood.”

Academics vs. Play Time

However, one of the biggest challenges faced by early education teachers who are working in public school districts today is the lack of support they receive when trying to offer their students more than just a few minutes of free play daily. For decades, physical and art education in public education settings have been scaled back in favor of more time spent on reading and math to improve test scores, even for kindergarteners, despite the fact that free play can lead to better behavior, health benefits, improved social skills, and learning opportunities. Unrelenting class time may not be the best way to improve test scores and learning, said psychologist Kathy Hirsh Pasek. Charlene Kaplan, who is a lead faculty member in the College of Education at Concordia University, further explains that in a “standards-driven educational atmosphere, play is often seen as frivolous and unnecessary and is often eliminated to allow time for more academics. Early childhood education teachers often find themselves facing an uphill battle when trying to explain to administrators why play is one of the most critical components of an early childhood education.” There’s still plenty of opportunity for teachers to model positive behavior and implement different styles of teaching to instill creativity in students. Games involving fictional characters, for example, teach students how to work in groups and interact socially. It’s an opportunity to model desirable responses and identify emotions. Kids playing tetherball, hopscotch, or softball, for example, are learning to count as they pay attention to score, she said. Plus, physical activities increase a child’s oxygen intake, which is vital to the development of the brain. Play-based preschools and more progressive schools with an emphasis on creativity and independence are increasing in popularity as are enrichment programs designed to engage students in intentional movement, such as yoga, meditation, and martial arts. For the benefit of our children, that philosophy should be adopted by public school districts as well.

About the Author:


Melissa DavidsonMelissa Davidson is a full-time freelance writer with a B.A. in Journalism from the the University of Montana. In a former life, she was a newspaper reporter for several publications throughout the west. When she’s not hovering over a keyboard writing about health, wellness, and social issues, she can be found riding and running on mountain trails with her dog, Romeo, in full pursuit.

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Tags:  cognitive development early childhood education intellectual development learning strategies play preschool purposeful play social and emotional potential

Beyond Gold Stars: Fostering Intrinsic Motivation in Struggling Readers

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Friday, July 14, 2017 Byline:  By Abigail McFee

three girls looking at book

Every summer, struggling readers in first through fourth grade participate in Tufts University’s Summer Reading Program for a month of remediation—and empowerment. Some skip through the door, seemingly filled with mirth at the idea of their alternative “summer camp.” Others are hesitant. They have just been told that the skill that presents them with the most difficulty is going to be their sole focus for the entire month of July.

"A significant body of research indicates that incentives are not only damaging to students' internal motivation to learn, but also negatively impact cognitive processing."

This hesitation often carries over into the classroom. It makes sense that, when confronted with the daunting puzzle of a word-filled page, many children shut down. In order to coax sounds out of the reluctant reader’s mouth, some educators use gold stars and prizes as an incentive for participation—but they do so at a cost. A significant body of research indicates that incentives are not only damaging to students’ internal motivation to learn, but also negatively impact cognitive processing.

Practice is essential for children with reading difficulties; it’s the only way to improve their abilities and prevent regression. According to one study, students who are motivated to read spend 300% more time reading than students who lack motivation (Wigfield & Guthrie, 1997). So how can we foster this internal motivation to read? At Tufts, we use research-based motivational strategies that are centered on four themes:

  1. Autonomy: We give children the opportunity to make choices in the texts they read and the assignments they complete. When these moments of freedom are built into a curriculum, students develop a sense of ownership over their learning experiences.
  2. Belonging. Group instruction can be a powerful tool, especially when teachers foster a sense of community among a group of students. In our summer program classrooms, students construct a class constitution, engage in team-building exercises, and give peer-to-peer compliments. Teachers work together with students to create an environment in which every student feels connected, valued, and important.
  3. Competence. In order to embrace reading, children first have to understand that they are capable—that they can experience success when they confront the page, not just fear and failure. We provide children with literary activities that allow them to succeed, but we also give them tools for coping with challenges.
  4. Meaning. We aren’t just trying to build readers who can power through a page without difficulty; we are striving to build learners who can connect deeply with what they read. We weave exercises into our daily lessons that allow children to relate even the most basic tasks to their larger aspirations, thoughts, and questions about the world.

Using these strategies, our program has not only improved literacy skills but also significantly reduced reading-related task avoidance—without a gold star in sight.

About the Author

Abigail McFee is program assistant at the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

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Tags:  cognitive process learning differences learning strategies motivating students reading reading difficulties reading motivation
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