Archive | February, 2013

Top 4 Reasons Kids Get Totally Confused in Class (and handy tricks for avoiding it)

26 Feb

English: Question marks with transparent backg...


We’ve all had that moment before: we think we’ve explained something brilliantly. The kids are nodding and smiling. Our examples were charming and relevant. We know that our kids absolutely understand the concept.


And then we ask them to get to work and…it turns out they have no idea what they are supposed to do!


Here are a few of the most common reasons this happens:


1. You aren’t clearly outlining your goals and agenda. I never go to the movies without watching a preview first, I never order a new dish without reading the description on the menu, and I never book a plane ticket without researching the city I want to visit. Why on earth should I expect my kids to dive into a lesson before they have any idea what it’s about, or where it will take them? The easiest, quickest, most effective way to get  kids on board and invested in your lesson is to spend a little time at the beginning explaining what you are going to do that day and why.


2. You are using think-y verbs, rather than action verbs. The most confusing thing you can possibly do is tell your kids to “think about” or “imagine” or “explore” or “look into” or “consider” something. It all sounds very inspiring and academic, but kids have no idea what these verbs really mean (and honestly, neither do I). Ask them to do things that you can physically see them achieve: write, act out, discuss, measure, underline.


3. You aren’t scaffolding. Often, tasks that seem obvious to us are actually really complicated to people who are new at them. For example: “take notes” seems easy to adults, but what we’re really asking kids to do is “listen to what I am saying while simultaneously sifting through the information for the most salient points (which you need a lot of context and expertise to determine) while also writing down these salient points in an organized and meaningful fashion using standard outline format.” Take every task–even seemingly simple ones–and break it down into a list of its component parts.  If you aren’t sure that your kids know how to do each and every step, take the time to teach it to them!


4. You are using words they don’t know. You wouldn’t believe how often this happens; it’s easy to forget that some kids haven’t been exposed to words like “compare” before. Luckily, this kind of confusion can be avoided by simply asking kids to repeat your explanations back to them in their own words. If they can’t do it, then go back to find the culprit word and add it to your word wall.


Have you ever accidentally confused your kids? What happened and how did you fix it? I’d love to hear your ideas.



Top 3 Ways to Help Kids Love Poetry

11 Feb

1st edition

When you say the word “poetry” these days, it is often greeted with a groan, even from grown adults. “I just don’t get poetry,” people say. This attitude starts young and calcifies as we age.

This is silly. Poetry isn’t just about “getting” or “not getting” it; it’s about experiencing it. You don’t “get” birdsong or drumbeats–you just listen to them and enjoy them. Likewise, poetry isn’t just about analysis (though it can certainly be enriched by it); it’s about listening, enjoying, and–eventually–tattooing a few choice words into your heart. If you understand that, you love poetry. The following three things are tools that help me get my kids to approach poetry in this way:

1. Listen to poems out loud. Several times. One of the best investments I ever made was a $10 pair of portable speakers that I carry to every class. Whenever I read a poem with my kids, I try to play a recording of the author (or an actor, if it’s a long deceased poet) reading the work. We listen to it twice through, first just to listen and second to take notes and ask questions. Taking the poem off the page helps students to remember that it is just words thought up by some person, not an impenetrable and anonymous text.

2. Memorize poems. Memorization has gotten a bad rap as a boring or old-school exercise, but poetry was born to be memorized. Rehearsing the words over and over makes them more familiar and less frightening. It unlocks the meaning. It builds a connection between the reader and the poet. To start a unit on poetry, let your students find poets that they like and memorize a work by that poet.

3. Write poems. This is perhaps the best way to make poetry accessible because once a student has written a poem, they have seen poetry from the other side. They know, now, that it is not so mystical and strange. They are poets, and so they can approach other poets as colleagues, not as confused students.

How do you get your students to relate to poetry? I’d love to hear your ideas!