Stark Talking

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Nerds love to debate superhero superlatives. Who’s the strongest? Who’s the fastest? Who’s the most powerful?

Thanks to @reddit_user_1948, now we know which Avenger is the most talkative:

Iron Man a.k.a. Tony Stark.

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These results are based on comparing dialogue from the six original Avengers in the Marvel movies, summarized below:

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Dialogue in the classroom is another topic of extensive study. In such research, teachers are like Tony Stark in that they dominate the spoken word.

One of the most well-known researchers in classroom interactions is Ned Flanders.

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(No, not this Ned Flanders.)

Back in the 1960s and 70s, Flanders found that 70% of classroom time is talk, and 70% of this time is teacher talk (1970). He also reported that teachers of high-achieving students talked less (55% of the time) than teachers working with low-achieving students (80% of the time).

No mention of cause and/or effect here, but one could also consider the advice of Harry and Rosemary Wong (First Days of School), who note that those who are “doing” more are the ones who are learning more. In this case, it stands to reason that classrooms with higher rates of student talk (on task) would result in greater student learning.

Instead of Tony Stark/Iron Man, perhaps teachers should look to less vocal heroes like Hawkeye, the archer Avenger. Following Hawkeye’s example, teachers can use fewer words with more precision.

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Like well-aimed arrows, teachers could use purposeful questions and prompts to engage students, assess understanding, and guide discussion.

We’ve discussed questions before (such as here), and unfortunately, good questions don’t always come easily.

Additional research has found that of the 80,000 or so questions teachers ask annually, 80% of them are low level, requiring simple student responses without much thought (Gall, 1984; Watson and Young, 1986).

Like the Flanders research, some of these studies on teacher questioning are several decades old (“classic”). Effective teaching is timeless, however.

Likewise, several classroom habits still linger. For instance, I’ve studied pre-service teachers’ questioning (Bergman, 2013) and found classroom patterns similar to the past. Here’s a sample of those results:

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No matter how much you talk in the classroom, be sure to make it count. Be intentional in your speech with planned questions and responses to engage students in thoughtful learning.

At the same time, be thoughtful in your own teacher talk. Be flexible and nimble, too, ready to “ad lib” when necessary.

After all, one of Tony Stark’s most memorable movie lines was improvised. Maybe you remember this ending to the very first Iron Man film:

 

Here’s the “behind-the-scenes” story of this famous line, which was instrumental in shaping the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Consider how teachers’ words in the classroom can be equally impactful toward student learning and interest.

Adding some humor helps, too.

 

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D-List to A-List

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I stole borrowed this blog title from a recent countdown article by Brian Conin and the folks at Comic Book Resources, named “15 D-List Superheroes Who Went A-List.”

For the uninitiated, “A-List” heroes are big name characters known across the globe:  Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Spider-Man, and so on.  In the past decade, Iron Man joined this group due to Robert Downey Jr.’s iconic portrayal in the Marvel movies.  (Before then, people considered Iron Man more of a “B-List” hero.)

 

“D-List” heroes fall much further down the rankings.  These are the obscure, silly, and often forgotten characters no one really cares about.  Only super fans know about these heroes, including where and when they appear in comic books and other media.

Movies and television, however, have done an amazing job of bumping up the status of many lesser-known characters.  Take a look at CBR’s list to find 15 heroes you probably never heard of before they appeared in film or TV.

Better yet, watch the recently released trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (coming Summer 2017!) to see FIVE of these former D-listers in action:

 

That new telepathic character adorning antennae near the end is Mantis, and I’m willing to bet she’ll become another D-list-to-A-list hero in the upcoming year.

 

The whole letter-grade system (A, B, C, D, etc.) is at the front of my mind this time of year, near the end of a semester.

This is when many teachers spend overtime scoring tests, reading final papers, perusing projects, and altogether compiling grades. This is also when numerous students suddenly become obsessed over every single grade for every single assignment.  (For some reason, too many students don’t seem to care until the last minute.)

Unfortunately, letter grades can easily get too much focus in place of more important outcomes.

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Grading has many critics, such as Alfie Kohn, who calls grades “relics of a less-enlightened age” and cites research about their negative impact on student learning and motivation.  You can read more in the NEA Today article, “Are Letter Grades Failing Our Students?” and learn about alternative ideas used in different states and districts.

One of my favorite stories is of the Central Park East elementary school, known for its progressive “whole child” approach to education in inner city Harlem.  In one of her books (The Power of Their Ideas, I believe), former CPE principal Deborah Meier describes how they removed their A-B-C grading system in favor of “Satisfactory” and “Unsatisfactory”-type ratings.  Soon, however, they added an “Advanced”-level designation.  Then they decided to include a +/- system to further delineate student performance.

In other words, they went from A-B-C-D to A-S-U, plusses and minuses and all.

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I’m not saying grades are good or bad, but they certainly have become entrenched in most educational systems.  The key is to focus on learning and growth, with grades providing one type of data to guide teacher decisions and communication.  Also, it’s important to remember the differences between “assessment” and “evaluation.”

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I highly recommend reading Thomas Guskey’s article “Making the Grade: What Benefits Students?” in the ASCD’s journal Educational Leadership.  You will find a useful section at the end that provides a historical summary of grading practices and research through the years.

Most importantly, teachers can consider how to reach and teach ALL of their students, regardless of past academic performance.  With the diverse range of strengths and weaknesses in a given classroom, one’s definition of success can differ greatly.  Find ways to engage each student, equipping them for further achievement and advancement.

 

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Consider how various superheroes have changed from being jokes, relics, or “one-offs” into major players or even champions of their universes (and publishers).  In many cases, this transformation did not occur just because of a Hollywood appearance.  It also takes someone (or someones) to see potential in a character and give him or her the attention they deserve.  Often, it includes a unique perspective and innovative approach.

The same goes for students in our schools.  Not everyone is a Superman.  But they could be a Star Lord.

 

Who knows?  Maybe the next Squirrel Girl is sitting in your very classroom.

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Con Season

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This blog post is unique because I’m writing it from San Diego, where I’m attending a convention.

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No, not THAT convention – San Diego Comic-Con International – although the Convention Center is just across the street.

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The above photo is what the Center looks like this week.  During Comic-Con, it appears more like the photo below:

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Or this one:

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Or this one, if you’re lucky:

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Like I said, I’m not lucky enough to be in town the same time as Comic-Con.  But I am lucky enough to be at a convention with hundreds of other educators.

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This particular “con” is focused on accreditation of teacher preparation programs.

The topic may sound dryer than San Diego heat, but it’s not too bad.  Most sessions are led by educators, who know a thing or two about engaging a crowd of semi-disinterested individuals.

Here are three take-home lessons I’ll share with you (and take home from California):

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No excitement here.

1. A convention center without fans, celebrities, and cosplayers is like a school building without students, teachers, and staff.  A brilliant building with fancy facilities is a wonderful thing to behold; but it only makes a difference when it hosts a crowd of excitable and exciting characters.

 

 

2. What convention are you attending next?   I’m not talking about a district-required in-service necessary for churning out continuing education credits.

Seek out a teacher-focused conference or convention that expands your network of colleagues, refines your thinking, and builds on your repertoire of strategies.  Better yet, sign up to SHARE a session or workshop with your professional peers.  

 

 

 

3. Someday I hope to visit San Diego again and attend Comic-Con.  Until then, here are some conferences I’ve attended (or will attend) recently.  Check one out, if you’re interested.  Or find something else that more closely matches your field of expertise.

-Kappa Delta Pi International Educational Honor Society Biennial Convocation

-National Science Teachers Association Regional Conference

International Meeting of the Association for Science Teacher Education

-Kansas Association of Science Teachers “KATS Kamp” Conference

-Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation Spring Conference

 

Where are you going?

You don’t have to attend a “con” somewhere far away or expensive.  Most of those I go to are within driving distance, and many times you can pay a discounted fee to attend only part of the convention.  In most cases you get what you pay for, though, and it’s healthy to expand your horizons beyond your home district or state.

 

Find a super group of teachers to encourage and educate you – and you can do the same for them.  They’re waiting for you!

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Secret Hideouts

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In our previous post, we talked about getting along with your fellow teachers.

On some occasions, the best method to maintain positive relationships is giving yourself some space.  “Lying low” is one way to think of it.  In order to lie low, you need a secret hideout.

Recently, images of hero hideouts have appeared in previews of upcoming movies.

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First, we have news from Entertainment Weekly about the new Batcave appearing in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS:DoJ).  Jacob Hall at SlashFilm.com describes this hideout as “swanky” and “full of flashy technology and design choices that a proper billionaire would make.”  He also provides a nifty comparison with Batcaves from the 1989 Batman film (Tim Burton, Michael Keaton) and 2005’s Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale).

Next, Marvel provided concept art of the Sanctum Sanctorum, appearing in the movie Doctor Strange.  Though not as well-known as the Dark Knight’s Batcave, Doctor Strange’s hideout includes just as many gizmos and trinkets–albeit on the magical side.

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Whether you’re a teacher or a superhero (or both), a good secret hideout serves two main purposes.

First, it’s a place to keep all your stuff.  Teachers are known as perpetual pack-rats.  Those fortunate enough to have their own classroom can keep a regular supply of tools and resources within immediate reach.

Of course, be sure you keep items organized and secure, especially when it comes to valuable and hazardous materials.  When I taught chemistry, I always kept my chemical closet locked, opening it only when I had to retrieve something.  Students were NEVER allowed to enter, or even stand in the doorway.

Call me a little overprotective or OCD, but I never had a student lose a finger (or thumb).

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Unfortunately, the teacher maxim to “beg, borrow, and steal” often results in bulging file cabinets and saturated bookshelves.   For most teachers, the classroom is not their second home, but their second storage unit.

If you don’t want to rent a third storage unit, take time to thin out your collection.  What materials and equipment do you truly use?  Gather all non-essentials and dust-collectors and give them to new teachers hungry to fill their room and repertoire.

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That chapter test is in here somewhere . . .

Don’t delay your purging until Spring Break or Winter Break or Summer Break.  (Honestly, those breaks fill up with other essential tasks.)

Take a few minutes every week or so to stroll past a shelf or peek into a closet.  If you see something you haven’t used in over a year, pluck it out.  Find a better use in someone else’s hands — another teacher, student, Goodwill-collector, garbage-collector, etc.  (Maybe check with your boss first.)

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If Batman ever decides to donate his dinosaur, I’ll take it!

 

In addition to improving safety and equipping others, cleaning out clutter results in a more tranquil classroom.  This is a bonus for students and the teacher. Less junk means fewer distractions during learning time, planning time, and quiet time.

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Ahhh . . . Paradise!

 

Primary purpose #2 for secret hideouts is providing a space to relax and unwind.  Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum is described as his place to “escape from this reality.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

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Maybe you can’t escape reality, but every teacher needs daily moments to himself or herself.  These slivers of quiet time don’t have to be lengthy.  Plan periods typically fill up with trips to the copier, chasing down students and staff, catching up on emails, and more.  You may have a few minutes, but don’t plan on it (especially if you’re relatively new).

I mentioned lying low from time-to-time (again, especially if you’re new), and one of the best ways I found to do this was eating lunch in my empty classroom — door locked, lights off, maybe some soothing music playing in the background.

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Ahhh . . .  Peace and quiet!

 

I didn’t always do this.  In fact, at my first school I typically spent my lunch hour (i.e. 20  minutes) shoveling food down my gullet in the teachers’ lounge.  The lounge was closer to the cafeteria — when you’re a bachelor, cafeteria food is tasty, easy, and cheap — so I found a spot among my colleagues and ate while they gabbed.

I was so busy eating, I didn’t have time to talk.  All that quiet listening gave me tremendous insight about students, staff, school history, and more.

But every once in a while, a dismal mood would hover over the staff lounge.  That’s when I hoofed it back to my classroom for silent dining.  For fifteen minutes, I had entered my personal Fortress of Solitude.

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Not all teachers have a classroom to call home, however.  In such cases, it’s vital to understand that a secret hideout doesn’t have to be a permanent area.  Maybe you can find a closet or hallway nook for a temporary respite.  (Schools are full of interesting little spaces.)

Superhero hideouts come in all shapes and sizes, spaces and places.  Take a look at Newsarama‘s list of the Greatest Superhero Hideouts and Headquarters.  You’ll see everything from skyscrapers to satellites, mansions to alleyways.

 

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Perhaps it’s more accurate to think of a secret hideout as a state of mind.

When I began teaching, I lived two blocks from school and walked everyday to work.  My students repeatedly questioned why I didn’t take my car.  I usually answered that driving isn’t all that new and cool after you turn 20.

Honestly though, the brief, brisk morning walk energized me.  And the journey back and forth was always time well spent, giving me precious moments to preview and review my day.  So I guess my first secret hideout was a two-block stretch of sidewalk.

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Some days it felt as cold as the Fortress of Solitude.

 

I know another teacher who drives to school, but always parks in the spot farthest from the building entrance.  His colleagues joke that he picks this spot to avoid any car dings and scratches — whether unintentional or intentional.

The real reason, he says, is so he can spend the lengthy walk thinking about an individual, and how he can make a positive difference in that person’s life that day.  He told me if there’s ever a morning he can’t come up with someone’s name, he’ll quit teaching.  That was a few years ago, but the last I heard, he’s still teaching.

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So whatever you have for a secret hideout (and wherever it is), consider how you maintain that special space to keep it user-friendly.  And use that space to reflect, retool, and recharge in your efforts to be a better teacher.  

No Danger Room required.

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