Did you know, “Neuroscientists have demonstrated that learning to play an instrument or sing leads to changes in a child’s brain that make it more likely they will reach their full cognitive and academic potential”?1 These changes don’t take years of dedicated study to begin to take effect. In fact, “Young children taking music lessons showed dramatic improvement in their verbal intelligence after only four weeks of music training.”2Study after study has proven the benefits of music education. I recommend reading through The Royal Conservatory of Music’s, The Benefits of Music Education, An Overview of Current Neuroscience Research to learn more.
Making Learning Real is a proud supporter of music education! I have reaped the benefits of both public and private music study. I’ve been playing the piano for 25 years, attended a performing arts high school, and earned my Bachelor of Music degree at Mount Allison University. It has been my pleasure to teach students, both in the classroom and privately, to share my love of music with others.
If you were to walk into a traditional classroom, you would see a room dedicated to learning. Anchor charts are a common tool that adorn classroom walls, school hallways, and bulletin boards. An anchor chart, in essence, is poster created to “anchor” student learning in a visual manner. Anchor Charts: 101 explains that an anchor chart is an effective teaching tool that supports student learning.
Anchor charts are easily one of my favourite teaching tools. They are are easy to create and allow students to complete their work with more independence, as they can quickly reference them to answer common questions.
You can utilize anchor charts for your student while they are distance learning. You can do so WITHOUT having to adorn your home with colourful posters reminding your child about grammar rules, math concepts, or the scientific method.
An easy way to get pre-made, digital anchor charts, is to search online. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to create a free account with www.teacherspayteachers.com (this is not a sponsored ad.). Here you can find tons of free (and paid) learning resources for your child. Use phrases like “portable anchor charts”, “word walls”, “anchor charts”, or specific units your child is studying.
Next, take a look at how Crafting Jeannie set up a virtual learning space for her learners. Using a tri-fold board, duct tape, and other items found at dollar stores (or already in your home), you can create a space for your own anchor charts. The best part about this diy project, is that you can customize your board for your child’s specifics needs. As your child masters specific concepts, you can easily swap out anchor charts. A binder can be used to store your anchor charts.
If your child is able, have them create their own charts. This will reinforce what they have learned and increase the likelihood of them using their board. Another benefit, is they can quickly find the information that they need. A binder can be used to store your anchor charts, or used instead of a tri-fold board.
Other ideas for storing or displaying your anchor charts:
Whether you are homeschooling, assisting your child with at-home learning, or newly transitioning to other forms of distance learning there is probably the constant threat of burn-out hovering around your home. Perhaps, burn-out has already made its way inside, and each day feels like survival mode. Burn-out discriminates against no one. It will prey on the student, parent, and teacher. Take a breath and give yourself permission to admit you’re tired, worn out, and simply done in. If you’re one of the many forced into at-home learning, not only are you juggling an educational experience you did not choose, or even want, but you are doing so while facing other major life changes. That being said, I hope to take a moment to encourage you. You are doing the best you can given the circumstances you are in. That is all you can do, and it is enough.
Let’s take a moment and just acknowledge that this is hard.
I’ve listed below a few strategies below that are known to help combat burn-out. Try one (or many) of the strategies listed below to help alleviate some of the stress. Please use your judgment to determine what strategies are allowed in your region.
Step Away from the Screens: It is easy to seek relief from our screens. A scroll through pinterest, instagram, facebook, youtube, or a quick game on your favourite console, offers a short-term distraction. Unfortunately, when you or your child are already spending a large portion of your day in front of a screen, spending your downtime in front of another screen, is rarely refreshing.
Exercise and/or Get Outside: Move your body! Get outside! Breathe in the fresh air, enjoy a change of scenery, see other faces (from a safe distance), and reap the benefits of some natural vitamin d! Go for a walk, play in the snow, or do some shoveling to exercise and exert some energy. An added bonus is the boost in endorphins and dopamine (the chemicals your body produces to reduce stress and boost your mood).
Pursue a Hobby: Take time for your hobbies, or start a new one. Take a small chunk of time to do something that is simply enjoyable each day.
Care for your Well-being: Be kind to yourself. Recognize that this is a tough situation and that you are tired. Do your best to eat well, sleep well, and take care of what needs to be taken care of. Give yourself grace when you need it. Treat yourself as you would treat a dear friend in your same circumstances. Here are 10 tips to keep kids healthy.
Learning at Home is Difficult: Encourage your child(ren)! It is hard to learn new things. It is hard to learn new things in stressful circumstances. It is hard to learn new things when you are distracted by your home/room/parents/siblings/pets/toys/devices. Learning will be hard and your child needs encouragement and reassurance that it is natural to find this a challenging school year.
Create a Routine: With so many variables at play, creating a daily routine (the simpler the better) gives some structure to the day. Structure is known to be healthy and helpful for both children and adults. Structure alleviates anxiety regarding not knowing what to expect and when. Learn about the importance of routines here.
Let it Go: When children are sick, we keep them home from school to rest. It is equally important to rest when our mental health is suffering. If your child is having a rough day, is stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, it may be helpful for them to take a mental health break. Be it an hour, half a day, or a day – let it go and be o.k. with taking a break.
Reconnect: Find creative ways to help your child(ren) reconnect with their friends. Many children are missing the social aspect of school. They miss their friends and the daily interactions with people their own age. There are many virtual options for kids to connect. If you are able (and when restrictions allow) arrange some outdoor, physically distanced play dates or visits.
Few of us can remember more than a handful of learning activities from our early elementary years. For most, there is only a project or field trip that can be recalled. While the foundational skills we learn (reading, writing, math, etc.) that we use everyday could be classified as lasting, I am more interested in creating lessons that go beyond the curriculum and are crucial to the overall development of a child.
I define a lasting learning opportunity as follows:
If you are looking to create a lasting learning opportunity, I encourage you to start by looking at the previous posts regarding making learning R.E.A.L. A lasting learning opportunity begins with one that is relatable, engaging, and accessible. If all those elements are in place, the foundation has been set.
A lasting learning opportunity prioritizes metacognition; thinking about thinking. It allows the learner an opportunity to practice self-reflection. The student is first taught how to reflect. They think about what they know, where they need clarification, their strengths, weaknesses, and what their next steps in learning are. Metacognition is a necessary tool for on-going learning. Rae Jacobson explains this concept thoroughly in the article, Metacognition: How Thinking About Thinking Can Help Kids.
Teaching metacognitive skills helps students, “…become more independent learners and bolsters self-advocacy skills.”1 Students who are able to think about their thinking are also reported to have an increased ability to: overcome obstacles, adapt to new experiences, demonstrate resilience, and self-regulate.2
There are numerous free articles, guides, and resources that discuss metacognition in depth. One such resource is What Is Metacognition? A Guide for Educators by Jill Kiedaisch. Kiedaisch outlines several strategies for teaching this skill. She suggests following this sequence of exercises:
First: Ask students to write down what they do and do not know about the topic you are studying.
Next: Make the learning visible using concept mapping. “Every concept map begins with a focus question, which serves as the trunk of the concept tree…Key concepts associated with that question become the branches, further refined ideas and observations become the leaves, and so on.”
Then: Have students reflect at the end of a unit. A T-Chart with “What we thought…” and “What we know now…” is a useful tool.
Explore Kiedaisch’s article further for more advice on structuring your teaching in a way that encourages metacognition.
Making learning opportunities lasting is necessary if you are teaching beyond rote memorization. Lasting learning puts the student in control of their education by teaching them to become aware of who they are as learners. When our student engage in educational experiences that are relevant, engaging, accessible and lasting, we can be sure that we are making learning real.
Accessible: Capable of being reached; Being within reach; Capable of being used or seen; Capable of being understood or appreciated; Capable of being influenced; Easily used or accessed by people with disabilities: adapted for use by people with disabilities.
I love how Merriam-Webster defines accessible. By utilizing the word capable, the intimidating factors that come with learning something new, are removed. I equate capable with the word possible. Learning that is accessible, means making learning possible. Possible to understand, appreciate, see, used, be influential, and adapted when necessary. Learning that is accessible is learning that is within reach.
Making learning accessible will look different in every circumstance. This is due to the different abilities, backgrounds, biases, and cultural norms that composes each one of us. What is accessible to one student or classroom, is not to another. For this reason, I find it best to ask several guiding questions to ensure I am making my teaching accessible to all. These questions are not an exhaustive list, simply one that will get us thinking about accessibility.
Is my teaching accessible?
Am I teaching to all learning styles? Consider having a visual aid, using hands-on activities, provide interactive experiences, etc..
Have I arranged my learning environment in a manner that makes learning possible for all? Consider students who have visual impairments, are hard of hearing, have sensory needs, or require specific adaptations to the physical environment.
Are the resources I’m using diverse?Look at the teaching materials you are utilizing. Be sure that students can see themselvesreflected in the materials as well as exposing students to a diverse landscape of people and cultures.
Am I allowing multiple ways for students to demonstrate their learning?Instead of a pencil and paper task or test, experiment with other methods of assessment. Click herefor a list of ideas.
Do I have a good understanding of my students as individuals?Take time to familiarize yourself with each students’ needs (I.E.P.’s, modifications needed, past report cards, and other documentation). Of course, nothing can replace a one-on-one interview with each student to speak to them personally about how they see themselves as learners.
Take time to get to know your students. As you begin to better understand who they are and what they need to be successful, you will become better equipped to create learning opportunities that ensure success!
Hereis a resource that you can use to explore this topic more.
With much of the world switching from working in office spaces to working from home, we have been harshly reminded of how our physical environment affects our ability to work. The quiet work setting has been replaced with the noise of everyday life at home. The motivating energy of our peers, all working to complete their tasks, has been traded for an extra coffee pot of caffeine. Our work space, with easy access to files, documents, or goals posted in prominent areas that encourage us to push through the tougher moments are no longer present. Our coworkers, who (if you’re lucky) are hesitant to interrupt our work, are replaced by children, needing our assistance or seeking our attention. In other words, our environment has become more of a distraction than a place of inspiration.
I have recently found a renewed interest in the prepared environments of Montessori Classrooms, Waldorf Schools, Reggio Ateliers and Forest Schools. If you are unfamiliar with these teaching philosophies I encourage you to did a quick google search to discover more. What I am particularly drawn to are the natural elements of their learning spaces. They are set up exclusively for the child – providing not only an engaging environment, but one that is captivating. The physical environment is the first impression a child will have when it comes to entering a space intended for learning. With that in mind, it is important to think about how to create an environment that is as equally as engaging as your carefully crafted lessons.
“The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite children to conduct his own experiences.” – Maria Montessori
The same holds true for students who have transitioned from school to homeschooling or distance learning. Children who have remained in school are facing environments that are very different from what they are used to. It is important to recognize that just as we would carefully plan our teaching for the year, the environment our children learn in, must also be prepared.
Creating an Engaging Environment
I love how the Reggio Emilia Approach describes the classroom as the “third teacher”. It demonstrates the immense value that the physical environment holds in relation to a child’s learning. Alisa Stoudt, in her article “The Reggio Emilia Approach” states:
…care is taken to construct an environment that allows for the easy exploration of various interests. The documentation mentioned above [Photos of children at work and play, along with dictations of their experiences] is often kept at children’s eye level so that they, too, can see how they are progressing over the year. Items from home, such as real dishware, tablecloths, plants, and animals, contribute to a comforting, “homey” classroom environment.
Stoudt, Alisa. “The Reggio Emilia Approach.” Scholastic, www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/reggio-emilia-approach/.
There are many people who have taken the time to compare the different environments used by the aforementioned approaches. I suggest checking out this comparison for more information on philosophical approaches.
For now, let’s explore simple ways you can curate an inspiring environment teacher
Easy access: Have all materials that students will need stored in a place where they are able to independently access.
Don’t look up: Anything put on walls or hung up (alphabet chart, number line, student work, posters with learning prompts – anchor charts) must be at the child’s eye level. When we hang materials along the top of the wall (a popular spot for alphabet charts and number lines), students either tune it out, can’t see it, or must strain their necks to benefit from them.
Minimize: Display only what is relevant. If it is unnecessary, don’t display it. Having to many items on display, options of materials, or decorations becomes overstimulating and a distraction. Help your student focus by ridding the distractions for them.
Logical: Teachers are often caught up in arranging the classroom for themselves, administration or parental approval. Think about what is logical for your student. Kindergarten students generally can not read, so putting motivational quotes all over the walls is not an effective use of space. Having a periodic table of elements poster in a grade 5 classroom may look nice, but unless you are using it regularly it really has no place.
Nature: Use nature as much as possible! Use pine cones to count, measure snow in measuring cups, discover various textures at a park. If you are teaching students how to graph, why not collect data based on what you find in your backyard – birds, leaves, trees, squirrels, chipmunks, etc. Not only is nature free, it encourages natural curiosity, sparks imagination, and is fun! If a nature environment is not easily available , use the environments that students regularly encounter. If they are learning to map, use subway stations or transit lines. Forests and parks are not the only environments worth exploring!
Clean: Having a well organized and clean learning environment is a must. If you are sitting at your dining table helping your child learn to write their name, a clear space with no piles or crumbs is much more inviting than working next to sticky jam and bills. A classroom that has piles of books and papers on counter tops, cupboards that do not close, and pencil shavings on the ground is uninspiring.
A key factor in R.E.A.L. learning is to capture the interest, creativity, and imagination of students. Through engagement, students are able to fully immerse themselves in their learning and will be drawn into the task assigned. Boredom leads to behavioural problems and lack luster learning. Engagement allows students to journey into new realms of learning where they are the leaders, asking questions, and discovering answers.
When I was in my early years of teaching I recall being told “You should never be working harder than your students”. I forget who imparted such wisdom, but it has been transformative. My job was to simply facilitate learning – ask a few guiding questions here, provide the appropriate tools there, and redirect focus when necessary. The students were tasked to do the rest; the problem-solving, working through the errors, and making the discoveries. I was no longer the one who stood at the forefront, transmitting information for them to absorb. I was now in the background, or at most, by their side, simply assisting when needed.
When the teacher takes a backseat (resisting the urge to become a backseat driver), students are given the opportunity to lead. When the student is the leader, they are more engaged. A more engaged student reaps the benefits of a deeper understanding of the content of material you are leading them to discover. When given the opportunity, I have seen students rise to the occasion and take ownership over their learning. Empowering our students with the opportunity to direct their own learning leads to an excitement and anticipation of what is to come
How do we create an engaging learning experience?
1) Make what you are teaching relevant to your students. Click here to read about making learning relevant.
2) Empower your students to take the lead. Provide them with the background knowledge necessary, pose a thought provoking question, allow time and tools for students to work with to find the answers. Here is one example of how I implemented this strategy within my own classroom.
It will be necessary to create a culture of learning independence prior to letting your students fully take the lead. We will explore this topic in a later post.
3) Use multiple learning opportunities for students to explore – every child is a unique learner. Allowing them to explore a concept through multiple platforms, deepens their understanding and makes learning accessible to all.
4) Create an engaging learning environment. This topic is explored in greater depth in Part 2 of this post.
5) Reflect. Take time to note what activities captured your students’ attention the longest, which they were able to make the most discoveries with, what learning opportunities allowed for future inquiries and further enrichment? Taking time to reflect will allow us to refine our teaching strategies to create even more engaging learning opportunities.
Creating engaging learning opportunities is a skill that takes practice. At first, it may feel like more work as you observe your students, reflect on the experience, and refine your lessons. However, when you experience the rich learning that comes from an engaged student or class, you will discover it is a skill worth investing in.
There is something wonderful that happens around the age of 2. Children seem to tune into the world around them and start asking the question “why?”. That simple question, full of curiosity and wonder, opens doors to new information, knowledge, and discoveries. However, as children grow and mature they begin to discover their preferences and interests. When a subject no longer fits into these areas, their question, once bursting with anticipation turns to one of annoyance or frustration – “Why do I need to learn this?”. If you have ever taught or helped a child with homework, I’m sure this is a question you’re quite familiar with. Making learning relevant, directly connecting what a child is learning to their own life, is a driving force towards making learning real.
Understanding the importance of learning concepts and skills comes naturally to adults – I need to learn to read so I can apply for jobs, read instruction manuals, and achieve the multitude of goals I have set for myself. When I learn mathematical concepts, I can effectively manage money or complete home renovations without destroying my house. But the “why”, isn’t always obvious to young children. They have not yet developed the skill of discerning their future learning needs. Further, the answers we provide often seem irrelevant to the young learner.
While it is important for students to understand “why” they are learning. It is more useful for them to understand “why it matters to me”. In other words, why is this relevant in the here and now? This powerful connection must be made in order to make learning real. When this connection is made, students become more interested in their learning and begin to take ownership of their work. It creates a “buy-in” mentality. Bridging the gap between the subject matter and why it is important also gives credibility to the teacher. When a teacher relays the relevance of the material to the student, the student begins to trust that what you are teaching is worth learning.
How do we ensure we are making learning relevant?
Start by looking at the big picture of what you are teaching. Don’t get lost in the small details, but try to narrow it down to an overarching idea. For example: The learning goal might be that students need to understand patterns and number sequences.
Answer the Initial “Why”. They need to use this foundational skill later to understand more complex mathematical concepts. While this is true, telling a student that they need to learn a math concept so that they can do more complex math later is not the best motivation, nor does it make it relevant to them in their here and now.
Make the Connection. Link the “why” directly to your students’ lives.
Answer The “Why” in student friendly language. – For the crafter in your home this may be: When you understand patterns and number sequences it will help you when you are reading or creating your own sewing/knitting/crocheting pattern. – The same can be applied to the student interested in gaming: When you understand patterns and number sequences it will help you understand sequences in video games, learn to code, or even develop your own game. – The outdoorsy child will see relevance in exploring patterns in nature, predicting weather trends, and noticing migration and other animal habits.
Continually recall and refer back to why you are teaching particular material. This might look like, “We are learning how to extend numerical patterns so that we can better our overall understanding of patterns and number sequences. Do you recall why we are learning about patterns and sequences?”. When a student can make a new connection to their life – celebrate! then write it down to refer back too. This will carry the relevance of their learning throughout the unit.
By taking this a step further, we can continue making learning real and relevant. When possible, choose assignments that speak to your child’s interests. Have your child create their own craft pattern, take a free coding class, or explore nature and discuss patterns they see. Remember, just as you would grow weary of completing worksheet after worksheet, so do children.
When we assist students in making the connection between what they are learning and why, we are making learning real. When we provide them with learning opportunities that directly relate to their lives, not only will students see the relevance, but their learning will become more engaging.