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From CBGB to NBCT: How Does Your Past Impact Your Teaching Approach?

Nancy Barile, a National Board Certified Teacher and one of our Master Teachers, is the former punk kid who has changed countless lives over the past 15 years as an award-winning high school English teacher. You may have seen her recent article at EdWeek, which has been one of their top stories this year.

CBGBNBCTPerhaps you have a similar story. Countless teachers bring with them life experiences that shape how they interact with students, approach their work, and bring the curriculum to life. Our histories ignite the content, inspire students, and drive us to seek excellence from others. Maybe you have military experience or lab experience. Maybe you raised a family before heading to the classroom. Maybe you held a long career in real estate, law, or the ministry before working with students. Perhaps your career has always been in teaching, but you have hobbies, difficult life experiences, or accomplishments that have shaped you and your approach. All of this makes us “3-D” teachers, and we can draw on these strengths as we work with students. What from your history has shaped you and your classroom? Comment below and add to the discussion.

If you’re  intrigued by Nancy’s story and want to know more about engaging students, this Tuesday, February 11, Nancy will be giving a free webinar:

Motivating the Reluctant Learner

Tuesday, February 11 @ 4pm Pacific/7pm Eastern

Everyone has students who don’t fully invest themselves in learning, no matter how much we want them to succeed. 

We can’t make our students want to learn…but we can create the classroom conditions that foster motivation—even for our most reluctant students. 

In Motivating the Reluctant Learner, Nancy will share learn powerful ways to motivate your most reluctant students—in their own words!

She’ll explore:

  • How to create a class worthy of students’ investment of effort
  • How to challenge your students without causing resistance or resentment
  • The top 3 barriers to students’ investment in the classroom, and how to remove them
There is no cost to attend, but space is limited, so please register ASAP to reserve your spot.This webinar will be helpful to teachers and administrators K-12. Nancy’s experience is primarily in a diverse urban high school setting.If for some reason you can’t attend live, we’ll email you a recording of the webinar, but only if you are registered.


Lecturing: The Blue Cheese Pedagogy

We’ve slept through them, daydreamed through them, and, yes, we have even delivered them ourselves. Teachers and lectures are as closely associated as carpenters and hammers, although we have more tools in our teaching toolbox than we used to. As we have progressed as a profession, we have been tempted to demonize the lecture while still feeling guilty about delivering them on occasion.

It’s no wonder that this has been the case, as lectures have been poorly done and overused throughout educational history. But as we have all experienced, not all lecturing is created equal. Everyone has heard at least one well-delivered lecture. So what makes a “good” lecture? And what makes a lecture effective as a teaching strategy?

After considering these questions, I have outlined 4 “Rules for Lecturing.” I’m open to more, and I would love to develop a “Should I Lecture?” flowchart in the near future. These are interconnected and messy, so you’ll see that they all fit together nicely, but don’t make a very discrete list.

4 Rules for Lecturing (or Direct Instruction)

1. Consider All Your Options: What are your teaching objectives for the day? Are you conveying information, confronting misconceptions, teaching a skill, or something else? If you’re hoping to tell students something, is it something they could discover or observe themselves, and would there be lasting value in it? Are there other ways you could convey that information that might be more effective? If you have considered all of your options, and lecturing still seems like the way to go, continue to #2.

2. Determine The Purpose: So you’ve decided to lecture! What will students do with this information? If the only answer is “they’ll need to know it for the test,” please reconsider your reasons. Most lectures should begin, “Today you’re going to learn about ‘X’ so that you can ‘Y’.” When students have a compelling reason to listen to a lecture and you’ve defined a purpose for sharing this information, you’ll see more attentiveness and engagement from students.

3. Engage The Learner: It sounds obvious, but students should be engaged before, during, and after a lesson. I once read a quote that said, “As you enter the classroom, ask yourself, ‘If there were no students in the room, could I do what I am planning to do?’ If the answer is yes, don’t do it.” Even the most brilliant lecturers are only ALSO effective educators if they know what students need going into the lesson, enhance their lectures with interaction, and task students with using what they’ve learned right away. The UNC-Charlotte website has some great ideas for enhancing lectures and delivering effective lectures. Teachers who use Readers and Writers Workshop are familiar with the mini-lesson, a short segment of direct instruction that teaches and models a new skill that students are to use right away.

4. Keep it Short & Use Lectures Sparingly: When I taught high school (and even now as I work with adults), I planned using the “seven minute” rule of thumb. The idea is that every seven minutes, something new should happen in my lesson, even if it’s a check-in or reflection during a sustained activity. If you’re choosing to lecture, consider a 10-15 minute segment, but break it up midway through with some partner talk, concept check, or journaling time. Our brains need processing time. Don’t make the fact that your students aren’t attentive to 60 minute lectures your chance to bemoan their lack of grit, persistence, and stamina. This is not a persistence issue as much as it is a pedagogy issue.

So what does lecturing have to do with Blue Cheese? Well, it depends on your perspective. If you’re like me, you probably enjoy blue cheese here and there on a burger, a salad, or appetizer, but this strong cheese doesn’t make up the bulk of my diet. In fact, my taste buds would tire quickly of just one meal of blue cheese alone. It’s an accent that is to be used sparingly. For many years, lectures were the “meat” of our pedagogy, but as we have learned more about how students learn, acquire concepts, and process knowledge, we are more aware of its standing as a “sometimes” pedagogy.

Paired well with other forms of learning and used sparingly, lecturing, direct instruction, and mini-lessons can be just what our students need to advance in their learning.

The Best Question We Rarely Ask

When students disengage, it can be tempting to write them off. It may seem obvious that they don’t care about learning, and sometimes they may even tell you that school and grades don’t matter to them. As easy as it would be for us to accept that response and move on with the students who […]

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What’s Happening This Month: December Highlights

There’s quite a bit of variety in what’s occurring in CSG mentor teachers’ classrooms and communities this month. We could easily feature each teacher in her own blog post, but this week, here are some highlights from the month so far: Nancy Barile’s high school language arts group has been focusing on writing and the common […]

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What Does Effective Professional Development Look Like?: Part 2

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (2008) brought to light the importance of investing time into our work in order to become excellent. The idea of the “10,000 Hour Rule” has become shorthand for the amount of experience needed in doing a specific task in order to be successful in that field. As teachers, we perform specific tasks (launching […]

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Give A Lasting, Meaningful Gift

Do you have a special teacher in your life? You could get her another cardigan, apple-themed trinket, or pen set. You could buy him another tie or messenger bag. But maybe it’s time for a gift that will influence him or her professionally in the year to come. Maybe you know someone who might benefit […]

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The Power of Cross-Curricular Instruction

In my second year of teaching, I had the pleasure of teaching a cross-curricular course on endangered species that incorporated writing, research, biology, math, and technology. My next position offered me multiple opportunities to plan and teach cross-curricular projects within our academy. Later, I worked with another teacher to design a biology-lit course, and I […]

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What Does Effective Professional Development Look Like?: Part 1

I was honored to get to have a conference call with a group of teachers last week who are digging into the question, “What does effective professional development (PD) look like?” We discussed the elements of both effective and ineffective PD, barriers to good PD, and the conditions and policies that need to be in […]

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Secrets of Designing a Motivating Classroom

“What does it take to get kids motivated these days?” Perhaps every teacher has asked this question at least once in his or her career. In working with a generation of students with the world at their fingertips, some teachers feel that they must ramp up their engagement factor through “edutainment.” Do we all need to […]

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From Face-to-Face to Screen-to-Screen: Moving Collaboration Online

We are all aware of the many benefits of collaborating with colleagues, and there are many teachers who choose to collaborate with their colleagues online instead of in-person during their ever-shortening lunch break, prep, or after-school time. Mismatched prep periods, family responsibilities, sports events, competing after-school activities, and the need to approach the work refreshed […]

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