Action! What Teachers Can Learn From Theater Training

By Todd Squitieri

Todd Squitieri holds a BFA from New School University and an MA in Applied Sociology from William Paterson University. He has taught in over 5 countries, and currently resides in Da Nang, Vietnam where he is writing a book about his experiences, called How to Teach Without Going Insane, soon to be released at Kindle stores near you! Follow him on his journey:  www.ToddSquitieri.com.

Action! What Teachers Can Learn From Theater Training

 

When I was studying musical theater at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA), we were often instructed on the best practices for walking into an audition room and captivating casting agents with our charm, our glow, and our dazzling performances. Here are some lessons that apply directly to teaching:

  1. Smile when you enter a room
  2. Wear colors that show off your face and personality
  3. Enunciate
  4. Provide a beat or a second of time before you launch into your piece
  5. Provide a beat afterward before ending the piece
  6. Thank the audience for their time

In the theater conservatory, we were also provided with lessons on selecting monologues for the audition room. Use them when planning your next lecture.

  1. Find a piece with a lot of action
  2. Find something where you are trying to get something from someone (introduce tension or conflict)
  3. Find something two minutes or less.
  4. Find high energy/ high stakes pieces
  5. Find something with a range of emotion
  6. Find something that isn’t overdone
  7. Find something that shows off your talent and your “type”

 

If you keep your emotions flat, you won’t resonate with students and they won’t find you or the topic “fascinating.” Keep it short and be emotive so that students fully understand what you are communicating, while staying riveted to your performance. A rollercoaster of emotion is part of the theater student’s repertoire, what they are trained to deliver in audition rooms and ultimately, in the rehearsal space and eventually in performance. Theater people are trained to captivate, to strike even when the iron isn’t hot, when the world is totally indifferent and uninspired. They are trained so that no matter what kind of a day they are having, good, bad, or ugly, they can always revert back to their training to see them through. And so it is with the teacher who wishes to enthrall and inspire.

I mentioned “finding something that isn’t overdone,” as one of the primary strategies of an auditioning actor. When you teach, it’s hard to bring the same energy to every lesson. Finding novel lesson material can be useful in this regard. Be on the lookout for new stories, surprising facts, shocking headlines, funny memes, and other real-world connections to your material. Even content that feels old can be freshened up by talented edutainers. Instead of teaching that next math lesson straight from the book, do some role-playing, with you and some students acting out a few word problems. Keep it short, introduce some conflict, make it emotional and action-packed, and the novelty alone will be sure to keep students’ glued to their seats.

Finally, like actors, teachers should play to their strengths by showing off their talents and considering their “type.” In the theater industry, there are shorthand phrases that we use to refer to “type.” There’s the “character actor,” who plays doctors, professors, pizza deliverymen, and often odd or strange looking characters. Robin Williams comes to mind as being a prominent character actor of the last century. We also have the leading man, who is usually the handsome, debonair type who tries to attract the leading lady, or the young beautiful woman and “the damsel in distress.” Brad Pitt is often considered a leading man, while Heather Graham is considered a leading lady.  

While many people don’t want to admit it,  the way you carry yourself does have a lot to do with the way you are perceived, but many different “characters” can find success in the classroom. Some students respond well to the big goofball clown, while others thrive under the direction of the academic-and-widowed school librarian-mage type. Still others are motivated by the exotic beauty with blond hair and blue eyes who smiles at them electrically and lets her students know that they can do no wrong (as long as they’re doing the work). Some students respond best to charismatic and authoritative leading-man types.

Being an edutainer is a lot like being an actor. In fact, let’s face it: it is acting. You have to smile, emote, and keep the energy up even when you don’t feel like it, even in front of a skeptical audience. This is work and don’t let anyone tell you differently. It takes practice and discipline to be “on” all the time, and it is exhausting. It takes a lot effort for a person to take all of that energy and bring it to the classroom every day.

It’s a pretty remarkable character, the edutainer, almost like a fairy tale character in his own right, providing salvation for those students who just don’t believe in themselves or what they are doing, or why they are doing it. It is this performer, this artist, who is likely to be recalled fondly in the timeless stories we tell ourselves as humans striving for greatness.

Why Some Lessons Are Lame

I’ve had two recent experiences that put into perspective just how absurdly high we set the bar for teachers. That bar is set by many people, from legislators to parents to administrators to fellow educators. Those who study teaching tell us what we need to do to be effective. School districts turn those suggestions into elements on our formal evaluations. Thought leaders take the ball and run with it,  penning pen books on how to be better in the classroom. They then take to Twitter to spread their message further.

Dave Burgess (he’s the pirate guy) tells teachers to preheat the grill, by which he means to light a fire under your students at the start of your lessons to get them interested.

Matt Miller wants us to ditch textbooks. Textbooks are boring!

Alice Keeler despises worksheets.

George Couros wants teachers constantly innovating.

Teachers should strive to improve, and it’s often too easy to do what we’ve always done. We should look at our practices introspectively, read others’ ideas, watch others in action, and see if there might be better ways to reach students.

But we should also recognize that we have limitations, and those limitations mean that sometimes our lessons are lame.

A few weeks ago I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. I saw Michael Jackson’s glove, Jimi Hendrix’s couch, an Elvis jumpsuit, and many more rock artifacts. What interested me the most, however, were the sheets of paper displayed throughout the museum on which artists had scribbled some of the most recognizable lyrics of our time. Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good,” Jon Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” and Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” to name a few.

Songs we’ve heard hundreds of times, jotted down on hotel stationery or in spiral notebooks no different than the kind my third-graders doodle in. It got me thinking about the work musicians do and how it compares to what we ask of teachers. Both are performers. Both stand in front of a group of people and communicate. Today, both are expected to entertain. The musician, before going on tour, will rehearse. He’ll perform the same songs over and over again until he can play them without thinking. Then he’ll spend any number of months moving from city to city singing the same old songs, the ones he wrote on napkins and notebook paper years ago.

A teacher will probably not rehearse. There’s no time to, really. Unlike the rock star, a teacher has to compose different lessons for every day. While the musician’s audience changes nightly, the teacher’s remains the same. So no matter how good that lesson on photosynthesis is (and it’s a chart topper, baby!), you only get to roll it out once per year. The artist can spend 30 minutes jotting down some lyrics that might be played for 30 years. A teacher is expected to carefully plan lessons that are done in 30 minutes and might never be played again. The musician, if he’s giving the crowd a great show, might play for three hours. Teachers work seven. A rock star who spends 25 years singing the same songs over and over again to different groups of people, only introducing a new hit every few years for the first ten, is considered a legend. A teacher who spends 25 years teaching different lessons every day, coming up with new material for 180 days each year, won’t ever be known outside a small circle of people.

And what about each of those lessons? We’re told they’re supposed to be good. All of them. No textbooks. No worksheets. No filler. No crappy B-sides.

Last week I read the book Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo. Gallo studied the most popular TED Talks, interviewed many of the lecturers, and came up with sound advice for delivering a memorable speech. Teachers who lecture can learn a lot from it. Unfortunately, one thing they will learn is that giving a great talk is time-consuming. Really time-consuming.

Gallo shares this story:

I received a call from a business leader who is recognized as a pioneer in her industry. She had been invited to give a TED talk and asked if I could give her some tips. “Well, you have plenty of time to practice,’ I said after giving her some suggestions on how to craft a compelling story. “Spend the next two months working on the story and the slide design and then three months rehearsing.’

“Three months?’ she asked after a long pause.

“Yes. Three months. You’ll be giving the presentation every day. Ninety times sounds about right,’ I said. “It’s a short presentation. Just get up about 15 minutes earlier and practice.’

“Ninety? Isn’t that a lot?’

“Well, Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor rehearsed her TED talk 200 times. It’s been viewed 15 million times and Oprah invited her to be a guest on her show. Dr. Jill’s TED talk transformed her career.’

Amanda Palmer worked on her talk, “The Art of Asking,” for thousands of hours over four months. She wrote on her blog, “I slaved over the talk, writing and writing and re-writing and timing and re-timing and tweaking and trying to fit the perfect sets of information into 12 short minutes.”

Teachers give multiple 12-minute talks (and longer) each day, and unlike rock stars, they don’t get to reuse them very often. Expecting them all to be excellent is unrealistic. So is expecting them all to be good.

Or even average.

That’s why some lessons are lame. To avoid lameness takes considerable time and effort and those things are in short supply for everyone, but especially for teachers. In 2013, the Teaching and Learning International Survey found that while Norwegian teachers spend 15 hours per week in front of their students, U.S. teachers spend 27 hours each week on instructional time, giving American teachers far fewer hours for planning and rehearsing.  [Source]

So if you want to know why I gave your kid a worksheet, this is why. If you wonder why textbook companies still sell a lot of textbooks and teachers still actually use them in spite of being told how lame they are, this is why. If you’re annoyed that your kid watched a Magic School Bus video for science class today, this is why.

Lame lessons are a reflection of reality. They are nothing more than the result of a teacher committing time and energy to develop good lessons in some other subject or for some other day. Lame lessons are what you get when teachers have to churn out hundreds of different lesson plans each year with little time to prepare them.

Let’s stop expecting our teachers to be better than people who can carve out the time they need to be great. Let’s stop expecting the impossible. After all, the Beatles had a lot of hits, but they also had a lot of duds. Even the best teachers are occasionally lame.

_______________

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Classroom Crowdfunding 101: Crowdfunding Tips for Teachers

Summer has flown by, and teachers all over the country are preparing to return to the classroom. This means writing lesson plans, learning about incoming students, and creating welcome packs and letters. It also means buying classroom supplies, which often turns into an out-of-pocket expense. How can you as a teacher reduce, or even eliminate, this expense? Many teachers have turned to classroom crowdfunding.

If you’ve never heard of crowdfunding, have concerns about classroom crowdfunding, or are looking for tips on improving your next classroom crowdfunding campaign, this post will help you start off on the right foot.

 

What is Crowdfunding?

In a sentence, crowdfunding is the practice of raising money for a project through small amounts of money from a number of people. Typically, it’s done online. You may have seen crowdfunding campaigns for all sorts of projects from new inventions to businesses to paying medical bills to classroom funding. The goals of a crowdfunding campaign can change the nature of it slightly. (For example, inventions usually use rewards-based crowdfunding while businesses might use equity crowdfunding.)

Classroom crowdfunding, then, is the practice of raising money through donations for a classroom project through small amounts of money from a number of people.

 

Why Choose Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is one of many ways to save on classroom supplies, field trips, and other classroom projects. You might choose to crowdfund over other more traditional fundraising methods, or you might use two methods at once. As a teacher, you might choose crowdfunding for some (or all) of the following reasons:

  • You have a supportive and involved community of family, friends, and colleagues.
  • You have a specific project you’re looking to promote and get off the ground.
  • Your project requires a deadline.
  • You have several projects you hope to fund.
  • You want to teach your students about the elements of fundraising.

These are just a few of the reasons you might choose classroom crowdfunding. As you read about the basics of crowdfunding and the tips for a successful campaign, you may find more personal reasons, as well.

 

The Basics of Crowdfunding

Successful classroom crowdfunding campaigns require time and attention, but they do not need to be complicated. In order to start a classroom crowdfunding campaign, you only need to take three steps.

  1. Choose a crowdfunding platform.
  2. List your crowdfunding information.
  3. Share your campaign.

Let’s break these three steps down.

 

#1 Choose a Crowdfunding Platform

With the rise in popularity of crowdfunding among all industries, there’s a dizzying amount of platform choices out there. Some platforms cater specifically to teachers. The two most well-known platforms for teachers are Donors Choose and Adopt-a-Classroom. As you’ll see, there are reasons to use one of these platforms, and there are reasons to choose a different platform. Here are several other popular platforms.

When researching the different platforms, you’ll want to ask yourself a number of questions.

Do I need flexibility in the items I choose? Some crowdfunding platforms require you to choose from a list of items rather than choosing a total amount.

Can I reach my target goal once the fees are factored in? Each crowdfunding platform has its own fee structure. Make sure the fees aren’t too high to reach your goal amount while still asking donors for a reasonable amount.

Have any of the platforms successfully funded projects similar to mine? If you find a platform with several projects similar to yours that have been funded, odds are it’s a good platform for you.

Do I plan on running an all-or-nothing crowdfunding campaign? Some platforms work on an all-or-nothing basis. In other words, if the project is not completely funded by the deadline, you will not receive any funds.

Does my district have any rules or guidelines about crowdfunding? More and more school districts have guidelines in place regarding crowdfunding and which platform(s) teachers can use. Check with your district before choosing a platform.

Will I give donors something in return? Most teachers use donation-based crowdfunding, where donors give without expecting anything in return. Some platforms, however, require a gift in return.

 

#2 List Your Crowdfunding Information

Once you’ve chosen a platform, it’s time to tell your story. How much money do you need? Why are you raising this money? Who is it going to help, and how? Share how these funds will benefit your students without using teacher jargon. The tips section will give more details on how to share your information in the best possible way.

 

#3 Share Your Campaign

After you’ve crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s for your classroom crowdfunding page, it’s time to share it with everyone you know (and even people you don’t know). Successful campaigns build on their community first, so send your campaign to family, friends, colleagues, and your students’ families. Encourage them, in turn, to send the information onto others. You can send your campaign through email, social media, or through any websites you manage.

You may also find that there are organizations, businesses, or even strangers out there interested in your campaign. Reach out to any potential donors with a personalized message as to why your campaign affects them. Then, again, encourage them to share it with others.

 

6 Tips for a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign

Now that you have the basics down, it’s time to go through your classroom crowdfunding campaign with a fine tooth comb to make it as successful as possible.

#1  Be specific.

What exactly will the money go towards, item by item? Some platforms even allow you to request money for specific items. Or, you could make a list on Amazon of the items you want rather than asking for the money.

Also, if there’s something unique about your project, highlight it. Similarly, if your campaign aims to fill a specific gap, highlight that as well. For example, if you’re a science teacher who wants art supplies because your school cut art classes, this story will draw donors in.

Finally, make sure to focus on the students, as donors want to help kids above all else.

 

#2  Share pictures and videos.

Make them as high-quality as possible. Donors won’t necessarily expect professional camera work (especially if you’re raising money for technology!), but it should show a clear picture of what you’re aiming to do and tell a clear story. If your students appear in any of your pictures or videos, make sure you have permission from their parent or guardian.

 

#3  Look at other crowdfunding pages.

Examine how other teachers set up their crowdfunding pages. What do you think makes them successful? Do you find yourself motivated to give to any of them? Why or why not? This information will help you strengthen your own campaign.

 

#4  Ask for less.

Some teachers have found that by asking for less money, they’re more likely to reach their goals. These teachers recommend asking for $100-$200 for your first project.

When you ask for less, it also makes it easier to always have a project up. Some teachers point out that corporations or individuals will sometimes fund the projects of every teacher in their area. Having a project up might pay off in unexpected ways.

 

#5  Identify your donors.

While the basic message of your campaign will remain the same, how you posit that message may differ according to who you’re appealing to. Parents will give different amounts and for different reasons than alumni or colleagues, for example.

 

#6  Use your campaign as a teaching opportunity.

Transparency is key when it comes to crowdfunding campaigns, and that goes for your students, as well. By teaching them through the process, you’re not only involving them in the classroom; you’ll also be able to show your donors every single benefit of giving to your campaign.

 

The best way to know if classroom crowdfunding is right for you is to try it out! The risks are minimal, but the potential rewards are great. Within a short amount of time, you can launch a classroom crowdfunding campaign that will take your classroom above and beyond.

 

Kristen Seikaly began writing on topics in education for her website, Operaversity. Now, she primarily writes about educational games for Crossword Hobbyist and My Word Search. This is her first guest post for Teacher Habits.

 

5 Tips to Boost Your Child’s Working Memory

A guest post by Danish Wadhwa

Does your kid face any difficulty remembering a topic while he is doing something else?

 

For example, if he is helping you make soup and suddenly the doorbell rings, does he forget to go back and stir the soup? There is no problem if he forgets sometimes, but if these incidences happen on a daily basis, then he might have a working memory problem.

 

The term ”working memory” is utilized conversely with short-term memory. In other words the manipulation of information which the short-term memory stores is called working memory. It is a skill that is used by kids to solve mathematical problems or with the tasks following multi-step directions.

 

Here are the five tips to boost your child’s working memory”

 

Encourage active reading

 

Have you ever wondered why sticky notes and highlighters are so important?

Well, one of the reasons is that highlighting, underlining the text, or writing brief notes will help your kid keep relevant information in his mind long enough to answer questions about it. In addition to this, asking questions aloud about the reading material can benefit your kid. Active reading helps improve long-term memory.

 

Make it multisensory

 

To help your kid with both his working memory as well as long-term memory, processing the information in as many ways as possible is the key. Try to write down each and every task so your kid can have a look at it. You can also help your kid with tasks that are needed to be completed by tossing a ball back and forth while discussing. Implementing these multisensory strategies can help your kid keep information in mind long enough to use it.

 

Use visual charts and graphic organizers

 

One way to encourage your kid is by using visuals at the beginning of assignments. You can either make your own or get help from the internet. Visual supports can help kids reach their goals. Teachers provide successive levels of temporary support to students so they reach high levels of skill acquisition and comprehension that otherwise can’t be achieved without assistance. As soon as those strategies are no longer needed, they are discontinued.

 

It should be kept in mind that the more your kid practices, the better the results for him. It should also be understood that the working memory is a skill used throughout life and not only when we are children. In simple words, you should let your kid have fun while studying. Even if you think your kid is receiving the Best Tuition Assignments, if it is overburdening, then it they should be reduced. 

 

Play cards

 

Playing simple card games such as go fish,  crazy eights, war, Uno, and Old Maid can help kids improve their working memories.  If they are new to the game, then start by playing open-handed, where everyone shows all their cards. To make it more complicated, prompt them by saying, “Use the eye in your mind to take a pretend image of the card and remember it.”

 

Let your kid teach you

 

It can be fun to reverse roles and let the kid teach you a skill. Kids love to play the role of a teacher or elder. You should further encourage them to draw pictures, write on boards, and demonstrate concepts to you. Teaching something is often the best way to learn it. 

 

Final thoughts

The best method is to take a metacognitive approach in which considering how best to remember something is the first step. Apply any of the above techniques to get your kid to improve his or her working memory. 

Charismatic Doesn’t Mean Effective

by Warren Fowler

When you’re wondering about the teaching methods you should adopt, there’s one useful question to ask yourself: who are the teachers that you remember the most?

You’ll probably think of the charismatic ones first. These were the teachers who brightened up the room the moment they entered. They were the ones whose classes you most looked forward to. You could talk to them about anything.

They had charisma, and that made them popular and memorable.

Then there were those teachers we label as “traditional.” They were more serious. They got into the classroom and committed themselves to teaching, straight away. They were effective in engaging students, but they lacked the dynamic personality of the more popular teachers.

Now, ask yourself another important question: what’s the point of teaching?

Is it about being likable? Of course not! It’s all about transferring the knowledge you have and helping students grow and learn. Do charismatic teachers achieve better results? Not necessarily. If you try to remember the things you learned in high school, you might find they come from a surprising source.

Why Is Charisma Important?

 

Charisma can matter. It is important to be liked by your students. The way students evaluate you says a lot about the effect you had as their teacher. Those of us who’ve been fortunate enough to have charismatic people as teachers know that they can motivate students to study. They have an exceptional ability to gain students’ attention and make deep impressions, although those impressions aren’t always related to the curricular material.

The charismatic teacher is not only good at what they teach, but they can also teach to a level the student can relate with. There is something sincere and genuine about them, and that factor can drive the students towards better engagement.

The charismatic teacher is a skilled listener who cares about her students. The students feel they can talk to this person, so it’s easier for such an educator to understand the obstacles they face and help them overcome them. Think of Louanne Johnson – the teacher that Michelle Pfeiffer plays in Dangerous Minds, and you’ll realize what the charismatic teacher can mean for students.

But let’s be real: that’s just a movie. In real life, the charismatic/effective combination is hardly a given. In fact, research shows that teachers with great charisma often fail when it comes to meeting their main goal as educators: effectively conveying knowledge.

Charismatic Teachers Are Not As Effective As We Perceived Them to Be

 

Appearances can be deceiving. That’s one lesson to be learned from a study called Instructor Fluency Increases Perceptions of Learning Without Increasing Actual Learning. The study, the results of which were published in 2013, examined the effects of lecture fluency on the metacognitive awareness of the students. When the researchers use the term “lecture fluency” here, they actually mean charisma.

They showed two videos to the participants of the study. In the fluent video, the instructor spoke without using notes, maintained eye contact, and stood upright. After watching this charismatic educator, participants were asked to predict how much of the information they would be able to recall, and they perceived higher levels of learning.

In the disfluent video, as the researchers named it, the instructor used notes, didn’t maintain eye contact, and wasn’t fluent at all. The participants were given a text-based script to study. As it turned out, the lecture fluency did not significantly affect study time. The fluent instructor was rated higher on instructor evaluation surveys. However, the amount of information learned was not significantly different when the students were being evaluated after both video lectures.

What does this tell us?

When students learn from a charismatic teacher, they evaluate them better. They have a perception that they are learning more. In reality, however, the instructor’s effectiveness does not depend on their charisma.

The students are not very effective in evaluating their own knowledge. They perceive that they know more after listening to a lecture from a charismatic teacher. That can be a great disadvantage, since they may choose to stop studying before fully understanding the content.

Genevieve Maurice, an educator from BestEssays, agrees that appearances can be deceiving: “When you consider someone is a ‘good’ teacher, you might be learning less than you anticipate. The evaluation of teachers’ effectiveness is mostly based on student surveys, and I don’t think that’s fair. The students are considering qualities of character, which don’t have a direct effect on the actual learning.”

An effective teacher is one who leads students to the “aha” moment during a lecture. They enable students to understand complex concepts by explaining them in the simplest way possible. They may be charismatic or not; their personal traits don’t make a significant difference. In either case, the learner has to do most of the work – they have to study, and the teacher should inspire them to do that.

Good Teachers Are the Ones Who Lead Students towards Results

“A good teacher is a charismatic teacher” is an incomplete statement. Moreover, it’s wrong. An effective teacher is the one who understands what’s going on with their students, reveals their weaknesses, and helps them to overcome them.

In a way, the effective teacher is also a theorist. They have to understand the process of learning and figure out what stage their students are at. It’s not about getting into the classroom and making everyone smile. It’s about getting in there and making everyone learn; not by strain, but by desire.

If the teacher has personal charisma, the students will like them more. Will they learn more? Not if charisma is all the teacher has. Students won’t learn more if they like the professor; they will learn more if that professor is effective.

 

Short bio:

Warren’s lifestyle is full of hiking adventures. When he’s not busy with his guitar or enjoying the sunny day outside, he excels at blogging skills and scrolls through social media. You can meet him on Twitter and Facebook.