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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Understanding the Process of Learning through the Conscious Competence Model

A guest post by Silvia Woolard

Teachers keep exploring different methods of learning. Not only because they are life-long learners, but also because the best learning methods lead to the ultimate teaching methods.

Today, we’re going to explore a model we’ve all relied on in one way or another. Still, most of us are not even aware of the theory behind that practice, and we haven’t been implementing all stages properly. I’m talking about the conscious competence model, AKA the conscious competence matrix or the conscious competence ladder.

Let’s set terminology aside and focus on what’s really important: how can this model help you become a better teacher?

It all starts with understanding.

Understanding the Conscious Competence Model of Learning

Whenever we’re into the process of learning new skills, we go through different emotions at various stages of the journey.

If, for example, you’re trying to teach your students how to write research papers, they might underestimate the challenge at first. They think it’s enough to go through a few resources and sum up their findings. When they realize what a great research paper should look like, their emotions shift. They get overwhelmed and disheartened. Most of them would love to give up at this stage. They will complain about not having enough time, not having enough experience, and not having enough skills.

If you understand the conscious competence model, you’ll be able to encourage positive emotions and help the students get out of the negative mindset.

This model, initially founded as “four stages of teaching” was established by Martin M. Broadwell back in 1969. Later on, Noel Burch from Gordon Training International developed the theory known as “Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill.”                   

These are the four stages of learning a skill:

1. Unconscious Incompetence

At this point, the students are unskilled, but they are not aware of that fact. Just like when you present them with a new assignment and they assume it’s easy. They are blissfully ignorant of the fact that they don’t have a skill.

If you let them stay in this stage, the results won’t be pretty. They will simply assume they can do it in a day, just like they do with their usual homework assignment. So they will procrastinate and they will fail to deliver.

That’s why you need to move them out of this level. You’ll do that by showcasing the true nature of the challenge and introducing them closely to the type of work they need to do.

How do you do that?

  • Ask specific questions about their skills. If it’s a writing project, for example, ask if they have written something similar before. If it’s a social service project, ask them if they are aware of its goals and challenges.
  • Set objectives! Whenever you push your students to learn new skills, you have to introduce some expectations within a timeline. How will you measure those skills? When will you do that? This shouldn’t scare them away. You should set objectives as incentives that will push them to the next stage of the conscious competence model.

2. Conscious Incompetence

By this stage, the students realize they have to make an effort in order to learn a skill. If we continue with the research paper example, they realize that it will take way more time and way more research than they initially assumed.

This stage will be demoralizing for many of your students. They will lack the motivation to proceed. That’s why you have to push them forward.

  • Rely on affirmations. “No one was born skillful. Everyone can learn! There’s plenty of time by the deadline, so you can do it if you start today. You can do it!” When you approach the process with such a positive attitude, you’ll inspire your students to get out of this stage.
  • Develop a progressive schedule. A goal such as “write a research paper” seems overwhelming. If you break it up in smaller goals, it suddenly seems more achievable. For example, they can start by going through five resources that you’ll provide them. They will take notes. Then, they will extract the most important information. Then, they will develop an outline. These smaller goals are not that overwhelming.

3. Conscious Competence

At the conscious competence stage, the learner realizes they have the skills and knowledge needed for achieving particular goals. As they continue on the journey, they keep gaining more self-confidence.

It’s not the final stage, though. You want to keep your students moving forward!

  • Keep them focused on the progress. Remind them how they started and make them aware of the point they are currently at. Progress is a never-ending process, so you should keep pushing them to get better.
  • Give them opportunities to use the newly-acquired skills. If they wrote a research paper, the implementation of their research and writing skills doesn’t end there. Inspire them to start their own blogs and work on their own research.

4. Unconscious Competence            

At this stage, the students are able to use the new skills without making serious conscious efforts. These skills become part of who they are.

This is the stage when the students need to push themselves towards growth. How can they use this skill to build a successful career? Maybe they can use it for a personal project? Maybe it will be the starting point of the higher education journey? Many people become teachers when they reach this stage. They have skills and knowledge that they are ready to pass on to others.

From Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence – The Journey to Success

When you understand the emotional conflicts that your students face in different stages of the learning process, you’ll be able to take proper actions to motivate them.

There’s a lot of theory involved in this model, but its practical implementations are immense. You’ve probably noticed these stages before, but maybe you weren’t fully aware of them. Now that you are, it’s time to bring the theory to practice.

My Bio:

Silvia Woolard is a young passionate writer at Superior Papers from Phoenix. In her free time, she writes and works in a field of popular psychology. Feel free to contact Silvia at Twitter.         

3 Tips for Staying Positive As a Substitute Teacher

Portrait of teacher in classroom with elementary school kids

Life surely has its ups and downs, and some mornings, the last thing you want to do as a substitute teacher is walk into a classroom you’ve never entered before and put your game face on.

When you’re dealing with life’s stresses, they’re hard to shelve. But the job demands that you push your personal concerns aside and focus on your students’ needs. It’s never easy to paste on a smile when your heart is heavy or your distracted thoughts are racing through your head like cars in the Indy 500.

You may not be feeling upbeat, but there are some simple ways to grasp a positive attitude in the midst of your mental and emotional turmoil.


Gratitude Is the Best Attitude

When you are facing difficulties or hard challenges, thinking about your blessings can counteract negative thinking. The more you dwell on good things in your life, the more present they will be in your brain and short-term memory.

Maybe something awful is wreaking havoc on your heart, but there are always things you can be grateful for.

Consider little things as well as big things. When your car is running without a hitch, the traffic is actually manageable, and you find a parking spot without having to circle the lot three times, that’s something to be grateful for.

Sometimes we have to “fake it till we make it.” Have you ever noticed how smiling is contagious? When we paste that smile on, even if we’re not “feeling it,” that can help shift our negativity. And it will attract smiles in response. Which will help us cheer up, and make us smile more. Without realizing it, we’ve pulled out of our funk.


Repeat Positive Affirmations

Affirmations are another way to help us “fake it till we make it.” We sometimes have to psyche ourselves into our positive attitude.

Choose a few affirmations that will help you as you go through your teaching day. How about: “I can handle anything that comes my way.” Or “Nothing will push me over today; I’m a rock.” Or “I can keep it together at least until the final bell.”Recite them until they become mantras that play in your head throughout the day.


Challenge Those Negative Thoughts

Every time your brain derails onto that negative track, separate yourself from it and picture it as something “over there” that you can manipulate. Don’t ride that train; pull the track switch and move it onto another set of rails.

If today you feel like a failure at everything you’re doing, tell yourself, “I haven’t failed. I’m facing a challenge, and I will conquer it. I’m going to try again.” Thomas Edison said of his attempts to successfully invent the lightbulb: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Because he had that positive attitude, he kept trying. If he hadn’t, we might all be teaching classes by candlelight.

Negativity is like a vise grip that squeezes and constricts our creativity. Negative emotions such as fear, anger, blame, and resentment narrow our focus in a way that obscures options. Worry, especially, paralyzes us.

So the sooner we bounce back, the better we’ll be able to serve the needs of our students.


Bouncing Back

Positive attitudes have been called “the undo effect.” They help us to quickly recover from negative emotions. When we generate a positive perspective, it helps us bounce back. And that “bouncing back” brings motivation or impetus.

Sometimes we feel we must change our situation before we can be positive and plow ahead. But there are times when we can’t change a thing. In that case, we can either accept the things we cannot change, and adopt a positive attitude of gratitude, or we can wallow in the mire of negativity.

The next time you get a sub request and you’re in that negative place, reach for the gratitude and a handful of positive affirmations. Challenge your negative thoughts and bounce back to a positive attitude. Focus on these tricks before you get to the classroom to make sure you make a great first impression. You and your students will be glad you did.


Author Bio:

Alex Murillo is the Director of Talent and Operations at Swing Education where he helps match substitute teachers to opportunities at local schools and districts. Prior to Swing, he was Associate Director of Operations at Rocketship Education.

9 Great Ways To Improve Motivation In Your Classroom

A guest post by Rachel Summers


Helping students find motivation for learning is one of the hardest jobs any teacher can have. For one, everyone would rather play or do anything else but learn. They think it’s boring, needless and tiresome.

However, with the right tools, any student can be motivated to do better.

Here are nine ways to do that.

1  Draw connections to real-life situations

You remember that age-old question ‘When will I ever need this in my life? ‘. Students say it so often that you may start to wonder yourself. But don’t let their snarky comments get you down – show them how a lesson or a subject will provide value for them long-term.

Do some research before each lesson to find out where a certain problem is used in real life and show it to your students along with some career options where it’s utilized.

2  Implement positive encouragement

You’ll never get that far if you keep correcting your students negatively. They will be embarrassed in front of the classroom and restrain from answering your questions. This is why you need to use positive encouragement. So, the next time your students get it wrong say something like ‘ Yes, that could be true, but here is a different answer.’ This way they won’t be embarrassed and they will pay attention.

Also, when a student gives you a good answer, show it by saying things like ‘excellent job’, ‘great answer’ etc. If they often ask questions, it’s a good sign that they are engaged, so improve that even more by saying ‘interesting question’ or any variations.

3  Be excited about learning

If you are excited about a subject then it’s likely that your students will be. Enter the classroom in a good mood and present your current lesson with the same excitement they would have for a new movie or a new game.

This excitement can often be contagious and you’ll grab their attention.

‘Presenting a topic in a bland and uninteresting way is a bad way to encourage engagement. Show your students that you love this topic and they will likely be interested too. Just like smiling, excitement can be contagious as well. ‘ says Dana Gray, a psychologist from UK Services Reviews.

4  Get them involved

A good way to promote motivation is to give each student a task that they will be responsible for. These tasks don’t have to be complicated or hard, but they will get them involved and it will make them start caring more about your classroom as well as subjects at hand.

Some of them can be in charge of decorating, some for cleaning, some for spreading material etc. You can get even more ideas for this on community blogs like Teach Hub.

5  Track their improvement

Keep a personal or public score of what your students’ achievements are and how they have improved over time. This way, you’ll have a clear guide as to how to continue working with each of your students and how to best get them to engage in a certain subject.

‘Once I started tracking how my students have improved, I learned a lot of new things. It made it easier for me to figure out how to motivate them further, think about my approach when I was teaching subjects they did best in etc. It’s truly a great tool. ‘ says Mitchell Peralta, a teacher and writer at UK Top Writers.

6  Let them know what you expect of them

Be transparent about what you want them to achieve. If you set high but realistic goals for them and make it clear what you want and think that they can do, they will likely follow your lead. Set short term and long term goals and implement some sort of celebration once they are achieved. Get more info on how to do this at Teach.

7  Plan and work towards day trips

Day trips are a great motivator. As they get better and better, improve their day trips from those that are simple to amazing, interesting field trips to places that will inspire them. This will require some money but since people are willing to invest in good education, this may just be feasible

8  Use a variety of teaching methods

Teaching has certainly evolved over the years. Nowadays, there are plenty of great ways to get your message across to your students. This is great because not all children can learn in the same way. Adapt your methods to each child.

You have plenty of tools at your disposal – apps, games, social media, videos, images, graphs or even communication tools like Revieweal.

9  Ask them for their feedback and implement their ideas

Asking students for their opinion is a good way to find out what you could be doing better. However, students are often reluctant to share since they feel like their opinion will not be valued and in the end, used against them.

Implement a box where they could place their anonymous opinions and later implement their ideas to let them know that they are heard and that you care.

In Conclusion

Motivating students is never an easy task but with a few tools at your disposal, it’s not impossible. You just have to know your students and what makes them tick. That way, you’ll be able to pick the best ways to improve their motivation and achieve the results that you want.


Rachel Summers is an educator and a tutor to students who need extra assistance with their studies. She has the knowledge and the expertise to show them how to study effectively which she has been doing with Boom Essays. Rachel writes with a clear goal in mind – to help students and teachers get ahead in school or college.


Got something to say to educators? Send it to me. Every month, Teacher Habits publishes articles from voices across the educational landscape. I’m always looking to share new voices! If you have a product you think teachers would value, an opinion that needs to be heard, or a blog of your own that you’d like to promote, feel free to email me at [email protected]


It’s How, Not What

I played hours of baseball growing up. Hundreds if not thousands of hours. My brother and I played nearly every afternoon, weather permitting. The batter’s box was an island of dirt in a sea of well-tended lawn. The legs of our pants were perpetually grass-stained. On weekends, we’d ride our bikes around the neighborhood for away games played in friends’ backyards and empty lots. I played Little League every year I was eligible.

If John Hattie had researched the factors influencing baseball ability instead of factors that influence student achievement, he likely would have found things like:

Playing catch with dad, effect size of .7
HItting off a tee, effect size of .42
Hitting off a pitching machine, effect size of .31
Playing baseball during free time, effect size of .89
Playing in a sanctioned league, effect size of .62

An aspiring major-leaguer aware of such findings might conclude that the more he did of the high impact strategies, the better ballplayer he would become. But he would be wrong. I know from experience. Because in spite of the hours I put into the game and the many different ways I practiced, I was terrible.

I stunk for a very simple reason: While I did the right things, I did them the wrong way. 90% of the baseball I played was with a plastic bat and a whiffle ball. Most of the pitching I faced came from the arm of my brother, who was three years younger than me.

It wasn’t what I did that mattered. It was how I did it.

I worry that some teachers make the same mistake I did while attempting to find baseball glory. John Hattie’s research, Robert Marzano’s 41 Elements of effective teaching, the What Works Clearinghouse and many other data-based guides all send the message that it is what teachers do that matters most. The data and the way they are presented tell teachers that if you do the right things, you’ll be an effective teacher and if you do the wrong things you won’t be. It’s a dangerous message to send, which is why Hattie and Marzano seem to constantly be clarifying and warning against the misuse of their research.

Teachers are not guaranteed success in any area of their practice if they simply swap out one way of doing things for another. As in baseball and in life, it’s not what you do that matters. It’s how you do it. While this applies to literally every aspect of your teaching, let’s examine three.

Group Work

According to Hattie, cooperative learning has an effect size of .4, while cooperative learning compared to individual learning has an effect size of .55. Marzano cites cooperative learning as one of nine high-impact instructional strategies that are most likely to improve student achievement. But every teacher knows that there is nothing magical about cooperative learning. In some classes, students will learn much more with it. In other classes, their learning will suffer.  In almost every class, some students will benefit from cooperative learning and others would be better off on their own. The difference is not whether a teacher has students work in groups. The difference is how well students work in groups.

Mike Schmoker, in the video below, points out what we all know about group work: it’s overused, frequently a waste of time, and is heavier on the group than on the work. Schmoker recommends having students work in pairs not because he thinks group work is a bad idea but because he rarely sees it done effectively in real classrooms. He cares more about how than what.


If you are great at teaching kids how to work in groups and your students do it effectively, then keep putting them in groups. But if your groups devolve into bickering, off-task chitchat, and tears, then you’re better off teaching in another way.

Public Discipline

You don’t have to look very hard to find parents and teachers who believe that educators should never publicly discipline a child. Some believe it’s embarrassing for students, that teachers are shaming them in front of their peers. They claim that such teachers are destroying the culture of the classroom. They criticize the focus on compliance by saying it only teaches students to respect authority instead of instilling in them self-regulation strategies they will be able to use when on their own with no one telling them what to do and how to do it. And while public discipline could do all of those things, it doesn’t have to.

Interestingly, you rarely hear parents complain about public discipline in sports. No mom claims the referee who put her son in the penalty box for two minutes for tripping is trying to shame her kid. A basketball player who commits a foul has a whistle blown at them. The entire game stops to see what happened. The referee points at the offending player and then reports the call to the official while standing at center court for literally everyone in the audience to see. No one seems particularly concerned about the player’s mental health. In football, the entire team is punished for an infraction committed by a single player. No one ever mentions the unfairness of such a thing.

Read More: In Defense of Public Consequences


Even at Ron Clark Academy, which is often held up as a model for what schools should be, teachers use old-school behavior management techniques. From a visiting teacher:

“Mr. King was leading the students through a discussion about political cartoons. Here, we saw kids be kids. Sure, they were civil, they were polite, but it was the first glimpse that, yes, they do have minor discipline issues, and they deal with them. Students sign their name to a whiteboard when they commit an infraction, and it is done in such a way that the lesson never stops. Others are not watching the offender, but are still glued to the lesson. They are tracking Mr. King as he speaks.”

Like group work, public discipline is not inherently good or bad. A jerk of a teacher certainly could use it to humiliate, but so could a cop, a boss, or a referee. It’s not public discipline that’s the problem. It’s how it’s done.


You have surely heard that teachers should not spend much of their time being the star of their classrooms. They should be “learner-focused” and act as a guide on the side instead of a sage on the stage (excuse me while I barf)While direct instruction is important, teachers should keep it short, or do it in small groups, or flip their classrooms and allow students to learn via video. What they shouldn’t do is stand at the front of the room and lecture for 30 minutes at a stretch.

Well, maybe. Or maybe teachers who suck at lecturing shouldn’t do it and those who are spellbinding storytellers should keep doing exactly what they’re doing. How to know? Do your students learn from your lectures? Do they listen? Is there evidence of their learning?

There is nothing wrong with the lecture format. The millions of views TED talkers receive are a testament to that. Some people are really good at it. Others not so much. Again, it isn’t what these teachers do that makes a difference. It’s how they do it. If you’re a great speaker and you can hold your students’ attention while enthralling and inspiring them, then lecture. If not, try other methods.

The list could go on and on. Every aspect of your classroom is subject to the same rule: It’s not what you do, but how you do it. Posted learning goals won’t do a thing if you never refer to them. Feedback has an effect size of .7, but not if the feedback comes 10 days after the completed work. Response to intervention has an effect size of 1.29, but only if it’s implemented correctly.

So how should teachers use research like Hattie’s and Marzano’s? My recommendation is to try some things that are supposed to work. Then assess whether they actually work with your students. If they do, keep doing those things. If they don’t, stop or do them differently. As a teacher, you are not going to be adept at using every strategy the research says you should use. Find the ones that work for you and your students. Focus less on what you do and more on how you do it.