Making Practice Count

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I have never taken a class in martial arts, but I have certainly enjoyed watching Bruce Lee’s moves in his action-packed films!  Let’s face it!  The guy was physically amazing, but more than that, he had a way with words!   

Lee was more than just a famous martial artist!  He was also an actor and a philosopher with a long list of inspirational quotes tagged to his name.  Many of his famous quotes are still being used today to trigger personal growth, and one of my favorites says: 

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

This particular Bruce Lee quote reminds me of the importance of practice.  Practice, of course, is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement.  When we practice something over and over again, we naturally perform that particular skill with more ease, speed, and confidence.  

According to educators, Annie Bosler and Don Greene, practice affects the inner workings of our brains.  In a popular TED-Ed video entitled:  How to practice effectively…for just about anything, these two teachers put together a lesson that includes four simple steps to follow.  The steps include:

  1. Focus on the task at hand. Minimize potential distractions by turning off the computer or TV and putting your cell phone on airplane mode.

  2. Start out slowly or in slow-motion. Coordination is built with repetitions, whether correct or incorrect. If you gradually increase the speed of the quality repetitions, you have a better chance of doing them correctly.

  3. Frequent repetitions with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers. Studies have shown that many top athletes, musicians, and dancers spend 50-60 hours per week on activities related to their craft. Many divide their time used for effective practice into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration.

  4. Practice in your brain in vivid detail. It’s a bit surprising, but a number of studies suggest that once a physical motion has been established, it can be reinforced just by imagining it.

Bruce Lee became well-known as a professional martial artist, actor, and philosopher because of hard work and lots of focused practice.  As human beings, we can all benefit from applying these 4-steps to practice just about anything effectively.

Increasing Retention with Purposeful Movement

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Is purposeful movement an integral part of your instructional toolbox? I was reminded lately of the power of using motion to assist the brain in the retention of information.  I recently set a goal for myself to memorize a favorite portion of scripture, I Corinthians 13, The Love Chapter, which is commonly quoted at weddings.  As I pondered how to best attack this lofty goal, I was reminded of the units that my former coworker and I designed for our third grade students, years ago.  

You see, we took the vocabulary words in the lessons and brainstormed rhyming definitions that incorporated movement. We found these to be quite successful with the classes in assisting them not only to retain the information, but also to have fun while learning it! So, personally, I used this same method to learn the verbs and phrases associated with knowing how to love unselfishly, and it worked!

Now, I am not a brain expert by any means, but there is certainly something that takes place in the mind when you add purposeful movement to words or phrases. It adds that extra bit of distinctiveness which sticks in the memory bank and causes retention levels to soar!

Why not try adding some motions with muscle to your classroom lessons? It does take some preplanning, but it adds fun and a reason for movement to the learning process.  The Shurley English Jingles are a perfect learning tool to help you add movement into your language arts lessons (…and you can find them for FREE on our YouTube Channel).

As you listen to and learn the jingles, think about each line of text. Pay careful attention to the most important words, especially the verbs. Think of purposeful movements you can associate with the texts of each jingle. You will improve the community feel of your classroom by involving kids in the choreography planning, so don’t be afraid to give them the reins. Of course, you will need to be the final judge about whether the motions they want to use make a good association to the jingle text, but their engagement in this process will be invaluable to them in the long run.

How to Increase Emotional Intelligence with Controversy and Introspection

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If you have been following my posts about guiding kids to connect emotionally with their learning…thanks! I hope it has been interesting and helpful. I am wrapping up my series with another combo from Jensen’s work: controversy and introspection.

The mere mention of the word controversy is controversial. But what I mean is not going to usher in a strike of some kind and make you want to walk in a picket line. Controversy and introspection in the classroom are a dynamic duo because of the kind of thinking they inspire in your students.

Ages ago, when I was in high school (The exact number of years ago shall remain undisclosed!), I had a history teacher who, quite frankly, was able to teach history from experience…he was THAT old. But, with age comes wisdom—and he had a lot of it. I remember one lesson in particular that affected my learning and thinking in quite an unexpected way. He simply introduced a scenario filled to the brim with controversy. Granted, we were high school students and able to manage some heftier topics. Consequently, if you decide to introduce controversy, you must consider your audience.

Anyway, the scenario my teacher presented was much like a reality show on television where several characters with various talents and skills are introduced. They are placed on a deserted island and have to fend for themselves. Then, a situation is presented that forces you to analyze which characters have what it takes to survive and which characters are expendable because they don’t. You are also given a finite list of goods that have been provided to aid in the participants’ survival, and you also have a list other supplies that can be used creatively to further enable future survival for the fittest, smartest individuals. Next, my cohorts and I were teamed up. We had to discuss each character in depth. We had to weigh out which ones to help and which ones to ignore. Those decisions were based on our own life experiences—the real ones—that helped form our general world views. Wow! You would never have guessed the level of sophistication our conversations reached when we began to make decisions that would positively or negatively affect the outcome of the situation for each character.

I can’t remember a time when I enjoyed my history class more, and it came about because my teacher gave us permission to think through potential real-life situations in a safe zone…and the conversations, the thinking, the arguing were lustrous and titillating! So much so that I still remember the lesson even today!

Well, that’s what controversy, when it is handled carefully and considerately, can offer a learner. Now enters introspection. I grouped controversy and introspection together because one begets the other. When kids authentically analyze a problem and work together to solve it, they demonstrate introspection. If you are familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy, you know that the kind of thinking I am talking about is all too rare in many of our classrooms. Students who are encouraged to express their ideas, thoughts, opinions, biases, and misunderstandings glean so much from every learning opportunity. They learn how to evaluate their own thoughts, behaviors, and actions in light of their environments and cultural groups. Another reason I saved this dynamic duo of social-emotional learning until this post is because it isn’t for the squeamish. It gets gritty, and it is probably best suited for older kids. However, don’t shy away from these powerhouse emotional intelligence boosters, especially if you work with students from junior high level to college. It is the deep and wide thinking you elicit in your students that makes the risk worth taking.

(This post is part of a series on Emotional Intelligence. To start at the beginning, click here.)

The Playbook of Literary Success: Composition

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The Playbook of Literacy Success highlights the necessary knowledge, skills, and practice required to win the game of literacy development.  Great players gain confidence when they own and use a broad vocabulary and a strong grammar foundation.  These two core concepts serve to prepare all players for one of the greatest plays of all: composition!  If you missed Part I and Part II of the Playbook of Literacy Success, you might want to go back to the starting line to catch up with some calisthenics we call Shurley English Jingles and then move into our version of the wishbone formation, which we call the Question and Answer Flow.  Today, our focus is on composition and the writing process.

We use the term “process” in writing instruction because it takes time—time and practice, first with basic skills and then moving to complex skills. In some past blog posts, we have shared how you can use a figurative “magnifying glass” on sentence writing with the Shurley English Sentence Blueprints. This strategy can be the start of something BIG for writers. Once mastered, you are helping youngsters literally build skills into their own writing process. Great sentence writing leads to great paragraph writing. Great paragraph writing leads to great compositions.

Reflective teachers can take this opportunity to model reflective thinking for their students because, as we have said before, teaching kids to write is the same thing as teaching them to think. As students apply their skills gained from Sentence Blueprints, we run the “practice drills” for each of the next several gameplays. Young writers practice their organizational skills, using a two- and three-point writing model. As they gain confidence, the content becomes a key player in their writing development. Learners, who now understand how to sequence their writing, have a wide-open door for writing responsively or creatively. Below are some important goals to keep in mind as you coach your budding writers.

Checklist for Shurley English Composition:

  • Use the teacher manual to guide your writing practice;

  • Engage students in brainstorming activities to generate writing topics;

  • Double-check students' ability to follow the writing process;

  • Give students opportunities to write in all genres according to the manual;

  • Use the writing evaluation guides as writing rubrics;

  • Conduct frequent writing conferences and provide feedback;

  • Set up "finished" and "in-process" writing folders for your students;

  • Maintain a writing portfolio for each student, containing examples of each kind of writing;

  • Incorporate Discovery and Across the Curriculum activities;

  • Encourage correct English use in both spoken and written forms;

  • Guide students in their research of content to write about.

The writing process will become more automatic for students as they gain experience and confidence.  One of the most important things you can do as a teacher is to provide clear, concise instruction and multiple writing opportunities so that students can repeat the steps of the writing process often enough to own them.  Always remember that the more frequently the brain utilizes a learning path, the deeper the knowledge is embedded in the long-term memory.  Write on!

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For more information about Shurley English Writing, click here.

How to Increase Emotional Intelligence with Role Modeling

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Welcome back to my series on emotional intelligence. My two previous articles were closely related because drama and storytelling involve playing the roles of characters. The same is true with this entry about role modeling. Role modeling, like drama and storytelling, reaches deep into the emotions of learners. Real-life situations and relationships get real-world practice in role modeling.

As adults, we play various roles, right? Sometimes we are bankers; sometimes we are coaches. We might even have to be referees! Whatever the role, we can plan to model specific behaviors intentionally and invite others to share their roles with kids. These experiences offer kids real-life opportunities to walk in someone else’s shoes just a bit, and it inspires them.

Role modeling makes learning interactive with live models. Showing kids how they can play a certain role in a classroom or at home can increase their awareness of their own strengths and talents. Kids often begin to demonstrate their abilities in certain domains early. Some kids paint like an artist, while others can sing well. Some kids demonstrate athletic ability early in life while others gravitate toward literature. If you can identify the kids’ strengths, you can then encourage them to express themselves in real-life situations inside the classroom.

If you have a strong art student, model for that student how to create a sketch book of ideas and an art portfolio. Invite a local artist to visit your classroom and conduct an art session for the whole class. Do the same for all of your students who show obvious ability in ANY area. Some students don’t know about their strengths yet, so this is especially important for them. All students will benefit from observing these role models, but for the students who may not think they have any skills or talents, this kind of role modeling could change the course of their entire lives…it’s THAT important!

 

ACTIVITY:

1. For two weeks, watch your students carefully and note any budding skills or talents.

2. Share these notes with parents and other care givers so that they can encourage the child.

3. Invite district or community to discuss their careers or demonstrate a talent or skill to your students.

4. Find ways to create real-life classroom events that highlight various students’ abilities and strengths.

5. Plan for showcase events in various subjects where students show aptitude.

As you help kids invest in their learning through role models, you are also helping them make powerful connections between that learning and their emotions. Emotional intelligence has a quotient you can’t necessarily measure, but if you want to help kids improve their E.I., add role modeling to your bag of tricks. It works!

(This post is part of a series on Emotional Intelligence. To start at the beginning, click here.)

The Playbook of Literary Success: Grammar

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Let’s get back into the language arts huddle to go over some key plays that will help your students win-the-game!  If you missed Part I of the Playbook of Literacy Success, you might want to go back to the starting line to capture the necessity of a strong vocabulary.  As for today, we’re going to focus on Part II: Grammar.  We’ll begin with some calisthenics we call Shurley English Jingles, and then we’ll move right into our version of the wishbone formation! We call this feature the Question and Answer Flow

Remember, English is like a competitive sport, and every K-8 teacher is part of the coaching staff charged with developing players’ language arts knowledge and skills.  The playbook contains plays designed to help each team member achieve literacy success, which is the ultimate goal of the game, and the action plan involves the following equation:

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When it comes to teaching grammar, Shurley English uniquely teaches and reinforces the eight parts of speech and other important language arts concepts, using Jingles.  For clarification purposes, Jingles contain the important pieces of information of each definition, stated in a catchy, rhythmic way.  Each time a Jingle is recited, the brain goes through the motions of reigniting the learning path that was formed previously.  The more the brain repeats information via the learning path, the more likely that information will be retained in the long-term memory.  

Note:  Jingles are like calisthenics for the brain, and Jingle practice has been distributed appropriately throughout the Teacher’s Manual. And of course, as a reflective practitioner who must hold both your students and yourself accountable for the knowledge gained, the daily rehearsal of the jingles becomes an out-loud-and-in-your-face measurable way to determine how well students are retaining the new knowledge.

 

Shurley English Jingles

  • incorporate rhythm, rhyme, and movement.

  • provide domain-specific language.

  • allow for critical reading during sentence analysis.

Checklist for Shurley English Jingles:

  • Teacher models jingles or uses the Interactive I feature of the digital materials.

  • Students recite the jingles in unison at a brisk pace.

  • Students enjoy Jingle Time.

As grammar instruction continues, Shurley English teaches students how the eight parts of speech are organized to form sentences correctly, using a process called the Question and Answer Flow.  The Q & A Flow teaches students how to analyze the role of each word in a sentence. Learning to identify and label the parts of a sentence leads to understanding sentence structure, and as students' understanding of sentence structure grows, they learn to apply this knowledge to write better sentences, paragraphs, and essays.  Think about it this way: Just as a coach choreographs the plays he or she wants the team to master, so, too, grammar is the choreographer of our language.  Therefore, it is essential for students to have a firm foundation of knowledge about the parts of speech and the role they play in written language. The Q & A Flow makes the practice of the parts of speech logical and systematic.

Shurley English Q&A Flows

  • include brain-compatible strategies.

  • make English grammar logical and systematic.

  • serve as a formative assessment.

As you reflect upon your teaching of these important skills, consider the following Checklist for Grammar Instruction and the Question and Answer Flow. Ask yourself, have I…

  • conducted the grammar lesson as directed in the manual?

  • involved students in the oral questioning process?

  • related the new skill to a previously taught skill?

  • taught the students to read the sentences to be classified fluently and in unison?

  • encouraged a steady and natural pace as sentences are read aloud?

  • pointed to words and sentences for younger students as sentences are read?

  • taught students to use the same sequence/order of the Questions and Answers in the Q &A Flow, according to the manual?

  • conducted the Q & A Flow at an appropriate rate and volume?

  • waited until each answer is recited before labeling?

  • monitored constantly the students’ engagement and participation?

  • kept the students involved and on task?

 

By keeping yourself mindful of not only the quality of the content you teach, but also the technique and delivery of the content, you will add yet another game-saving skill to your students’ overall literacy achievement.  In upcoming posts, you will learn even more “plays” you can add to your literacy “playbook.” Don’t miss it!

Grow Emotional Intelligence with Storytelling

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Last time, I threw drama into the mix to help kids connect emotionally to their own learning. As we think deeper about how important this connection is, researchers report that storytelling offers a unique opportunity for kids to grow their emotional intelligence quotient.

Like drama, storytelling involves kids in several aspects of learning that help them connect parts of their real lives to stories—stories with many different kinds of characters from various cultures and locations. Each character has a point of view in a story, and it is exciting when kids learn how to analyze a story character and add a bit of their own personality to the interpretation.  

When you teach children how to tell a story with appropriate characterization and a point of view, they naturally evolve in areas like self-awareness, cultural awareness, and insights into universal life experiences. What an important way to help students explore their own cultural roots, traditions, and values! Just grappling with these ideas can help kids find their place in the world.

To get kids started with storytelling, provide several options for them. They can read through several books, magazines, or plays to find one they want to develop into a storytelling performance piece. Click on the link at the end of this post to get some great ideas.

 After your student selects a story, discuss the following presentation points:

1. Vocal Pitch

  • Help the storyteller understand how to vary vocal pitch, tempo, and volume to make characters come alive in a story.

  • Emphasize moments of silence and dramatic pauses to get a character’s point of view across.

  • Demonstrate for the storyteller how to use different exaggerated voices for the characters. Have the storyteller create a strong “narrator’s” voice that will remain consistent throughout the story.

 

2. Body Language

  • Demonstrate how common gestures and body language, stance, and movement help differentiate one character from another in stories.

  • Show how certain types of body movements create emotional responses in the audience.

 

3. Staging

  • Show storytellers how to use “stage” space effectively, using an entire area.

  • Give storytellers many opportunities to practice pantomiming specific activities related to a character.

Storytelling Resources: A popular children’s author, Aaron Shepard, publishes an excellent site for storytelling ideas. Check it out here.

Please visit again soon for my next post, where I will explore how role modeling can further your quest to promote emotional intelligence in kids. (This post is part of a series on Emotional Intelligence. To start at the beginning, click here.)



The Benefits of Using Drama Activities in Your Classroom

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Next up on the emotional intelligence list is—wait for it…drama in the classroom…the kind that won’t make you nuts! This subject is near and dear to my heart because I have been a community theatre enthusiast most of my life! I suppose I just gravitated toward drama because I liked the fantasy, the story, the chance to be someone else.

Unknowingly, drama was actually helping me become more in tune with other people—on and off the stage. That’s the crux of helping students in the classroom with dramatic presentations. They allow kids the chance to grapple with their own emotions and personalities as they learn how to interpret a character in a play. Kids forge self-awareness skills each time they attempt to interpret a character in a story. These skills spill over into real life relationships.

Self-Management. If there is one quality a teacher wants in students, it’s self-management. Kids who can manage their own practice, their own behavior, and their own reactions to situations have a better chance at success in life. What better platform to practice these behaviors than a play!

Self-Direction. When kids engage in drama, they learn how to explore different parts of their personalities…sometimes parts that are very confusing—maybe even a bit scary. But, the setting for a play serves as a safe-zone by giving them the freedom to try various approaches to interpret their character. Kids who learn how to balance their own emotional needs and wants develop self-direction, in other words, they get motivated. Self-direction is slightly more complex than self-management. Self-directing kids learn not only how to adjust their expectations of themselves, but also that of others. Because drama pushes students to explore their own motivations and the motivations of others, they learn how to direct their own emotional messages and how to perceive the emotional messages of others. What a life benefit!

Fun. While drama does help kids with connecting their emotions with learning, let’s not forget that for many kids, drama is just plain fun! Just as in great novels and stories that kids read, a dramatic or comedic play can have a powerful impact on a kid’s outlook on life. Being involved with others, acting out roles, pretending to be something or someone else is often just what kids need to elevate their self-esteem and grow their confidence.

Give it a Try! To get the drama started in your classroom, search the internet for “plays for kids in the classroom.” You will find more than enough resources to get you going. Also, check out your anthologies and literature sets. Sometimes it is better for you and your students to write your own plays based on stories you all love. However you implement it, take it slow…start small. Then, as you all grow in your ability to interpret the various stories, branch out. I have no doubt you will be pleased with the results you see in your students.

(This post is part of a series on Emotional Intelligence. To start at the beginning, click here.)

Why Playing Games Boosts Emotional Intelligence

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Last time, I told you about nine ways to ignite emotional intelligence in your classroom. I discussed how music can impact emotional connections to learning. Now, let’s examine how bringing games into the school day can support emotional intelligence.

Game On. From the time we are infants, games often play big part in our lives. From Peek-a-Boo to Simon Says—playing games makes us happy. But games do a lot more than meets the eye. Some research says that teaching kids how to play board games, games of strategy, and digital games improves interpersonal and social-emotional skills.

Two Heads are Better Than One. Have you ever heard of collective intelligence? Well, it’s a real thing! Researchers have learned that two heads are better than one, three heads are better than two…you know the old adage. Turns out it’s true, at least for a lot of people. And it’s important for kids in classrooms, too. Games make this dynamic possible.

Decision-making and Predictions. Games, especially games of strategy, promote decision-making and the ability to make predictions based on actions. Think about how important it might be for kids if they learned and practiced how to analyze a chess move or a strategic move on a checker board. Every action leads to an outcome; and the better the kid is at predicting that outcome, the more likely the win. Decision-making and predictions are part of every day life and these are skills worth practicing!

Can I Live With the Risk? What about risk-taking? Yep! Experts agree; risk-taking is essential to learning because the brain is always sizing up situations to decide if staying and fighting is better than running away. Kids who are willing to take risks within reason show increased resilience in the face of adversity. They also show better wisdom when they know when to walk away from a fight. Know what that builds up inside of kids? Persistence! Persistence is one part patience and one part discipline. So, start playing games with kids and you up the odds that they will become more persistent and wiser about their actions. Of course, it’s not as simple as all that. It’s not a one and done proposition, but it has power if it is practiced consistently.

Cooperative Learning. In our learning environments, in or outside the home, games can prompt growth in other ways, too. Did you know that most of the jobs our kids of today will have don’t even exist yet? And did you know that those future jobs, more than likely, will be done in cooperative teams of employees? You know where I am going with this. Never underestimate the power of game play to help kids learn how to get along with one another. We call it cooperative learning for a reason. Yes, game-playing can sometimes lead to all-out mutiny, but it’s in the struggle, the compromise, the fits, and the resolution where kids can learn how to work alongside another and build mutual purpose. They also develop a stronger sense of self as they join in on the push and pull of interpersonal relationships.

As you forge new pathways with your students, remember to include games because they improve learning in ways that matter a lot today and that matter even more in the future. It’s time to get your game on!

In the next part of my series, I will talk about drama in the classroom…the kind that doesn’t make you crazy. Stay tuned!

 

FREE Language Arts Jingles from Shurley English

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If you’re ready to learn English definitions in a fun and easy way, Shurley English Jingles are for you! Using domain-specific language, our definitions for the parts of speech and many other important language arts concepts incorporate rhythm, rhyme, and movement. Jingles provide the tools for critical thinking during sentence analysis and writing.  

Our multi-sensory approach provides an active, hands-on learning environment in which kids truly understand and retain language arts skills for a lifetime. (We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Jingles are an extremely effective way to learn information!) We invite you to incorporate Jingle Time into your classroom or homeschool today!

For the first time in 30 years, we are excited to offer our Shurley English Language Arts Jingles for FREE! Getting started is easy…

  1. Go to the Shurley Instructional Materials YouTube Channel.

  2. Subscribe so you will know when a new jingle is uploaded.

  3. Have fun learning language arts definitions!

P.S. Don’t forget to share these jingles with your friends!

What’s next? Have you learned all of the Shurley English Jingles? If so, take the next step! It’s time to show students how to apply this knowledge to sentence classification, where they learn the parts of speech and correct sentence structure. These skills serve as the foundation for students to write better sentences, paragraphs, and essays. The result—successful writers! Let’s get started.

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Kim Shurley

Kim Shurley is a wife, mother, educator, and wanna-be rockstar. She graduated with honors from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock with a degree in Marketing in 1999. Upon her graduation, Kim joined the Shurley Team, where she collaborates on product development and promotion with her mother-in-law, Brenda Shurley.

Kim believes wholeheartedly in the work she does in curriculum development, which is why she homeschools her two children in the summer months using the Shurley method of instruction. After all, educating children is what this family-run company is all about.

In her spare time, Kim can be found adventuring in the mountains of Colorado with her family.