Curriculum Toolbox: from hodgepodge to cohesive

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During my undergraduate days, I was headlong into all of my pre-teaching training courses. I truly enjoyed all of them. But, as I neared my junior and senior years of college, I began to get more into the philosophies of teaching. It seems that, at that time, the prevalent theories of teaching led my professors to refuse to tout the use of specific curriculum. That was both good and bad. It was good because it forced me to think along the lines that I did not need to depend on current published curriculum to be able to teach well. It was bad, however, because it generated the incorporation of a hodgepodge type of homemade curriculum that was left strictly up to me to develop and teach—risky, to say the least.

After I landed my first teaching gig, I knew I was in trouble because the school district had a mandated curriculum, which is what I was told would probably happen. We were taught in college to “just close your door and teach the way you know is right.” Well, that was risky, too, because my lack of experience in the classroom made it nearly impossible to know “what was right.” So, I proceeded with what I thought was right while still trying to adhere to the required curriculum. What I discovered unsettled me. Not only was I realizing that the prescribed curriculum had been chosen because the school got a good deal on it, but also I learned that it was fragmented. I WAS becoming an expert at hodgepodge because I had to scour resource after resource to find filler curriculum to bridge the gaps between the reading books, spelling books, language arts books, and the all the other subjects I had to teach. So, I suppose it was a good thing that I had been taught how to do it, but I was on very shaky ground. What’s worse is that my students were paying for my instability. I found myself plodding even deeper into other resources that might offer me a happy-medium. I needed a curriculum that would bridge the gaps, especially in the language arts arena—and I needed the bridging to make sense. My hodgepodge approach was creating chaos. What became clear to me was that I lacked the connective tissue between methodology and curriculum…that’s when, after a couple of location changes and school district changes, I got wind of Shurley English—and a breath of fresh air it was!

Finally…a curriculum that articulated the language arts in a way that was both methodical and systematic. It was the curricular sinew I needed to bridge the gaps I knew existed in my current system. If you read an earlier article of mine Becoming a Real Teacher, you know that all of the chaos I had inadvertently created through my hodgepodge curricular approach gradually dissipated into thin air. I had stumbled upon a technique of teaching that far surpassed any of the practical information that had been available to me in my teacher training days. What was more, I had a new sense of direction…and I just KNEW I was heading in the right direction for the first time since having begun my teaching career.

What about you? Is your backstory similar to mine? Have you been closing your door and teaching with less than enthusiasm and more frustration than you can bear to face? Is your district funding at a standstill, forcing you to generate a hodgepodge of pieces of curriculum with holes in it?  If you’re looking for a method of teaching—no, check that…a  purpose for teaching that takes your knowledge base further than you would have hoped, don’t miss the chance to bring Shurley English to your classroom. It might well be the solution for you as it was for me.

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.

Summer Learning: Taking a Brain Break with Meditation

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If you’ve been following our Shurley English Blog posts, you know we’ve been flooding you with creative ideas on how to continue supporting your students’ academic progress throughout the summer.  We are aware that with the high demands placed upon our children in today’s U.S. classrooms, it’s evident that children (and adults) have fewer opportunities to truly unwind and relax. 

Today, my suggestion is to remember to INCLUDE some “DOWNTIME” into your child’s daily summer schedule, and here’s why:

  • Research shows that time off-task is important for proper brain function and health.

  • The brain uses 20% of the body’s energy while on-task.

  • Napping 10-30 minutes can increase alertness and improve performance.

  • Meditation is a way to give the brain a break from work and refresh the ability to concentrate.

  • Resting mental states help us process our experiences, consolidate memories, reinforce learning, regulate our attention and emotions, and keep us productive!

Downtime will give the brain an opportunity to make sense of what has just been learned, and shifting off-task can actually help learners refresh their minds, gain insight, and return to the task with more focus.

Brain Break Exercise: Meditation with Mindful Breathing

I mentioned meditation as a way to give the brain a break, so show your students how to tap into their own superhero relaxation powers with this simple breathing exercise.  Teach your students that their breath is an amazing tool that can help them relax or calm down at any given moment.  It can help them manage the ups and downs of school and life—all they have to do is breathe.

The purpose of a breathing meditation is to calm the mind and develop inner peace.  We can use breathing meditations to reduce our distractions and feel a deep sense of relaxation.  Allow this breathing exercise to bring more calmness into your classroom while your students learn a valuable tool that helps them relax.

  • Mindful Breathing Exercise (2-5 minutes)

  • Students can stand or sit for this activity.

  • Ask students to put both hands on their belly.

  • Students should close their eyes, or look down to their hands.

  • Guide students in taking three slow deep breaths in and out to see if they can feel their hands being moved.

  • You may like to count “1, 2, 3” for each breath in and “1, 2, 3” for each breath out, pausing slightly at the end of each exhale.

  • Encourage students to think about how the breath feels, answering the following questions silently, in their mind.

    What is moving your hands? Is it the air filling your lungs?
    Can you feel the air moving in through your nose?
    Can you feel it moving out through your nose?
    Does the air feel a little colder on the way in and warmer on the way out?
    Can you hear your breath?
    What does it sound like?

Remember, time off-task isn’t always wasted time or a sign of laziness. I encourage you to create the balance between being a “human-being” and a “human-doing” this summer!