Thursday, August 10, 2017

Back to School Study Resources Inspired by "Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning" Part 1.


This summer I read Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A McDaniel. The book found me last summer via Brian Sztabnik, who hosts the Talks With Teachers website and podcast and is the high school representative on the College Board for AP Literature and Composition. 

My interest in Make It Stick stems primarily from my role as an AP Lit and Comp teacher and as a dual credit instructor for Idaho State University. I teach Communication 1101, Introduction to Speech. I mention this because some of the ideas in Make It Stick push against conventional wisdom among ELA teachers. 

For example, Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel argue against rereading as an effective study technique. As someone who does not like to reread books and typically only reread the texts I teach, I appreciate having my own preferences privileged and acknowledged. That is, rereading works differently in advanced high school courses and college-level courses than in early grades. High school students do not have time to reread a complete novel. Their busy lives necessitate efficient time management, something often anathema to rereading. 

Instead of rereading, the authors offer strategies students can use to enhance their understanding of challenging texts. Most of these these will sound familiar. I experienced a sense of validation both while reading the book and after finishing it as some of the suggestions reflect things I've done since elementary school. 

One such example of an effective study strategy is self-testing. This is something I teach students to do in all my classes, although I must admit inconsistency in integrating these lessons. Often I have a one-on-one with a student who struggles studying. 

This is why I've decided to create some handouts for my students to use this year. I'm offering these to my colleagues in this space and in my building. Below are links to handouts I'm giving to my students. Throughout my courses, I'll demonstrate these learning tools and remind students to try them. 

  • Self-Test
  • Spaced-Out Practice
    • Interleave Material
    • Interleave Problem Types
    • Interleave Subjects and Skills
As an English and speech teacher, I notice the impact of retrieving learning in my speech classes. This is likely because the three prepared speeches students must present rely heavily on a core formula: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. This framework dictates the foundation of all speeches, but each speech type has specific requirements. Students may struggle with the parts of the introduction, for example, at the beginning of the course: 
  • Attention step
  • Topic Justification
  • Credibility Statement
  • Preview Step 
The requirement for each step changes, but all speeches include these parts in the introduction. By the end of the course, students are so used to this that they experience mastery of the material. This way of practicing retrieval optimizes their learning. 

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll prepare more study materials for my students and share them in this space. In the interim, you'll find Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning a worthwhile addition to your professional library both for its theoretical grounding and its valuable tools that promote a growth mindset and a means for students to make their learning stick. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Eye Lie: Telling My Truth; Making It Matter #SOL17

The offending glasses w/ me, left; my brother
Steve, center; my sister Gaylene, right.
Standing on the brink of Niagara Falls with my brother Steve, I confessed the second lie I told my father more than forty years earlier. The lie had nested undisturbed and unawakened more than four decades but now begged release as though seeking freedom in Canada. 

I told my father two lies before his death in 1975. The second lie was about a dance and the first about how I broke my glasses. 

I hated those white, cat-eye glasses. I hated the yellow that coated the plastic with age, making the frame look like a smoker's fingertips. I hated the safety chain my stepmother insisted I wear to avoid breaking them. 

"You know how clumsy you are, Sis," she'd say. 

That chain grazed the side of my cheeks, aging me far beyond my pre-pubescent ten year-old self. 

Most of all I hated the crease that bisected the middle of the lenses to form a bifocal, giving strangers a window into my brown eyes. Old ladies approached me on the street, squinted, and tapped their pointy fingers on the lenses as though peeking through an abandoned house. 

"What's that on your glasses?"

"They're my bifocals," I'd snivel. 

"What are you doing wearing bifocals? You're too young for bifocals." I could smell the garlic and stale cigarettes on their breath. 

I hated the bifocals more than I hated the nausea and churning stomach and pounding headache I suffered for weeks after I donned those ugly glasses. 

From the moment I left Dr. Snyder's office and squinted my way to the car, the glasses shrouded my life, blanketing me in shame. For days I skipped recess and rested my head on my desk instead of playing four-square or climbing monkey bars. My stomach leaped into my throat each time I put the heavy globes on my face. 

"I can't see with these things," I complained to my dad and stepmom. 

"You'll get use to them. Dr. Snyder says it will take a little time," my stepmother said. 

So when the glasses broke. That is, when I broke the glasses, I felt no remorse. I panicked. No way could I admit the "how" of breaking my glasses. Even the "why" needed framed. 

"Dear Jesus, please make these glasses break," had been my fervent prayer every Sunday morning and night. During Wednesday night prayer meeting, I silently pleaded with Southern Baptist God to release me from those librarian eyes and gift me new spectacles. But Southern Baptist God must have been attending to the needs of Pentecostal "holy-rollers," so I spent two years slipping in and out of my ugly cat eyes. 

Then they broke. 

Correction: I broke my glasses. I broke them while walking home from Mark Twain Elementary in Webb City, Missouri to 1018 W. Daugherty. 

My friend whose name I've long forgotten but who was walking with me kept asking, "When are you going to get new glasses?"

"I don't know." That response I'd repeated at least 666 times. "My mom says I can't have new frames until these break." 

I continued explaining my problem. "I've dropped my glasses many times, but they never break." And because I believe in offering evidence for all claims I make, I offered to demonstrate. 

"I'll show you what I mean." I stopped in the middle of the block under a tall oak that's roots were pushing the concrete sidewalk into a peak I'd tripped over many times as I followed the path to and from school. 

I removed my glasses, pulling the chain past my hair. Stretching out my right arm, I dangled the glasses over the concrete and released them. Our gazes followed the white to the gray sidewalk. 

"See," I said as I bent and picked up my glasses. "They didn't break." 

I love theatre, so I offered an encore performance.

This time, the glasses broke. 

Tears streamed down my face. I could see the blur of home kitty-corner in the distance. Snot trickled onto my upper lip. "What am I going to do?" I wailed. "I can't tell my father I broke my glasses showing you my glasses won't break." 

"Tell your mom and dad a lie," my friend said. 

There was an idea I hadn't considered, at least not seriously. 

My sister Gaylene and I had been feeding our left over bologna sandwiches and mayonnaise cake to neighborhood dogs on the way home from school to avoid getting spanked for not eating our lunch for years. It's not that we lied about the fate of our brown bag contents; we'd simply not offered information about our eating habits, choosing to allow our parents' natural assumptions to guide our disclosures. 

Was the idea of lying really THAT foreign to me? 

Gaylene had already moved on to seventh grade and moved in with my mother in Pitcher, Oklahoma. Her sudden departure had given me a sense of abandonment and independence from her watchful gaze. Now I didn't have to worry about her tattle-telling ass ratting me out. 

I was free to lie.

I picked up the pieces of my shattered frames and slowly walked the last block. Pulling open the screen door I said, "My glasses broke" to the air, hoping it would carry the lie to my stepmother. 

"How'd they break?" The question lingered between us. But only for a nanosecond. A believable lie depends on timing. 

"I tripped and fell." A plausible lie depends on believability. That I had numerous scars from tripping and falling guaranteed my lie's certitude. 

I hadn't considered the lie's potential for growth. I hadn't factored having to REPEAT that lie over and over. 

My stepmother assisted the lie's longevity. She told my father. My father told my relatives who then wanted to hear my version of the story. I told the lie in Sunday school, guaranteeing Southern Baptist Jesus's hearing it. 

To protect the lie, I had to tell a version of it to all my friends and to my teacher. 

I repeated the tale of tripping many times, but I never tripped over the central truth of the lie. 

I spent years regretting the lie. I contemplated confessing it numerous times, but I feared disappointing my father. His own vision was being threatened by bursting blood vessels in the back of his head. Soon he'd no longer be able to see me, but he'd always see my lie. 

How could I add to his pain? How could I tell the painful truth? I rationalized. I believed my own lies about the lie. 

I nurtured and protected my precious lie. I snuggled it into the hidden recess of my mind. I hid the lie from the world but not from myself. Not from Southern Baptist Jesus. 

Sometimes confession is not good for the soul. Sometimes telling the truth serves only the confessor. Sometimes telling the truth twists a relationship inside out. 

And so I lied and lied some more and kept lying until long after I had no reason to lie. 

My father took my lie to his grave. September 27, 1975. 
SOL Story Challenge happens each Tuesday
on the Two Writing Teachers blog. Hop
over for more slices. 
*Today's #SOL is based on a prompt from Beth Kephart's Tell the Truth: Make It Matter. You can find a review and opportunity for winning a copy of Beth's book here.  Also, there is a link to the activity on which I've based today's slice at the end of my review.