Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spice it Up!,r:0,s:0
Why is it that in education everything seems to be in black and white?  We are all designed so differently, how can we all fit this black and white design?

It was traditional classrooms or open classrooms, teaching reading using whole language or phonics. Why don't educators understand that teaching is not just one way?  Students thrive with multiple approaches and methods.  We all like a little spice in life!

The bottom line:  There are all kinds of minds in a classroom with all kinds of strengths, weaknesses and affinities.  Some of us learn best by doing, others by seeing, still others by listening. Some of us are creative thinkers, while others more linear, logical thinkers.We have to teach to all of them and not to "the average student" (who in my opinion does not really exist).  Learning has to be meaningful and as such we need to spice it up so everyone can wrap their minds around whatever topic is up on the docket.

From Theme Thursday (
Think back to when you were in school...(for those like me that was a long time ago - see my last blog on memory :-)   What lessons stuck with you the longest?  My bet is that they were interactive (somehow you worked with the material) and was personally meaningful.  For me, it was chemistry.  My teacher made jokes and introduced the material with really cool experiments and bravado.  What was it for you - I'd love it if you share this in your comments.

What does this mean for parents?
Whether your kids are in school or home schooled
  • Talk about the topics they are covering in the classroom. 
  • Visit museums with related exhibits, 
  • Watch movies that deal with these topics, 
  • Brainstorm about what might happen if... or what might have happened if...
  • Go to the library or book store and get books related to the subject (either fiction, nonfiction or science fiction; prose or graphic novel) to read aloud together (and discuss).
  • Create your own experiments or products from ages and eras being studied.  
  • If studying colonial America, for example, make candles or butter as they did back then.  Find recipes from the countries and eras your child is studying. 
What does this mean for teachers? Don't just have your students read something from a book and don't just lecture.  You have to make the lessons come alive:

  • Create a "day in the life" of characters you are reading about in language arts, or studying in science or history;
  • In math, ask students to show their work, but if they compute something differently, pay attention to it, ask them to prove this to be a viable method by using it on different examples.  IF it doesn't work, they will more easily use your methods. If it does work you have allowed them to create a more lasting understanding of underlying processes.
  • When evaluating students, don't just give tests.  (Test taking is an important skill, but it is not the only skill and memorizing for tests, is not always the best way to assure retention.)  Have students create projects, plays, dioramas, etc.
  • When teaching make sure students can play with the subject and materials.  Pose questions that really make them think and apply the subject matter,  present verbal and visual aspects of the lesson, introduce it so that it somehow relates to their own lives.
  • Provides a compelling argument for using the Socratic method of teaching - even in a third grade math class.  It is worth a visit!
  • If you ask them to read passages, ask them to relay the passages in graphic novel form, or to act out some aspect of the lesson (making it visual and tactile as well).

These are just some generic suggestions.  Please let me know what works or worked for you as a student, as a parent, and/or as a teacher.  How did or do you spice learning up?


  1. Great suggestions. My granddaughter and I had a "book club" evening about her summer reading last year.

    My absolutely favorite class was (surprise) Latin and I think it's stayed with me the longest. It certainly made it easier to ace the SAT vocabulary section.

  2. It's actually not that surprising. I never took Latin but my kids did and absolutely loved it AND as you said, it really did help them with the SAT's.

  3. I do not get the chance to help out with my grandkids, with them out of my state, but when we did I played the little games I did with their dad when he was little. we had more visits with the older grandson & he remembered those games when he saw us again. One was 'Oh My goodness', where we would pull there hands up to their faces (this is well before taking stage) and his mother had to report to me that one day upon picking him up from daycare someone in the other room said those words out loud to something on the TV, and his little hands went up to his face & smiled. So even tho I am not a teacher, I feel making learning fun & with repetition it all helps. thanks for all your great recent posts :)

  4. Thank you for you wonderful anecdotes!

  5. Really good advice entwined in this piece. If only all teachers could remember to spice it up. If only all parents could find the flavors that motivate our youth.

  6. Good stuff, Meryl!
    For me, there were so many influential educational moments...the mock town we ran in fifth grade and my job as the newspaper owner. The fruit flies we tried to raise in biology, and the Mardi Gras party we threw in French class. I am an experiential learner, but I am lucky that I was able to make experiences out of just about any lesson.
    Investing in the needs of each and every kid is exhausting, but necessary.

  7. I love how you use the themes to discuss educational psych. It really works well. And of course, your topic is relevant to me in my world. My son is four years old and we're always surprised to discover what may suddenly spark his curiosity and motivation to learn.
    PS I'm sorry I never got back to you before. I lose track of time and the blogosphere when the physical world demands my attention.

  8. Great advice (as usual!) :D We love taking the kids to museums and science centers and letting them be our "guide" as they relate the exhibits to their lessons.

  9. I so agree with you! Unfortunately, with the emphasis on standardized testing and NCLB, there is little room left for teachers to deviate from the "teach to the test" curriculum in so many classrooms.
    One of my best memories is 6th grade social studies. We were learning about the ancient Greeks and our teacher had us do a presentation in whatever way we chose. A group of us did a "Romeo and Juliet" type of soap opera with the lovers from Athens and Sparta. We even had commercials having to do with ancient Greece. I still remember some of it today! This took so much class time, though, that I don't think a teacher could pull it off in today's classroom.

  10. You are so right. I know we need the tests, but look at how much you got out of that class by 'playing' with the material. And even though it took time, you were analyzing, writing, producing, remembering, while using and developing such worth while skills. This debate will be around for a long time. Thank you so much for your contributions!

  11. Meryl this is so true. My boys (chalk and cheese, one a visual learner, the other a hands on interactive sponge.)
    Educators do need to spice up learning a little bit. Children have evolved and changed so much, and the way we teach them has to reflect that!

  12. They may be generic suggestions but they are good ones!

    My son did a project about American Indians in the Pacific Northwest. We happened to have a museum membership and we went to the exhibit to see what they talked about.

    Those suggestions are perfect.

  13. thank you for stopping by my blog. this is a great information you shared here.

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  14. Great post as usual, Meryl. I've given you the "Versatile Blogger" award. Please stop by my blog to pick it up.

  15. G'Day Meryl, I saw your invite to education type stuff. As you may read from this I am no academic, but I thought you might be interested to read and comment upon a post on my blog , about 3 posts previous to the present one, called "Encounters with J". A sad true story.

  16. Thank you, Dawn for the award, and thank you Linda for your invitation. It will be my pleasure to read and comment on the "Encounters with J"

  17. Hi, Meryl. The "lesson" that stayed with me the most was something I was so ready to hear as a pre-teen. It was what my Health teacher said: "Beauty is an illusion, and we can create it." That was how she introduced the subject of good grooming and hygiene. It spoke to my early insecurities about not having been born beautiful enough to get by without make-up. It assured me that wearing just a smidgeon of make-up wasn't making me a fake (oh, the hang-ups of a pre-teen.)

    I'm a ballroom dance teacher now, in mid-life, and I use analogies and pop culture references to help things stick and lighten up when my adult students get frustrated with themselves. It gets interesting when the age range is wide. Young adults can't relate when I say we'll be moving across the ballroom floor in "counterclockwise" direction—they grew up with digital timekeepers.

    So it's so true, people learn differently, and we need to teach to reach not just the non-existent "average" student but each unique mind we are privileged to be teaching.

  18. Hi there. I totally agree with you. All ofmy children have been homeschooled at one time or another and people keep asking me, "How do you do it?" and "How do you find time?"
    Homeschooling is, for me, a lesson in "thinking outside the box". Everything goes, in the order you choose, in the time frame you think is best. I love this piece!

  19. You're speaking my a homeschooling mother of three I just nod my head :)

  20. Great post! Have you ever heard of the 'cone of learning'? It's an idea of how much we remember of things for how long, depending on how we learned them!:

    cone of learning

  21. Says a lot about my education that I cannot honestly remember one lesson - either good or bad - it was all just much the same..grey..the black and white stuff was all the 'Heathers' issues..does anyone like you or not..and will you be able to get out of PE with the same note you've carried around for 6 always thanks for making me think..Jae

  22. Thanks for you comment, jaerose. It is a sad statement of our education system that you and so many others have have no recollections of lessons learned in school. [Although at least you didn't have any 'horror' stories either :-).

  23. The lessons that stuck with me were definitely interactive like you mentioned! I remember one English class in particular where the words came alive. They were like 3 D for me.

    Thanks for stopping by!