Monthly Archives: November 2014

What Student Self-Advocacy Really Looks Like

Post by Glenn Whitman and an Un-Named Student

Active reading is a critical skill in my history class. My goal is to have students to be able to recall more of what they read during our discussions in the next class period. As a result, I am currently using research in Mind, Brain, and Education Science to see if it can enhance each student’s ability to make more of what they read stick! Reading is often a uni-sensory process. As a result, I make students actively read so they are engaging more of their senses. But how do teachers get students engaged in active reading of sources that the student was assigned?

Using research around intrinsic motivation, I allow students to choose their preferred method of actively reading a primary or secondary source in history class. Students can select from four options and by merely giving them choice the students feel they “own” the reading more.

This said, on an assigned reading of Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War speeches, I received one of the best emails I have ever received from a student. Here is what he wrote:

Mr. Whitman:

I have a question based on your specific instructions for me at the end of class on Friday. For tomorrow’s class, we are to read the documents that you handed out.  At the end of class, you told me to keep in mind how long it takes me to read it and to mark the start and finish times on the lines you drew. However, if I were to read it in a timely fashion, that would mean that I would have to spend precious seconds to write down the most salient points of each page, one of the active reading options, which would mean my reading time would take longer.  For every reading, you want us to actively read based on the option that we chose on that sheet you gave us a couple of weeks ago. I highlighted salient information and, as a supplement, I use a red pen so that I could easily spot those important points in the article, I underlined and starred information that I thought was salient and worth noting. After class on Friday, you said to keep in mind my timing, so I took that seriously and actively read in a way that works for me personally, which I mentioned above, and I wanted to make sure that that was ok with you; because, if you collect our articles tomorrow, I don’t want to lose points for my active reading when I did do it; I just did it in a different way that works for me, and so that I would save time in the reading time department.

One of the greatest skills we can teach students is the ability to self-advocate. It is part of our school’s Effort Grade Rubric and it was a skill certainly on display in this student’s e-mail. As the student thought meta-cognitively on his learning, he recognized his strengths and weaknesses and returned with an active reading option that he preferred. I readily accepted his new option but more importantly, while I hope this would lead to this student recalling more of what Lincoln wrote so many years ago, I was more excited about how this student was developing a strong understanding of at least one aspect of his learning.

How do you teach your students to self-advocate?

“Chunking It!” and How I learned to Think Big Picture

Post by Amanda Freeman


One thing you have to know about me. I am an ISTJ in the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, and that is a bad profile for a teacher. I won’t even go into the “T” (thinking vs. feeling), but the “S” means I’m more of a small picture, detail person. But I teach history, so I need to think about causes and effects, change over time – big picture stuff.

I read Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning for my summer reading, and in it the author Mark McDaniel said you should always have a learning objective to help students remember material. I thought “yeah, right.” I mean, I always know what I want to do in class, but “learning objective” sounded out of my league. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it’s true. But I’ve devised a system for myself (that’s where the “J” in the ISTJ comes in handy) that helps me “chunk” the material and time use in my class and come up with a clear learning objective.

Basically, I work from the bottom, up. I think about the material we are working on; what the homework was the night before and what the homework will be tonight. I also ponder what activities will help get the essential course content into each student’s brain (for the long term) and how to make each student work harder in the same amount of class time that we always have. Then I think about an activity for the first 10 minutes of class, a “do now,” that I put on the board and that engages students as soon as they walk into class. After I have looked at my activities and my “do now,” I orally articulate my learning objective – then I go back and make the appropriate changes to the lesson. So now, my lesson plan template looks like this:

Learning objective

Do now


In class

Last 10 minutes (“Exit”)

I often have to work from the bottom to the top and then back down again, but my lessons are sounder and I am working in 10-minute “chunks,” a method that reflects research on attention and how many students learn best. Are my students remembering more? That is what I am working on this year, so I hope I will have an answer by June! Check back then.