George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Trying Something New in Your Classroom For 30 Days

What new things might you venture to try in your classroom?

December 19, 2011

As many of my readers know, my classes are currently mimicking a TED conference by writing Advocacy/Memoir speeches of their own as a means to learn a more real-world version persuasive writing. That is, they are studying the structure of many of the TED speeches online, selecting their own topics in which to further research, and are constructing speeches that they will be performing that incorporate those same elements seen in many of the online speeches: Hook, Background Information, Problem, Anecdote/Personal experience, Call to Action/Solution, and a Visual.

Immerse Them in the Models

One of the activities I regularly assign as a way to immerse them in the TED universe is to watch a particular speech and analyze it in a blog post. I recently assigned my students the task of watching Matt Cutt's "Try Something New for 30 Days."

It's been fascinating to read their responses. I have discovered that many of my students want to try to disconnect from technology for 30 days. Others want to challenge themselves to do something physical: prepare for a marathon, a hike, perhaps a tournament. Many of them mentioned eating healthier and resisting the temptation of fast food. Others mentioned more unique interests.

One student admits "If I had to try something new for a whole 30 days, I would attempt setting an alarm clock for seven a.m. every morning."

Another student claims, "The activity, or thing I would do for 30 days is read CNN articles for one hour each day. Because if I read CNN articles, it will keep me up to date with the world... It would prepare me for my future, instead of messing around on the Internet chatting with friends..."

One young lady says "If I were to try something new for thirty days, I'd be songwriting. Idon't know much about songwriting but I want to be doing something I love, such as music and making my own contribution towards it."

One middle-schooler really gets the challenge when she says, "If I decided to do something new for thirty days, I would probably challenge myself to try new foods every day. Perhaps it may not seem like much of a challenge, but over the course of the past few years, I have found that my "open mind" has narrowed greatly."

And another sadly admits "if I were to try something new, it would be to raise a plant from a seed within 30 days because it is an accomplishment I've sadly never lived up to. I have a terrible history with raising plants... Raising any plant in my house would give me confidence."

After reading them all, I can't help but wonder, who knew?!

Practice What You Preach

But it occurs to me, however, that I haven't put myself through the same paces that I am asking of my students. So I've been thinking of various ways that I, as a teacher, can take on something new in my own teaching for that same amount of time.

In a way, it's easy to set a goal for myself outside of the classroom: delete sugar from my diet, avoid the occasional trek through the In-and-Out drive-thru when stuck on what to cook the family for dinner, or make sure I read for pleasure 30 minutes a day even when I feel I just can't fit in one more thing. Actually instilling a goal like this for my professional practice is proving far more challenging. In the end, I've so far settled on five possibilities, ones that I am selecting between in terms of what to start with. After 30 days, the goal is to either walk away with a great new habit, or walk away with the knowledge that comes from trying something new even if it's discarded.

My tentative list is as follows:

Do my students' assignments Put myself through the daily paces of what I expect my students to produce. My sophomore literature teacher once said, "Don't think for a second that anyone has more work than a student who actually does his or her work." I still think of that today when I'm ready to go to bed and an email comes in from a student still toiling away at all of the assignments thrust upon them.

Model some skill everyday Whatever I assign, I should model its creation in front of students. As teachers, we should model a piece of writing or the construction of an equation from scratch so that the students can see our thought process as we progress from blank page to end result. To paraphrase Kelly Gallagher, "Don't just assign, teach."

Call home each day Seek out a student who has done something commendable and that is worth mentioning. Make sure I call that student's home and let the family know something positive that I've observed about that kid. The next day, keep on the lookout for another student who is succeeding and reach out to that home as well.

Be more accessible Open up my classroom every day at lunch or open up the room before school or after school. Although I generally eat with a small group of teachers, the adult interaction being a battery-charger in the middle of my day, but maybe my battery should be recharged by seeing the students in a different light. Maybe I'll bring in a puzzle that students can chip away at during their down time. My goal is to make my classroom the place to be due to choice, not just requirement.

Try a different teaching model Although I feel I tend to meet different models head on with curiosity, the ability to change it up should be a muscle that is always worked out. Flip your classroom, try writer's workshop, teach from sitting in the middle of the room at a student's desk, or try to communicate with the students online. Try something you've only read about. At the end of the month, you just might walk away with a strategy you would not ordinarily have tried.

As I look over this list, I'm ready to take a deep breath and jump in. I'd like to invite my fellow readers to go along on this journey with me by suggesting their own possible adoptions, deletions, or revisions in their professional lives. Please comment below and let us know what you would like to jump in and try. (Don't forget to return to let us know how it went.)

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