Deborah Granger

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Effort: It Can be Taught!
In order for students to pull their hands out of their pockets and climb up the ladder, we need to help them understand that the climb can be made with effort. And the effort to climb each rung will move them onward and upward towards success.
by Deborah Granger
New contributor to the Gazette
June 1, 2009

“Success is a ladder you cannot climb with your hands in your pockets.” ~American Proverb

Effort. As teachers, we understand the significance of this one word. But for many of our students, the “ladders” they need to climb appear too steep, too high, too dangerous. Some students believe that they will never reach the top because they might fall off the ladder, the whole ladder will topple over or they are afraid to climb it in the first place. And so they do not set foot on even one rung; they keep their proverbial hands in their pockets.

Not all students realize the importance of effort. I would even generalize to say that most do not understand the correlation between effort and success. One of the most significant research studies that I have ever read states that “students who were (explicitly) taught about the relationship between effort and achievement increased their achievement more than students who were taught techniques for time management and comprehension of new material.” (Van Overwalle and DeMetsenare, 1990)

Climbing the Ladder- One Rung at a Time

The most important planning I do as a teacher is to examine my own thought processes when performing a task. I recognize that I cannot teach my students anything unless I am cognizant of the thought processes that lead to the accomplishment of that task. As I pondered how to teach my students about the relationship between effort and success, I developed a checklist of processes that I use when I learn.

Learning Tactic Status
1. I looked at the teacher or the text.
2. I thought about the topic. (focused)
3. I connected the new information to my prior knowledge.
4. I summarized in my head.
5. I summarized by talking to a partner.
6. I used a graphic organizer.
7. I asked relevant questions.
8. I assessed my level of understanding of each step.
9. I made adjustments when necessary.
10. I wrote about what I learned to help me remember.

As my students were developing an understanding of effort, this checklist became the focus of the beginning of every lesson. There was a great deal of dialogue about each tactic. Students were expected to keep a record of the learning tactics that they used as I taught. I modeled through think alouds how I use each learning tactic myself. I wanted my students to understand what each tactic looked like and sounded like.

My classroom vernacular now regularly includes the words “learning tactics.” Students have taken ownership of their learning tactics as evidenced by the discussions that follow the culminations of lessons.

Case in point: Joshua expressed to me that he was not clear on how to subtract mixed numbers. I asked him if he could pinpoint where his understanding was breaking down. He told me that he did not understand how to regroup when necessary. I asked him what learning tactics he used. He explained that he looked at the teacher, thought about the topic and asked questions. So, I asked him to consider adding another learning tactic as I explained the process of regrouping with mixed numbers again.

Joshua decided to come up to the front of the room and lay on the floor to be closer to the board where I was writing. After the lesson, I gave him five problems to try independently. He was overjoyed when he got them all correct! I asked him how he accomplished his goal. He showed me that he had created a list of the steps that I had demonstrated. In short, he had created his own graphic organizer to help him remember the information.

“Oh, you used writing to help you, and you made it into a graphic organizer! Do you think this made a difference? “

“Yes! I understand now!” Joshua was one happy little boy!

Continued on next page »

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About Deborah Granger...

Deborah Granger has been a teacher in the Lebanon City, PA School District for more than 30 years. She holds a Masters Degree in Elementary Education and Reading Specialist Certificate from Millersville University. Deborah has been a frequent presenter of professional development in her district including: Implementing Literature Circles, Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies, Using the Morning Meeting to Build Community, Inquiry Approach to the Teaching of Math, and The Learning Focused Model, to name a few. She also served as a presenter in the Induction Program as well as a mentor to new teachers to facilitate a smooth first year for new teachers in her district.

Deborah’s classroom has been the setting of videotaping for use in the professional development of the Voices Reading Program and she has served as an editor in reviewing the printed portion of this program. In addition, she has been videotaped by Learning Science International, a company which has been commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to create professional development on the use of best practice in the classroom.

Deborah says that her professional career and passion have been dramatically enhanced by frequenting the Teachers Net Chatboard. In fact, it was through reading the Professional Reading board on Teachers.Net that Deborah first learned about the reading comprehension strategies. Her interest was sparked and she quickly changed her approach to reading in her own classroom, coming back to the board for support along the way.

Once her principal witnessed the significant change in the students, the principal encouraged Deborah to share and talk about this in her school. The result was a dramatic change from a scripted reading program to one in which students learned to read through authentic reading opportunities. And it all started with a Teachers.Net chatboard!

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