“Tell me more” as a way into student engagement

This is a guest post from Kathleen Cushman of What Kids Can Do, whose most recent books are Fires in the Mind and its sequel, The Motivation Equation.

What do you do when students just don’t seem that interested in a subject, no matter how hard you try to draw them in?

I recently had an interesting discussion about that question with teachers on the Deeper Learning MOOC.  And it got me thinking back on all the times that I’ve sat down with students to draw them out on a subject . . . and felt like I had failed.

In researching the book Fires in the Mind, for What Kids Can Do, hundreds of youth around the country met with me to investigate the question “What does it take to get really good at something?” Typically, I’d begin our small-group sessions by asking the kids to describe something they considered themselves already very good at.

I began to see how thoroughly we’ve trained our students to wrap up answers neatly in a complete sentence. “What I am very good at is . . .” they would begin, and then finish with a word or two. “Math.” “Basketball.” “Drawing.”

“Tell me more,” I would say. And wait, while they racked their brains for the “right answer.”

Sometimes I would have to prompt their memories. (“Was it always that way for you?” “Did you ever try to teach someone how to do that?” “What’s hard in getting the hang of it?”) Sooner or later, they got the message: I was actually really interested in the details of their experience.

Then, the grammar of their explanations began to relax and come alive. They knew what they were talking about. They engaged with their subject, revealed how they thought about it, entered into a discourse with others about it, qualified their original views.

Even so, at least one student in any group would shrug and turn away as if the question had no interest. That was OK with me—perhaps it felt too risky to answer, for that person in that moment. After a bit, I’d try another way in, maybe asking their opinion on something that someone else had said. Students tend to appreciate the respect we show toward how they see things differently: “Can you tell me more . . . ?”

“No one can understand anything if it isn’t connected in some way to something they already know,” the cognitive scientist James E. Zull points out in his wonderful book The Art of Changing the Brain. “Whatever their experience, that is where they start.”

In my case, I was helping students to explore the science behind their own learning process.  But whatever our subject—the solar system, the French and Indian War, the Pythagorean theorem, or Moby Dick—it’s worth the time it takes to find out more about where kids are coming from. (Tip: start the conversation with a concrete example. One teacher I know starts a unit on early America by asking, “Is it okay to take land if no one is using it?”)

Their skills, their needs, their partial ideas, their misunderstandings—all this essential information that we need for teaching effectively will come out, if we stay away from “safe” right-or-wrong answers and instead give students a safe way to “Tell me more . . .”

Once they begin to reveal their existing connections, they will stop tuning out. They have something real to say—and we can build on that.

“Tell me more . . .” As we make it a part of our teaching, sooner or later we’ll hear our students say those words themselves. It’s a legacy that can guide a lifetime of intellectual and emotional engagement.

Kathleen Cushman’s new multimedia book The Motivation Equation can be read free on any web browser, the iPad, and the iPhone.


DLMOOC – The Integration Experiment to Develop Deeper and Connected Learners

This is a guest post from Verena Roberts, open, blended, and elearning changemaker extraordinaire.

My name is Verena Roberts, and I am co-facilitating the ED722 Emerging Trends and Issues in Online Education course with Dr. Ian O’Byrne from the University of New Haven.

 In an attempt to experience the current trends in online learning, we asked the #ITDML (Instructional Technologies and Digital Media Literacy) Cohort to participate in the #DLMOOC in addition to their regular, traditional weekly course work.  In preparation for this work, we learned about the history of online and distance learning, MOOCs and a quick overview of learning theories like behaviourism, constructivism and connectivism. Instead of weekly blog posts, we have integrated Storify stories and blog posts. Storify ensures that the students were able to integrate digital artifacts and examples from social media, any digital interactions with learners outside the cohort, course resources and materials and any other digital resources that demonstrate evidence of learning. The Storifies are created individually and we encourage the students to develop their online identity through their Storifies and blog posts.

We were given the #DLMOOC course outline ahead of time, and we were able to try and integrate course weekly themes with the #DLMOOC themes. While #DLMOOC ends the week of March 17, our students will have 2 more weeks of their traditional scheduled course.

This week’s #DLMOOC topic is about Deeper learning for a wide range of students. I had to write a special blog post to celebrate the work, risk taking, obvious evidence of learning and dedication of the #ITDML cohort. I have been a lurker in this course. However, I have not lurked through the #DLMOOC hashtag on twitter and Google+, instead, I have lurked and learned through the summaries and reflections of the #ITDML cohort students. I have learned more from my students – with my students, than I thought possible. We are learners together!

We decided to ask students to choose their own synchronous webinars and Hangouts during the week.  Include their learning and synchronous choices in their weekly reflections. They are encouraged to contact us directly if they have a question.  We wanted to see, with a certain amount of scaffolding and support at the beginning of the term, and  knowing the #ITDML students had a wide variety of web literacy skills – would an “open, connected  and networked” approach to learning by experiencing it – work?

While we are NOT finished the term, and the students may disagree with me, I am floored at the transition in their blog posts and participation in learning throughout the web with a wide variety of learners. Over the last week, I started the #Gamifi-Ed project. In the #ITDML Storifies, there is evidence of learning through #DLMOOC webinars, twitter chats and online interactions, #Gamifi-ED and a wide variety of other connected online experiences that the students have found. They are not learning in isolation – and as a result, they are contributing to  what Price calls, a Global Learning Commons. They are collaborating and creating learning that is bigger than “just one person”.

In conclusion I have to use the example of Gail Corbett to describe the learning I am “seeing”. Gail’s son was on a Google Hangout panel about the importance of Minecraft – as Described by Minecraft Youtubers. The “expert” youtuber on the panel was @Drakkart and he had created a video before the Hangout – as a plea for those of us who don’t “get” why Minecraft is so important. Gail was able to integrate the themes of student voice, internship, games based learning and add her plea as a parent to consider games in the classroom.

This is a storify that includes @Drakkart’s video, the #Gamifi-ED Hangout and Gail’s reflections. It is priceless to be part of such learning that influences so many people in so many ways.


Wk 5 – Thurs. email – RESTART

(This is a duplicate of the Feb. 20 email sent to registered participants.)

Dear DLMOOC  participant,

Regardless of how you have or haven’t participated in DLMOOC so far, we’d like to invite you to RESTART!

Restart your MOOC learning

Remember that this is the #noguilt MOOC, and each week’s content stands independently, so you can come and go as you like!

Next week, we’re going to be talking about academic mindsets, and we know that many of you have been eagerly awaiting this topic. So it’s a good chance to jump in and sample a reading, watch a panel discussion, or try putting some of this into practice in your classroom. And if you haven’t posted a comment on our G+ community, now is a good time to try that as well.

We think there is a lot of value in groups connecting around live events as well. You could live tweet these sessions and submit your questions to the panels and lens discussion. And starting this week, DLMOOC would like to buy you coffee and bagels for your face-to-face meeting. Email us for more information.

And don’t forget our panel discussion today Feb. 20 at 4:00pm PT (Los Angeles). In this session, we’ll be hearing the dilemma of teacher Andrea Morton looking at what differentiation strategies might be effective for high-ability and high-achieving students in a mixed-ability classroom.


Ben, Rob, Laura, Ryan, Karen, and the whole DLMOOC team

Wk 5 Lens into the Classroom – Feb. 20

This is background for our Feb. 20 “Lens into the Classroom” session.

Teacher: Andrea Morton, 6th Grade Humanities High Tech Middle North County

Dilemma: What effective differentiation strategies might I implement for high-ability and high-achieving students in a mixed-ability classroom, when working on a research and writing project, that will ensure access and challenge for all students?



In the Labels DECLASSIFIED project, 52 sixth graders from High Tech Middle Chula Vista identified their favorite food or personal care products and were then challenged to research them to discover the actual health effects upon their bodies.  Most students worked individually although some worked in pairs.

Each child did research using online tools like the Environmental Working Group’s SKIN DEEP website or FoodFacts.Com and then PubMed.GOV, to learn more about what the science and research actually say about the ingredients in their products.  They then wrote articles about their food or personal care products, taking each article through the full writing process… each student did between 4 and 9 drafts.

Articles were given KSH critique by family members, other students in class, older students in the 8th grade, close friends and their teacher.  There was a big push toward making the scientific knowledge understandable to other children.  During this process we also had guest experts who came to teach our students about various aspects of ingredients including a chemistry professor from the University of San Diego who taught about the molecular structure of ingredients; a chemistry professor from UCSD who taught about toxic ingredients and Superfund cleanup sites; a professional nutritionist who taught about healthy ingredients; and a food scientist and cosmetic chemist from CP KELCO who came in to teach the kids about the work they do in creating hydrocolloids for application in food and personal care products.

In the end, the students published their original articles along with oil pastel and watercolor art pieces in a book called “Labels DECLASSIFIED: The Truth Behind Your Products” now available for sale online on Amazon.Com and we also developed a project website where you can hear the students read the articles in their own voices.

This was a very successful project and we have much student work including filmed Presentation of Learning (POL) reflections and final student reflections on their digital portfolios (DPs) to share.

Additional resources:

The slides we used for this session are here:


Regardless of how you have or haven’t participated in DLMOOC so far, we’d like to invite you to RESTART!


This MOOC has been designed to be flexible, so that you can come and go, drop out or drop in as you like. Each week’s content stands alone, so if you haven’t participated so far, it’s ok to join at any point.

And in the upcoming weeks, we have some great topics. Why not choose one that’s of interest to you, and see where you can go with it.

  • Week 6 starting Feb. 24 – Academic mindsets
  • Week 7 starting Mar. 3 – Assessment for deeper learning
  • Week 8 starting Mar. 10 – Exhibiting student work, audience, and curation

Learning isn’t linear, and we don’t think MOOCs should be either!

Repentino.: A student-published literary magazine

(This is a guest post from Harry Brake, a Media Specialist/Librarian at the American School Foundation, A.C. in Mexico City.)

Launched in Mexico City, the international magazine Repentino. was created by young intellectuals of the American School Foundation for the sole purpose of igniting a love for the arts.

 Repentino. cover

We publish poetry, essays, short stories and eccentric visual art that shatter the pre-established borders of artistic possibility with a fresh and novel approach. Artists from all backgrounds, from all over the world that have a particular taste for absurdity or an inner desire to express themselves unconventionally are encouraged to submit. Repentino. Magazine is for the sensitive audience with a sharp sense of artistic appreciation.

In publishing Repentino., now reaching the world, students have learned the following: inventing, creating, designing a Gala to promote this publication, and creating organizational documents on Trello, Google Docs, Dropbox, Google Hangouts, and InDesign to move a project-based Initiative forward. In addition, students have created their own Google email attached to the magazine, worked through Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook to promote the magazine and continue to get the word out in promoting their magazine.

In helping support The Cambodia Small School, The Repentino. magazine hopes to become an advocate of community and world service, branching out the purpose of their campus magazine.  Staff are realizing it takes a village to change the world, and hope to spread the world of what Repentino. has become, and will become, thanks to the many contributors.

The platform is being set to be a social and cultural influence on various cultures, to obtaining a better understanding of the needs of other cultures, through the vehicle of a magazine. This has been stage one, establishing a permanent foundation for the magazine, and phase two will be impacting social change with various cultures once a mass population is familiar with Repentino.; ultimately using ART as the key component of communication through the above-mentioned tools will change the power of these students in the process.

Here is a video we put together for the K12 Online Conference, which includes several of our students talking about this project:

This project brings together student voice, student choice, project based learning, and many other aspects of deeper learning.

We invite others to get involved with Repentino. by submitting their own work.

Student Choice through Genius Hour

(This is a guest post from Joy Kirr, adapted from her blog post “Genius Hour: An Avenue to Better Teaching.”)

Genius Hour is a project in which students are empowered to explore their own passions. The idea is to give students time to work on projects that are important to them.

The idea of Genius Hour and giving student choice has really affected how I teach. I focus on CHILDREN first, and then curriculum.

Credit: Denise Krebs

A big idea behind this time given to students is to show them that we value them. We think they should be learning what THEY want to learn, in addition to what we are expected to teach. This idea of letting students own their own learning and giving 60 minutes a week to “electrify your job” also comes from Daniel Pink’s book, Drive. Whether or not Google gives their employees 20% of their time to work on personal projects, this time can be given to children if administration is supportive of the idea.

I’d like to tell you what’s happened in my class this year, as a result of spending FORTY minutes talking about what genius is, and what it is not. We spent time discussing the seven “habitudes” of geniuses that Angela Maiers teaches about in Classroom Habitudes.

Here are some quips from my 7th graders that I’ve actually written down for a post such as this.

“These are great! We have some really creative people in this class!”
“That must be his genius!!”
“Look at what I did – it’s genius!”
“He’s got perseverance, creativity, AND imagination.”
“I worked on being ‘adaptable’ yesterday after school…”
“Please add me to the ‘resident expert’ list under ‘neat & organized.’”

My students are realizing what they’re skilled at, and with what skills they may need help. They have already started asking each other for help during our creative days (Dot Day being the most recent). They are relying on me less this year than any other group I’ve had, and instead going to each other. We have already started building a wonderful community of learners. I’m going to continue telling my students that they have genius in them. We all do.

Regarding the “20% time” we are giving students, first I have to say that I’m very fortunate to work where I do. Many teachers do not have any time to spare – to hand over to their students. Others who are allowed time for this need to make sure it ties to standards, and that students are graded on it. I have the luxury of attaching it to standards my way (see this LiveBinder and specific plans I’m using in 7th grade ELA), but I am also allowed leeway on how to use the rest of our time during the week. Here is a list of how, by implementing Genius Hour ideas in my classes, the concepts have seeped into the other 80% of our time.

Students can choose where (and how) to sit, as long as it’s safe and not distracting to them or others.
Students can write in response to a prompt of their choice, as long as they write in relation to our goal or focus for the day.
Students decorate the room. Many put up their own ideas made at home.
There is no teacher desk. It is converted into a student station, with supplies for students to use whenever they have a need. (They can also sit there!)
The only front of the room is when we have the projector on. The rest of the room is fair game for where the speaker (me or a student) stands. (I’m actually always on the move.)
Student passions are used as catalysts for discussions or writing, or reading, or…
Students give book talks.
Students read what they choose.
Students take pictures for our movie updates for parents.
Students have blogs for authentic purposes – not for grades.
Students are asked, “Why not?” more often than they hear the word, “No.”

 I am no longer the “sage on the stage.” I am truly the “guide on the side” for most of our lessons. Implementing Genius Hour in my classroom has made me ask these questions (from p34 of The Passion-Driven Classroom) every day: Who is in charge of learning at our school? Who does the most work in our classroom? Who does the creating, constructing, producing, performing? The answer must be: The learners.

Many teachers remain disconnected from their students. As Angela Maiers and Amy Sandvold share in The Passion-Driven Classroom, “96% of teachers reported that creativity should be promoted in the classroom. However, when asked which students they actually preferred to teach, teachers chose the students who were most compliant” (5). “Messy” learning, which is what Genius Hour is, and times when the learners are working the hardest, is difficult for me to see with my “old school” eyes. I like order. I appreciate quiet. … But the things I HEAR from students during these “messy” times are precious gems. They alert me to the fact that students are learning, and enjoying the process simultaneously. That’s what it’s about. And that is how implementing Genius Hour has affected my teaching during the other 80% of the week.

Credit: Denise Krebs


Putting personalization into practice – Student voice and choice (Wk 4)

Students do not care how much you know until they know how much you care!  Below is a list of activities designed to cultivate a culture of personalization in your classroom. Please select one or more of these activities to Put it into Practice this week!  You will have a wonderful time getting to know your students on a personal level.

  1. Invite a student or youth to lead or participate in a staff meeting.
  2. Have a conversation with a student about schools in general or their own education in  particular.
  3. About Me Cards (5 min)
    On the first day of school have students fill out an index card with the following information: name, birthday, worst educational experience, best educational experience, first impression of the class, what they hope to learn in your class, and three things they want you to know about them in order to ensure successful collaboration. This allows you to get a quick glimpse of your students as you begin the year.
  4. Class Meetings (15-60 min)
    Have students sit around the room in a circle and begin with recognitions. Recognitions are a time for students to recognize the positive actions of another student (not a time for “shout outs” because then it becomes a popularity contest). The teacher then introduces a topic and writes it on the board, then a student facilitates the conversation and makes sure that the group stays on topic. The topics can range from classroom issues, assignments, projects, content related issues, personal struggles, or world events. The student facilitator rotates every class meeting. The meeting can be as long or short as the teacher desires. The teacher is not involved in the conversation but is an active listener. This allows the teacher to learn about student viewpoints and interests in an informal way. It also permits students to sharpen communication skills and interact with all of their classmates.
  5. Dear Teacher (5 min)
    Have students write a quick letter about anything that is happening in their life about every two weeks. It allows them to share something with you privately and it enables you to get a quick snapshot of where they are at personally. For a class of 25 students, it only takes about 5 minutes to read their little note but the benefits can last a school year!
  6. Low-High (10-30 min)
    Each student briefly states their lowlight of the week and then their highlight of the week. This can be done in advisory or in a regular class. This allows teacher and students to get a snapshot of what is happening in everyone’s life. Students can share advice when it comes to lowlights and they can celebrate the highlights!
  7. Lunchtime Love (lunch period)
    When you feel as if there are certain students that you aren’t making a connection with, invite them to have lunch with you and try to learn more about their interests and struggles. There is something about eating with someone that can help them open up. Try to keep the number to 2-4 students.
  8. Personalized Planning
    Choice is king (or queen) when you are working with teenagers or any students. Whenever possible allow flexibility in projects, assignments, books, problem sets that provide students with an opportunity to incorporate their own passions and interests in their work.
  9. Running Journal (5 min)
    Students journal through prompts related to subject matter or free writes and the teacher responds to students. This allows for one-on-one communication in an informal way.
  10. Student Interest Surveys
    When all else fails, there is nothing like a simple survey to help you find out more about your students!  Create your own “personalized” survey to help you establish better relationships with your students.

Exploring internships with Randy Scherer

For this week’s “Lens into the Classroom” session, which will be on Thurs. Feb. 6 at 4pm Pacific (archive will be posted here), we’ll be doing a consultancy protocol with teacher Randy Scherer.

Randy’s dilemma is: “How does the school best help students derive and articulate meaning through the process of an internship experience?”

Here is a description of the consultancy protocol we’ll be using.


Randy’s classes are currently working on about a month of Humanities work centered on processing and publishing the stories of internships.His current internship-centered curricula arose out of his work in the HTH GSE, which explored the relationship between school and internship.

Here are some resources from Randy:

And here is some additional background on how High Tech High views internships:

Here are the slides we’ll be using for this session:

photo 2