Kick off the new school year with meaningful lessons for every grade.
From Values to Goals
Standard Met: McREL Self-Regulation Standard 1
What You Need: Values auction list, pens, paper
What to Do: Carol Miller, who blogs at The Middle School Counselor, explicitly teaches goal setting at the beginning of the year to the students she counsels at Lansing Middle School in New York.
She begins the lesson by discussing what the word value means (what something is worth, or things we consider to be important) and how our values help us make choices and take action. Next, she gives students play money and holds a “values auction.” Students decide their maximum bids for each value (e.g., honesty, kindness, bravery) in a list she provides. This shows what values each student deems are most important, which is enlightening to both her and her students. (If you have time, let them determine maximum bids and hold a mock auction.)
After students identify what they value, it is time to set goals. Miller asks them to choose three life goals, but she describes how smaller, more imminent steps might help them achieve these goals. “A goal needs meaning,” she says. “It needs to serve a purpose in one’s life; it has to be attainable and time bound. When students understand why it’s important—including how it matches their personal values—and can recognize potential pitfalls, they can make [achievable] goals.”
Next, as a class, Miller has students discuss how a positive mindset can also help them achieve their goals. She gets them to identify their strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities and threats. Finally, they write SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely) goals that can help them during the school year.
A New View on Notes
Standard Met: McREL Language Arts Standard 4
What You Need: Whiteboard, pens and paper or computers/tablets
What to Do: Vicki Davis, a middle school technology teacher at Westwood Schools in Camilla, Georgia, and the author of Reinventing Writing, teaches her students to combine the Cornell Note-taking System with visual note taking for maximum impact.
First, she shows her students how to take notes using the Cornell system. This teaches them about organization, using cues, and employing strategies like bullets and summarizing. Review techniques are built into the system that can help with both long- and short-term memory recall.
Davis, who blogs at The Cool Cat Teacher, then shows students how to incorporate visuals into their notes to engage more parts of the brain. She starts by showing samples of visual note taking, where notes are taken by drawing pictures, writing text in different fonts or sizes, and/or connecting ideas via webs or arrows. The class discusses the benefits and drawbacks of such notes, and then students practice taking visual notes.
Lastly, Davis teaches students how to blend the written and visual notes. This allows them to have an organized outline with helpful visual cues. “Including graphics and pictures helps kids remember,” says Davis. She recommends students make these blended notes their own to reflect their own learning style.
Narratives and Mnemonics
Standard Met: McREL Thinking and Reasoning Standard 3
What You Need: Labeled and blank political maps, pens and paper or computers/tablets
What to Do: DeAnna Wendland, a grade 5 multi-subject teacher at St. John School in Boston, teaches students how to use mnemonic devices and other memory techniques to organize and remember facts.
When teaching geography, she suggests relating shapes of countries or states to real-life objects, such as an upside-down heart or a fish, to help students identify the borders on a blank map. “It’s okay if the shapes are silly, because it will help them remember!” she says.
When teaching sets of facts, such as the names of the presidents or the Great Lakes, Wendland suggests using mnemonic devices. For example, students could create rhymes or make easy-to-remember acronyms with the first letter of each word (e.g., HOMES for the five Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior).
She also likes to think of history as a “story to be told.” When discussing the American Revolution, she’ll ask students to use casual rather than formal wording. Students might say, “We don’t want to be ruled by King George. He doesn’t know what our life is like. He’s on the other side of the world and doesn’t know what we like to eat or buy or wear!” Students pair-and-share to tell their version of historical events, and then write the casual narrative to solidify the ideas in their minds.
Photo: Courtesy of The Middle School Counselor
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