“It seems like students get lazier every year. I can’t even get them to complete a ditto for homework.”
“These kids just don’t care about learning. They’re not curious, not interested in finding out more.”
“My students have nothing interesting to write about, absolutely no imagination.”
“This generation gives up every time something gets hard. They want everything the easy way.”
“Is it just me, or are these kids getting worse/dumber/more poorly behaved every year?”
Those statements can be overheard in nearly every school in America, uttered by frustrated educators who want to teach the subject matter they’re passionate about, but consistently see a lack of that passion in students. In one form or another, there’s a growing murmur of discontent amongst teachers as they bemoan students’ lack of creativity, resolve, and self-awareness.
And yet, we increasingly teach only what’s on The Test. Is it any wonder that our students can do little more than solve multiple-choice problems (and half-heartedly, at that)?
Many 21st century learning proponents have urged schools to teach those attributes our kids are lacking. Training students to be critical, creative, and strategic is great idea in theory. But with the difficulty of conveying such abstract and subjective skills coupled with everything else piled on a teacher’s already overflowing plate, it’s easier said than done.
Enter Angela Maiers. She defines these skills and how to teach them in a ground-breakingly practical book “Classroom Habitudes: How to Teach 21st Century Learning Habits and Attitudes.” If you’ve ever spent time with Angela (and I had the privilege of doing so over dinner at an ASCD conference) you know that PASSION is her defining quality. She is passionate when she talks and teaches, and passionate when she writes. She self-published through Lulu and put the book out quickly so she could get this resource in the hands of teachers as soon as possible, making adjustments and edits as she goes. Angela wisely views all of her accomplishments as a work in-progress: she’s always learning, always growing, always expanding her ideas to new arenas (even beyond the field of education). This book is only a small part of what Angela does, and was first primarily intended to be a resource to those who attend her trainings. Angela also shares ideas on her award-winning blog (which has nearly 4000 subscribers to date) and is a prolific tweeter (nearly 9000 followers). “We’re smarter together” is Angela’s motto, and since her enthusiasm for nearly every idea-sharing format is undeniable, I wasn’t surprised to see her develop a print resource. What DID surprise me (as a 21st century skills quasi-skeptic) was how amazingly accessible and relevant the book is.
The Habitudes that Angela outlines are imagination, curiosity, perseverance, self-awareness, courage, and adaptability. These skills cannot be “mastered” and do not follow a prescribed scope and sequence. They are also intangible and difficult to define for children, which is precisely why I’m so impressed with this book: Angela Maiers deviates from the typical ed reform campaign of WHY teachers should be incorporating these skills and focuses primarily on the HOW. After all, teachers resist change they feel is too time-consuming to implement. If you convince them they can teach 21st century skills without having to write their own curriculum, the battle is halfway won.
For each Habitude, Angela provides a porch pitch that explains why it matters, followed by an anchor lesson with an exact script of what to say. Often teachers flounder with the wording for complex ideas, and Angela leaves no room for error, even including the “Good morning, girls and boys” opening line and an informal assessment or reflection question to ask at the end. These scripts are what’s lacking in so many teacher resource books. I’ve heard time and again that the scripts in my own book are THE most helpful element for new teachers, and as a teacher new to the Habitudes, that’s exactly how I felt reading Angela’s book. It’s what sets her book apart. The scripts left me feeling excited to try out new wording and activities, and gave me the confidence that I “can SO do this!”
After the anchor lesson, Angela then provides ‘Lessons That Last’, which are a series of ongoing lessons the teacher can incorporate whenever the opportunity presents itself. The mini-lessons can be implemented immediately: most of them don’t require any prep work and need very few materials and props. Amazingly, they are scripted in a way that is developmentally-appropriate for a wide range of age levels and could easily be modified to reach special populations. The lessons are followed by a personal reflection for the teacher, final thoughts, and separate resources (recommended books) for students and for teachers. The end of the book has a Habitudes assessment and reproducible worksheets and graphic organizers.
One of the last thoughts Angela shares in the book is a reiteration of how important it is for educators to be passionate about learning and share their ideas freely with one another: “The knowledge we need for educational reform and change will not come in the form of scary statistics or scientific research (or even more mini-lessons): it will come from these conversations. So I ask, no, implore you to be that change–live the Habitudes that you wish your students to embody.”
So in that spirit, I open the discussion here. As most of us begin our winter breaks and have a time of reflection before the new year, I hope you’ll find a moment to share your thoughts about the Habitudes:
What are some ways you actively foster imagination and passion in your students? Do you consider the Habitudes ’21st century skills’? In an era that’s also known for accountability (what’s measured gets taught), how do you balance district mandates on instruction with the real-life need for creative thinkers? Do you think Habitudes instruction should be mandated or does the change begin with teachers? What successes and disappointments have you experienced as you’ve tried new ways to prepare students for the challenges they’re facing?
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