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Turning Strangers Into A Community
I was excited to attend ASCD’s 71st Annual Conference and Exhibit Show in Atlanta this year. The conference promised to provide opportunities to meet and learn from other educators who were committed to the highest standards in professional practice. I was also excited about two of the general session presenters: Manny Scott, one of the original Freedom Writers, and Carol Dweck, the pioneer of the growth mindset. The weekend seemed almost too good to be true.
The Power of the Turn and Talk
All of the sessions I went to were good and I left with many ideas to add to my practice. Two of the most memorable sessions were “Mythbusting Differentiation: Eight Solutions to Make Differentiation a Reality” by John McCarthy and “Grit, Mindset, and Determination: The Keys to Academic Perseverance” by Jeffrey Benson. What made these sessions special was the excellent pedagogy the presenters used.
The cornerstone of each of those panels was the use of the turn and talk. I have used it to positive effect in my classes before but being asked to participate myself reinforced the social aspect of the strategy in a way I had not expected. By the end of the session, I felt that I had not only learned great content but also gotten to know the people I turned and talked with. More than that, I felt that I had made friends.
The sessions that used the turn and talks also had more participation and questions from the attendees. Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Benson seemed to use more wait time – but it may also have been that the same amount of time felt longer because we had already processed the information and activated our knowledge.
I have seen this in my classes: the answers are better when I allow students to either turn and talk or think/write/pair/share before engaging in a whole class discussion. These two panels have reaffirmed the power of the turn and talk strategy and have committed me to using it more in my own practice.
Relationships Come First
Another great session I attended was “Restorative Practices: Better than Sticks and Carrots for Addressing Problematic Behavior” by Dominique Smith and Nancy Frey. I had heard of “restorative justice” and seen advertisements for PD on it but I knew little about it. I took this opportunity to learn more.
They had one of the most profound slides of the entire conference:
⇒ If a child can’t read, we teach him to read.
⇒ If a child can’t do math problems, we teach him how to do math problems.
⇒ If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we punish him.
Before that session, I have to admit, I felt conflicted about the various pushes to teach students classroom rules and procedures. Part of me asked, “Shouldn’t they just know?” Another part thought, “Do I really have time for this with all I have to cover?” That slide reframed the conversation for me. They further reinforced why it is important to review and reestablish those rules and procedures especially after school vacations.
I have already adapted one strategy from that session. Mr. Smith and Ms. Frey talked about their school’s Grit Letters. When students struggle and persevere, they receive a handwritten notes from the administration praising their effort and their eventual success. I am an inclusion teacher and I have been trying to foster grit and growth mindsets in my students. I bought 13 postcards at the airport in Atlanta, one for each of the students in my resource class, and wrote each student a note about their effort and their growth since September.
I knew the strategy worked instantly. “Oh, man!” one of my students shouted out, “Mr. Kos, Imma put this on my wall tonight!” He carried the postcard with him for the rest of the day.
The ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show was bigger than I had imagined it would be. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people there. I was not as successful at meeting new people at the conference as I had hoped to be.
I see an opportunity here for MASCD and other state chapters. Next year, I hope MASCD hosts a meetup. I could also see MASCD partnering with all the states in the Northeast Region for a regional meetup. I would have gladly attended such events during free times at the conference or in the evening.
The conference was incredible. I am looking forward to attending next year and adding still more strategies to my repertoire. And I will be looking to meet other educators from MASCD and the Northeast.
Matthew Koslowski is an 8th-grade inclusion teacher for English and Math in Lynn, MA, and a former Student Chapter Representative to the Massachusetts ASCD Board.