Why the Student of the Future Needs to Write Well (Part 1)

Why the Student of the Future Needs to Write Well (Part 1)

This month, my friend and colleague, Megan Maxwell-Smith has written a brilliant guest post that I think will resonate with many of you. Megan, an online writing coach, shares why she thinks writing needs to be priority for our children’s education. (This is Part 1 in a two-part series).

As a formerly timid and lost learner, I greatly admire the student of the future.

This self-aware student makes intelligent use of educational hacks that fit her neuro-uniqueness. She is not beholden to bloated publishing conglomerates or static curriculum. She self advocates.

But one traditional skill that tomorrow’s student won’t have outgrown is writing.

Writing Shapes the Brain in Positive Ways

The student of the future needs the critical thinking skills that writing imparts. In a world of ever more input and the opportunity for instant reaction, she needs to be discerning and thoughtful.

Learning to write is learning to argue—and to take apart and evaluate arguments. The craft and practice of writing will teach tomorrow’s student to think deliberately, logically, deeply, and expansively.

The Internet Makes Writing More Important, Not Less

Movements and companies are born on the web. Our leaders, innovators, and gurus are the people who communicate consistently and clearly via Internet channels. They bring us the ideas and solutions we didn’t even know we were looking for. Their humor heals, their compassion inspires, and their dedication moves us forward, individually and collectively.

If the student of the future wants to lead, innovate, learn, cooperate, or experience her culture fully, she will need to be an active participant on the web. She will need to contribute her ideas through her writing.

Writing Opens More Doors in the New Economy

The student of the future will invent objects and processes no one has ever thought of before. She is also likely to invent many of the professional and social positions she holds. Her advancement will depend on effectively describing her unique experiences and getting others excited about what she’s done.

Whether she speaks in person, records herself, or uses print or digital media, the student of the future will have to write. Because, in a larger sense, writing means curating ideas and selecting words with care. It means revising and editing in a patient process, until one’s meaning is direct, graceful, and inviting.

This student’s ability to communicate will allow her to collaborate with, manage, inform, and inspire a workforce or a movement. Her writing is what will grab the attention of heads of companies or heads of state.

Storytelling Will Be One of the Most Valuable Skills of the Future

From cover letters and program applications, to clever tweets and well-chosen hashtags, writing tells our stories and establishes our personal brands.

The future will bring us an endless supply of More. More platforms. More participants. More noise. In order to stand out, the student of the future will need not more volume, but more individuality. She will need to be committed in her voice and confident in her style. What else but the regular practice of writing will do this for her?

Writing Is the Entry Point to Culture

Even as we’re hearing (in written articles!) that people read less and less, the number of writers is only growing. Writing is now for everyone. In every tone, on every topic. We are becoming a culture of writers. There is no longer any barrier to entry for publication.

To participate in her culture, the student of the future must read, write, and respond. Writing will give her entry to the ongoing dialectic of culture. It will allow her to evaluate what has come before her and to argue for what should come next. And that is a power that all students should possess.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series next month!

Oval head shot

Megan Maxwell-Smith is an online writing coach who specializes in making writing less stressful. She loves creating practical templates, outlines, and checklists so that students of all skill levels can successfully follow the writing process and adapt it to suit their unique learning styles. Her commitment is to helping students build skill and confidence in writing as they enjoy expressing themselves.

You can grab some of her free writing resources right here!

3 Things I Learned Teaching Online

3 Things I Learned Teaching Online

This week will conclude my first-semester teaching chemistry online for GHF Online. Up until recently, my online teaching experience was limited to working with students one-on-one. I quickly realized that teaching groups online is a whole other animal. An animal that I bonded with and grew to love deeply in a surprisingly short amount of time.

Each week I met with a group of about ten students who were excited to know more about chemistry. I’m proud to say we all learned a lot! The kids learned chemistry and hopefully about themselves as a learner. And I learned tons about myself as a teacher and chemist. If you are considering becoming an online teacher, or are thinking of enrolling your child in an online class, you may enjoy hearing about what I’ve learned in the last 16 weeks.

1. Everyone benefits from slowing down.
In an online classroom, inevitably, there is lag. It’s the nature of the technology. The class will wait while a document loads or while a student types an answer to a question. At first, I found this cumbersome and annoying; I thought for sure I was going to “lose” my audience. Then I realized that many of my students were using that time to digest whatever concepts we were covering, and this led to deeper questions and understanding. In fact, most of my students left each lesson understanding the day’s topics with an unexpected mastery. So awesome.

And I benefitted from the slower pace as well. I found time to carefully craft my feedback and the way in which I wanted to present a topic. I had the chance to deeply listen to my students and check for understanding. It was meditative and revelatory. I even thought about chemistry in new ways that I had not considered.

2. Education works best when everyone is involved — teacher, student, and parent.
Many of my students’ caregivers sat with them reading a book or doing their own work while their child took the class. This sort of coworking is awesome modeling of what it means to be an autonomous worker.

Each week I had detailed email interactions with the parents and guardians of my students. Among other things, we would discuss the flow of class, the topics covered, and the materials needed. Parents were able to check in with me in (almost) real-time to discuss their observation of the class. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so supported and free to just… teach. And my students were also well-supported and free to learn.

The positive feedback loop created by this back-and-forth carried us through the semester.  

3. It doesn’t have to be a one-way road; online learning can be very interactive.
I opened every lesson with a question that students are then asked to discuss. A question like, “How does water dissolve sugar?” or “Why is salt shaped like a cube”. If no one knew, and they rarely did, I asked them to make guesses, and I welcome ridiculous responses. This was a great strategy for prompting perfectionists who fear wrong answers.

In every class, each student was tasked to complete a test or experiment that reinforced the concepts covered. These activities brought an aliveness into the online classroom that benefitted everyone, and I can’t wait to make this process even more interactive and streamlined next year.

Of course, I didn’t only learn three things, but these are the biggies! And I’m ecstatic to announce that I’ll be teaching Food Science this summer and Introduction to Chemistry and Chem II next Fall. I hope you can join us for one of these; they’re going to be amazing.

Have you benefited  from having taught or learned in an online environment? What did you discover? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!

Using the Pomodoro Technique

Using the Pomodoro Technique

On the whole, humans are born into this world with a natural drive to explore and learn. Through observation and interaction, we absorb how to communicate our preferences and move our bodies. As our self-sufficiency increases, we search out problems to solve as we push the limits of our understanding as far as they can go.

Our accomplishments are celebrated when they occur, and (if we’re lucky) it’s understood that the adults in our lives will remain patient as we figure things out.  

Then we go to school, and everything changes.

Imagine that our learning is controlled by a metaphorical steering wheel. Up to school-age, for the most part, we’ve had pretty good control over what we learn and when. However, once we get to traditional school, the steering wheel (along with the stick shift, brake, and gas pedal) we’ve grown accustomed to controlling is taken over by a well-meaning adult who prescribes to us a path of study. Suddenly, we aren’t in the driver’s seat anymore, not even a little.

Although educational guidance is necessary and useful, this method of total adult control is not ideal for the young learner; it robs us of our ability to have independent thoughts and a connection to our intrinsic motivation. When a new student comes to me through a micro-school or for educational coaching, many times they do not have the self-connection to engage in deep, focused learning that is meaningful to them. The traditional school model has trained it out of them. Consequently, supporting a learner to have deeper focus is usually my first step in coaching a student with poor executive functioning skills or an aversion to focused or formal learning.

I help them by using a modified version of a simple method called the Pomodoro Technique. Created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s, the Pomodoro Technique uses a timer to manage work into bite-size pieces. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato; the technique is named for the ubiquitous tomato-shaped timer found in kitchens all over the world.     

This practice tasks the learner to focus for a predetermined length of time. When time is up, the learner rests for another length of time. They continue in this fashion until their task is done.

The original method defines a focus period of twenty-five minutes as ideal. Unsurprisingly, I hack the Pomodoro Technique to work for my students. For students just starting out, twenty-five minutes is usually too long of a stretch. Instead, I begin a student with five-minute work periods and five-minute breaks.      

When I first learned of this method, I was reluctant to use it. I worried that my sensitive students, particularly the ones who struggle with anxiety around timed activities, would stress out unnecessarily. I’ve found that this is very rarely the case. I explain to them that I’m not expecting them to finish anything in a certain amount of time; my request is that they make a good effort towards focusing.

This method isn’t only for kids! I use this method with nearly every blog post I write.
Inside our modern selves, there’s always a conflict raging. Do I focus on my high-minded goals of learning and personal development, or do I satisfy my craving for instant gratification by looking up what my hilarious and witty friends are doing on Facebook? With the Pomodoro Technique, you can do both!

Interested in learning more about the structures and techniques I found useful in my micro-school? My book, Micro-Schools: Creating Personalized Learning on a Budget is out now on GHF Press. And if you still want more, check out the Build Your Micro-School Summer Institute

Ready to Start Your Own Micro-School?

Ready to Start Your Own Micro-School?

Nearly every day since its publication on GHF Press, I have heard from readers how Micro-Schools: Creating Personalized Learning on a Budget has helped them see what is possible for their children. It’s been a humbling experience, and I’ve come to realize that some of you are ready to create an educational environment that is thoughtful, creative, and inclusive.

I’m excited to announce that I now offer The Build Your Micro-School Summer Institute. We cover everything you need to build your own micro-school – all in the 3 months before school would start!

Ten years ago, when I began leading and creating micro-schools, the number of decisions I had to make on my own was daunting. Needless to say, I made a lot of mistakes. I spent money on the wrong resources. I wasted time recruiting families that weren’t a fit. I had no idea there was a huge and welcoming community waiting for me online (with GHF)! 

I created this institute to save you from making those same mistakes. Your first micro-school is going to be a lot better than my first micro-school. I’m actually a little jealous of you! 

So much about starting a micro-school is unique to each person; I couldn’t possibly capture it all in one book. This course will allow a small group of us the space to work through our individual motivations and unique circumstances of starting a micro-school, while also covering key considerations and logistical challenges I’ve identified as crucial to micro-school success.

The Build Your Micro-School Summer Institute is a 3-month online course packed with guidance and information on creating your own innovative learning environment. Each week I’ll host live calls with Q&A, and I’ll have additional open office hours each month. Together we’ll set goals and create lists of outlined action steps. You’ll have lifetime, 24/7 access to a community of peers who share your dream.

We’ll work together through nine detailed and directive modules designed to help you:

  • Understand what your time and cost commitment will be
  • Develop a system to delegate responsibilities
  • Curate curriculum and resources in a way that works for your budget
  • Find your community through GHF and other outlets.

Head over to buildyourmicroschool.com to learn more about what I’m offering. Even if you’re not 100% sure that this program is for you, sign up for the waitlist to get more information, and feel free to send me a message with all of your questions and concerns. I’m happy to chat with you about how we can make the Build Your Micro-School Summer Institute work for you.

Education & The Sensitive Child

Education & The Sensitive Child

It could be said that all children are sensitive. New to this world, they are taking in vast amounts of data that as adults we’ve grown accustomed too. Asking tons of questions and exuding enthusiasm over what we experience as common. This could be one of the reasons people have children. To experience the world through fresh eyes and delight in the sense of wonderment that accompanies the novelty of life.

Yet there are some children that are wired to take in even more data, ask even more questions, and show even more enthusiasm. They have uncharacteristically strong reactions to environmental stimuli. More often than not, these children are gifted or twice-exceptional. A person’s tone or body language, a sad scene in a children’s film, and even the seams on a pair of socks can trigger huge reactions that can cause people to ask, “What’s wrong with that kid?”

Nothing is wrong with that kid, but something is different!

This difference is inherent, and requires a modification in educational environment and pedagogy. It’s up to the adults in these children’s lives to create educational environments that respect a child’s sensitivity so it can evolve into a strength. In fact, I’m of the opinion that sensitivity is innately a strength. It’s a lack of empathetic experiences that turns sensitivity into a dysfunction.

When a sensitive child’s needs are heard, seen and respected, they are likely to become some of the most effective individuals on the planet. Naturally predisposed to deep observation and understanding, these children are also more likely to have innovative insights and thoughtful contributions to our world.

This is not to say that if you do A, B, and C your classroom will magically become peaceful. There are proper diagnoses to consider, and a child’s home life, as well as other variables. The method of operation for this work is two steps forward and one step back. But hey, at least we’re taking steps!

An attempt to meet a child’s needs contributes far more than no attempt.

When working with my sensitive, gifted and twice-exceptional students, I’ve found that taking an authoritative stance works best. I have high standards that I back up with genuine warmth and a commitment to flexibility. I also attend to their needs for partnership and choice.

Before beginning a new unit of study I ask my students “What do you already know about this topic? What would you like to know? How would you like to demonstrate your knowledge?” I’m genuinely curious about the answers my students are willing to give, and I do my best to make sure I follow up on their requests. Sometimes their responses are unexpected. Or their requests aren’t doable. But I know that providing a space for my students to lend their voices goes far in promoting classroom peace.

Do your communication or teaching strategies accommodate your sensitive students? Homeschoolers, I want to hear from you too!

A Prescription for Progressive Education

A Prescription for Progressive Education

This month I’m proud to present to you a guest post from my friend, fellow writer, and gifted advocate Celi Trépanier. I think you’re going to love the metaphor she’s chosen to illustrate the worth of progressive education. I know I do!

Coughing, congestion and fever—symptoms that can send us to the doctor’s office, and so you go. You are ushered in and Dr. Stan Dardize’s nurse notes your symptoms and sends you to exam room 15. You open the door to a large room filled with about 25 other coughing, congested and feverish people. A stack of pre-filled, pre-scripted prescriptions is given to a nearby person by the nurse and told to pass one to each person in the room.

You and everyone else received the prescription for the same medication.

Then a second stack of papers titled “What to do for Cough, Congestion and Fever” are distributed—a list of of identical, standard behaviors meant to help you and all the others relieve symptoms of your illness. The bell rings and the nurse reminds you and all of the coughing, congested and feverish people in room 15 to fill your prescription, follow the given instructions and return exactly one week from today—all together—at the same time. She then shows you all the exit door and you file out coughing and shivering.

Ignoring preexisting conditions, not knowing what medications you are currently taking and disregarding any unidentified, co-existing conditions, the lot of you are treated the same, given the same instructions and expected to achieve the same results.

This one-size-fits-all approach to medicine is impersonal, clearly illogical and unthinkable. Treating every patient the same is sure to be ineffective, right? So, why do we educate our children this way?

Of course, the analogy above seems pretty absurd to us because we know all these patients are different despite the three common medical complaints of coughing, congestion and fever. We know there could be other medical factors that would make their medical treatment different from the other coughing, feverish patients in room 15.

Optimal, personalized and appropriate medical care should be a priority. And so should educating our children. It should be a priority.

Just like medical care, education is crucial for every person in order to have a sufficient quality of life. Education is needed to advance our world, solve our problems and bring about innovations. Shouldn’t it be personalized and not standardized?

Our traditional school system educates a group of students, the same-age, in one classroom, passively absorbing the same information, utilizing the same curriculum, but producing widely varied results. I imagine Dr. Stan Dardize’s coughing, congested and feverish patients, although treated with the same medical treatment, all had varying results—some got better, some got worse and some stayed the same.

These patients all expected to get well, not stay the same or get worse. As parents, isn’t this what we expect with education? For our children to do well? Not stagnate or fall behind?

Unlike traditional education, progressive or alternative education educates the whole child using methods and materials personally suited to that one child thus providing that child with the just-right tools to do well and to excel in his field of interest and talent.  Also, a progressive education teacher needs to have the space and freedom to develop personal relationships with her students so that she can create a personal education plan that suits the whole child.

Tailoring a child’s education to meet his unique needs and interests is better than a one-size-fits-all approach, and many traditional school teachers do try to individualize instruction, but it is next to impossible with the onslaught of standardization and grade-level expectations which are required of schools today.

When we consider how we learn in ordinary situations outside of a traditional school, it is so dissimilar to the ways we expect kids to learn in traditional school today. Helping our child learn to ride a bike, muddling through building a birdhouse, learning about a new travel destination, figuring out our new cell phone, understanding a friend’s political views—we read, discuss or just jump in and just do it. Learning in these situations is active, engaging and motivating which also helps us to retain the newly-learned skills and information. I don’t think memorization of isolated facts can claim any such retention of information.

Just because we’ve always done it this way does not make it the right way—not for every child.

About Celi: 

Celi TrépanierCeli Trépanier was born and raised in south Louisiana. She grew up with a strong Cajun French heritage, eventually married a French-Canadian, and has three wonderful sons. She currently resides in central Iowa with her husband and youngest son.

Celi has a vast and varied background in education. She received her B.S. from Loyola University in New Orleans and her M.Ed. from the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, then taught in Louisiana, Ontario, and Alabama, in public schools, private schools, and homeschool co-ops.

Celi became a passionate advocate for gifted children after tiring of her family’s painful battles with traditional schools and the misunderstanding and neglect of gifted students. Through adversity came her passion, her strength, and her voice. She advocates for the educational, emotional, and social needs of all gifted children, and her dream is for schools and society to one day understand the truths about giftedness in children. Her writing centers on her advocacy for gifted children and her own journey with her three gifted sons. Her emotional and sometimes pointed posts can be found on her website, Crushing Tall Poppies. You can follow Celi on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.