Tag Archives: k-12

+ Improv Can Be a Gift for Atypical (& Typical) Students

By Linda Flanagan

Long before Amy Poehler became famous for her comic roles as Hillary Clinton on “Saturday Night Live,” and as indefatigable bureaucrat Leslie Knope on “Parks and Recreation,” she was a college freshman looking for something to do outside class. During her first week on campus, she auditioned for the school’s improvisational theater group, “My Mother’s Fleabag,” and discovered a passion. “Everyone was getting to act and be funny and write and direct and edit all at the same time,” she writes in her memoir, Yes, Please. “My college life sort of exploded in happiness,” she adds.

What Poehler found liberating as a performer — the free-wheeling, creative and judgment-free nature of improv — is what makes it an appealing way to learn.

Improvisation is well-known as comedy and entertainment, but during the past decade it has grown as a method of teaching and learning as well, says Robert Kulhan, adjunct professor of business administration at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, and CEO of Business Improvisations. Today, improv is offered in the theater departments of many colleges and some high schools, according to Kulhan. As well, improv troupes around the country offer short workshops to school kids on specific subjects, and teach the basics of the art form in afterschool programs and summer camps. ImprovBoston, a 30-year old nonprofit comedy theater, sends staff into local schools to perform assemblies and share the fundamentals of improv to teachers and students.

The first rule of improvisation is “yes, and,” meaning that anyone’s contribution to the group discussion is accepted without judgment. “We always talk about the four ‘c’s of improv: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication,” says Deana Criess, director of ImprovBoston’s National Touring Company, about how she teaches the form to seventh-graders. To persuade students to abandon their fear of mistakes, she insists on unconditional support to all answers, then works to build trust among the group and invite risk-taking. “Once we have confidence in our ideas and in our teammates, we can free ourselves up to have fun,” she says. “So support, trust, risk, confidence and fun. That’s what improv is all about,” Criess says.

Improv enthusiasts rave about its educational value. Not only does it hone communication and public speaking skills, it also stimulates fast thinking and engagement with ideas. On a deeper level, improv chips away at mental barriers that block creative thinking — that internal editor who crosses out every word before it appears on a page — and rewards spontaneous, intuitive responses, Criess says. Because improv depends on the group providing categorical support for every answer, participants also grow in confidence and feel more connected to others.

“It’s one of the few opportunities they have to truly create something, and have a voice that isn’t prescribed for them,” Criess says about students engaged in an improv exercise. And the form’s imperative to be fully “in the zone,” as Kulhan puts it, is a rebellion against the interruptions and distractions of our modern, high-tech lives.

Improv is especially beneficial for atypical kids, no matter their stripe. It helps children with learning and physical disabilities develop a sense of play, and enables the socially awkward intellectual to socialize more easily, Kulhan explains. Run-of-the-mill introverts, who might be reluctant to raise their hands or audition for the play, also gain from the experience, Criess says. When they know they’ll be supported no matter their answer, introspective kids thrive. “Introverts give improv its richness,” she says, adding that many improv instructors identify themselves as introverts.

Facilitators at the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education's Big Ideas Fest 2014 conveyed the improv mindset for solving problems and learning new ideas.

And improv is liberating for those in fields like science, where emotional detachment is critical for success. The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University offers a graduate course on improv to help emerging scientists convey their ideas without resorting to textbook speak or one-sided lectures. “Improv helps the scientist re-engage with their own passions in their work, get out of their head and connected to the needs of the listener, be able to respond more freely, spontaneously and flexibly,” says Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, the improvisation coordinator at Stony Brook.

A Student’s Perspective

Lilly Hartman, now a junior at Brookline High School in Brookline, Massachusetts, took her first improv class in eighth grade, and remembers thinking it seemed cool but kind of nerve-wracking. Her first few times on stage she felt anxious about what her peers would think of her, worrying that she might do something foolish or embarrassing. But the more times Hartman did it, the less self-conscious she became, and the quicker she began to trust her own ideas and to think on her feet. “It’s about deciding to go with the flow and acting on what’s around you, and making decisions based on that,” she says. “And then feeling good about those decisions,” she adds.

Unlike the classroom, where the learning environment is often tense and competitive, an improv setting builds enthusiasm among the participants, Hartman explained. “When you’re performing, it’s not competitive,” she says, and the trust that the performers build with one another is rewarding in itself. Acknowledging that math and English classes teach important skills, Hartman says that her improv work has been more personally transformative. “Improv helps you change on the inside,” she says. Without it, “I would be a more scared and quiet person,” she says. In fact, she adds, “I wouldn’t be the same person.”

Improvisation Exercises

Improv works cumulatively, so that a group ordinarily starts with a simple task and moves on to more challenging assignments once they’ve loosened up and begun to trust one another. Kulhan offers these two simple introductory examples:

One-Word Story: In this exercise, a group of individuals tells a cohesive story one word at a time. It starts when one person says a single word, and unfolds when someone else in the group offers up another word. Groups can do this in circles, so the participants know when it’s their turn to talk, or at the will of the teacher, adding a randomness to the exercise. The improvising continues until the group has created a story. “It takes a lot of focus, concentration, adaptability, flexibility, attentive listening, etc., just to create a single sentence … let alone a whole story,” Kulhan says.

Conducted Story: This is more advanced than the one-word story. Here, participants form a line with the teacher up front, who behaves like the conductor of a line orchestra. When the conductor points to a student, that person talks for as long as the conductor remains pointing — perhaps just a couple of words, or maybe a few sentences. But as soon as the conductor turns to another student, the first talker must stop immediately and allow the second speaker to take over the narrative. The conductor moves haphazardly, forward and back through the line, lending even more unexpected twists to the story.

Variations of improv are also useful in helping revitalize a sleepy or distracted class or to introduce more proactive kinds of learning:

Shakeout Exercise: Together, the teacher and class stand at their desks and count backward from eight to one — then seven to one, and six to one, etc. — saying the number out loud as if it’s the most important word they’ve ever heard. While counting, they also shake their right hands in keeping with the number. Then they do the same series of countdowns while moving their left hand, then their right leg, and finally their left leg. “It’s superpowerful,” says Criess, “and doing it together can teach kids and adults it’s OK to look foolish in front of each other.”

Living Wax Museum/Historical Talk Show: Students pick an important historical figure to research, and later “become” that person, improvising answers to questions posed by fellow classmates, visiting parents or the talk-show “host”.

An Aid for Teachers and Schools

Inviting kids of all types to engage together in improv exercises reinforces the values that most schools seek, Criess says. With its emphasis on support and acceptance of all ideas, improv’s “yes, and” code penetrates social tribes and teaches kids to see the positive in their peers, creating a healthier climate at school. “It helps kids be positive community members,” she says.

Facilitators at ISKME's Big Ideas Fest 2014 conveyed the "Yes, and" mindset for solving problems and learning new ideas.
Training in improv may help teachers be more effective as well. Criess began learning improv while working in a preschool for children on the autism spectrum, and found herself applying the lessons from theater to the class. “What I was doing there with adults is exactly what these kids needed,” she says. Improv class helped her work with the kids on their level rather than according to a preconceived idea about what they needed to know.

It also reminds teachers that listening and responding to students, and adapting to their needs, is more educational than obeying a rigid teaching plan, Kulhan explains. “It’s communication based on observation, collaboration, and not teaching with blinders on,” he says. Teachers might also find that kids are energized and more attentive after engaging in simple improv exercises that induce everyone to look ridiculous together.

But does “yes, and” diminish one’s ability to think critically? Are there limits to all the right answers? “Improv says yes to the idea of ideas,” Criess says. Not every original thought will turn into the next invention, but offshoots of that first idea may lead to better ones, she explains. “Let’s agree to have ideas,” she says. “And set up a culture where risks are encouraged, and greeted positively and with respect.”

Linda Flanagan — source http://blogs/kqed.org/mindshift

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com



+ New Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy

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In the ASCD publication Educational Leadership, Sandra Alberti explains the shifts that arrive with the Common Core State Standards.

The English Language Arts and Literacy Standards involve expectations in reading, writing, speaking and listening.  These apply in English language arts as well as in science, social studies, and technical subjects.  Students must be ready for college and career by the end of high school, so it’s not enough to simply address literacy skills.  The new standards consider texts to which students must apply these skills.

There are three key shifts in these standards.

1.Building Knowledge Through Content-Rich Nonfiction

Later reading growth and achievement means that students in elementary school need to read content-rich  nonfiction in history, social studies, science, and the arts.  They must be grounded in information about the world around them if they are to develop the strong general knowledge and vocabulary they will need to become successful readers. Nonfiction reading builds students’ content knowledge.

Currently, fewer than 10% of elementary English arts texts are nonfiction.

Shifting to building knowledge from content-rich nonfiction does not mean disregarding literature.  The standards celebrate the role literature plays in building knowledge and creativity.  Teachers must include rich literature as well as content-rich nonfiction in elementary school.

In later grades, history, social studies, and science teachers will equip students with skills needed to to read and gain information from from content specific  nonfiction texts.  Such texts are a powerful vehicle  for learning content. Students build skills in the careful reading of a variety of texts such as the primary documents in a social studies class or descriptions of scientific observations in a science class.

2. Reading and Writing Grounded in Evidence

The new standards emphasize the use of evidence from texts to present careful analyses, clear information and well-defended claims.  The standards prioritize questionsing that requires students to read texts with care, rather than asking them to respond to questions that they can only answer from prior knowledge  or experience.  Unlike low-level “search and find” questions, quality text-based questions require close reading and a deep understanding of the text.

The standards also require narrative writing all through the grades.  Such writing enables students to develop a command of sequence and detail that is essential in later grades, when the emphasis is on argumentative and informative writing.  This focus, on evidence-based writing and speaking in the service of information and persuasion, is a significant shift.  Currently, the most popular form of writing in K-12 draws from student experience and opinion; this method alone does not prepare students for the demands of college and career.

3. Regular Practice with Complex Texts and Academic Language

These new standards focus on text complexity.  The ability to comprehend complex texts is the most significant factor differentiating college-ready from non-college-ready readers.  The standards include a staircase of assigned texts that increase in complexity.

Text complexity is determined by a number of factors.  Two of those factors are syntax and vocabulary.  In order to understand complex materials, students need support in developing the key academic vocabulary common to those texts.  These are words that commonly appear across genres and content areas essential for understanding most informational text — words such as ignite, commit, dedicate.  The shift toward complex text means teachers must provide practice; they must support students through deliberate close reading.

Source: Sandra Alberti’s article in Educational Leadership, a publication of ASCD, December 2012.  Alberti is director of State and District Partnerships and Professional Development for Student Achievement Partners.

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com. 

+ Helping Students Set Goals

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 An article in the Wall Street Journal by Sue Shellenbarger reports that a student’s ability to set and reach realistic goals is clearly linked to higher grades as well as lower college dropout rates and adult well-being.

Shellenbarger cites a recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology

The researchers asked college students to complete an intensive written exercise in which they had to identify goals, and also map out steps to reach them.   These students posted a significant increase in grades as well as credit earned, compared with other students.

But students in the US, according to a Gallup poll last year, lack faith in their ability to reach goals.  Children begin to form ideas about what they might or might not achieve by the age of seven or eight.  

But the poll found that only 42% of students ages 10 to 18 say they are energetically pursuing their goals.  And only 35 % believe they could find ways around obstacles to their goals.

Students may struggle with this skill, writes Shellenbarger, partly because schools focus more on raising test scores or lowering dropout rates than on helping kids learn about setting and achieving goals.

Now, however, more and more states are mandating career planning for all students.  Goal setting is drawing increasing attention.

To help students remember the steps, schools often use the acronym SMART.  Goals must be

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Results (clear)
  • Time frame (set)

The concept of “Smart” goal-setting came into use by project managers in business during the 1980s.  Around a decade ago, educators began to embrace it as a method to help administrators and teachers set their own goals.  Recently, school districts moved this goal-setting approach into the classroom

At Bruce Jenner High School in Texas, test scores and state ratings have risen in the three years since administrators began a goal-setting program. 

At the beginning of every year, students use their own test scores to identify specific, measurable learning goals.  It might be achieving a certain grade: the student will set a  target date for achieving it and break that big goal into smaller steps.  He will write down the skills he needs to learn, name specific strategies and resources he will use to overcome obstacles (perhaps, spending more time on homework).

And teachers will help him track his progress each quarter.

Jackson Sikes’s mother says he has not only benefitted in the classroom, but he is now applying his goal-setting skills on the baseball diamond.  And his coach praises his achievements.

Jackson asserts that the approach “taught me to out-do other people.  Even though they might be better physically, I think I might be a little better mentally.”   

For example, Shellenbarger notes that student Renee Lamarque set a goal: to learn to dance en pointe in ballet.

Renee strengthened her muscles even when not in ballet class, doing sit-ups and exercises.  She wrote that she would “do different jumps every class” and “practice balancing on her feet.” 

 She also focused on role-models whom she wants to emulate.  That kind of intrinsic motivation makes goal-setting work for kids, according to Anne Cozemius of Madison WI, who works with school districts on goal-setting.

Another student in Falls Church VA set a goal of getting straight A’s.  She gave up time with her friends; she stayed after class to re-take tests or ask for a teacher’s help.  She hit her mark.

Dominique Morisano is assistant professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, and author of the college goal-setting study.  She says that even when students cling to lofty ambitions, they sometimes set themselves up for failure.

They might say ‘I want to be a pediatrician,’ but they’re not attending school, they’re using drugs, they’re not taking care of themselves.

That can lead to hopelessness. 

A belief in one’s abilities to reach her goal is key to building a hopeful attitude, says Shane Lopez, a senior scientist in Omaha, who works for Gallup Inc.  A hopeful attitude is a high predictor of college success.

When David Schafer’s mother noticed that striving to compete with peers for high grades made him anxious, she encouraged him to set a different goal: making a traveling soccer team.

He failed his first tryout, but instead of giving up, he mapped out a new approach:  practicing at home, getting coaching and learning to visualize himself playing well.  He made the team for several years and his confidence bloomed.

David now knows that if he fails in some endeavor, there is always something else to strive for. 

What matters is the striving, writes Shellenbarger.  The striving instills a sense of mastery and confidence.  Says David, “If you aim to be No. 1 — even if you can’t achieve that in everything — you’re still going to do great.”

sole source: Sue Shellenbarger’s article in the Wall Street Journal on March 9, 2011.  http://www.wsj.com

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Contest: America’s Greenest School

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Show your classmates, teachers, parents and future generations you really care about the sustainability of the world we live in!  

Enter the 2010 America’s Greenest School Contest.  http://www.americasgreenestschool.com/

Your entry can be in the form of a photo collection, music, a video, an essay, or photos of a diorama, collage or piece of artwork.

But no matter what form it takes, it must tell the world how you’d make your school experience the greenest in the country.

The top 10 finalists will be chosen.  Then, all of America will be invited to vote for the ultimate champion.

Students of any age can enter (although a parent or teacher will need to sponsor students under 13 years of age).  Group or class entries are also encouraged.


For your school:

  • the amazing, clean, green IC Bus (Hybrid Bus);
  • school audit by LEED Professionals and Green Makeover
  • free concert by The Maine, the official band of America’s Greenest School

For you:

  • $3,000 scholarship for the winning student and/or classroom

For your teacher:

  • $500 in class supplies for the winning sponsor/teacher

For voters:

  • $100 Visa gift Card to a lucky voter every day during the voting period

You have until March 8, 2010 to submit your entry.


  • Entry period: January 18, 2010 – March 8, 2010
  • Judging period: March 9 – March 21
  • Finalist announcement: March 22
  • Public voting: March 22-April 2
  • Winner announcement: Week of April 21


No purchase necessary.  Open only to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia who are enrolled in a public or private school, not a home school, and between  the grades of Kindergarten through 12th grade.

Contest begins at 12:00pm ET January 18, 2010; it ends 11:59pm ET March 8, 2010.  Void where prohibited. 

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021  or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com  

+ Teacher Institutes from the Library of Congress

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If you’re interested in one day professional development opportunities, the Library of Congress has two for you: 

  • “Creating the US”  Teacher Institute 

Interested in learning strategies to teach about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, using the Library of Congress primary sources?  Register to attend this Institute and leave with strategies and materials you can use in your school.

The Institute uses the Library’s exhibition, “Creating the United States,” as its foundation.

Learn how to make this era in our country’s history come alive for students, using images, manuscripts, letters, photographs, maps, and poetry. 


  • “Exploring the Early Americas” Teacher Institute

Interested in learning strategies to teach about European explorers in the Americas? 

Want to know more about the indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica (Maya, Inca and Aztec)?

Explore the cartographic knowledge of the world in the sixteenth century.  You’ll be able to do all this and more by using the Library of Congress primary sources.  Register and leave with strategies and materials to use at your school.

This Institute uses as its foundation the Library’s exhibition “Exploring the Early Americas.”

Learn how to make this era in history come alive for your students using the Library’s images, manuscripts, letters, three-dimensional objects, and maps.


The Library of Congress has myriad resources and projects for teachers.  They will add you to its list of email subscribers, so you can find information relevant to your needs.  Visit http://www.LOC.gov

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Parent Conferences: More Tips for Teachers

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From The 2 Sisters at www.thedailycafe.com : they share tips from Trish Prentice.

  1. Give parents a photo of their child enjoying a school activity.  A twenty-five cent investment will pay big dividends and begin your conference on a positive note.
  2. Want a great way to show parents how special their child is to you?  Try saying something like “One of the things I love best about your child is…”
  3. Parent goals — if parents haven’t filled out a goal-setting sheet, ask “What are the goals you have for your child this year?”
  4. Assessment results:  explain in plain terms.  Don’t use educational jargon with parents.
  5. Share what you’ve started to envision for this child: appropriate goals, strategies to achieve them.  Even if there are only one or two things to say, parents will be impressed that you have considered their child at this level.  (Prentice has a system for teachers called a “Pensive,” a checklist of considerations about each child.) 
  6. If there is a problem that needs addressing, use the phrase “We’re continuing to work on…”
  7. Listen.  Encourage parents to share their thoughts too.
  8. Handouts — it can be hard for parents to absorb and remember everything you’re sharing.  Give them a packet to take home.  Include fun, hands-on activities that parents can do at home with their child.
  9. Always end each conference with an invitation for parents to call or email with questions at a later date.

Prentice reminds us that parents sit through only one (two or three?) conferences.  Teachers’ words matter and are replayed in their heads; they share them with neighbors.  So be thoughtful and kind. 

Be the teacher you’d want for your own child.

source: The 2 Sisters newsletter, “The Daily Cafe” at www.thedailycafe.com .  This piece is available to members only, however.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Writing: Teach Strategies and Self Monitoring Directly

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A great article in IDA Perspectives (Summer 2009) by Linda H Mason.  Here are some highlights of “Effective Instruction for Written Expression.”

Mason bases the advice on the instructional approach called S. R. S. D.: Self-Regulated Strategy Development.

Researchers have established that explicit instruction is necessary for  teaching strategies to students with learning challenges. 

They need direct  instruction and modeling in ways of generating ideas, organizing those ideas, and regulating writing behavior (self-regulation).

The stages for strategy acquisition are

  1. Develop/assess background knowledge relating to the writing content
  2. Discuss the strategy to be used (see below)
  3. Model it
  4. Memorize it
  5. Practice it with guidance
  6. Perform it independently

Include these steps in every strategy session.

The one Universal Strategy is called P O W  —

  • P (pick an idea
  • O (organize notes)  
  • W (write and say more).

Here are some specific strategies for three types of writing  (make charts): 

Story and Narrative Writing — think “W – W – W, What 2, How 2”

  • W……..Who is the main character?
  • W……..Where does the story take place?
  • W……..When does the story take place?
  • What…What does the main character do /want to do?
  • What…What happens next?
  • How….How does the story end?
  • How….How do the characters feel?

Persuasive Writingthink “TREE”

  • T……..Topic sentence: Tell what you believe!
  • R……..Reasons (3+): Why do I believe it; will my readers, too?
  • E……..Explain reasons:  Say more about each reason.
  • E……..Ending: Wrap it up right!

Informative Writingthink “PLAN then WRITE”

  • P………Pay attention to the writing prompt.
  • L………List main ideas to develop the essay.
  • A………Add supporting ideas (details, examples, etc).
  • N………Number major points in the order you will use them.


  • W………Work from your plan to develop thesis statement.
  • R……….Remember your goals.
  • I………..Include transition words for each paragraph.
  • T……….Try to use different kinds of sentences.
  • E……….Exciting, interesting, “$1,000” words.

Teaching Self-Regulation

 Explicit instruction in self-regulation should be embedded in every session. 

The four self-regulatory procedures are

  • goal setting
  • self monitoring
  • self instruction
  • self reinforcement

Goal Setting

First, students should be taught how to set personal, individual and specific goals for learning, using and maintaining the use of the strategy.

Use a learning contract to support goal setting: for example, “Today I will write a story with 7 parts.”  Do this every day.


Students self-monitor by counting the number of strategy parts they have written.  Use a chart or graphic organizer, and have the student count off what he has done.  When finished, have the students count to make sure all parts have been used.

Encourage the student to revise the papers to include any missing parts.  They might graph the number of strategy parts on a graphing sheet.

Students need to understand that self-monitoring is a process to use at every stage of their work.

Self Instruction

You should model self-instructions for problem definition.  For example, “I need to write a story with 7 parts.”  Focus on attention and planning (“First, I need to pick an idea“); strategy implementation (“I know what to do, I do the first strategy step“);  self evaluation (“Did I include all the strategy parts?“) coping (“I can do this, I know this strategy!”); and self reinforcement (“Wow, I can write a good story!”)

Self Reinforcement

After modeling, then  support the student in developing a listing of personal self-statement he can use before, during and after writing.  These personal self-statements are written out, so he can see them at any time.

Finally, teach your student to recognize his own successes in writing.  Often, the graphing sheet serves as an excellent self-reinforcement.  Here again, make a list and write out positive self-reinforcing statements: “I did it!”

sole source: Linda H Mason’s article “Effective Instruction for Written Expression” in the Summer 2009 “Perspectives on Lanuage and Literacy” magazine of the International Dyslexia Association.  See the entire article for detailed instructions on how to implement this approach.  IDA’s Web site is www.interdys.org

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com