Sparking Student Synapses 9–12: Think Critically and Accelerate Learning
Publication Year: 2012
Engaging methods for teaching 21st-century skills
Today's students must be more than good test takers. They must be able to collaborate, innovate, and think critically to solve real-world problems. As content demands increase, how can teachers make time to teach these advanced skills? Sparking Student Synapses, Grades 9–12 describes how master teacher Nigel Scozzi used Rich Allen's Green Light strategies to teach content in a memorable and efficient way. Backed by research, this practical guide provides secondary teachers with tried and trusted lesson plans, in multiple subject that: Engage students; Accelerate learning; Encourage critical thinking; Improve test results
When you apply the book's effective strategies, your students will learn to make appropriate judgments based on the evidence available, understand relationships between ideas, evaluate content validity, and reflect ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: The Rise of Critical Thinking
- Accelerating Core Content Learning
- Defining Critical Thinking
- The Overtesting Plague
- A Starting Point
- How to Use This Book
- Why Bother?
- Chapter 2: The Process
- A Little Perspective
- Five Steps to Designing a Dynamic Lesson
- How Green Light Strategies Align with the Process
- Chapter 3: Translation Techniques
- Gaming Strategies
- Propping Up the Learning
- Chapter 4: Demonstration Lessons
- Isolate, Translate, Articulate, Replicate, and Criticate
- Chapter 5: Putting Power into the Delivery
- The Keys to Managing a Green Light Classroom
[Page ii]Rich Allen dedicates this book to …
My sister, Karen Walden, for meeting life's challenges with grace, dignity, and extraordinary courage.
Larry Walden, for holding her hand every step of the way.
Nigel Scozzi dedicates this book to …
My ever-proud parents.
An early mentor, Mr. Bob Grant, for his confidence in me.
My principal, Dr. Tim Wright, for challenging all of his staff to constantly question how we teach, and for supporting my professional development with Eric Jensen and Dr. Rich Allen, whose influence continues to inform my teaching.
The amazing staff at Shore school, for their willingness to experiment. (Keeping it real—it's a Shore thing!)
My Geography staff, for their encouragement—I have a great admiration for you.
My two children, Jye and Priscilla, for being the examples of why I love teaching and for always asking questions.
And, finally, my beautiful wife, Danielle, for your saintly patience and love.
Copyright © 2012 by Corwin
All rights reserved. When forms and sample documents are included, their use is authorized only by educators, local school sites, and/or noncommercial or nonprofit entities that have purchased the book. Except for that usage, no part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
All trade names and trademarks recited, referenced, or reflected herein are the property of their respective owners who retain all rights thereto.
Cartoons on pages 2, 8, 10, 18, 20, 21, 23, 28, 38, 52, 56, 60, 69, 73, 81, 93, 104, 107, 119, 124 © Green Light Education, LLC. Used by permission.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Allen, Richard, 1957 Sept. 28-
Sparking student synapses, grades 9–12 : think criticaly and accelerate learning / Rich Allen and Nigel Scozzi.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4129-9114-8 (pbk.)
1. Critical thinking—Study and teaching (Secondary)—United States. I. Scozzi, Nigel. II. Title.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
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Foreword: The Story of Nigel[Page vii]
This book is a practical guide to help high school educators adapt to a curriculum with an increasing focus on critical thinking. The following story explains how it came to be written and what it covers.
In many ways, Shore School is a dream teaching assignment. It stands on a hilltop in the heart of Sydney, Australia. Walking around its manicured, century-old grounds, you glimpse magnificent views of Sydney harbor. The boys at this private school wear gray suits and old-fashioned straw boater hats. They stand respectfully when a teacher or visitor enters the room; they call their teachers Sir and Miss.
Yet, despite excellent facilities and well-mannered students, Shore has the same basic educational challenges facing every other high school in the developed world: How do you keep digital natives engaged? How do you keep up with the demands of a new and constantly changing curriculum? How do you balance the need to sustain your scores in state-based testing with your goal of delivering a well-rounded education?
In 2006, the biggest challenge facing Shore's Head of Geography, Nigel Scozzi, was the following: How do you deal with the shift in high school curriculum toward critical thinking? State tests were increasingly asking questions that required more than rote learning—students were required to demonstrate that they could think about and apply the knowledge in different contexts. In Nigel's experience, it was as much as his department could do to get students to simply learn all the content—when would they possibly find time to teach the students to think critically about the new information?
[Page viii]With this question at the back of his mind, Nigel attended a brain-based teaching conference in Australia, where Eric Jensen's keynote on “teaching with the brain in mind” was a revelation. For the first time, Nigel heard about smarter, more purposeful teaching strategies—based on how the brain takes in, processes, and remembers information—that could reach a greater number of students faster! Intrigued, he signed up for a 5-day practical course with Jensen Learning in San Diego, led by Dr. Rich Allen.
After a week of learning how to incorporate movement, music, positive emotions, conversation, and memory strategies into his teaching practice, Nigel returned to Australia and rewrote his department's lessons. Taking a fundamentally new approach, he deliberately used what Rich called Green Light teaching strategies, including engagement and memorization techniques, to quickly create student understanding and recall of the topic's core content. His theory was that if he could accelerate the process of getting students to grasp and remember the core content, it would be much easier to build on this foundational understanding and guide his students to develop and demonstrate the critical thinking required in state-based testing.
This is why, three years ago, Nigel's students found themselves attending a very different type of geography lesson. Rather than sitting quietly, listening to lectures and working from the textbook, students were given challenges that got them up, moving, talking, laughing, and thinking. Every lesson had a sound track. Nigel frequently arrived brandishing props or in storytelling mode. Students competed in games based on TV programs or popular sports. And then, once every student had a firm grasp on the core information, they were challenged to think critically about it—to develop lines of reasoning, to test ideas against their own values, and to understand how content related to the real world.
From the students' perspective, the change was met with wholesale enthusiasm. Student surveys mandated by the school revealed overwhelmingly positive feedback—no one was ever bored in geography! As word spread, geography, previously not one of the most popular elective subjects, was inundated with applications. Today, the Shore Geography Department has the highest retention rate of any school in the state; an astonishing 40% of students choose to continue to study geography as an elective subject through their senior year.
Of course, although student enthusiasm for learning is an important measure of educational success, it is not the one that counts in today's educational systems. However, Nigel's new teaching strategy didn't just win over his students; it also delivered outstanding test results.
[Page ix]In 2009, Shore's geography students achieved an average 86.5 in Australia's High School Certificate examinations—12% above the state average and often substantially above their scores in other school subjects. In 2008 and 2009, three of the state's top 10 geography students came from Shore. Today, geography is one of the school's flagship departments, and Nigel has served as the Shore Mentor of Learning and Teaching.
This book came about as a result of Nigel's experience in the mentor's role. Because, as Nigel started to share his strategies throughout the school, he encountered a stumbling block. Although teachers were delighted with the lessons he created, they often struggled to develop lessons of their own. As Nigel says, “These are excellent, dedicated teachers, keen to embrace something new, yet they couldn't easily see how to transform traditional, lecture-based content into engaging lessons that would accelerate learning.”
To address this issue, Nigel developed a step-by-step process to turn any secondary content into an engaging and highly memorable lesson as well as techniques and practical tips to encourage students in the art of critical thinking. He also adapted a number of Rich Allen's Green Light strategies for the high school classroom to make each lesson more effective.
This book shares these proven processes and strategies with you. Although it also briefly explains the brain-based theories on which they are based, at its heart, it is a practical guide. This book's purpose is to encourage and support you in developing dynamic Green Light lessons that accelerate learning, empower critical thinking, and improve test results. Rich Allen and Nigel Scozzi hope you will have the courage to try out some of these ideas in your high school classroom.[Page x]
The authors wish to thank the following people for their vital contributions to the development of this manuscript:
- Karen Pryor, editor. Yes, you are an astonishingly talented editor, and yet you gave much, much more to this particular project. Thank you for all of the incredibly valuable things you added to every phrase of the writing process. This book truly stands as a testament to your ability to balance a wide variety of details while firmly holding in place the overarching vision. Again, thank you.
- Wayne Logue, illustrator. Your images have never been more powerful and evocative over the course of our 20-year collaboration than they are here. Thank you for adding that critical extra layer of visual impact, which is so vital to so many of our readers.
- Cheryl Dick, researcher. Your work throughout the growth of this project has been nothing less than inspirational. The credibility of this manuscript is very much a product of the work you did with us. For that, we thank you!
We also thank the creative teachers who generously contributed the original ideas for the additional lessons to this book:
[Page xii]Publisher's Acknowledgments
- J. P. Friend
- Derrice Randall
- Rob Gulson
- Natasha Terry-Armstrong
- Joel C. Palmer
- John Tzantzaris
Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:
- Phil Martin
- Campbell High School
- Litchfield, NH
- Amanda McKee
- Mathematics Teacher
- Johnsonville High School
- Johnsonville, SC
- Michelle Strom, NBCT
- Middle School Language Arts Teacher
- Fort Riley Middle School
- Fort Riley, KS
About the Authors
Authors' Final Note[Page 141]
You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.—Martin Luther King
As authors, we cherish a fond fantasy that teachers will read this book and immediately change many aspects of their lessons, coming up with creative translation activities; letting students talk more; using memory strategies in every lesson; and prompting and modeling critical thinking.
However, we are also well aware of the extreme challenges facing high school educators. Many secondary teachers do not have their own classrooms. Others battle serious, and often frightening, behavioral issues. Most are responsible for many additional activities beyond their own curriculum. Few have enough preparation time. Under these circumstances, we know that making the time and effort to change your teaching strategies seems overwhelming, even if you can see the possibilities in changing your approach. As secondary teachers ourselves, we both fully understand the yawning chasm between thinking “That's a good idea” and actually going through the pain of doing something different.
Therefore, our more realistic hope for you, our reader, is simply this:
Act on what makes sense to you.
In other words, if, when you were reading this book and the sample lessons it contains, something struck you as a potentially useful idea, that's where you should begin. Rather than attempting to make multiple, simultaneous changes to your teaching style, it might be [Page 142]good to begin by doing something as simple as adjusting the physical arrangement of your classroom, with the goal of prompting more student interaction. Or you might add a very deliberate memory strategy into those topics that, in the past, your students have struggled to understand. Or you could include one or two critical thinking questions in your lessons each week.
Act on what makes sense to you, and watch to see if these small changes bear fruit. Are your students learning new material faster, remembering it longer, and performing better on tests? Are they more engaged in your classroom? Are they thinking more deeply about your content?
Once you see one strategy working, perhaps you'll be inspired to come back and choose another one to try out. In this way, over time—even in the complex, convoluted, and challenging world of secondary teaching—you really can create positive, valuable, and lasting change in your classroom. Taking that first small step forward can lead you rapidly—perhaps much more rapidly than you thought—toward becoming a Green Light teacher, making your classroom an even more successful learning environment.
Whether your journey toward Green Light teaching starts with one small step or a dramatic leap three at a time up the staircase, we'd be delighted to hear about your experience. Please send any Green Light stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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