U-Turn Teaching: Strategies to Accelerate Learning and Transform Middle School Achievement


Rich Allen & Jenn Currie

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  • Back Matter
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  • Dedication

    Rich Allen dedicates this book to those people who prompted the key

    U-Turns that put him on his present professional path:

    Linda Brown, Dave Edwards, Eric Jensen, and Don Freeman.

    Jenn Currie dedicates this book …

    To my students ~ past, present and future; you are the reason for my U-Turn.

    To my mom and Dave ~ for your unconditional love, support, and encouragement through this exciting journey.

    To my husband, Scott ~ for your patience, tolerance, and understanding as I took so much time away from ‘us’ to pursue this dream. I know it wasn't always easy taking the backseat as I tap, tap, tapped away upstairs. And, ultimately, I want to thank you for your dependable encouragement and support. You never doubted my ability, even when I often did. For that, I am grateful.

    To my dearest friends Chris Straub and Darlene Waldorf ~ your unwavering support over the last nine years has been a HUGE contributing factor to my success. Thank you so much for listening to my rants and raves, your shoulders to cry on, your laughter that fills my soul, and your brilliant brains to pick. I'm so indebted to you!


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    Foreword: The Story of Jenn

    Seven years ago, Jenn Currie—a middle school teacher of nine years—was close to burning out. Exasperated with state mandates and exhausted by unmotivated, disrespectful students, she was about to throw in the teaching towel. But then she discovered the theories behind brain-based learning and began to understand why her classroom was so chaotic and unproductive. She realized her traditional teaching strategies weren't creating conditions that help the human brain to take in, process, and remember information—in fact, the way she was teaching was sometimes actually hindering the learning process.

    This revelation was the catalyst for Jenn to make a U-turn in her teaching practice. Starting from scratch, she has developed a radically different TEAM-based approach to teaching founded on Dr. Rich Allen's Green Light education strategies. In Jenn's new classroom format, every activity and strategy is designed to proactively support learning—and the results have been phenomenal.

    Her rural, low socioeconomic, push-in classroom is now significantly outperforming all others in Grades 4–8 in her district, with students consistently scoring well above average on state assessment testing. From being a battleground, Jenn's classroom has done a complete U-turn to become a dynamic, collaborative environment where students are deeply engaged in learning while working in teams.

    Moreover, Jenn's new strategies have virtually eliminated behavioral problems, enabling her to spend more time actually teaching, to the extent that she is able to complete the required state content standards ahead of schedule. Her classroom is a well-oiled machine where students trust, encourage, accept, and motivate each other to the point where they take responsibility for their own learning and that of others. As their teacher, Jenn's role has morphed into that of a coach—guiding and encouraging from the sidelines to strengthen the learning process.

    This dramatic, cultural shift has instilled a love of learning in her students. Jenn's foundational methodology leads to student success both in and out of the classroom. Her students aren't just academic achievers; their new classroom culture turns them into self-reliant, considerate, hardworking citizens. Previously disinterested, unmotivated, and disruptive middle school students—who arrived with thick files and warnings from other teachers—now love school and are achieving beyond their and their parents' wildest dreams.

    Finally, Jenn's teaching U-turn has reignited her love of teaching. She now positively looks forward to having difficult students in her class, confident that she holds the keys to unlocking their potential.

    This book is designed to help other middle school teachers replicate Jenn's strategies and results in their classrooms. Jenn and Rich hope you have the courage to try something different and make a U-turn in your teaching—in the process, creating life changing moments for you and your students.

    Who am I?

    I am the one person who always greets them with a smile.

    I am the person who cheers loudest when they succeed.

    I am the person they trust to catch them when they fall.

    I am the person who will not let them fail.

    I am the person who believes in them.

    I am … their teacher.

    —Jenn Currie


    The authors wish to thank the following people, our highly experienced project team, for their deeply valuable contributions to the development of this manuscript:

    • Karen Pryor, editor—for once again giving so much of her time, energy, and brilliant writing insights to all aspects of this manuscript. If this book makes sense and is useful to our readers, a great deal of that comes down to you and your wonderful way with words. Thank you, over and over.
    • Wayne Logue, illustrator—for once again adding that critical extra layer of visual impact, which is so essential to communicating our message. We love sharing with the world your inspired, stimulating, and creative images, and we are deeply grateful to have had the honor of working with you. Thank you.
    • Cheryl Dick, researcher—for once again helping us connect the dots, bringing together our ideas and the research that validates them. Without you, they would have been simply whimsical notions floating freely in the wind. With you, they have been grounded in what truly works in education. Thank you.
    Publisher's Acknowledgments

    Corwin wishes to acknowledge the following peer reviewers for their editorial insight and guidance.

    Ellen E. Coulson

    7th grade U.S. history teacher

    Sig Rogich Middle School

    Las Vegas, NV

    Jane Hunn

    8th grade general science teacher

    Tippecanoe Valley Middle School

    Akron, IN

    Gayla LeMay

    Middle school teacher

    Louise Radloff Middle School

    Duluth, GA

    Tanya Marcinkewicz

    6th grade science teacher

    P. S. du Pont Middle School

    Wilmington, DE

    About the Authors

    Rich Allen, PhD, is a highly regarded educator with more than 25 years experience coaching teachers. Founder and president of Green Light Education, he is the author of numerous popular educational books, including most recently: Sparking Student Synapses 9–12: Think Critically and Accelerate Learning (2012); High Five Teaching K–5: Using Green Light Strategies to Create Dynamic, Student-Focused Classrooms (2011); High-Impact Teaching Strategies for the ‘XYZ’ Era of Education (2010); Green Light Classrooms: Teaching Techniques That Accelerate Learning (2008); and TrainSmart: Effective Trainings Every Time (2nd ed.) (2008). He has shared his dynamic instructional strategies not only in the United States and Canada, but also in such diverse countries as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Russia, Jordan, and Brazil. Dr. Allen is also a popular keynote speaker at international education conferences and works with schools and school districts to embed effective teaching methods into mainstream curriculum.

    Dr. Allen first took to the stage as an off-Broadway actor before starting his educational career as a high school math and drama teacher. In 1985, he became a lead facilitator for SuperCamp—an accelerated learning program for teens—and has since worked with more than 25,000 students worldwide. Dr. Allen completed his doctorate in educational psychology at Arizona State University, where he studied how the human brain receives, processes, and recalls information—knowledge that informs all aspects of his teaching strategies. The author divides his time between his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands on the sun-kissed paradise of St Croix, and his wife's home in Sydney, Australia, where he is learning to be a step-dad to two amazing young women. He can be reached at his email address: rich@drrichallen.com.

    Jenn Currie has been teaching in the Commodore Perry School District for over 15 years, working largely with adolescents in Grades 4–6. Since discovering brain-based learning strategies in 2005, Jenn has consistently helped problem students achieve their first-ever academic successes. Her work has been recognized formally, as Teacher of the Year in 2008, 2011, and 2012, and informally through numerous letters from her students, their parents, and administrators.

    After seeing powerful results in her own classroom, Jenn has become a staunch advocate of supporting student success through best practices and brain research. She has taken an increased role in professional development: facilitating workshops for parents, mentoring beginning teachers, leading professional study groups, as well as running in-service trainings at various school districts, universities, and state conferences. Since 2009, she has led a continuing education course entitled, “The Winning Combination: Linking Brain Research with Practical Classroom Strategies.”

    Jenn earned her BS and MEd in elementary education from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania and is currently pursuing a doctoral program in teaching and learning. Despite having taught for nearly two decades, she continues to delight in the challenge of showing every student that they can succeed.

    Along with her husband, Scott, and their canine companion, Maggie, Jenn lives in the small, rural town of Greenville, Pennsylvania. Together they enjoy cooking and spending time in the great outdoors hiking, four-wheeling, and horseback riding. She may be reached at jenncurrie@verizon.net.

  • Appendix


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    CORWIN: A SAGE Company

    The Corwin logo—a raven striding across an open book—represents the union of courage and learning. Corwin is committed to improving education for all learners by publishing books and other professional development resources for those serving the field of PreK–12 education. By providing practical, hands-on materials, Corwin continues to carry out the promise of its motto: “Helping Educators Do Their Work Better.”

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