Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Many Virtues of String Tricks

More than five decades ago when I was a student, a 
classmate showed the well-known string trick
Jacob's Ladder to our class.  Several of us learned it
and showed it to our parents, surprised to learn that
they had all seen it when they were growing up.
Favorite recipes, love of reading, and holiday
traditions are not the only thing that's getting passed
along to the next generation.

But string tricks?  YES! For the last several years I
taught, I explored ways to integrate the teaching of 
simple string tricks into meaningful learning time.
Here is a sheet I prepared for parents so they would 
understand that there was a method to my madness
(I had to do that a lot!) and this wasn't just a frivolous
waste of time.  Read through (especially if you're a
parent or an educator) and see what you think.

I still believe those are all valid statements, and have
recently seen them reaffirmed in my own grandchildren.
Here are the tricks I offered to my school classes, sharing
them during break times.  Watching the learners become
teachers was perhaps the most gratifying aspect of this.

Each student had a list of these tricks so they could
keep a record of which ones they had mastered and
which ones they still aspired to learn.  The lists below
hung on the classroom wall for quick reference. In free
time before roll call and the pledge each morning, the
classroom was a laboratory of kids teaching kids and
begging for the newest tricks.  It was great!

String tricks are a great way to prevent boredom.  I 
allowed my students to take them to the playground
(though I made sure they had plenty of physical activity
as well) and on field trips.  These young ladies are
doing Jacob's Ladder on the way to the House in 
the Horseshoe.  We even showed string tricks to our
guides there, who acknowledged what a great example
of folk tradition the string tricks are.

During Thanksgiving, I decided to see if Brianna was
interested in learning Jacob's Ladder.  I always felt 
that age 8 or 9 was the appropriate readiness level
for both interest and manual dexterity.  She had it
mastered in 15 minutes and was doing it with her
eyes closed the next day.  Former students, does this
sound familiar?  Maybe it was YOU a few years back!

 All five of our grandchildren received strings during
Thanksgiving week and are excited about learning
more and more tricks.  I'll do some of the teaching
and so will they.  In fact, in the picture below you'll see
 that Hunter returned to Georgia as a "string missionary",
teaching his tricks to some attentive learners at his
basketball practice.  What a thrill to me!

If you're a former student, perhaps you remember 
doing string tricks.  If you've forgotten them all, you
can easily find them on-line.  There are youtube videos
that show the step-by-step as well as pictorial guides.
For grownups, there's an additional benefit I didn't
need for my school class (except at state testing time):

String tricks are the consummate stress reliever!
Cut you a string and give it a shot!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Biographies: Integrating History and Reading Naturally

More than 50 years ago, as a middle grade student 
at Skyland Elementary in Atlanta, I loved visiting the
school library.  I went through phases of reading
biographies, mysteries, then sports books. But I think
the biographies are my dearest memories, and certainly
helped kindle my lifelong interest in history.
Biographies are packed with adventure, discovery, and
larger-than-life characters.  But because they are real
people, they inspire the reader to dream and achieve.
I can think of no better medium to teach the important
lessons of the past while also fostering a love of reading.

The biographies at Skyland were part of an American
Heritage series called "Childhoods of Famous Americans."
The covers I recall were all the blue cloth-bound editions
like this one, copyright 1948.  Once I tasted the adventure,
I didn't care how old the books were, I dived in.

My luck at yard sales is as good as my luck
in all things-- the Loyd Luck, Judy calls it.
So over the years, I've been fortunate to adopt
a growing collection of these fine books, mostly
discarded from school libraries.  The book above
is the only one I have in that binding, and it has 
a nameplate in the front: it was a gift to a student.
It's actually in better condition than my newer ones.

Over 25 years ago I bought a dozen softback books
in the series at the Southern Pines library sale.
They were vintage 1963 editions. A few hardback
books I collected over the years are pictured with
them below.

Last Friday, in Camden, South Carolina,
I hit the jackpot once again. At forty cents a book,
I more than doubled my collection.  Out of the 22
 books I bought, only three were repeats of one I had.
(Can you find them?)

They are written in a style that would remind
you of Little House on the Prairie books and
Judy and I plan to read through the collection.
This one minute video gives you a closeup of
all the titles and subtitles.  Below the video, I
will also list all the books, authored by a wide
array of authors.

Jessie Fremont: Girl of Capitol Hill
Buffalo Bill: Boy of the Plains
DeWitt Clinton: Boy Builder
John Jacob Astor: Boy Trader
Dan Beard: Boy Scout
Carl Sandburg: Young Singing Poet
Julia Ward Howe: Girl of Old New York
Zach Taylor: Young Rough and Ready
Elias Howe: Inventive Boy
Katherine Lee Bates: Girl Poet
Stephen Foster: Boy Minstrel
Mary Mapes Dodge: Jolly Girl
Jed Smith: Young Western Explorer
Babe Didrikson: Girl Athlete
Frances Willard: Girl Crusader
Will Clark: Boy in Buckskins
Noah Webster: Boy of Words
David Farragut: Boy Midshipman
Maria Mitchell: Girl Astronomer
James Whitcomb Riley: Hoosier Boy
John Wannamaker: Boy Merchant
F. W. Woolworth: Five and Ten Boy
Robert Peary: Boy of the North Pole
Stephen Decatur: Gallant Boy
Ernie Pyle: Boy From Back Home
Susan Anthony: Girl Who Dared
Lee DeForest: Electronics Boy
James Oglethorpe: Young Defender
Aleck Bell: Ingenius Boy
Richard Byrd: Boy of the South Pole
Robert Fulton: Boy Craftsman
Edward Bok: Young Editor
Eugene Field: Young Poet
Lotta Crabtree: Gold Rush Girl
George Gershwin: Young Composer
Gail Borden: Resourceful Boy
Rachel Jackson: Tennessee Girl
J. Sterling Morton: Arbor Day Boy

Yes, many happy hours of reading await
me and Judy.  And I encourage you to invest
some summer leisure time to reading something
you enjoy.  If you have children, they benefit
just from seeing that you value reading.  And 
make it easy and desirable for them to read, too.

It doesn't have to be biographies; this is just 
my happy rant for the day.
And I certainly don't plan to give up my
Superman comics.  That's where I got my start!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Becoming a Nation of Readers

With two granddaughters embarking on the journey
of becoming independent readers, I've spent a good
bit of time reading and thinking on this important
topic lately.  I was compelled to re-read the landmark
report of the Commission on Reading in 1985:
Becoming a Nation of Readers.

I would like to share several nuggets of wisdom that
are interspersed throughout this work.  Many are
intuitive, and can be instructive for educators as well
as parents, who, after all, are a child's first teachers.

  • Reading is a process in which information from the text and the knowledge possessed by the reader act together to produce meaning.  Good readers skillfully integrate information in the text with what they already know.
  • Teachers whose classes are motivated are described as business-like but supportive and friendly.
  • The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.
  • There is no substitute for a teacher who reads children good stories.  It whets the appetite of children for reading, and provides a model of skillful oral reading.  It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.
  • When children do not feel too constrained by requirements for correct spelling and penmanship, writing activities provide a good opportunity for them to apply and extend their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences.
  • The goal of phonics is not that children be able to state the "rules" governing letter-sound relationships.  Rather, the purpose is to get across the alphabetic principle, the principle that there are systematic relationships between letters and sounds.
  • The idea that reading instruction and subject matter instruction should be integrated is an old one in education, but there is little indication that such integration occurs often in practice (a pet peeve of mine).
  • No one would expect a novice pianist to sight read a new selection every day, but that is exactly what is expected of the beginning reader (as a pianist, this is another of my favorite observations).
I could expound on every one of these quotes, but space does not permit. I tried diligently to incorporate these principles in my class.  I reaped untold benefits from my efforts to integrate reading into all subject areas.  In fact, it did not bother me at all when visitors to the classroom could not say for certain what subject we were doing.  I did not want children to think that all our learning was so easily compartmentalized or that reading was only for a certain time of day.

The accepted language arts are 
With skill, several of these can be included in many lessons.
The following mantra came from some long-ago training
session I attended.  I believe it and have seen its success
as a core belief, and certainly one that supports integration
of these skills:

What a child can think, he can say.
What a child can say, he can write.
What a child can write, he can read.

Truly, becoming a nation of readers could have a
ripple of positive effects on citizenship, the economy,
family life, and virtually every facet of our existence.
Go forth and READ!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Classroom Teacher or Strength and Conditioning Coach?

This morning I read an article about UNC’s strength and conditioning coach and how he had helped numerous basketball players transform their bodies, thus elevating their game.  Coach Jonas Sahratian quoted the philosophy of Kung Fu icon Bruce Lee: “Take what is useful, reject what is useless.  And add in your own that is unique to yourself.”

I saw immediately my own strategy as it applied to implementing change.  Of course, there were elements I was required to implement in my classroom from time to time.  But often, ideas were presented in workshops or meetings, but each teacher was left to glean what was helpful to his or her situation.  I loved workshops in which the presenter seemed to affirm my core beliefs right from the start.  Often they touted techniques or activities which I was already doing in some form or variation.   Even if those were not the presenters who caused me to change,  affirmation is also an impetus for renewing your effort, with the knowledge that a respected professional agrees with you.

More often, I would hear a mix of information at workshops, some of which I agreed with, some of which I heartily disagreed with, and some of which I realized I could change or adapt to improve my own classroom.  This is why I describe my philosophy as eclectic, and that was true throughout my career.  In the article about Coach Sahratian, he mentioned that what worked or was appropriate for one player was not the remedy for another.  Some players needed to lose weight and redefine their bodies.  Some needed to add muscle and bulk to compete at a high level and not get pushed around.  This is certainly analogous to any classroom, where a diverse set of learners not only have different needs, but different learning styles.  Much has been written about this in recent years, but good teachers have always varied and adapted their delivery of learning, even within the same lesson.  This is one reason I am a staunch adversary of “scripted lessons” and standardized anything!

Even in my summer camp days, mentors Jane McConnell and Don Moore espoused the same idea in this way: “There are 999 ways to reach a child.  And when all of those fail, there is still one more.”  Failure was not an option in my classroom.  Success was inevitable, but it took making the child a partner who could come to believe he or she could succeed.  No child wants to fail; the educator’s challenge is not to allow failure.  This can mean much more than teaching what the child needs.  It can involve healing, repairing, restoring confidence, and leaping tall buildings with a single bound.  All in a day’s work.  My Declaration of Independence, discussed at length in an earlier post, became one of my most powerful tools for student success.  And yet it was not inherently about academics.  Dr. Madeline Hunter’s education research was an integral part of my county inservice training in my formative years.  One thing she stressed was that teaching is both an Art and a Science.  I feel it is imperative that teachers not only be permitted, but encouraged, to embrace that tenet.  And in doing so, they will incorporate the key ingredient of Bruce Lee’s philosophy: “Add in your own that is unique to yourself.” For me, that was the key to the Adventure Classroom for 33 years, and continues in my volunteer efforts with all ages.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mr. Loyd's Declaration of Independence

An early hand-written version of the Declaration.

This is the earliest sample of student signatures on the
Declaration, from the class of 1983-84.  Some years I gave
the list of signers to the first person who signed.
I never signed the Declaration of Independence.  But hundreds of my students did.  I’d better explain that I’m talking about our CLASS Declaration of Independence.  I honestly can’t pinpoint the year I implemented this icon of my classroom, but I believe it was by my third or fourth year of teaching, in the late 1970’s.  One thing I’m certain of: it was so successful as a motivational tool that led many students to challenge themselves that I continued to use it for the remaining three decades of my career.
If you are a former student of mine, chances are you know for a fact whether you signed the Declaration or not.  While it was not linked directly to grades in any way, signing was a momentous event for students in my class.  The goals were simply stated, but challenging.  Some students arrived in my class with the personal traits and attitudes to make their signing almost a foregone conclusion.  This fact in no way detracted from the event: rather, it was a credit to the student, his or her parents, and others who had been influential before they entered my classroom.  For other students, signing seemed an impossibility and was a yearlong struggle.  But countless times, those students achieved their goal, to the cheers of classmates who had learned to encourage them every step of the way.  How satisfying that was for me and the signer.  Many students and parents have vowed that this process was a life-changing turning point.  I am happy to add that for many students who never signed, their efforts propelled them to achieve these worthy goals at some point after they left my class.

For all its value, the Declaration was somewhat  subjective.  My goal was truly to help students “be all that they could be,” and whether they achieved those goals while under my tutelage or sometime later was not paramount.  But acquiring these traits at some point would make success more likely in the years ahead, whatever the task, venture, or enterprise.  And having kept up with countless students over these four decades, I’ve seen the Declaration to be a pretty remarkable rule of thumb for lifelong success.

The process went something like this.  At the beginning of the school year, I had an unsigned Declaration posted on the wall and made only a passing reference to it in opening class discussions.  Then, in a specially called class meeting, typically after two weeks of school, I explained the meaning and challenge of each tenet of the document.  The first, making wise decisions, was the foundation, and in a general way covered the other areas as well.  I gave the students vivid examples of behaviors and attitudes that would either meet or fall short of the criteria.  Sometimes I would use a fictitious “former student” named Joe Flunko to enact what NOT to do.  In fact, Joe Flunko served the same function in Math lessons and discussions about good work habits, smart testing strategies, and general rule following.  NOBODY wanted to emulate poor old Joe!

Students were instructed to carry home a paper copy of the Declaration of Independence to show their parents.  Including parents in the goal-setting was a crucial part of this team effort.  The paper explained that when a student felt that he or she had met every goal of the Declaration—on a consistent, day-to-day basis—they should compose a simple letter to me stating their readiness to sign.  Once I received this letter, two things could happen.  Sometimes, I agreed that the student was ready.  I would take the Declaration from the wall, lay it on my desk, and invite the new signer to come forward.  As they signed and dated it, their classmates expressed their shared exuberance.  The second thing that could happen was a private conference in which I explained to the student which items required more work or more consistency before they could sign.  Getting along well with classmates for two days, then getting into fusses, was not sufficient evidence of readiness. Working diligently one day and complaining about assignments the next day was cause for delay and self-examination.  But I’ve often thought that students who had to wait the longest appreciated the journey the most.  Some former students will be happy to know I have absolutely NO permanent record of who signed and who didn’t.  If you’ve become a responsible adult and good citizen, I’ll assume you signed the virtual Declaration of Independence for your own life, whether you signed mine or not.  Third grade was not the end of your journey toward independence, but an important milestone along the way.

Interestingly, now that these students have either reached or are well on their way to adulthood, I not only celebrate their independence, but hope they’ve recognized their dependence on others in their lives.  This includes, but is not limited to, the parents who nurtured them, the friends who supported them, the teachers who guided them, and the God who created them.  Perhaps you’ve heard “no man is an island,” and my purpose in stressing independence was in no way to make students think they didn’t need others.  Their independence would strengthen their relationships, give them confidence in their tasks, but in no way make them totally self-sufficient.  I continue to celebrate the happiness and success of my 1,000 students as I see their families growing and their lives blossoming, and their potential realized.

This photo and brief description of the Declaration is
from my 1981-82 Teacher of the Year album.  I had
started using this idea a few years earlier.

Here's the final version of the Declaration of Independence that I shared with students and parents.  A lot of it is applicable to all ages.  Why not check it out one more time, for old times sake?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mr. Loyd's Philosophy

As I embark on this new blog, I want to articulate some of my deepest-held tenets concerning education and life.  Any time I contemplate this far-ranging topic, my brain goes into overload.  There are so many things I want to share, both with former students and fellow educators. 

The main stumbling block is having a system of meaningful organization within the vast realm of educational topics.
So rather than submit an intricately outlined document to you, a polished finished work, allow me to share some “gleanings.”  Because that is the way my educational philosophy has come to me.  Not in a neatly packaged final product, but in a fluid, flexible, adaptable manner.  In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that my philosophy has been impacted by every event in my memory banks to some degree.

The love and compassion of my parents in my pre-school years may have been a reason I hated school from the very start.  That’s right—I HATED it!  I wanted to go HOME-- where I was loved! It was the same emotion my father expressed about school in a junior college autobiography in 1932.  But we both LOVED LEARNING.  And there’s a distinction between school and learning.  I can’t condemn all the practices of education in the 1960’s, because they were obviously successful in transmitting the basic skills I would need.  And my own shy personality prevented me from gaining some of the social advantages school fosters.  But sadly, many things showed me what school should not be like.

Through increasingly positive high school experiences, then a transformational period which included college at UNC-Chapel Hill and summers at Camp Cherokee for Boys, my interests, gifts, and opportunities came together.  Looking back, I can see that even the most unpleasant memories of school were as important as the happy ones in helping me formulate my own teaching philosophy.  The worst, least effective, and most unjust practices I witnessed caused me to evaluate everything I did in the classroom through the memory of my own child’s eye.  I believe this empathy, being able to project myself into the viewpoint of my students, is responsible for a large part of my success as a teacher.  Each time I approached a lesson or topic, I asked myself: “Is this subject intrinsically motivating to a child, or do I need to devise a ‘hook’ of sorts?”  I had learned from my mentor Jane McConnell at Camp Cherokee, “There are 999 ways to reach a child.  And when all of those have failed, there’s still one more.”  In other words, there’s always another path to success.  And I strongly believe that was just as important with behavioral issues as academic ones.

My other Camp Cherokee mentor was Don Moore, a Moore County Schools master teacher at Southern Pines.  He was instrumental in my change of majors to elementary education, and then my application to Moore County.  Dr. Jim Brock gave me my chance at Sandhills Farm Life Elementary in 1975.  He gently guided me through the learning curve of my first years.  He and a succession of other fine principals gave me the professional liberty to think and teach “outside the box” throughout my career.  As I gleaned techniques and wisdom from other teachers, from workshops, and most of all through classroom experience, I matured into a more effective teacher.  There has been much national research into educational “best practices.”  The classroom itself was my laboratory for 33 years, and as I grew, I added, subtracted, adapted, and tweaked my approach, to arrive at my own “best practices.” Over and over, I have thanked God for giving me the family, the experiences, and the open doors that have brought me through six decades with an abiding sense of great happiness and fulfillment.  I am thankful for God's wisdom and love, and for those same qualities in people He brought into my life.

Future posts on this blog will examine some of my strongly held beliefs in detail.  I will examine some successful lessons, techniques, and ideas.  I will show samples of student activities designed with motivation and success in mind.  And there will be a wealth of memories for former students, including photos, notes, and even samples of our writing.  I plan to add frequently, so I hope you will be a regular guest, whether you are a friend, a former student, a parent, or an educator.  And a few of you out there fall into ALL FOUR of those categories!  You are all welcome to revisit Mr. Loyd’s Adventure Classroom.

Each new post will be announced on Facebook
 and comments are welcome.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mr. Loyd's Class Singalongs

I have long been debating the best way to share the many songs from our beloved class singalongs.  This new blog seems to give me the perfect avenue. I will also post all these lyrics in a companion album on Facebook, which is more convenient for many of my former students.  I hope you enjoy these, perhaps even teaching them to your own children.  In a post to follow, I'll discuss my purpose in incorporating music in my classroom.