Category Archives: Classroom Success

Pursuing Church School Success: Including Brain Breaks in Lessons

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

 

We are all well aware of the importance of maintaining our students’ full attention during class. We also know that they retain and remember information that is learned while their brain is engaged. But it is not easy to maintain an entire class’ full attention at every moment: keeping their complete attention is a struggle. This is why “brain breaks” exist.

“What is a brain break?” you may ask. It is an activity that allows students to physically move and release some of the pent-up energy associated with being still and focused for a long period of time. If you take some time to read about these breaks, you will find that it is really important for us to incorporate them into our lessons. Brain breaks change things up, giving both us and our students a “breather” from concentration, and thereby creating a window for better focus and understanding.

At first glance, brain breaks may look like a waste of important time. But think back to the last time you were working diligently on a project. Did you not, after a period of time, take a quick walk, or grab a mug of coffee, or even just run to the bathroom for a few minutes? When you came back to your project, did you feel refreshed and ready to get back at it? Or was that break a complete waste of time? Of course it wasn’t! (Unless, of course, during the break you also got sucked into Facebook and lost track of time, but that’s a whole other issue, unrelated to the physical break that you took!) We adults often take brain breaks of our own, whether or not we know the terminology.

Brain breaks in a classroom work similarly: they offer a brief period of movement to allow for regrouping and better focus. Brain breaks can be simple actions or more complex games. They can incorporate thinking or simply be a dance-off. Different types of brain breaks reach different types of students, so it is important that we incorporate a variety of them into our teaching.

For our students’ benefit, we should always include some type of brain break(s) into each lesson. They will boost morale, add a touch of fun to our class, and (best of all) open our students’ minds so they can better interact with and remember what we’re studying. And chances are, they’ll help us to learn more, as well!

Here are several links on brain breaks that you may find helpful. Do you regularly use them in your Sunday Church school class? If so, what have you done? Please share your brain break ideas below!

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This article offers links to some of the research that has been done on brain breaks. It strongly states that brain breaks should be considered a class NEED, not an “extra activity”. That is how big an impact physical breaks have on students’ ability to learn! https://www.pinkoatmeal.com/brain-breaks/

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A printable chart such as this one offers brain break ideas that will be performed in a way that is unique to each student. Each would need their own dice to roll five times, and then some space (and freedom) to perform the five actions they’d rolled.

You could create your own chart like this, including your own ideas of things your students can do in the space you have.

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While this is written to a home school audience, there is information here that will be helpful to a Sunday Church school teacher. Especially one with students who are easily distracted: https://adventuresinmommydom.org/tips-on-teaching-highly-distractible-kids/

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“After a successful brain break, your kids should feel more focused, less prone to daydreaming and therefore in a better mental space to work or complete and finish activities. Furthermore, brain breaks have also shown to significantly reduce stress levels in kids, providing organic improvements to learning and higher engagement levels.” Read the rest of the article, as well as the baker’s dozen brain break ideas suggested here: https://www.unicefkidpower.org/brain-breaks-for-kids/

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The indoor and outdoor brain break ideas listed here are written for parents to utilize with their children at home, but many can be helpful to Sunday Church school teachers as well. (We do not condone the yoga idea, but the others are worth considering!) https://www.verywellfamily.com/brain-breaks-for-busy-kids-1257211

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The 20 brain breaks here can offer students of varying ages the opportunity to move and do something completely different for a bit so that they are free to once again focus and learn. https://minds-in-bloom.com/20-three-minute-brain-breaks/

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Here is another collection of 20 brain break ideas for you to consider using in your classroom. Some you can use as they are. Others are aimed at a regular school setting but can be adapted for use in a Sunday Church school class. https://www.boredteachers.com/classroom-management/20-best-brain-break-ideas

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For more creative brain break ideas, check out this blog: http://brainbreaks.blogspot.com/

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Drawing is not necessarily a “brain break”, but it is a physical activity that boosts learning. It is actually a very effective means of learning, because it taps into so many learning styles and requires a variety of thought processes. Check out this 2-minute video explaining the value of incorporating drawing into your lessons: https://www.edutopia.org/video/powerful-effects-drawing-learning

Pursuing Church School Success: Encouraging Class Participation

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

 

Student participation is an important aspect of success in the classroom. Therefore, as we actively pursue student success in our Sunday Church school classrooms, we must consider the level of participation invited and encouraged in the class. This post will challenge us to do so.

Think for a moment about your Sunday Church school students. How well do they participate in class? Do you invite them to participate? In what ways do you encourage participation? How could you better welcome their input and ideas?

We discovered various links and articles that we thought may be helpful to you as you evaluate and grow the level of participation that happens in your Sunday Church school classroom. Each is different from the others, so we encourage you to read all of them, to see what strikes a chord with you for your class. We also encourage you to consider asking your students for input: what do they want/need you to do to better encourage them to participate in class?

Here are some links on the subject that you may find helpful. What has worked for you? What related resources would you recommend to the community? Please share them below!

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“Starting on the first day of class, arrange the room in a way that encourages active engagement.” So begins this helpful piece that offers practical suggestions for building an environment that spurs participation: https://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/resources/teaching-methods/participation/increasing-student-participation/

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How do we define classroom participation, how can it be encouraged, and what is a good way to assess it? Find the answers to each of these questions here: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/assessing-student-work/grading-and-feedback/promoting-effective-participation

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Warm up your minds at the beginning of class; use movement; encourage collaboration — these are a few of the tips this author offers to teachers desiring to grow class participation: https://www.edutopia.org/classroom-student-participation-tips

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Here are ten practical, active suggestions of ways to encourage students (most of the video examples are of secondary students) to participate in class: https://www.teachingchannel.org/blog/2018/01/18/10-top-notch-strategies-12-min

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This blog offers four common reasons students don’t participate, followed by several techniques to solve each of those problems: https://www.teachhub.com/top-12-ways-increase-student-participation

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Good teachers will know how to deal with all types of answers that students offer in classrooms where participation is encouraged. Here’s an article that discusses the most common types of answers kids give and suggests ways that teachers should respond to these answers: https://wellequippedvolunteer.com/2015/05/25/one-way-sunday-school-teachers-can-encourage-active-participation-in-class/

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In classrooms where there is more student-directed learning and less teacher-directed learning, it is still easy for teachers to be talking more than they need to. This article offers 8 ways that teachers can talk less and allow their students to talk even more: ://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/2014/09/8-ways-teachers-can-talk-less-get-kids-talking.html

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Pursuing Church School Success: Evaluate the Environment

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

 

We will begin our look at classroom success by considering the environment that your students step into when they arrive. The hospitable classroom climate that we referred to in our last post is influenced by the both the physical environment and the teacher therein. Your room and your influence as a teacher are foundational to the success of your class, so we encourage you to start by evaluating both.

Begin by taking a moment to think about your classroom. Is it welcoming? Is it interesting to look at? Is there adequate seating, or room to otherwise accommodate your students? Is this a room you want to come to? If you were your students’ age, would you feel the same way? What is working well in your room setup? What could you improve in order to better serve your students?

Now take a moment and think about yourself,  from the perspective of your students. What do they like best about you? What do they not like, and how can you work on that? Are they able to understand what you are telling them? Are you speaking and acting in ways that help to get your message across? How well does your body language support what you are trying to communicate with them? Do you treat them in a way that you would want to be treated? Do you remember that they are icons of Christ, and treat them as such?

We have gathered a number of general hints and tips from other teachers, ranging from classroom practice to student management. Most of these are not specifically written to a Sunday Church school teaching audience, but we are confident that you will find them helpful. We will share some links of ideas that teachers have shared about their own classrooms. We will also add a few links that can help you to think a bit more about your own teaching style.

Our goal with this series is to help your students succeed. Crafting a success-inducing environment which is led by a caring and communicative teacher, is a very important place to begin, in pursuit of student success. It is our hope that some of these tips and suggestions will be helpful to that end.

 

Here are some links on the subject that you may find helpful. What has worked for you? What related resources would you recommend to the community? Please share them below!

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At this link, you will find a pictoral list of 35 helpful tips and tricks tried by teachers. Included are suggestions for classroom organization, classroom displays, ways to help students who need to move, and even suggestions of ways to help students manage their phones during class. The article is written for a general classroom, so while many of the ideas here are applicable to a Sunday Church school class, some may not be. https://www.buzzfeed.com/nataliebrown/brilliant-classroom-ideas-from-real-life-teache?utm_term=.mpXbY3nw3#11610181

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This teacher suggests reviewing procedures by writing questions about your class’ daily procedures on separate pieces of paper, passing one of those out to each student, and one at a time during class, asking that one be read and answered. This is a painless way to review the classroom procedures with your class, with everyone having a turn to read and answer. This method could be applied to other things besides daily procedures, as well. https://teacherthrive.com/2017/07/simple-way-teach-classroom-procedures-expectations.html

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Here is a teacher’s description of how she organizes parts of her classroom. Again, some of the ideas will work for a Sunday Church school class, and others may not. We especially liked the code word for movement idea, the two-helper job chart, and the hand signals. Check them all out here: https://www.primarily-speaking.com/2018/05/11-practical-classroom-management-tips.html

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“When discussing class values with my students, I obviously have values that I want our class to embody, but I also let my kids choose. We create the list together. We sign a class contract. These values become a part of who we are and who we will strive to be each day.” Read more about this from the teacher who does not have class rules, only class values, here: http://www.building-brilliance.com/2018/03/why-i-teach-class-values-instead-of.html

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“Children crave someone to guide them so that everyone can feel safe, secure, loved and wanted. When you take the time to work on the structure of your group (and sometimes your own heart!) you will achieve a learning environment that works.” Read the rest of this article to find some Sunday-Church-school-specific ideas for classroom management: https://buildfaith.org/classroom-management-sunday-school-style/

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Find colorful, beautiful, and inspiring classroom setup ideas here: https://chaylorandmads.com/2019/08/03/classroom-ideas/

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Many of these secondary-student classroom setup ideas will not necessarily apply to a Sunday Church school classroom, but they are all inspirational and a few of them would work! We especially liked the flexible seating and the agenda/but why? ideas. https://www.readingandwritinghaven.com/classroom-setup-ideas-for-secondary/

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“In my childhood (in the world of the pledge), there was often talk of living a ‘Christ-like life.’ This was largely portrayed as a highly moralistic life. It also seemed completely boring and unlike anyone I had ever met or admired. The virtues cannot be acquired through models that hold no attraction. Mere morality can never be virtue… As a priest, I’ve never expected children to be ‘little adults.’ However, I want them to see the love of God in the adults around them in such a way that they are not repelled… If you want a child to pray, they should see you pray. If you want them to love God, they should see you love God. If you want them to be able to ask forgiveness, they need to see you do it first.”~ Fr. Stephen Freeman encourages us Orthodox adults to model more than we teach in this blog post: ttps://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2019/08/28/whos-minding-the-kids/

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Are you a great Sunday Church school teacher? You may find it helpful to weigh yourself against these 8 qualities of an effective Church School teacher: https://disciplr.com/8-qualities-great-sunday-school-teacher

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“I learned that it was up to me to be happy. It wasn’t up to my students to make me happy, or my coworkers, or anybody else. Being happy was my job. So what if this year was a little tough? I needed to roll with it, continue to love my students, and move on. I needed to CHOOSE to be happy.” ~ Read more about teacher Teresa Kwant’s tough students, one year, and how she chose to face their time together, including 5 practical choices in which you can choose happiness, here: https://teresakwant.com/choose-to-be-happy-teacher/

 

Pursuing Church School Success: Offering Hospitality in the Classroom

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. We will share some tips for classroom management and ideas for increased student participation. It is our hope that this series will benefit Sunday Church school teachers and students of all ages.

 

Begin with Hospitality

The Church School year has already begun for many of us. The beginning of the year is an excellent time to take a look at how well we welcome our students into our classroom: not just at the start of the year, but every time they attend our class. Thus, we will begin this series by taking a look at hospitality in the classroom.

In order to consider the effectiveness of our hospitality as it is extended in our classroom, it may be helpful to take a moment to think about hospitality itself, to make sure we are all on the same page. What exactly does “hospitality” mean? There are multiple definitions. Dictionary.com’s definition is easily applied to a classroom setting. It defines hospitality as “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.” (1) Mind you, our students are likely only “strangers” the first week or two of class, until we’ve really gotten to know them, but after that, we do well to treat them as though they are honored guests, every time they are in class.

Besides thinking about hospitality’s definition, let’s take a moment to consider how we extend hospitality outside the classroom. What about in our own home? For the most part, when we have visitors, we tidy up before they come, prepare a comfortable space for them during their visit, prepare food for them to enjoy, and have a plan for how we will entertain them while they are with us. We expect similar treatment when we are guests in others’ homes. When we go on vacation, we seek lodging and food based on what looks to be a comfortable match for our needs. All of these are our framework for “hospitality”. We know how to offer it, how to receive it, and what it looks like from afar. But how well do we apply these concepts to our Sunday Church school class and classroom?

Dr. Margo Turner’s article “What we get to do: Hospitality in the Classroom”, written for brainbasedlearning.com, suggests that friendliness and mutual respect, paired with generous service are what we expect hospitality to look like, whether we are extending it or on the receiving end. Dr. Turner suggests that this holds out in the classroom, as well. “Hospitality in the classroom that allows students to feel welcomed is an important learning tool for all…” (2) Her article goes on to mention that studies have found that students who feel included in the classroom are better empowered to learn. So hospitality in the classroom is not just a nice idea: it actually sets the stage for improved learning ability!

It seems logical that students who feel welcomed and wanted in their classes are better able to learn. But how do we extend hospitality in a classroom? We can begin by looking at our classroom itself with fresh eyes. Does it appear engaging and welcoming? Is there anything that we could add (or remove) that will make it feel more like a place where people want to spend time? Once we are certain that the room is welcoming, we can look at our interactions with our students. Do we physically and verbally welcome them to class? (Dr. Turner sends each of her students an introductory letter, complete with a picture of herself, before the school year even begins, to begin building a relationship before they even arrive on day one! Other teachers have unique handshakes or welcome gestures that they extend to each student at the door before each class begins!) Do we involve our students with the creation of class rules and goals? Do we consider our students’ abilities (or different-abilities) and interests as we plan and present our lessons? There are many ways in which we welcome (or do not welcome) our students into our classroom. Perhaps the above questions can be a good starting place for us to honestly evaluate our hospitality towards our students, so that we can find ways to improve.

Hospitality is important at all levels, even in a classroom setting. Let us take a moment to consider the level of hospitality in our classroom, and find ways to make our classroom even more hospitable. Opening our students’ minds to better learning by extending hospitality to them builds a healthy foundation for a successful Church School year.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Hospitality. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/hospitality
  2. Turner, Margo. “What We Get to Do: Hospitality in the Classroom – Brain Based Learning: Brain Based Experts.” Brain Based Learning | Brain Based Experts, Jensen Learning Corporation, 5 July 2017, http://www.brainbasedlearning.net/hospitality-in-the-classroom/.

 

Note: We will be sharing more about Brain Based Learning, mentioned above, in a series of articles in the spring.

Here are a few resources that may be helpful as you look for ways to improve the hospitality offered in your classroom:

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“We can use every interaction to communicate to the student that he/she is important.” Read the rest of this article in which an educator compares classroom hospitality to her experiences with hotel hospitality: http://ditchthattextbook.com/2014/12/11/4-hospitality-principles-that-can-transform-our-classrooms/

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“I’ve taught in both traditional and nontraditional settings for nine years. However, only recently have I begun to understand hospitality as part of that work. When I started to reframe teaching as the work of welcoming, of stewarding a space, of receiving my students with unconditional presence, my classroom and my students’ learning changed.” Read this, and the rest of the article on classroom hospitality from which it comes, here: https://www.edutopia.org/article/work-welcoming

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Help your students feel more at home in the classroom by providing them with opportunities to share about themselves. Perhaps this “there are four items that tell about me in this bag” idea would work well for your class? http://alove4teaching.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/all-about-me-bag.html

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If you are looking for ideas for creating wall displays that can help your classroom feel more inviting, check out the series of bulletin board ideas we gathered, beginning with this one:    https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/ideas-for-classroom-decorations-part-1-general-classroom-decor-information/

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Here are a few tips and shortcuts for classroom bulletin boards. They may be helpful as you continue to make your classroom more inviting and hospitable:                                                                                                                                                                                                            http://theappliciousteacher.com/bulletin-board-hacks-to-save-your-sanity/

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Extending hospitality in our Sunday Church school classroom can begin with something as simple as a greeting at the door when the students enter. What if we would take the time to build a personal greeting for each student? It might look something like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0jgcyfC2r8
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Inviting our students’ input in creating classroom rules can be another way to extend hospitality in the Sunday Church school classroom. Here’s a suggestion of basic rules to keep in mind as you work together to create your own set: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/creating-classroom-rules-together/
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Helping our students know and appreciate each other is another way to extend hospitality in the classroom. Need some ideas of ways to help students get to know each other? Check these out: https://homeschoolhideout.com/ice-breakers-for-kids/

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Hospitality is not just something nice we can offer to our students: it is part of our Faith to live hospitably! This article offers many scripture verses that encourage us to be hospitable. (It’s geared towards families, but the scriptures apply to all Christians!) https://inallyoudo.net/teaching-children-hospitality-using-scripture/

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