Category Archives: DTM Education Blog

Excerpts from Excellence in Teaching and Learning: The Quantum Learning System

Excerpts from Excellence in Teaching and Learning: The Quantum Learning System by Barbara K. Given and Bobbi DePorter

8 Keys of Excellence – Principles to Live By
The 8 Keys of Excellence are central to a strong foundation. The 8 Keys are principles to live by: Integrity, Failure Leads to Success, Speak with Good Purpose, This Is It, Commitment, Ownership, Flexibility, and Balance. Each Key is specifically taught, reinforced, and sustained throughout the year and are designed to help students develop positive character traits and a joy in learning. When learning the Keys in the classroom, students tend to support one another’s character development.

Living by the 8 Keys of Excellence involves developing a strong inner core of character. In essence, the Keys define who we are and what we stand for. They guide our behavior and actions. The 8 Keys involve decisions about how to live our life now, but the personal impact of the Keys lasts far into the future.

The 8 Keys of Excellence Curriculum provides lessons to use throughout the year and is available online along with the 8 Keys of Excellence book and 8 Keys wall signs for your classroom.

Class Decision Making
With the 8 Keys of Excellence as the basis of how we operate together, we move to creating standards for the classroom. To get student buy-in, we involve them in the decision-making processof creating the vision and purpose for the class. Teacher/student decision making at the beginning of a new school year is important for several reasons:

  • The decision-making process helps students get acquainted through participation in an authentic, academic task. Each student brings to the process an experiential history of how classes operate and discussion encourages students to share their points of view.
  • Small-group decision making allows all students to participate. Reliance on small-group interaction and volunteer sharing allows hesitant students the safety to share with a few students, while giving those with more confidence opportunities to model active participation.
  • Collaborative decision-making skills can be useful in many areas of students’ lives.
  • Class decision making reinforces district and school rules and regulations by reviewing and clarifying them prior to making decisions on how the class will operate.
  • When students are responsible for establishing their own classroom operational procedures and agreements, they are more apt to take ownership of them.

Accepting someone else’s expectations is a far cry from developing one’s own. Doing something out of a sense of compulsion isn’t at all the same thing as doing it because one knows and feels that it is the right thing to do. The ultimate reason to give children a say is that it can help them to make their own good decisions, to grow into ethical and compassionate people—not because it will make them internalize what we want them to do. (Kohn, 1996, p. 83) . . . Anyone who truly values democratic ideals would presumably want to maximize children’s experiences with choice and negotiation. (Kohn, 1996, p. 85)

  • Perhaps the most important in terms of building community is that student decision making immediately establishes guidelines for how the class will move forward as a socially conscious learning community.

Decision making requires application of critical thinking skills. At the beginning of a semester, however, our primary focus is on the decisions rather than the process. Although secondary to the primary focus of determining how the class will operate for the semester, decision-making skills are taught through modeling and guidance during the process. The decisions inform the learning community about how the class will function. Therefore, the teacher models the decision-making process and refers back to it when expressly teaching decision making later in the semester.

Decisions should lead to some meaningful outcome. That’s why in Quantum Learning we begin the semester with decisions that will impact students’ lives. These have to do with agreements and procedures students will follow as well as clarification of responsibilities that all involved parties agree to assume. 

Class Procedures and Agreements
In QL classrooms, students work with the teacher to determine how the class will operate. Procedures let everyone know what to expect and what action to take. Procedures include whether or not class meetings will be held and, if so, how often; how class members line up (or not) for exiting; where to place homework; where to pick up personal folders (if they are used); where to return them with completed work; how the first several minutes are used for roll call, review of previous work, and announcements. Procedures create routine that provides a sense of stability, control and structure, and makes it possible to start and end class on time.

In developing class agreements, students define what everyone views as the ideal outcome for being together. They consider what they want their class to look like and feel like and create informal agreements to make that happen. For example, students may agree to listen quietly and attentively when another student is talking. Such agreements build respect among students and lead to a cohesive, productive classroom.

Because agreements are determined by the class, all class members have a responsibility to see that the agreements are upheld. Specific to QL is an agreement to personally practice the 8 Keys of Excellence, to acknowledge others for living a Key, and to hold oneself and others accountable when a Key is violated. A simple hand signal or a question such as What Key is challenging you right now? encourage students to conduct a quick self-assessment and correct the behavior. Even if the teacher unintentionally violates a Key and no one points it out, he can say something like I just violated a Key and no one called me on it. What could you have done to make me aware of it in the moment?This action reinforces the fact that the class operates on democratic principles with a leader who sometimes needs to be reminded of the classroom agreements.

Student discussion and input on classroom agreements help instill student ownership. In a San Diego classroom, members of a fourth-grade class proudly shared with a visitor a poster they had created of their class agreements and all the actions they promised to uphold. The teacher said it was rare for students to break an agreement, and that when they did they were quick to acknowledge their mistake, self-correct, and apologize. The teacher felt this was a direct result of the students having worked together to create the agreements.

In creating agreements and procedures, students derive additional benefits as a result of the class decision-making process. They

  • learn how to work collaboratively in a group,
  • learn how to make decisions that impact the group,
  • gain clarity regarding how the class will operate,
  • take ownership of the agreements and procedures, and
  • practice living the 8 Keys of Excellence in the process of creating a socially viable learning community.

School and district policies and procedures also affect the classroom procedures. At the beginning of the semester or year, it’s important to make sure all students are aware of them and agree to follow them. Classroom procedures and agreements need to be aligned with those of the wider education arena.

In addition, school handbooks usually state what students are to do if tardy or absent, how to sign in for the day electronically if student swipe cards are used, what to do if a student needs to be in the hall during class time, how to arrange to stay late for after-school activities, how to get help with homework, what to do if feeling ill, and other information that lets students know what to do in various situations.

Self-Induced Autism?

Raising two teenage boys and interacting with hundreds of school-age kids has led me to an intriguing question: Is it possible that some children develop autistic characteristics even though they have normal neurodevelopment? How does this happen? What are the symptoms and what can we do about it?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder with two distinguishing characteristics—a person with autism has deficient social skills and exhibits restricted behavior (hyper-focus). For example, individuals with autism rarely make eye contact when interacting with others and often do not respond to auditory stimuli like the calling of their name when focused during an activity. Autistic children are limited in their interests and activities, focusing on a single topic, program, toy or game. They get “lost” in what they’re doing. Have you seen these characteristics in children you know who are neurodevelopmentally normal? Probably.

help me

Let’s be honest—getting lost in a project, a movie, or a game and occasionally not responding to a familiar auditory cue like the calling of our name is something we’ve all experienced. We can thank our reticular activating system for helping us pay attention to what we think is important and for blocking out the thousands of sensory stimuli that surround us every moment. We have also not made eye contact with individuals in certain social settings. All normal, right?

What I’m experiencing, especially with pre-teens and teens, is a new normal. This new normal is much more akin to the hallmark characteristics of autism—social deficits and restricted behaviors. These manifestations have gone beyond the occasional to the habitual. My conjecture: The myriad invited stimuli and the constant competition among those stimuli to capture kids’ attention have caused children to adopt behaviors that mimic those of autistic individuals. I believe it’s self-induced because the stimuli are invited from the outside rather than stemming from an internal “neuro-anomaly.”

Why is this happening? Why are these social deficits and hyper-focus traits showing up in non-autistic kids like my boys?

Avoidance. Relating and communicating are hard. They require vulnerability and courage in an atmosphere of safety in the company of authentic role models. As long as I can stay focused on something else—lose myself in it—I can avoid the vulnerability of relating, and if I work hard enough I can develop the ability to tune people out even to the point of not hearing someone’s voice.

I could delve into the polyvagal nerve and its role in strengthening our ability to read social cues and capture sensory information so we feel empathy,or even explore the role of mirror neurons. We’ll save those for another time.

What can we do about our kids’ deficient social skills and hyper-focused tendencies? Here are two simple actions to get us started:

  1. Stop avoidance behaviors. What activities do we use as cocoons? Do we tune out particular kids? Let’s build awareness of our avoidance behaviors—and avoid them.
  2. Start connecting. Carve out time to sit side by side or face to face, or go on a walk with your child or student.  Ask about their interests—what’s capturing their attention? Inquire about their thoughts and feelings on issues at school, relationships with friends, what they’ve seen on YouTube,or the posts and tweets they’re reading.

Our kids need to reconnect to those in their lives. Let’s help them develop positive social skills so they get to know their teachers, their parents, and their peers. Someone did that for us—let’s pass it on.