Have you ever enthusiastically agreed to an after-school commitment weeks in advance only to absolutely dread it as it nears? Have you seen students’ eyes go wide when they hear your first name? Have you heard students who groan through your science class declare with total sincerity that they’ll be neurosurgeons? These are all effects of the psychology of distance and can be hugely beneficial to teachers when they understand and consciously implement the principles in their classes.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review introduced this perspective to me on the practical, psychological effects of spacial, temporal, social and experiential distance. I found myself laughing and shaking my head in turn as the ideas resonated so well with my own classroom experience. And that’s an example of the psychology of distance right there! I just illustrated my reaction to the article. So despite being physically far away from you, the reader, I bridged that spacial distance by attempting to close my social distance and bring this discussion out of the abstract.

Leaders who recognize and understand the effects of psychological distance and then use two specific strategies to reduce—or sometimes increase—it can improve their outcomes in many different professional scenarios. (HBR.org)

Social Distance

To help assert authority, we keep social distance from our students. They don’t use our first names. This distance often keeps teachers as a sort of abstraction to students. It’s like we’re not totally human. They’re surprised when they see us in a supermarket. And we cultivate that. Social distance can be critical in maintaining leadership.

We also manipulate social distance between students. Sharing personal stories allows students to feel less distant from each other. When temporal distance is a problem and students are procrastinating assignments, we can use group work and the social proximity therein to increase students’ participation.

Spacial Distance

When social distance may be impairing communication and we’re concerned students aren’t confiding in us, often teachers will close spacial distance to compensate. We’ll crouch down near their desks to talk with them at eye level. On the other end of that spectrum, when the class is becoming too relaxed, we can walk over to the front of the class and resume our social distance by asserting a spacial distance.

In my first year of teaching, I took frequent walks while trying to manage stress. I figured the benefit was just cardiovascular. But I was also managing my spacial distance from my work and allowing myself a reprieve. We can use these effects to incredible gain.

Experiential Distance

When reading Shakespeare with your class, the struggles with interpreting the language can be a significant barrier to comprehension. Teachers often compensate for this by taking advantage of experiential distance. Before approaching the practical application of the text, students predict where the story will go and what will happen. Momentum is built from an abstract discussion. That groundwork can help when the experiential distance is closed and it’s time to read.

I often use experiential distance when coaching teachers. I’ll be working with a teacher that’s getting amazing results with the free version of ExitTicket and she thinks the premium version would work well for the whole school.  There’s often a social distance that makes it uncomfortable to approach their principal about the idea. So by reviewing the discussion points in the abstract first, building confidence before ever recommending a discussion with their principal, I’ve been employing experiential distance.

Temporal Distance

Teachers give incremental deadlines on major projects because of the all-too-familiar effects of temporal distance. Next week’s deadline seems like forever. In the article, Rebecca Hamilton describes a surprising result when adults are shown pictures of themselves that have been aged: People start saving more for retirement. So when you’re trying to get students in the habit of reducing the temporal distance between them and their deadlines, try role-playing exercises. What will they feel like on the morning of the big test? What will they eat for breakfast? What will they tell their parents after the test?

Increasing temporal distance can have benefits too. It allows us to set more ambitious goals. We can overcome the stress of immediate deadlines by keeping a perspective of long-term satisfaction. In many ways, it is the heart of what a teacher does.

What do you think? How do teachers employ -or how could they employ- the types of psychological distance in their classes?

I’m particularly proud of ExitTicket’s latest effort to make our real-time formative assessment system more accessible to schools. As an instructional technology specialist myself, trying to introduce new tools at the start of the school year -some of the craziest time for faculty- is a daunting prospect. Well, we’ve got a special, second semester offer for schools: Buy next year’s subscription and start using ExitTicket’s premium features, including our incredible administrative features, right now. Introduce ExitTicket to your faculty this term so next year they can hit the ground running with a cutting-edge assessment system.

ExitTicket is also introducing more resources so schools can take advantage of our best offers and strategy guides.

The Rollout will continue to expand. The single page includes details about why ExitTicket is being recognized as the market leader in mastery-based, micro formative assessments, what our best deal is on school subscriptions, and how you can empower your faculty’s instructional strategies with a new approach to formative assessment. This page reflects the lessons we’ve learned as our team continues to coach teachers around the world on using the immediate results from a handful of questions to differentiate and accelerate the learning process.

A quintessential challenge for classroom teachers is confronting and reversing misconceptions that students bring to school. For example, I’ve always started the year off by combating the notion that we only use 10 percent of our brains, an idea popularized by movies and TV shows with lazy premises. I’m not a science teacher, but I lead with a discussion on the modular nature of the mind so that students understand the control they have over their attitudes and reactions.

I usually lose students’ attention early on with this talk, true. It’s not until I bring up information that may be critically useful to them that I’m able to capture students’ willingness to consider what I’m suggesting. I describe being scared, the physiological effects of adrenaline. I talk about the confusion students might face when their palms are sweaty. All too often, teenagers feel like their body is betraying them with such reactions. But I tell them something different: that their body is loyally preparing for fight or flight. Moreover, breathing slowly and deeply can shut this reaction down. We can control which part of our brains we’re using.

Why Misconceptions Are So Tough

Misconceptions are unknowingly created and reinforced as the learner builds explanations, unravels problems and files new data based on faulty reasoning. The longer a misconception remains unchallenged, the more likely it is to become entrenched and resistant to change.
– Targeting Science Misconceptions

Because our minds build upon prior knowledge, students will have already attributed many experiences to misconceptions. It can be a tough challenge to change a student’s fundamental understanding. And to make matters more complicated, teachers very often go unaware of misconceptions and simply provide more accurate information that students then happily connect to their incorrect notions.

Reversing Misconceptions

To combat student misconceptions, a teacher must approach a problem from multiple angles. It may take several hands-on demonstrations to convince students that a phenomenon they are witnessing conflicts with their own understanding of it. And even when that critical step does occur, the new concept must still be reinforced.

Dissatisfaction

The process starts with challenging the misconception. If handled poorly, students can become entrenched and resistant to new ideas. The key is to provide several occasions where new experiences directly contradict their prior knowledge.

Plausibility

Student will need to get their head around the new concept. So the next step is to articulate the logic of the accurate model. Again, this is best done with students exploring the model so that the accurate version of this concept is reaffirmed with new experiences.

Usefulness

If nothing else, our minds are practical. If the new concept can offer greater utility than the prior, we will rapidly adopt it. The usefulness of a concept doesn’t actually have to be a practical benefit; it can instead open up further questions. A new line of inquiry can be just as helpful as a useful take-away in supporting a new concept; the mind is a curious thing.

Ability to Predict Student Misconceptions

Many of the sources I found in preparation for this article mentioned a study by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, involving 181 middle school science teachers. They found a strong correlation between the teachers that could predict which misconceptions their students held and those teachers’ ability to make an impact. Being aware of your students’ level of comprehension seems like a no-brainer. But how often are we assessing our students with special focus on erroneous prior knowledge?

Assessment Activity: Starting a Dialogue

You can use ExitTicket to set up great discussions as you expose misconceptions. Try creating an ungraded Practice type of assessment. In the overview tab, set the options so students can’t see if their answers are correct and can’t see their final score on the assignment.

Add multiple choice questions that target common misconceptions. Provide answer options that may seem tempting to those with commonly held but incorrect assumptions. Here’s the trick: press the “duplicate” button to create copies of each question. Rephrase the copy so it asks students to predict what the most popular answer will be in their class. Students will therefore be asked to reconsider the same question through their peers’ perceptions. This by itself can be wildly helpful in encouraging metacognitive thought.

Take the quiz yourself. You don’t need to submit answers using a student’s account. You can simply write down your own prediction of your students’ answers. When the assessment is complete, go over the results with your class using the Reteach tab. Use the opportunity to start an inquiry and begin to establish students’ dissatisfaction with certain misconceptions. Remember to be patient from the start: Combating students’ misconceptions takes time and attention.

Resources

  • “How Do I Get My Students Over Their Alternative Conceptions (Misconceptions) for Learning?”, American Psychological Association
  • “Student Misconceptions: Where Do They Come From and What Can We Do?” by Annette Taylor and Patricia Kowalski in Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science into the Curriculum, Society for the Teaching of Psychology, 2014.
  • “Targeting Science Misconceptions in Middle School Students: What the Research Tells Us”, Britannica White Paper Series

The amount of money raised by Sabal Point Elementary isn’t their only major feat. During their 17-day fundraiser with Learn2Earn, students read 155,720 minutes—something we are incredibly proud.

It’s important to note that this success didn’t come without hard work and effort from everyone involved. Though our fundraising platform, Reading-Raiser, requires only one or two volunteers, the strategy used by these few volunteers at Sabal Point is what lead to such a huge victory. We wanted to share this strategy with the ExitTicket community.

I think you get back what you put into it. If you go that extra mile, you get that back.

– Sabal Point Elementary’s self-proclaimed, go-getter student coordinator

Sabal Point relied on a combination of things to reach their goals including the fundraising platform, their unique social media promotion and the events that kept everyone excited. Learn more about their efforts and consider how you can apply them to your next fundraiser.

The Platform

Sabal Point Elementary came to Learn2Earn for their fundraising needs. Learn2Earn provides an online fundraising platform that allows students raise money by reading books—friends and family pledge x-dollars per book read.

Students track and log their reading in our online platform. After noting their minutes, they’re prompted to answer a grade-specific, common core-aligned question to demonstrate their comprehension of the story.

Combining reading and raising money is not only exciting for schools but for donors as well because they can feel great knowing their donations are motivating students to read more. You can download a free Reading-Raiser starter kit if you’re interested in learning more.

While our platform served as an educational, easy-to-use base for their efforts, it wasn’t the only reason they made such an impact with this fundraiser.

The Social Media Promotion

Whether you work with Learn2Earn or not, promotion is key to your success and one of the best places to promote your efforts is Facebook, where most donors, parents and even students have accounts that they check regularly. Sabal Point made Facebook promotion a priority during their event. “I have held quite a few volunteer positions and Facebook has single-handedly improved response to my events every time. When used for good, Facebook is amazing,” their student coordinator told us.

However, it wasn’t simply being present on social media that made them successful. It’s what they posted and how they interacted with people that were important. They used Facebook as a platform to share important information, including:

  • Event details: Sabal Point used an intro post to explain why they were doing the fundraiser, how long it would last and where people could find more information. They also announced fundraiser events and volunteer opportunities to keep everyone involved.
  • Updates: They shared updates about how much money had been raised and uploaded photos of in-school events.

Sabal Point didn’t just post updates, they created a community by responding to parents and donors who asked questions and made comments as well.

The Events

Fundraiser fatigue can be a problem for schools that run long or frequent fundraisers throughout the school year. Sabal Point organized events and contests to battle this problem, keeping students and faculty excited and interested in the fundraiser. Two of their most creative contests were:

Faculty Duct Taped to a Wall

Students were challenged to gather $40 in pledges over a weekend-long period. Those students who were able to do so were allowed to help tape the school’s Vice Principal to the wall at school. Unsurprisingly this was quite the motivator.

Home Stretch Challenge

Sabal Point kept people excited during the last few days of the fundraiser with a contest to raise a final $10. Those who were able to accomplish this goal put their name in a drawing to throw a pie in the principal’s face.

With both of these contests, students were able to work together toward a fundraising goal as well as a fun goal—taping the vice principal to the wall or throwing a pie in their principal in the face—which helps maintain the excitement.