Damien Riley from Dynamite Lesson Plan offers classroom tested tips and advice on how to engage students more successfully.
Dorit: Thank you Damien for this interview. First off, I just love the name of your blog. How did you first come to name your blog?
Damien: You are welcome Dorit, it is great to share among colleagues and others interested in Education. I named my blog after something my master teacher in teacher college told me back in 1997. As many new teachers do, I was struggling with behavior problems in my class. He told me something I will never forget: “The best way to control kids is through a dynamite lesson plan.” I believe it so much, I named my teaching blog after it: “Dynamite Lesson Plan.”
Dorit: You’re a veteran teacher-what do you teach and how long have you been teaching?
Damien: Thank you for the moniker! I currently teach 4th grade public school in Southern California. I’m credentialed to teach K-6 and I’ve been teaching now for 9 years. Grades I have taught in the past include: 3,4,5,9, and I have taught college courses. So I like to think I’ve seen a variety of ages so I can offer help and share about more than just 4th grade.
Dorit: I hear also you’re a writer – what do you also like to write and how long have you been writing?
Damien: I got my Master’s in English hoping to be a writer and college professor. The college professor thing wasn’t for me, too much academia quicksand, but the writing has panned out well in one book publishing and a variety of popular posts out in the web. I book publishing came about when I answered a simple call for stories in my school newsletter. It ended up being published in a book. You can access my published and non published web writing at my online resume I call Riley Central.
Dorit: In your blog, you focus on various ways teachers can engage students. What do you feel by far is the most critical and challenging area(s) for new teachers to acquire? How do you feel about the task of engaging students?
Damien: Great question on engaging students. People are attracted to energy. When a teacher is involved and enthusiastic in what she/he is teaching, kids are drawn there. That place is where learning occurs. The way to get there as a teacher is highly up to the individual. If I see a new teacher talking about the objective assigned to her as if she is walking barefoot on broken glass, I will ask her later: “What part of that boring lesson COULD you enjoy teaching?” Usually I get some wild answers after a while. The conclusion we come to is that you have to be interested of the kids won’t buy in. New teachers should start finding the ways to be comfortable with the material, the delivery, the “tech toys” like projectors etc, and all the stuff they use to teach. As that comfort is developed, kids will want to come to class and they will learn. Kids are like sponges but if there’s no water…
Dorit: How has the internet affected teachers ability to think in more dynamic terms of engaging their learners? Your students’ writing?
Damien: I enjoy keeping a blog but that may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The internet makes it possible to instantly gather photos and information on a variety of topics each day for your kids. I try to do my planning on Thu and Fri after school. At that time I assemble all the stuff I can from the internet. It’s also a way to connect with teachers across the globe and escape “the box” of your school site or district thinking patterns.
Dorit: What’s your favorite thing about dynamic lessons?
Damien: Movement. Getting kids to move gets their blood going and gets them remembering more about the lesson. I have volunteers getting up on chairs and holding signs up, hand motions, etc. I once even modeled “sequential order” by having a student follow my instructions, which were trivial (stand up, turn, etc) and when she got to me, I gave her a dollar! They still talk about that back in September.
Calling random non-volunteers. It is so necessary but I wish I could just call on the ones I know are listening. I use playing cards and number the kids so that makes it kind of fun.
Dorit: What new(er) approaches have you used recently to create dyanmic lessons that speak to students?
Damien:Explicit Direct Instruction is really my model now. A great thing. You can do a search for it on Google or on my site. I’ve written quite a bit on it.
Dorit: Do you have any advice for beginning teachers on how to create dynamic lesson plans and/or how to engage their students?
Damien: Get a teaching method or template you like and pour your passion into it. Make notecards and tape them to your desk of the stuff you know the principal is looking for and do that stuff, but focus more on what makes you excited. That is what education needs nowadays. Enough of the blah LOL.
Dorit: How do you define a dynamic lesson? Both as a classroom manager, lesson planner and teacher?
Damien: Well, everything I’ve said up to now defines it. I really like acronyms so let me use the letters of my website: DLP and answer your question:
D: The dynamic lesson has drive.
L: When you get on stage, you are not lazy!
P: You do it for the love of people, small or grown
Dorit: What do you wish you’d known about engaging students and dynamic lessons at the beginning that you know now?
Damien: If you look people in the eye and tell them you’re there to help, you are always “in.” Don’t get intimidated by your admin when they watch you. See your vision of reaching kids in your way. I used to get really freaked out when I was being observed. I think it’s always hard, but now I see it differently. Life is so short, you can have such an influence as a teacher. And if your admin doesn’t fit with your style, find the courage to keep looking for another job.
Dorit: Is there anything you’d like people to know about you that they might not?
Damien: Not really. This was a great “dialogue.” Thank you for the wonderful questions. I’d just like to thank teachers out there and to let them know I am their advocate and if they want to visit and bookmark my site, I’d love to meet and network ideas with them!
Dorit: I’m sure your information and your experience will be so helpful to new teachers out there. Thanks so much for this interview!