Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What's for homework? Be ready for a question.

The use, value, and effectiveness of homework has been a long debated topic. Homework serves a number of purposes. What becomes a point of contention is the difference in opinion regarding the purpose. The primary rationale for homework tends to lean towards practicing what has been introduced in class or reading content to prepare for the next day's lesson.

The use of homework as a method to check for understanding or assess student understanding is not effective.  How students complete their homework can vary with the availability of tutors or crowd sourced answers. Even the standard process of homework review is flawed. I have observed countless classes in which the opening of the lesson goes like this, "Take out your homework. Does anyone have any questions or problem with any of the questions?" This then transitions to a whole class lesson in which a few problems are reviewed based on a choral response to the teacher's question.

Proponents of the flipped classroom have turned the table on this approach by having students view recorded lectures or read instructional content for homework. When the students return to class they are provided opportunities to apply what they learned. The instructor facilitates this application of knowledge, checking in on students, and providing small group instruction when necessary.

I believe their is value in homework for those who need it. I propose making homework optional.  A better approach for teachers to ensure understanding is to begin class with a question. A skillfully designed question or question set that provides the instructor with immediate feedback regarding student understanding. The results of which may guide the lesson towards moving forward or reviewing the previous topic. This type of assessment must provide aggregate and individual data. Using fingers or ABCD cards is a low tech option to a posed question. Class clickers, cell phones or learning management systems provide high tech solutions that can quickly aggregate results.

By implementing formative assessment at the start of the end of a lesson we can move away from "who does not understand?", and transition to  "let's take another look at ......, it seems to be challenging"

Monday, September 28, 2015

Remember these elements when planning your lessons

The newly issued ASCD publication The Motivated Brain, by Gayle Gregory and Martha Kaufeldt reminded me of a few simple yet frequently overlooked lesson planning components. When we design lessons structure and consistency will ensure that we have designed a lesson with the potential of success.

My experience as an elementary and now high school educator provided the opportunity to see two different types of classrooms. Typically there are classrooms that are organized and those that are not. Establishing routines, norms and expectations allows for not only the efficient use of time, but it simplifies collaboration, communication and individualized learning. Provide students with an expectation of what to do as soon as they enter a class with a "do now" or other assigned task. Consider reviewing the procedures for group work or what is expected when students complete an assigned task.  The research cited in The Motivated Brian points to lower stress and a more comfortable classroom environment in classrooms with this type of forethought.

Another essential component that is frequently minimized is the establishment of learning objectives and agenda of activities. By publishing your objectives, essential questions, and planned activities in advance you provide a road map for the students. This provides students an opportunity to self assess their progress towards meeting the objective and manage time and resources as the tasks progress. For your next lesson, write the objectives on the board and display an agenda of activites.

Providing students with opportunities to collaborate with peers is an essential lesson component that will impact classroom cultures. This type of collaboration such as turn and talk or larger scale group work provide students the opportunity to learn from each other, communicate ideas and feel comfortable needing clarification.

An interesting take away from the text is the focus on movement. Research has proven that individuals who are active increase blood flow which impacts mood, motivation and stress reduction. Making a point to incorporate movement into your class can have a profound effect. A simple change in structure like having students stand and discuss with a peer may result in more engaged class and fruitful dialogue.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Should intelligence be measured by what we know or the questions we ask?

In our current education system we label, group, and track students based on academic achievement that is primarily measured by assessment. GPA, standardized test scores, honor roll, gifted and talented programs, and course level recommendation are determined by a students grades. High stakes testing whether standardized or local summative assessment have encouraged a culture of "what do I need to know to do well" While the measurement of content knowledge and skills in order to determine achievement is a requirement of education, we must also make room for inquiry and failure.

Merrian Webster defines intelligence as
" a (1) : the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations : reason; also : the skilled use of reason (2) : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)"

 In an article published in the June edition of District Administration (2015), Warren Berger stated " The art of inquiry is the foundation of advancements in science, medicine, mathematics and more. Questioning "what is" often leads to discovery of "what could be"." In an era of academic competitiveness, high stakes testing and a demand for elite education we must not only provide opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery. We need to develop the skill to formulate great questions. We need to create classroom cultures that nurture this skill.

In the era of Google and mobile devices we can locate tremendous amounts of information. How do we connect the information that we acquire in order to develop intelligence? Are we developing our ability to ask great questions that will act like a catalyst for connecting information?

How do you integrate questioning into your classroom? Do you provide a culture and an environment in your classroom where kids are not only provided opportunities to question, but are comfortable asking? How do we create lessons that shift from "let me tell you what you need to know", to students asking questions as a result of your facilitation of learning that leads to required knowledge? Do you create a classroom environment where students challenge or contest a response, build on each other's responses, and take risks offering opinions or ideas? Do you provide all of the questions or are students expected to create questions?

For example, in a traditional classroom setting students may be provided a text and asked to answer a few questions regarding it. They may even be asked to respond to a discussion thread in an online environment in which the teacher posses the topics? Can we consider a reverse approach by asking students to read the text and develop a few of their own questions? Can we use technology to provide  a collaborative approach to this process?

This is an area that am looking to further explore. In future posts I hope to share and discuss cooperative grouping strategies, inquiry approaches to instruction, and simple classrooms strategies that may contribute a classroom culture of questioning.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Transition your classroom from a "walled garden" to a global contributor

In the 21st Century citizenship has changed. We are operating in a globally connected world. Communication, collaboration and information is open, shared and ubiquitous.  The evolution of the web has lowered the barriers of entry for individuals to create, collaborate and contribute. 

Our classrooms must reflect this trend and prepare our students to be global citizens. In many instances our classrooms have not changed much in many years. Yes, we have introduced and integrated technology. Students type instead of write, take online quizzes, create presentations, view videos and contribute to class discussion boards. Teachers recognize the power and flexibility of technology and provide students options for demonstrating knowledge by providing choice with regards to the technology resources they use. Technologies have provided innovative ways for teachers to provide feedback, students to collaborate, and parents to monitor progress. Paradigm shifts in instructional practices have resulted in flipped or blended learning, personalized instruction, and virtual courses. 

The shifts in instructional practices as a result of access to technology has been profound. What still remains in place in many classrooms is the audience. Teachers and students create, share, revise, and consume for each other. Our "voice" is contained to our brick and mortar or virtual classrooms. Our audience, while authentic, is not representative of our globally connected world. 

In order to prepare students to be active contributors to our connected world we must provide students the opportunity to have a voice. Digital authoring opportunities in which students publish their work for a global audience should be an expected outcome. Having students publish their writing on an online portfolio, contributing comments on a blog, publishing lab results to an online community, engaging in discussions with content experts, inviting professionals and content experts into the classroom through video conferencing, or publishing an online publication should be part of our day to day.  Making connections to provide authentic experiences should be part of our routine.

Sites like Open Source Teaching  is an example of a resource that provides a connection to individuals who are experts in their fields. Blogger, Wordpress of Kids blog provide an opportunity for students or classes to publish their thoughts, opinions, research or other class work. Social networking sites provide opportunities to make connections and share ideas. How can you integrate student publishing and sharing into your courses?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Homework...One of the things that makes you go hmmmmmmm

Homework has always been a part of the instructional program of schools. The argument for and against homework has been widely debated, researched, and published. Is homework necessary to apply or practice what has been taught, or to prepare for what is expected to ensue during your next class meeting? How much is enough? Should it be required? Should we grade homework? Should we differentiate it?

Most parents and students will agree that homework is plentiful and time consuming. Many will also agree that there is inconsistencies among educators regarding how it is used, assessed, and applied to the instructional program. While variation may be a result of the curriculum of the course, it may be this variation that impacts the perceived value. The conversation of homework among educators varies and evolves. The most common justification for homework typically involves the need to check for understanding, provide opportunities to apply what has been learned, and compensate for limited instructional time in the classroom compared to the curriculum pacing requirements. On the surface these are valid and honest. One would assume that this rationale would result in a perceived value regarding the necessity of homework as we know it. However, it may not..

A hot topic in the evolution of homework is the "flipped classroom". This idea flips the process by having students review content through reading or viewing video segments for homework. In class the students apply what was learned through application under the oversight of their teacher and collaboration with their peers. This process allows a level of individualization and collaboration. It creates a paradigm shift in the classroom by having the teacher facilitate the application of skills, strategies, and content with less of a focus on whole class, direct instruction.

The conversation regarding homework has also focused on its role in measuring student achievement. In the era of high stakes testing and the mathematical measurement of achievement through standardized testing we have found ourselves creating a culture of students who focus on achievement through grades at the expense of deeper understanding. The dialogue regarding grading of homework varies. Educators approach this in varying ways by grading homework for completion, accuracy, or both. Others have aborted the need to grade homework and have made it optional for students. The reflective feedback among educators and researchers has raised the question of its relevancy as a measurement of student learning vs. student effort. Should effort be a percentage of student grades in which the grade represents student achievement?

There are bodies of research that insists learning requires the opportunity to take chances and make mistakes. Learning is ignited through reflection, receiving feedback, and making corrections. Should homework provide students the opportunity to make mistakes without a punitive consequence? Would that opportunity increase the perceived value with students? Would teachers observe similar or greater growth by increasing feedback and decreasing grading? Can we maintain the effectiveness of homework with a decrease in extrinsic motivators and would this approach increase intrinsic motivation? This topic requires further discussion and reflection. I invite your thoughts in the comments.