I am spending hours with teachers this year discussing standards they are teaching students. The discussions bring enlightenment about what the standard really means because educators are not clear within their school communities what the standard means.
The latin word educere means to draw out or lead from within. Teaching children means facilitating the learning process and not simply giving them everything they need to know. Struggling with learning is to learn it for oneself. A quote from Jean Piaget:
"Each time one prematurely teaches a child something he could have discovered for himself, that child is kept from inventing it and consequently from understanding it completely."
Be the educator who facilitates learning.
This short post is based loosely from a blog post titled, "Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone!"
Jean Piaget, quoted in the Early Years Development Framework for Child Care Centres, Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sports, Republic of Singapore, 2011, p 9.
The wisdom of a team or school is much greater than the lone educator in a classroom. I've been thinking a lot about this.
I had a great time sharing what I know with other teachers at the iPad Symposium held at the University of Akron today. Thanks to Jeremy Brueck for organizing and providing the opportunity to connect with my PLN friends and see new faces.
It is my opinion that iPads offer students of all ages the ability to quickly create learning artifacts, and that once you show them a few apps they can make their stuff quickly and then share it. I said something just before lunch that has to be true of creating with apps - the first thing I look for in an app is being able to export work and share it.
The goal of my presentation was to have teachers create content in one app and pull it into another to create final product. I call it AppSmashing and so does Edudemic, Meghan Zigmond at ZigZagging through education & technology. and edtechteacher.
Here's the idea. I start with one app, let's say Paper by creating original images and export those images to the photo gallery. I then open Puppet to import my pics and add voice over to the images. After I'm done creating I share it to social networks for people to learn from. So, I can take multiple apps and smash their products together to make a single product that can be shared.
AppSmashing involves critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and the ability to merge multiple forms of data in new ways.
Get these apps on the AppStore
Points and percentages is the feedback teachers usually give to students typically called grades. Typical grades don't really tell a student anything good. Typical grades always show how bad they did which translates into an "I'm not smart," attitude.
So what should feedback on homework and assessments look like?
I remember the days jotting comments to students on their writing hoping they understood what I meant. Had Google Apps for Education been invented, I would have had a deeper impact on every student because detailed comments can be typed or audio recorded for students. When I speak to my daughters about what they are doing, I am giving immediate feedback about what they are doing well and not so well. It's the immediate feedback that is so important. The feedback is spoken and relevant to them.
We need to stop giving points on papers and tests and give immediate feedback to students either physically or virtually. How does a classroom teacher accomplish this?
One suggestion is stop giving busy work and then trying to grade it all. Instead, immerse students in long-term cognitively deep work that requires multiple steps and collaboration. In this context teachers are free to move about the room freely to talk to groups, individual students, and give RTI within a class.
Another suggestion, stop giving homework. A student said to me the other day, "Why do I want to do homework when I've spent 7 hours at school already?" The traditionalist in me says homework is how school work. The pragmatist in me says the kid is right. Giving homework when none needs to be given is hard work for an educator because homework is always given. The homework has to be checked or collected which reduces the amount of time teachers have with students in class to deepen their learning through discussion group or individual.
High quality feedback is a necessity if you want to students progress to mastery learning in our classrooms.
Education, like most other professions, is changing to find better and more efficient and effective ways of doing things. Take, for instance, assessment. Just a few years ago the term short cycle assessment didn't exist, or if it did I didn't know about it. Tests and quizzes were given but on an infrequent basis. Now, formative assessments (short cycle) are all the rage. Longer unit tests are frowned upon because these tests, usually multiple choice, don't really get to the core of what students really know.
Another example is homework. This is a touchy subject among educators. Give or not to give homework, that's the question? Students hate it, parents hate spending hours on it, yet teachers insist it's good practice. So, educators debate how to make homework effective.
With so many changes, what is one fundamental change I'd like to see?
Paper and pencil tests are easy to grade but say very little about depth of learning. Multiple-choice, fill in the blank, matching, and true/false only assess the surface recall knowledge. I lived with these kinds of tests my entire high school and college career. I used these kinds of assessments in my years in 4th and 6th grade though I often planned for performance based assessments but never quite got there..
Assessment needs to be tied explicitly to standards and learning targets to determine progress. What do I mean by this?
Educators should be writing learning targets that and correlated 1:1 to either state standards or Common Core. The targets should have a verb and a noun - action and product. Each learning target should have an explicit statement(s) that describe learning. The descriptions are given to students so they know exactly what they have to do to prove their learning. When worked is turned in for evaluation, teacher and student discuss what level of progress is made, feedback is given to students, and they rework parts that have not proven mastery of the learning targets.
This is a long process but much more effective than sporadic feedback given to students using a number, which means nothing is meaningless, or short garbled phrases students don't understand. This process, or something similar, insures two things: the educator individually connects with every student on their work, and students clearly know what they mastered and have yet to master.
Teaching can be confusing, frustrating, complex, and rewarding. There is often the question of how to improve. Below are a few thoughts I have that helped me to improve my own teaching.
Get feedback from students
Students have an opinion about every teacher, like it or not. Some students like us and some don't. So why should every teacher get their feedback?
They are the target of our attention. Everything we do, plan, assess, teach, has a single focus - engage students in learning. Students sit and listen and jump through the hoops we place in front of them. They know whether a teacher is legit or not; they know which teacher helps them learn and which ones don't.
I ask students frequently about my teaching and what I can improve. It's cool to hear the good stuff but I focus on what they perceive as needing change. If what I do isn't working for them, then I have shift my practice to meet their needs.
Use the feedback of the greatest stakeholder to improve your practice.
Co-plan and collaborate
Silos are lonely and ugly places to be. What's the silo? The classroom or the idea that only I, or you, can do it the best. Remaining isolated in physical and virtual spaces doesn't make sense. There is so much to learn from each other.
Co-planning and collaborating are two key components to improving your practice. Sharing ideas helps collaborators create richer and deeper learning experiences for students because the conversation riffs lead to creative ideas. This kind of conversation also helps to clarify what to teach and how to teach it.
This means you have to go outside of your comfort zone and invite someone into your world. At first it is going to be uncomfortable. Will the other person accept your ideas? Will they treat you with respect? There are many other questions but you won't know until you try.
Co-planning and collaborating will improve your practice because sharing makes us all better.
Question assessment practices
How you are assessing learning? Do you consider the student who needs more help to be less able than the student who needs less? Assessment should determine the extent to which students understand content after a reasonable amount of work. This may take longer for some and shorter for others. We are all this way.
What purpose does MC test have? What about extended response? What can you make into an authentic assessment? Testing to test or because a test grade is needed is counterintuitive to learning. The love of learning isn't tested but inspired . However, every educator knows students need to demonstrate what they have learned but this doesn't have to be done through a test. An email can be a test. Authentic artifacts can be an assessment. Drawings, models, and diagrams can be assessments. A portfolio can be an assessment. In other words, assessments
Why are you assessing the way you are?
Find a coach
I'm a tech and education coach, not sure that means much to anyone but me. I've learned a lot about what teachers need vs. trying to fly solo. It doesn't have to be someone with an official title.; it has to be someone you trust to tell the good and the bad.
Whoever you choose, titled or not, should provide you with objective feedback about how you are teaching and why you should change.
One of the best things I ever did was blog. It takes time and it takes away from other things but it helps to CLARIFY thinking. I don't many comments on my blog and I'm not worried about that. I use it as a way to reflect professionally about what I do and what I'm thinking.
Blogging forces you to reflect on your practice and improve.
When I think back on my years in a 4th grade classroom and the teacher I was, I spent almost most of my time teaching telling students what they needed to learn. I learned this way in my public school years and this was reinforced in my preservice training in university.
I often thought students weren't smart enough to understand the content unless I was telling it to them. Perhaps this was reinforced in collegial discussions where other teachers said students can't read and understand at grade level. Or, this was internally as a result of my conceptions about students. What really mattered in the end is that I taught by telling.
Kids are way smarter than we think they are. Teachers, maybe adults in general, don't think they understand something unless it is explained to them, or if we tell them what's important. Growing up I understood a ton of things without having to have them explained to me. I relied on my powers of observation and intuition to figure things out. Kids do the same today, and we have to give them all the credit for being powerful learners.
Telling kids what to learn and how to learn is the greatest disservice. They are smart, they are quick to observe, they are intuitive, and most of all they know how to learn.
Think of a time when parents taught their toddlers how to say every word. Parents don't do this. They talk and toddlers pick up on the connotation and denotation of words by hearing adults use them. The point is that kids know how to learn. As teachers, we need to realize this and challenge them to learn and stop assuming they can't understand something because we haven't told it to them.
On my personal learning journey I've come to realize how wrong I was to tell students what they needed to know. I should have been challenging them to research, read, and create their learning in age appropriate ways.
Today I immerse students in real life contextualized learning that challenges them. I design it so there is a sufficient ill-structured problem with guidance and coaching from me to get them from one point of learning to the next. They research, read, listen, view, and then create their own learning.
Open is good in education. Learning resources are available to students when they need them. But what happens when students abuse the openness of a network? Should they lose network work privileges? Should access to #GAFE accounts, YouTube, and many other resources be done away with?
It is hard to argue with critics about school networks that are open. Not open from the standpoint of security but open to the myriad of resources teachers and students can learn from. When students disregard technology etiquette in favor of doing what they want then, perhaps, privileges are lost.
What would it do to students to not have access to online resources?
Maybe nothing. I say this because educators are not fully exploiting the power of learning embedded in the Internet. Students may miss nothing because they aren't using it.
For some students it would be cutting off their arm because they heavily rely on Internet access for research, creativity, and more.
However, students who abuse the power to use and create at their disposal should lose their privilege to access a great sum of humanities knowledge and the power to add to it.
What would restricted access to the Internet do to teachers?
Teachers who use it to engage students in deep learning will have a conniption because their source of information is gone. Out goes email, out goes chat, out goes all kinds of stuff we've come to rely because we can't trust kids to follow rules in place to protect them and us.
The question is: If students continue to abuse an open network, should they lose their privilege to use it?
I like change, I like it a lot. I like because it brings fresh points of view. Not all change is good and not all change is bad.
Educators need more change, more stimulus, more push. This isn't to make them uncomfortable, though that isn't a bad thing.
As the Internet of things speeds up and information and learning is accessible 24/7, so teachers must speed up the rate at which they adapt learning in classrooms. Rehashing lesson plans, worksheets, and pedagogy year after year leads to complacency, and the last thing we need is complacency. Educators need speed if they are going to keep up with students who far outpace them accessing information for personal learning.
At any time a student can start a blog and have a following in days. Podcasts can be started and attract listeners. Collaboration is stupid easy to students who share their work like it is breath. Educators, all of us, need to get to this point.
I can imagine that students think their teachers are stupid. Kids dream up ways to work together on various things using thousands of apps and the Internet at their disposal. We need speed to catch up with them to know and understand their world, the world that moves at the speed of instant creativity.
If educators want students to be engaged in learning then we are going to have to speedily change how we learn and exist in a tech driven world.
Scott is an instructional coach for BBHCSD helping educators shift instructional practices to design effective, student-centered instruction in a 1:1 and blended learning environment. He presents and speaks to audiences locally, statewide, and nationally. Scott is active on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +, and Flipboard.
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