Friday, December 23, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
"But, what does it look like in my classroom?"
When discussing Project/Problem Based Learning (PBL) and other pedagogical practices this question sometimes pops up. Teachers new to this type of learning often understand the theory, but have picturing the application of the ideas in their classrooms.
Today, I had my students watch a 25 min. video on how Disney Imagineers use levers and pulleys when designing attractions for Disney theme parks around the world. I then told them that they had to design a new Disney attraction or restaurant with a story and theme in which pulleys and/or lever would be used. After having lunch to think about their ideas, they were given 40 minutes in the afternoon to design a model or concept art of their idea to pitch to the class. Tomorrow they will make their presentations and we will put their ideas into a Voicethread, which will be embedded on our class wikispace.
As my students (both regular and special education students) were totally engrossed in their work, having great discussions about their designs, and producing amazing visual descriptions of their ideas, I came up with my answer to the above question.
It looks a lot like me walking around my classroom looking for someone to help and nobody needing me because they are fully engaged, collaborating, and using technology to solve their own problems.
Friday, December 16, 2011
|photo credit: www.zeroatthebone.com|
Throughout history, many wise individuals have spoken and written about those with great power having increased responsibility. How often in our classrooms do we preach to our students the importance of responsibility, but then refuse to allow them the power and autonomy to learn the skill? Let's take a look at five ways we can help students learn to be responsible.
- Let them work on real problems. If a student is assigned an essay on homelessness and doesn't write it well (or at all), they get a bad grade. The poor grade will not teach them responsibility. Most kids don't really buy into our grading system. If that same student is asked to work with a homeless shelter to increase awareness of the problem in the community, they see the real consequences of not doing their part. They know that their effort and work is directly contributing to helping others.
- Let them experience the rewards of their hard work. Suppose in the first situation the student writes an amazing essay. They get 100 on the top of their paper and that's the end of it. They haven't learned anything about the value of being responsible. There's no emotional reward other than the grade (which, again, doesn't mean a whole lot to most kids). If they do a great job on the second task they feel the natural joy that comes authentically when one makes major contributions to a project.
- Allow kids the autonomy and creative control over their work. Too often we expect kids to learn responsibility by completing 40 problems out of a textbook every night. We tell them that it's their job to play school, listen to their teachers, and do what they are told. If great responsibility comes with great power, then it would stand to reason that little power requires little responsibility. Kids need to be empowered to learn. Tell them, "If you understand how to add fractions, find a way to prove it to me by Friday. If not, my door is open for extra help between now and then. Those who do a good job will create video lessons for next year's class on Monday. Those who don't will spend Monday with me re-learning." That's the kind of task that empowers students and allows them to learn responsibility.
- Model responsibility. This one is pretty obvious, but if a teacher is constantly modeling behaviors that are unprofessional and irresponsible, it's tough to teach kids the skills they will need in life. For many kids, we are the best role models they have. We have great power in their lives, and our actions are watched very closely.
- Find ways for students to get positive feedback from multiple sources. Sure, it's important to give students positive feedback when they act responsibly. It's so much more powerful, however, when that feedback comes from multiple and unexpected sources. I've seen kids who don't like school become engaged and excited to do their work because they received positive comments on a blog post they wrote. I've seen students who have attendence problems come to school more often because the school janitor noticed when they showed up for 3 straight days and told them, "Good Job!"
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
|Image: Paul Gooddy / FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
For this reason, I am often perplexed by the push back on the idea of re-testing students. I'd love to not give tests and focus on simply assessing student learning without grades, but that's not possible in our current system. If a student doesn't learn something or tests poorly, isn't it my job to do what I can to remedy that? Shouldn't I make sure that student learns? Shouldn't I see this as a sign that I should give them more assistance, re-teach them, or get them some other sort of help? Wouldn't it be beneficial to that student to have someone demand they actually learn instead of letting them go through school without doing so?
I've heard the arguments against re-testing, and I am yet to hear one that makes sense to me.
Re-testing allows kids to be lazy. If they failed it's because they didn't study.
Perhaps the student's poor initial grade was due to lack of studying. I refuse to use their laziness as an excuse to not fullfil my mission as a teacher. It is my job to help them learn, not to punish them for laziness. Then again, maybe they weren't lazy. Maybe they didn't study because they were wondering where their next meal was coming from. Or whether Mom would come home drunk that night. Or whether their Dad's parole hearing was going to go well. Or whatever. It is not my job to judge. It is my job to promote learning.
There's no re-testing in the "real world"
Really? You don't think that doctors learn from their mistakes? Or that teachers don't have lessons that fail miserably? Or that artists never create works that are less than their best? Or that those who work in sales never have days where they don't close a deal? Or that lawyers never lose a case? Life is full of failure. Learning from one's mistakes is much more important than avoiding failure.
If you allow a kid to re-test and they get a higher grade than one who doesn't, that's not fair.
As I said above, assessing learning is much more important to me than assigning a grade. "Assessment" and "grading" are not interchangeable terms. When we use them as such, we are implying to students that assigning a score to them is more important than what they've learned. They start to jump through hoops to get praise and good grades instead of making connections because that's what we are training them to do. Sure, the practice of re-testing might make it harder for kids (or their parents) to feel superior to others because they are a "straight A student", but is that really a bad thing? Maybe the school can save some money on the "My kid is an honor student and yours is dumb" bumper stickers.
There's no time to re-test. I've got to cover X, Y and Z. Plus, what would I do with all the other kids?
There's no doubt that having a classroom where you are meeting the needs of all the students is difficult. It can be done, though. I've had many classes where I'm sitting with a small group of kids who need more help while other groups of kids who already have proven they understand the topic are recording a podcast about it, developing a narrated slide show, using web 2.0 apps to produce content for our wiki, or sharing their learning in other ways. The best part is that the content being created by the groups who already understand can be used as a way to study for the kids in the group who need more help that night. Had I not taken the extra time to re-teach and allow for re-testing, some of my students would have never learned what they needed to, and others would have never had the opportunity to teach it, which deepened their understanding. To me, not doing this in order to "cover" other topics that my students may or may not learn before moving on to "cover" something else seems destined to leave gaps in understanding for most kids.
I guess it all comes down to how you view teaching. If we are the deliverers of instruction, and it is the students' responsibility to learn, then there is no reason to re-test kids. It's a nice, convenient way to look at things because it takes all the responsibility for failing students and places it upon students and their parents.
Of course, if my job is to teach students and make sure they learn, not re-teaching and re-testing doesn't make sense. Sure, there will still be students who struggle. Maybe there are factors outside of my control that are preventing them from learning. But taking this point of view ensures that their struggles won't be because of me.