Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Power of Appreciation: Beating the Stats

Just a few days ago, I stumbled across a blog post by Daniel Pink showing the correlation (not causation) between income and SAT scores. (Read the entire post here.)

Looking at that data can certainly spark feelings of hopelessness. It sometimes seems as if the work of teachers is irrelevant and meaningless. Are our students destined by outside factors?

I do not believe so.

Research by John Hattie and Robert Marzano have consistently demonstrated that factors BEYOND socioeconomic status have large effect sizes on our students. Having a guaranteed and viable curriculum, delivering adequate formative feedback, or prompting metacognitive reflection, for example, affect student achievement to a greater degree than SES status.

Therefore, I think it's necessary to remember the struggles, statistics, and factors that teachers face everyday. Although the teaching profession has a high rate of burnout, teachers who were told that their work "made a difference" were able to perserve and perform more effectively. So...You can do it. Beat the statistics. Change the world by crafting superior instruction. (And if you have 15 minutes, listen to Adam Grant tell you the same thing...)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Do Numbers Have a Place on a Rubric?

This past week, I've been critically examining rubrics from a variety of schools. This task encouraged me to review the latest research on feedback. The newly released second edition of Classroom Instruction that Works shows that the effect size for providing feedback has increased quite a bit (from .61 in the first edition to .76 in the new edition).

Consider the following quote from the text:
"The studies to feedback underscore the importance of providing feedback that is instructive, timely, referenced to the actual task, and focuses on what is correct and what to do next."

If the goal of a rubric is to provide feedback, should a rubric result in a numerical grade? I don't think so.

Providing students with an number moves the feedback from qualitative to quantitative. It takes the focus away from the specific information the learner needs to improve and moves it towards a single, messy evaluation. While I realize that many of us operate in systems that require formal grades and evaluations, it is important for teachers to realize confusing feedback and evaluation significantly impacts student learning.>br>
One teacher I know provides rubric descriptors and narrative feedback to students. Students only get their numerical scores if they come to her and ask her. After a while, the students just stopped asking. Hmmmm.....

What do you think? Should rubrics have numerical scores attached to them?

CC Photo Credit: Zedworks

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Speak Less, Question More: A Follow Up

Last week, I made a promise to speak less and question more during my interactions with teachers. (You can read the full post here.) Since that post, I have made a conscious effort to give sufficient wait time and encourage deep discussions.

Honestly, the results have been pretty fantastic. As we discussed enduring understandings and essential questions last week, more teachers offered opinions and insights than ever before. Also, some teachers directly confronted the "real issues" they face in their classrooms.

Consider a few of the following quotes from my last session:

  • "I teach kids how to solve problems, but they aren't problem solvers." <-- What a fantastic realization that can be addressed through thoughtful curriculum design.
  • "I always though the test was what we were designing backward to, not real life. Wow." <-- Think about the lightbulb moment on this one!
  • "If we weren't brought up using digital texts and prefer paper texts, can we use digital text effectively in our classrooms?" <-- This comment spurred a lively debate.
Giving learners the opportunity to explore their own beliefs helps them overcome powerful misconceptions. I'm going to keep letting the learners talk!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Great Infographic on the Effects of Teachers

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I am a firm believer that TEACHERS MATTER. (If you need more than my humble opinion, check out John Hattie's book on Visible Learning.)

Below in a great infographic from Open Source Matters that synthesizes the effects of good teaching. Know that today (and every day) you will have a lasting impact of a child!

Photo Credit: Open Source Matters

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Speak Less, Question More

This week, I've been working with teachers as they organize their curricula around deep understandings and essential questions. One of the biggest struggles that novice teachers face during this process is the use of "content" as the lens through which they view their teaching instead of a lens of "understanding."

My objective is to destroy a powerful paradigm that has been propagated through the ages. We have been trained our entire lives to believe that teachers "deliver" instruction, often to the rebellious masses. While research has proven that this does not lead students to genuine understanding, it is a concept America has been conditioned to accept.

To create a change, teachers must be provided with opportunities to make sense out of their experiences through rich discussion and reading. The less talking I do as the facilitator, the better. However, I am so passionate about the work that I often speak up. There is no malicious intent in my desire to share, nor do I believe that most teachers operating in "teacher-centric" classrooms WANT to disengage their students.

My goal next week is to SPEAK LESS, and QUESTION MORE.

Here are a few of the question starters I plan to use (They might work in your setting too!):

  • When this study is finished, what will true understanding look like?
  • Is true understanding of this topic worth attaining? Why? 
  • Can you identify a question that frames the entire study and transcends this topic? 
  • Why? Why? Why? 

 CC Photo Credit: Sarah G

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Getting Lost-- A Reminder to Keep It Fresh

My new gig has required a bit of traveling. The most challenging part of the travel has been navigating the Bronx. The Subway trains don't always behave as I expect, and I often become disoriented when I leave the station. Several times, I've walked down a street for several blocks only to find out that my destination was in the other direction completely! Needless to say, I am a novice.

However, whenever I struggle with a new task, I allow the feeling to crystallize. I also remind myself that this is the exact frustration, anxiety and anticipation that my learners feel when they are mastering new material.

Just because the content or concept may seem easy to me, it is not familiar to my learners. This is frequently referred to as the "expert's trap." When one is extremely facile with an idea, it can be difficult to appropriately address learner concerns and misconceptions.

One way that I've managed to avoid the "expert trap" with my learners is to integrate at least one unfamiliar content item or concept that supports the understandings that I have identified for a given unit. This forces me to go through the learning process, allowing me to identify potential misconceptions and struggles.

What will you try that's new this week?

Photo Credit: Peter Shanks

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My "Beef" with the Word Rigor

I think I've heard the word "rigor" at least 50 times this week. It was uttered in almost every conversation about teaching and learning that I experienced.

Yes, I want students to have rigor.
Yes, the Common Core Standards have increased rigor.
Yes, performance tasks can add rigor to your teaching if used correctly.

However, my questions is: What defines rigor?

While the answer is seemingly simple, it is often elusive. Rigor can be difficult to define, and one person's version of rigor may differ from another's. Dictionary.com defines rigor as a "strictness or harshness." How harsh is harsh? Just a few days ago, a teacher told me that rigor was adding additional problems to the worksheet. Clearly, this is not the type of "harshness" that we wish to inflict upon students.

I think the entire conversation and movement can be simplified by changing the language we use. Instead of using the word "rigor", which simply describes a level of difficulty, use the word transfer.

Insert skeptic comment here --> Ok, Kristen. But how does changing one word alter the conversation about teaching and learning?

Well, transfer has a very clear definition. Transfer is when students can use content and skills in novel situations. Essentially, the use what they have learned to solve authentic problems or build creative plans. There are near and far transfer, but I would venture to say that any degree of transfer meets most educators' definitions of "rigor."

So, ensure that you ask students to use their capacities in novel situations. It ensures that the rigor's built right in!

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/81851211@N00/227465632

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Essential Questions at SLA

Recently, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the role of essential questions in curriculum design. My reflection and study has led me to believe that learning experiences should be organized around meaningful questions, not isolated discipline-related or skill-related criteria. Of course, my visit to Science Leadership Academy (SLA) for Educon 2.4 this weekend affirmed my current beliefs. At this school, the curricula is driven by meaningful questions and themes at each grade level. Most important, the students at  SLA are cognizant of these questions and themes, and they were able to eloquently discuss them when asked.

How could you use this concept to redesign learning for the students in your classroom? your system? your district?


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