Archive for April, 2008

Integrating Thinking Through Reading

As teachers we can incorporate many critical thinking through reading activities into our classroom. We can have students:

Annotate the text

Explain the context of the reading

Outline or Summarize

Predict

Ask questions about the text

Compare/ contrast to other readings

Connect to other readings or other things containing the ideas found in the text

Creating Thinking Curriculum

How do we change our curriculums from memorization of facts to higher level thinking curriculums?

One way is to ask questions that require our students to compare and contrast. How is the American Revolution like the French Revolution? How is it different? How  does the Spanish present tense compare to the Future tense?

Another way is to ask questions that ask our students to explain the consequences of some act.  For example, Science classes can explore the implications of every American home using five compact bulbs on the energy use for the nation.

In a third technique students evaluate a situation.  Which  of these solutions is better and why?  Math students can figure out which of three loans will be a better financial deal and explanation their reasoning.

Students will still know the basic but more important, they will be able to use the basic information in higher level thinking.

How do you  cause you students to engage in higher level thinking?

Flickr and learning: No new changes

I spent a few hours browsing Flickr to see if it had gained more educational groups than the last time I looked at learning and Flickr. I was sadden to see that there has not been a major increase in educational groups in flickr. I had hoped that composition teachers would have put together images for students’ writing. Maybe people do what I do and make their own list of images from Flickr. Maybe I am guilty as others in not giving back to Flickr what I have taken.

Also, if we all tag our images with educational terms, then others can search for them. At present, a search for educational terms ends with no images.

We have to be not only takers but also givers back. We can help build Flickr into an educational resource. Flickr can be a Web 2.0 tool.

Waterfalls, Summative and Formative Assessment

I like to visit waterfalls. There are two general types of waterfalls. In one the water falls all the way from the top to the bottom. Meanwhile, in the other type, the water hits several layers of rocks, therefore the water cascades.

I think that the total drop water fall  is like the summative tests we give students. The results are given at the end of the year or semester. It has no impact on the students’ learning movement within the course. In a formative assessment process, We do not just check the students’ progress just once but we check many times. We find out if we have to redirect their movement. We can see small successes steps that lead to the big success in the standard.

Gladly would the teacher help the students to learn

Chaucer wrote “Gladly would he learn and gladly teach.” I would like to change that to “Gladly would he/she learn and gladly help students to learn.” Unfortunately some teachers think of teaching as presenting information and then testing on that info. In the formative assessment process, the focus is on helping the students to learn.

Glick wrote :”It is not what the teacher does but what he gets the students to do that results in learning” Our focus should be not on what the teacher does but on what the teacher helps the students to do. The teacher’s “best” lecture is not good if it does not help students to do something to learn the standard. Teachers should teach less and have students learn and do more in the class. The more students do in the class, the more teachers can observe them, diagnose them, and offer formative feedback to help the students so that the students can improve drastically in their learning.

Do you focus on teaching or learning?

Encouraging Student Errors

I believe that we have to encourage students’ to make errors since only when they make errors do they reveal their in depth thinking.  If students get a correct answer, we do not know if they remembered it from class, copied it from their textbook  or if they truly understood the concept. When they answer incorrectly, we can see their thinking- their misconceptions, their faulty logic,  and their lack of comprehension of the learning goal.  Once we see their errors and  diagnose the errors, then we can provide formative feedback to help them.  The feedback will be differentiated based on their unique answers.

Right answers do not reveal students deep thinking while errors do.

How do you engage your students in in depth projects where they can show their thinking and their errors?

What is your target? Don’t confuse context and content

Unless we are focused, our students will never hit their academic target. We have to identify exactly what they are to learn.  Some sometimes we focus on the context, the learning vehicle, instead of the content, the learning purpose.  An example is an English teacher who focuses on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the context, without considering the real purpose of the content such as analyzing themes which is part of NYS ELA Standard 3 Critical Analysis. Is A Midsummer Night’s Dream the most appropriate context for the learning goal?

Once we do decide on our specific learning goal, then we have to decide how we will help students develop that skill.  Just reading  A Midsummer’s Night Dream will not accomplish the task. We have to develop specific activities to help students grow in analyzing themes.

Do you focus on content or context?

Formative Feedback & Focused Handouts

So far this year I have created numerous “handouts” to help students overcome learning gaps.  I create each handout as I see the learning gap in one student.  Then I have the handout for when I see the same learning gap in other students.  In my writing course, I’ve created handouts for such topics as topic sentences, thesis statements,  plurals, run-ons, and fragments. I had to go down to the “ground zero” in writing the handouts- providing many examples, providing simple practice (with answers on the other side), etc. to guide the student through the learning gap.  I only give out the handouts to those students who display the specific learning gap.  I’m glad that I’m building up a library so that next semester I will be able to help more students.

Peer Evaluation and Formative Feedback

Students should not be “grading” each other. They should be doing formative assessment and giving formative feedback to their peers. As a person emailed me, students do not learn to be formative unless they are taught.

In elementary, language arts learn give valuable feedback telling several good things and then to give constructive feedback wording like “I wonder what would happen if ….” Middle school schools can identify if parts of a science lab reports exist. They can identify if certain essay writing has a thesis statement and topic sentences. They can share their strategies withe their peers. By late middle school, students should be capable of giving detailed feedback based on checklists, rubrics, exemplars, etc. Again, each comment helps the peer t to improve.

We talk about life long learning and one aspect of that is wanting to improve. Peers can offer valuable feedback. Often peers can word things in ways that are very understandable to the other students as opposed to the jargon of some teachers. Peers can provide feedback more frequently than the teacher.

How to help your students to grow in giving formative feedback.

Learning Records and Info for Next Course

You have used a formative assessment approach during your class and that your students are now moving on to another course in your subject area. Do your cumulative record of the students’ strengths and learning gaps follow the students? You’ve kept a spreadsheet or some other record of what standard goals the students have successfully demonstrated and the areas the students still needs to grow in.

Do you pass on that information to the next teacher so that he/she can start at a higher level of knowledge of the students. That teacher can focus class and individual instruction so much more with meaningful information. Or does your formative assessment end with you?

How does your school promote such transition of information about students so the teachers can help them to be successful learners?

Common educational vocabulary Formative Assessment

I think that every six months or so every school district, state education, and educational publication should publish its current definition of all educational terms. I  have looked at four different educators’ definitions of formative assessment and those definitions differ drastically.  One educator feels that formative assessment focuses on teacher instruction.  Another feels that it focuses on the assessments that are given periodically. The third concentrates on formative assessment as the weekly quizzes that a teacher gives.  The fourth sees formative assessment as the feedback that teachers give students. Since these educators do not define formative assessment in the same way, they get confused when each other talks. They do not have the same language.  Therefore, they  do not work together.

When will teachers accept a common vocabulary for the good of all teachers?  When will educators become a community of learners instead of educators on different pages? Let’s work together to help improve student learning!

Use a district wide Wiki to share  and develop common definitions and provide examples of that definition. Have educators build on the components of that definition.

Constructive Criticism = Formative Feedback Bragging Rights

As I’ve mentioned, I have tried very hard to use formative assessment in my classes this semester.  One student wrote  in his end-of-the-semester evaluation the instructor “has mastered constructive criticism and his feedback is always positive.” I have found it a challenge to give short and meaningful feedback that will move the students forward in their learning.  Giving them specific enough feedback so that they know how to improve has required me to be precise in my statements to students.  Giving them examples has, I think, helped them to feel positive about the feedback; they know the change is do-able.

Every student’s paper has been an opportunity for me to improve in my skill and, in my ability to help them more.

What type feedback do you give?

Course Evaluation and Formative Assessment Course Changes

At the end of the semester, students get to evaluate the course I teach. My students completed their evaluations last night. I had already begun to make changes to the course for the next semester so I was very interested to see if their suggestions coincided with mine. Many mentioned how much writing they did and that the pace (an essay) a week was too much. I had already eliminated one essay. Maybe I need to eliminate another one. Numerous students stated that they wanted more time at the beginning of the course to get the basics down. Although I had built more into the beginning of the course, I will relook at it even more. I will delay the first essay until I know they understand the format and specificity that I want. This semester the course started with an essay the first week and I spent much time in correcting basic learning gaps. A student complained that I talked too fast; I thought I had slowed down.

Although no one mentioned doing more in-class mini-writing, I will have them do more write your thesis, identify your major topics and evidence through a graphic organizer. I will model each writing through a think-aloud so that they know the degree of thinking required. I will post an exemplar for them to study. I will build in more time for small groups so that I can work in direct instruction with small groups or individuals during class. I want to build in more stepping stones to success this coming semester. I want them to climb higher than this semester’s students and to have less frustration in doing it.

What changes will you make for the next time you teach your course to help the future students better achieve the standards?

Flowers Changing and Students’ Metaphor

With the warm weather in the Northeast, I have been out taking flower pictures.  I am amazed at how much flowers change on a daily basis.  I wonder how closely we look at our students each day or at least each week to see the changes in them.

Do we notice what new skills they have? Do we notice areas that need nourishment?  Do we see them as growing in the standards?  Do we keep track of their growth and areas of stagnation through a spreadsheet or other program? What can we do to help them grow more? Do we provide them with digital water and nutrients of exemplars and think alouds?

Finals and My Learning About My Teaching

As I have been assessing the students’ final research paper, I’ve noticed that about 50% of the class has displayed the same learning gap. They have interviewed people about their topic as is the class requirement.  However, they have failed to integrate the interview into the research paper; usually they state the questions asked and the responses given as a separate section of the paper. They do not use the interview responses to add more details to their existing evidence. Their original paper stops, the interviews are reported, and then the paper starts up again usually at the conclusion.

As I reflect on the class I did on interviewing, I spent time on developing interview questions (non-biased ones) and the procedure for an interview.  I did not model how to integrate that  information into their papers and I did not have them practice it.

I feel awkward in thinking of taking off any points for something that I did not teach and have them practice, especially when so many students displayed the same learning gap. I cannot blame them for my lack of teaching.

What do you do when you encounter a learning gap by at least 50% of your students on a test or an assignment?

Final Grades = Above Proficiency with many As

I’m going to be in trouble again with final grades and the school. Since my students can redo any assignment and even re-do the final, almost all my students end up with As. My students usually earn As or Fs (little or no work and little or no attendance). However, often administration thinks a teacher is an easy grader when almost all students in the class get As. In one class, students revised over 32 pieces of business writing. In another class, almost all students revised over 8 pieces of writing and their final research paper. I see the As as proof of students changing from being unproficient to being above proficient in their work. Even though students take the time to do the rewrites, they know what and how they have to improve their work; they based their improvement on formative feedback. I am more concerned about them learning to well than on the actual grade.

Do your grades resemble the traditional bell curve? Or do they show a proficiency/above proficiency curve with most grades in the Bs & As? Do your grades really reflect specific standards learning?

Embedded Testing or Random Testing

A colleague was sharing a humorous story about assessment. The students in his college have to take a post-writing test to show their improvement from their first writing at the college. They have to write an essay based on the same five topics.

However, the irony is that the students who are in his business writing course which is the final English course for the students are the ones being asked to write the post-writing. In the business course, they write business letters according to very strict formats.

Having them write an essay in the business class is like assessing a pizza maker on how well he writes checks. The pizza maker certainly writes checks but those checks are a very small percent of his/her time. The pizza maker spends most of the time in making pizza. Maybe the pizza maker can be observed as he/she makes pizzas just as our students can be assessed doing regular classroom writing in their essay class, not in their business class.

How and when do you assess students? Are they doing things that they would normally do as part of your class or is the assessment a random event outside of their normal tasks?

Final Portfolio Still Formative Feedback

Last week I went over my students’ portfolios before they handed them in. The portfolio served as the final in the course. The review gave me one last chance to give them formative feedback. As we went over each section, I asked the students what they did well and what they can do to improve. Their most common learning gap was that some students forget to relate what they had done back to the standard. For some students I had to give them the phrase “I showed (this part of the standard) by ……” or “When I wrote ……, I demonstrated the essential characteristics of …..”.

For several students, it was hard making the leap from what we did in class to the standard (even though for each part of the standard, I had labeled the essential characteristics as we had done them in the class. Students tend to get caught up in the activity without thinking about its real purpose.

How do you constantly remind your students of the bigger purpose for each activity they do? How do you keep your students focused on the standards?

Planning the Next Semester – Focusing on Learning Gaps

As I’ve mentioned, I’m planning my next semester. Or rather I’m getting in a state of readiness. Once I meet with the students and administer the many short pre-assessments, I will start to understand their present position in terms of the learning standards and to know what learning gaps exist. Then I can modify my lessons and materials to better help them in their learning journey.

As this semester’s students have revealed more learning gaps, I have been writing the gaps down and have been developing activities to help the students. A major grammatical problem is the “‘s” that many students use for the noun plural such as “the boy’s are running.” I have developed other help materials for writing such as coming up with topic sentences for a thesis. I realize that most of my outside of classroom time this semester has been in identifying students’ learning gaps and developing materials/techniques to overcome those gaps as part of the feedback process. My teaching has been more focused on helping students overcome their gaps or trying to help them avoid possible learning gaps. I have learned that some of my techniques were not helpful to the students since the techniques did not help the students move forward in their learning. I felt that I have learned so much about helping students to learn.

What changes are you making to help next year’s students overcome probable learning gaps?

Professional Development, Leadership and Student Learning

I’m a little confused about professional development, teacher interest and administrative leadership. I thought that all professional development should focus on enabling the teachers to help their students be better learners.

However, I know of a professional developer who gets all the topics for the professional development from the teachers. The teachers are happy because they get their topics; the developer is happy because teachers attend professional development. I was asked do some professional development there. When I found out the topics, “Math Websites”, “Social Studies Websites” and “English websites”, I asked if I could add some teaching strategies in. I changed the courses from jumping from website to website to seeing how the websites helped in assessment and analyzing the structure that the websites provided for struggling students. I found it interesting that I had to take the leadership in creating professional development that would focus on student learning.

Do the professional developers you know lead or follow? Do these developers focus the professional development directly on improving student learning? Or do they focus on the teachers’ desire for the newest tech toys? Or do they focus on productivity items such as making handouts look better? How does professional development in your area lead directly to improved student learning?

Template Writing/ Scaffolded Writing

Even with all the step by step instructions that I gave my students, many became confused when it came time to write. I realize that I have to build in even more structure or scaffolding for my struggling writers. This coming semester I will offer a writing template to my students that is a first step fill-in-the-blank type of writing. For example, for contrast writing:

_____________________ (first item) and ________________________(second item) differ (or some other words showing a difference). They are different in ______________________(first category). __________________________________(the first item) (pick a contrast word such as however, on the other hand, meanwhile) ____________________________________(the second item-make sure to show the difference between the first and second item for this category). ………

I hope that they will use this for the in class practice writing and then they will modify it as they write their homework. The template provides a structure so that they focus on the content.

I have found it challenging trying to create a simple template so they can think about the content for the provided writing structure. To be able to create the template, I have to understand the essence of the writing pattern.

Occam’s Razor and education

I’ve been looking over my handouts for writing and realize that I need to pare them down to the essential.  As Occam’ razor states “All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.”  It is hard to teach someone to run when they cannot even crawl.  I realize that textbooks and myself add so much stuff  to an explanation of writing that the students get lost in what they have to do.

What is the type of writing?

What are its critical characteristics?

What steps would lead to success in this type of writing?

How will I model it for them?

Situational Groupings and a Spreadsheet

I’ve switched from standard grouping to situational groupings. In situational group, the students are regrouped based on the frequent formative assessments done in the classroom. Therefore, the students in each group and the purpose of each small group differs. These groupings change frequently. This week’s “lack of transitions”group disappears based on the next formative assessment but a new grouping of “run on sentence” students appears based on the assessment of their papers and may last several classes.

The situational grouping is facilitated by the use of a spreadsheet in which I score/rate student’s performance and specific skills so that I can have the computer sort for those who scored in the low 2 and 1 range in the 4 point scale (4 = above proficient). A quick sort and I know the students in my next grouping. The harder part is to find focused instructional materials that help those students overcome that learning gap.


RSS Education with Technology

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    When someone asks what time it is, that person wants to know the time, not the history of the clock, not how a clock works, and not what other types of clocks there are. Classroom teachers want to help their students improve their academic learning through technology. Sometimes they need help with technology so they go […]
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    In my public school career I have been a classroom teacher, a technology integration specialist and a technology administrator. In my technology role, I served under the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction. She had a simple mission: Improve students’ academic learning. My mission was equally simple: Improve students’ academic learning through technology […]
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  • Digital Badges: Naming the Badge October 29, 2015
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  • Digital Badges: Better Than Grades? October 19, 2015
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    Do world language students use technology n the classroom? Do their  teachers go beyond having their students use technology simply for the drill and practice in vocabulary and grammar? Students can use laptops and mobile devices to hear authentic language, read authentic texts, read tweets about famous performers, see up-to-the-moment culture,  watch video […]
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  • Digital Badges: Individual or Categorized Learning Badges? September 12, 2015
    The idea of digital badges sounds appealing for the digital children in classes. As teachers start thinking about digital badges, they have to figure out what badges will be awarded. The teachers can award social or academic badges. If teachers decide to use academic badges, then the teachers may base their badges on the Common […]
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  • English +Common Core +Mobile = Success (ISTE2014 Poster -details) June 30, 2014
    Here are the ten examples I showed at my English + Common Core  + Mobile ISTE 2014 Poster Session: Based on CCSS Anchor Statements: L.2 Take a Conventions Mobile Online Quiz  to pick the  incorrect sentence from four choices (capitalization) SL.2  Evaluate audio recording of a  book chapter on mobile and predict for next chapter. […]
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    Based on my presentation at ISTE 2014 Mobile Megashare Why teach about other countries? Location: Large view to small on maps. Culture or culture. Find six similarities in a  mobile picture from another culture (“Wars are caused by differences, not similarities.”-Tuttle.) Tell one piece of information from each different Internet visual from a place in that […]
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  • English + Common Core + Mobile = Success in Learning Poster Session at ISTE 2014 June 25, 2014
    In my ISTE Sunday 8-10 am poster session, I demonstrate many diverse mobile activities to help students achieve the English Language Arts Common Core Anchor Statements through mobile devices. The mobile activities focus on free common tool apps that are available on both the Android and the iPad. The students use the apps as a seamless […]
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