Feedback … from students?

When are students asked for feedback? This often happens at the college level, but not so much during the K-12 experience.  I believe students, at all grade levels, need an opportunity to express their opinions and ideas in the classroom.

I would assume that most professionals in the education field would agree that when students feel safe in school they are more likely to learn and achieve at high levels.  Many teachers perceive the beginning of the school year as the starting point in building a collaborative environment for learning. Teachers will use a variety of methods to get to know their class.  Some teachers will utilize a puzzle strategy while others use collaborative games. Sometimes it’s a challenge to continually remind students that the classroom is a community (especially around breaks and near the end of the year!).  In my experience, I’ve found that plus/delta charts are a great tool to remind students that their input is valued. These types of charts are also utilized outside of the education realm, as seen here. I’ve found that at the very minimum, plus/delta charts are a valuable community building tool.  My practical steps to incorporate plus/delta charts in the classroom are outlined below.

1.)  Start out by drawing a chart with a + and a triangle near the top of  the writing surface

2.)  Ask the students for positive happenings in the classroom

The + represents the positive aspects of the class that the students enjoy.  The + could pertain to certain activities or projects that were assigned.  It could also represent class goals that have been achieved.  All of my examples below include “we” meaning the class.

Examples (more geared towards elementary):

+ The class was respectful during the field trip

+ We worked well in groups today

+ We enjoyed the music being played during independent work

+ We brought all of our supplies to class for the past month

3.)  Move on to the delta or negative aspects

The triangle represents items that the class needs help with.  For example, students might feel that talking when the teacher is talking is disruptive. Or students might comment that the class needs to become better at turning in assignments on time. The delta starts to become more of a problem solving piece if this process is used on a regular basis.

Examples (again, geared towards elementary):

– We were a little loud during line-up today

– We forgot to complete the homework

– We need to put more effort into our work

– We didn’t listen to the teacher’s directions before starting the assignment

4.)  Students can set goals based on the plus/delta chart.  

This can be accomplished by utilizing goal setting strategies.

If you read this far into this blog post then you probably want to see practical examples of plus/delta charts.  Here you go:


If you’re looking for a possible template to use, click here.

5.) (Optional)  Students reflect on what was discussed in class through a self-reflection journal activity.  The journal activity could actually be integrated into a language arts connection.

6.)  Hang up the plus/delta chart in the classroom as a reminder tool and refer to it as needed

After a debriefing session, I generally cover the old chart with a new chart.  Students are able to view what progress was made over time by comparing the two charts.  A chart is completed every month in some cases, but the time elapsed between charts really depends on the teacher’s preference.

One Way to Personalize Learning in the Classroom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Image by Sujin Jetkasettakorn

 

I recently participated in a chat about personal learning.  After the chat I spoke with colleagues about what is the best method (or one effective method) to integrate personal learning in the classroom.  I also read an insightful blog post by Darcy Mullin regarding that same topic. After clarifying the term personal learning, which took some time, my colleagues suggested that any integration needs to start at the beginning of the school year. So that’s where I would like to start …

While looking at my resources, I found that @tombarret has some great ideas in getting to know your students early in the school year.  Once the concept of community is cemented, how does an educator personalize students’ learning experiences in their own classroom?  The five actions below enable teachers to take risks and become more student-centered.  Students start to become more interested and responsible for their own learning when learning is personalized.

Five Actions (not steps) * Keep in mind that each action requires modeling

1.)  Survey stakeholders near the beginning of the school year

By surveying students and receiving honest feedback, educators will be better able to understand students’ needs (not just academic).  The background knowledge gained will enable educators to differentiate the curriculum based on specific needs.  If you’re looking for a good survey tool, check out the Google Docs survey creation tutorial.  Also, surveys give educators a heads-up to possible concerns early in the school year.

2.)  Analyze Formative Assessment or Pre Assessment Data

Students are generally given some type assessment related to the topic of study near the beginning of the school year. Give students an opportunity to analyze their own data and write a reflection on how they feel about their score.  It’s important to communicate that the reflections will not be graded in order to gain reliable information.  Instead of having students say I did well, you could direct the student to describe what in particular was exceptional.  Students should also reflect on the teacher’s feedback.

3.)  Students set goals

After reviewing the reflections and teacher feedback, students set attainable goals for themselves. The key is to have the students create goals that are attainable. Don’t underestimate the power of student goal setting.  I’ve found that student goal setting often leads to more responsibility.  Modeling is vital for this action.

4.)  Offer Choices

After analyzing the assessment data and reviewing personal reflections, students are given the opportunity to choose how they will be assessed.  I understand that some assessments are not optional, but the teacher can utilize a variety of formative assessments designed to meet the students needs. The students will choose one assignment (could even be a collaborative group assignment) to complete from a variety of potential assignments.  The assignments should vary and could even target specific learning styles. After the assignments have been completed, students will reflect on their learning and the teacher will use a rubric to score each assignment.  Students feel (and are) in more control of their learning when they can choose their assignments. This action helps put students in the center of the learning process.

5.)  Offer Student Conferences

Students may view their assessment results and reflect on how much they have learned.  Students participate in individual conferences with the teacher to monitor the learning that has (and is) occurring.  This is also a good time to check-in to see how the student’s goal is progressing.  Students can also suggest alternative curriculum topics to explore.

 

 

Remember Constructivism?

What do you remember learning during your K – 12 experience?  You might cringe a bit as nostalgic memories come to mind…..  Now think about what you learned academically during that same time period. If you’re like me, most of what is remembered is attached to some type of positive (hopefully) engaging learning experience. Those memories have stood the test of time for some reason.  Educators understand that teaching is a process of making personal meaning. Those “personal meaning” experiences were most likely created by teachers who planned interactive lessons that engaged students.

I may be in familiar company, but I assume some learning experiences have left my memory banks altogether.  Here’s a brief list of what I remember:

  • Working in groups with other students – collaborate group assignments
  • Interactive projects that were presented in class
  • Concepts learned in school were tied to school / community based projects
  • Using technology in some form to create projects
  • Using games to learn

Even though it’s been many years since my K-12 experience, surprisingly, I still remember the concepts associated with the instruction.  From what I remember, most of what I enjoyed (or decided to actively learn) during my K – 12 education was generated by teachers who utilized some version of Constructivist teaching theory. Constructivist teaching has been in the news recently, specifically in education circles.  In fact, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has been quoted to have an opinion regarding Constructivism in the classroom. You can find his opinion in the second paragraph of this article.  Despite recent media coverage, Constructivism is still valued by educators and is utilized in many classrooms around the world.  Not one tool, even Kahn Academy, will improve the education system overnight. I think most educators would agree that how the curriculum is communicated is one factor, among many, that impacts student learning.  If utilized correctly, Constructivist teaching strategies can be a terrific tool, enabling teachers to developing engaging lessons that improve student learning.

Additional Resources on Constructivism can be found below.

What does a Constructivist classroom look like?

More examples

Goal Setting for Students

We all set informal / formal goals, whether it’s to get through today’s workout on the elliptical or to have a smooth school year.  Our goals are usually something we strive for, an end to some type of means.  I’ve found that goals change as people change.  Goals can be placed into different categories, such as academic, fitness, health, financial …. the list goes on and on.  Have you ever made an academic goal?  For some, the answer is a hesitant … yes, I think so … to get through graduate school or something like that.  Effective educators need to be able to communicate the need for goal setting.  Why is goal setting for students important?

1.)  Gives students responsibility for their own learning

When students analyze their own data (assessments, homework, class participation, etc.) they often become more interested in the analysis because it’s relevant to them.  While reflecting on the data, students have an opportunity to set goals for themselves.  Teacher modeling is a vital component of this procedure, although when left to look  at their own data, students often make essential connections and can relatively pinpoint where they personally struggle.  While introducing the concept of student goal setting, teachers can model from their own lives when they’ve had to overcome a goal.  Britt Pumphrey and Jonathan Ferrell’s blog has a few practical visuals that can assist in communicating student goal setting.  Students seem to express interest when they see that their own teacher has had to overcome some type of obstacle and it relates to the topic being discussed.  After students set their goals, they develop a plan to achieve their goal. The teacher and parents are all aware of the goal and help support the student through this process.  By creating goals, students  start to take on more responsibility for their own learning.  In the example below, new goals are created every 2-3 months.

Math Example 

After a general math pre-assessment or assessment, students are given the opportunity to analyze their own data to see which concepts they understand and which concepts need strengthening.  A student might observe that most of the problems missed are related to multiplication and division concepts.  The student decides that the goal is to improve the efficiency and accuracy of solving multiplication / division problems.  The student sets a goal to improve in that specific area.  To achieve the goal, the student decides to practice multiplication / division problems twice a week for 20 minutes on the computer and to create and solve two practical word problems a week relating to the goal.

 2.)  Shows students that effective effort leads to achievement

When students analyze their own data, they can observe over time that appropriate effort (i.e. practicing computation math problems / creating world problems / other factors) leads to achievement.  The students will will also observe that practicing good habits (following through with their action plan)  positively affects the outcome of their goal.

3.)  Gives the student a skill that they will need as adults

Educators and administrators set goals and this should be modeled for students.  The students that we educate today need to understand the importance of setting goals, and more importantly, how to achieve them.  Not only is this academic related, but this is also as skill that will help prepare our students for life outside of the classroom.

Twitter and Professional Development

I’ve observed and participated in a number of Twitter chats this year.  To be honest, I’ve expected a conversation with individuals who may be part of a PLN that are willing to express their perspectives on education. Scheduled chats generally have moderators and participants are free to express their opinions and may even ask questions aligned with the topic. Constructive debate is sometimes encouraged as educators often question the norm (or are at least not satisfied with the status quo).  At times, resources might be shared and links bookmarked.  While contributing, I share background knowledge and resources that have improved my teaching practice. Generally I come away from the chat with additional resources and ideas that I can practically utilize in the classroom.

General Chat process (informal list)

  • Moderators ask questions / introduces topic(s) to start the chat
  • Participants offer their opinions / experiences on particular topic
  • Affirmations / connections become evident
  • New ideas / resources become available via comments or links
  • Ideas on how to apply newly gained resources / perspectives become evident
  • Participants express interest in next chat topic

Here’s an example:

My latest Twitter experience at #elemchat  followed the above process, yet challenged participants to take purposeful action after the chat.

The topic during this specific night was about social bookmarking.  The moderators did a fine job asking questions and guiding the discussion accordingly.  Background knowledge was expressed by individuals who have had experience using social bookmarks.  Social bookmarking links and student examples were shared during the chat.  Diigo, Delicious, Symballo, Google and Scoop bookmarks (there may have been more, but I’d have to look at the transcript) were all discussed and analyzed during the chat.

One participant even stated:

“Can’t believe all the SB (social bookmarking) sites I was totally unaware of!”

In my opinion, what was said above is intriguing.  Gaining a better understanding of how to practically apply social bookmarking was one of the purposes of the chat.  Not only were participants gaining knowledge, but they were able to find ways to apply learning to improve their own practice.

Approximately half way through the chat, one participant thought that an#elemchat bookmarking site should be created.  Another participant created the bookmark on Diigo and since it’s been created a number of people have added valuable resources that educators can utilize to improve student learning.  My latest chat gave me a sense of how a scheduled chat can transform into a professional development opportunity.  Administrators and educators alike can see the value of Twitter chats.   If you’re on the fence and wondering if an educational chat is actually worth the time and effort, I would recommend getting your feet wet and become an active participant.

The New Community of Learners


As many (or few?) of you know, a storm passed through the Chicago area recently.  The storm produced massive winds that caused devastating damage.  Electric power and internet has been inaccessible in some pockets of the Chicago region for the past few days.  The above image jumped on my computer screen shortly after the storm passed.

I’m always amazed at the amount of community building that occurs when power is cut from a subdivision.  As I look outside, neighbors from across the street come and join other neighbors to chat.  Generally, the conversations revolve around the recent lack of electricity and then proceed to how’s the family … kids.. etc.   The community seems more connected during these times, almost out of necessity to find familiarity and the need to acquire information on the whereabouts of the electricity.  It was quite refreshing to see the neighborhood come together during this time of need.

This made me think of how people view community.  Part of my personal community was inaccessible during this time because of the lack of internet.  Since I didn’t have access to the internet (or power) at home, I left in search of a WiFi location.

 I found a local coffee shop.  Approximately 80% of the patrons had laptops and were standing and sitting on spaces on the floor attempting to communicate with clients and bosses over email.  Eventually the coffee shop’s internet buckled and shut down completely because bandwidth issues.  It seemed like I wasn’t the only one who needed the internet. People / businesses /schools have a challenging time functioning without the use of the internet / technology.

About five years ago I read a book titled, Campfires in Cyberspace.  Not necessarily on the NY Bestseller List , but it was a good read. This book gave me a few ideas on how to integrate technology in my own classroom.

This book spoke of the learning that can occur via technology.  This book was published before Twitter, Google+ and web 2.0 tools grabbed any type of traction in the education sector.  Actually the “new” learning tool for that time was Webquests.  I still enjoy utilizing Webquests in my classroom.

During the time I read this book, the words “Digital Native” started to become more prevalent in schools across the country.  If you’re still wondering what “Digital Native” is, take a look at Jodi Harrision’s blog and graphic. Just like adults have communities, I believe students have an opportunity to create and be a part of their own school community by utilizing technology.  ASCD has a brief article that outlines how to establish and suggests guidelines in creating an online student community.

 If adults seem uncomfortable without a day of internet access, how do you think students (that use technology daily) feel when they spend their entire school day without the web or using technology?  

By  utilizing technology, Educators will be able to open the box of  untapped potential to improve student learning. Now, more than ever educators / administrators need to integrate technology in the classrooms.

If you’re hesitant or want more information, follow #edtech on Twitter. Also, check out the following tech blogs if you’re still curious.

Making Math Relevant and Engaging

I noticed a theme while observing an educational math chat on Twitter.  Many of the participants spoke of how math and reading don’t necessarily have the same “emotional knee-jerk reaction” in education or at home.  One tweet I remember reading stated that there isn’t a math equivalent to reading a bedtime story, emphasis on reading.  As far as I know, there is no such thing as a math before bedtime.  Reading often takes precedence over math, especially at the elementary level.  Reading / Language Arts often requires or is mandated to take 1 1/2 – 2 times as much time as math. Don’t misinterpret what I’m writing here – reading is essential and absolutely needed.  I’m advocating for the math crowd – the people who despise hearing the words “I hate math” coming from anyone.  Math has received a stigma over time and there are even adults (you may be one of them)  who can’t stand thinking about math.  An interesting perspective comes from Michael Schultz in his recent blog post.  As you can imagine people dislike math for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, many adults remember math as one of the least favorite subjects in school.  Their math teachers were less than stellar and used (and only used) the text book for all math instruction.  How do educators and administrators decrease the negative stigma associated with math?  I believe removing the stigma starts before and during elementary school.  Educators need to make math relevant and engaging.  How does that happen at the elementary level?

Use Manipulatives

Educators understand the often use manipulatives to increase student engagement, especially when introducing a topic.  Looking back at my own experience,  the times I enjoyed or expressed interest in math were when my teacher used manipulatives in the classroom.  Using manipulatives creates student engagement, which often leads to increased learning.  I still remember using the base-ten blocks and geometric solids to learn math back in the day. A couple specific examples:

Base ten-blocks

Balances – Mathfour video

Use Technology

Students use technology everyday.  But teachers need to appropriately (that’s key) utilize technology to increase student learning.  Most curriculum publishers have a technology component (like math games or instruction slides to show students) already part of their program.  There is a wealth of knowledge and information available online for teachers to use.  Personally, I’ve used Youtube, Power Point, Audacity, Google Docs, Movie Maker, and Flip Cam regularly.  There are many more tools available to use – I just wrote down what what was used last year.  I’ve placed a few links below if you’re looking additional content. Using Google Docs

Multimedia in Mathematics – http://davidwees.com/content/presentations

Use Practical Examples and Show Relevancy

Students are much more motivated to complete problems that are relevant and applicable to their lives.  A student wants to know why they are learning specific math concepts.  If students aren’t sure about where or how to apply what they are learning, what motivation is there to stay engaged?  Finding practical math problems is important and gives students an opportunity to apply their learning.  Even having students create and solve their own problems is a good start. Students need to understand that what they are learning in math class is relevant.    I tend to show my students the following video from IBM.  Also, during the first week of school I generally show the students a macro picture of what they will be learning throughout the year and what skills that they will need to proceed through each unit.

IBM Math Commerical

I also ask the students the following questions:

  • Can I think of a story problem where I could apply this concept?
  • How will learning this help me in the future?

Play Games

Play games?  Are you kidding?  I think at times, educators and administrators downplay the importance of playing mathematical games.  Games give students an opportunity to use learned skills, such as, but not limited to:  numeracy, collaborative teamwork, and critical thinking skills. There are online math games and boardgames that are relevant to what is being taught in the classrooms.  For example, games like Battleship can help teach algebra quadrants and axis. An example: Board Games

Disclaimer (unfortunate but necessary) :  The thoughts and opinions expressed in these pages are my own, and not necessarily the opinions of my employers.

Grades for Homework?

Grades

A little background … I’ve always been an elementary teacher that grades just about everything.  I’ve thought that every assignment should contribute to an overall grade.  When I say grade, I mean a point value, such as 8/9 points.  Mainly, I did this because it worked with my grading system.  Parents and students alike understood my grading policy.  My policy allowed little subjectivity, which in my case provided less of an opportunity for arguments over grades.  Quick disclaimer:  I never allowed graded homework to count for more than 25% of the entire grade.  I thought that if I didn’t grade the homework, what incentive is there for the kids to complete the homework?  I gave the kids the “talk” about how homework is practice and will help in the long term, but always attached some type of grade to the homework.  My view on grading has changed over time.  A few years ago I decided to tweaked my system.

For one of my math classes, I decided to not give an official grade for homework assignments.  Instead, I decided to give a check or minus at the top of the page.  A check meaning that the student understands the concept (generally getting 80% correct) – here’s where the subjectivity lies.  A minus would mean that the student received less than 80% correct.  I still graded formative and summative assessments, but decided not to officially grade the homework (and have it count for their grade) for this particular class.

I was waiting for community members to start contact me about how they were confused and didn’t understand my grading … etc.  So what happened, did my inbox fill up like a helium balloon?  Actually…

No, it didn’t.  I didn’t get one email or phone call asking me to clarify the grading of the homework.  In fact, students became much more aware of how they were doing in class based on the check / minus system.  Students who received a minus actually took the initiative to redo the problems without asking.  Also, I was finding myself grading less homework, which allowed me time to focus on creating engaging lessons that promote student learning.  I also expected a drop in achievement and focus – neither happened.  I’m so glad that I took a leap and decided to grade using this new method.

Next year, I’m going to expand the system to the other grade levels that I teach.

This post was inspired from :

http://mctownsley.blogspot.com

http://russgoerend.com/

photo credit: Bunches and Bits {Karina} via photopin cc

Measuring Student Growth

Mastery or Growth (or both!)

In my experience as an educator,  I have found that teachers look at student data subjectively – through the eyes of the beholder.   Now, this isn’t necessarily the absolute truth, but teaching is a subjective profession (as there always seems to be conflicting opinions on what determines effective education.  Just turn on the news to find conflicting opinions or follow Diane Ravitch on Twitter for just a taste of  the educational unrest that occurs daily.

Mastery connected to student growth

Some teachers look at mastery of a concept or objective as a student receiving 90% or more correct on an assessment or unit.  It varies,  some would say 85% +, but it all depends on the teacher and what the district considers mastery.  But … what if instead of looking at mastery as a quantitative %ile measure, let’s look at individual student academic growth as a valuable measure.  You may say that that’s fine in theory, but how is growth measured and isn’t that subjective??  Well, grading in general is subjective – depending on the teacher’s grading methods.  How do educators and administrators measure individual student growth?

Just like measuring your height with a ruler, educators and administrators should have an accurate tool to measure student learning. Administrators and teachers need to be able to leverage student achievement data to improve learning.  Larry Cuban’s post addresses this issue in this insightful post.  To learn is to grow, at least in the sense of bridging and gaining an understanding of new concepts.  When students master a concept, I would assume that they are growing, at least in an academic  sense.  I’ve been on somewhat of a quest to understand how to effectively measure  student growth in order to become  a better educator.  Using NWEA’s MAP assessment gives a minimum picture of growth, but that is one measure.  Even NWEA has made a general statement that teacher employment decisions  should not be tied with student growth results from the MAP.

Another test that some educators might bring to light are  state standardized tests.  I don’t feel like these tests actually measure growth.   You can look at how a student performed in fourth grade and then fifth grade, but that’s not necessarily comparing growth.  These types of tests are more of report that answers the following question – Did the student meet the bare minimum standard for the state?  Even Education Secretary Arnie Duncan, has voiced his concerns, saying “The current bubble tests do little to assess critical thinking or anything beyond the most basic skills. His stance is refreshing, but once again, this is not a  solution-oriented stance; more so just accepting that there’s a problem.  Also, by the time the state tests come back, it’s a new school year and new agenda items are on the plates of administrators.

When students grow, what types of tools are available to measure how much they grow and how are those growth results compared to the national, state, or even school average?I believe the new Common Core may help answer this questions as objectives become more aligned, but not fully.  Also, a PLC or PLN may assist in helping solve this question.  Just a thought for today …

Disclaimer (unfortunate but necessary) :  The thoughts and opinions expressed in these pages are my own, and not necessarily the opinions of my employers.

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