Friday, November 22, 2013

The great homework (assignment) debate... (44)

Homework is only a tool. It’s how we use (or misuse) homework that makes the difference. The three questions below can be helpful guides to determine if your homework is a force for good or evil:

  • AUTHENTIC: Would a student be required to do this task on personal time in real life?

All homework assignments should be authentic, or related to the requirements of real life. Some professions, such as general dentistry, don’t require any “take-home” work. However, orthodontists, architects, and editors have quite a bit of “take-home” work. Consider the professions related to the task you’re assigning. Would this task be done on personal time? If so, go ahead and assign it. If not, think twice. Be sure to communicate these connections to students; it will help them make more informed choices about their careers!

  • DELIBERATE: Does this task encourage students to engage in deliberate practice?

Deliberate practice requires you to design tasks that require specific and sustained efforts on individual areas of weakness. Have you identified a particular student’s weakness and targeted it through the assignment of the task? If so, go ahead and assign it. If your homework is monolithic and one-size-fits-all, then think twice.

  • ENGAGING: Would YOU be excited to complete this task?
Completing 50 rote math problems that look exactly the same doesn’t exactly inspire passion. Defining an arbitrary list of words doesn’t correlate with a love of reading and writing. Put simply, would you have the forbearance to complete the task you’ve just assigned? If not, don’t expect your students to be enthralled either! (Check out Nick Provenzano’s attempt to complete all the homework he assigned to students HERE.)

If your homework is authentic, deliberate, and engaging, then it’s likely a worthy tool within the educational program you’ve designed for students. Extending learning in safe, meaningful ways can help students accelerate their progress.

However, if you’re homework is arbitrary, a source of “grades,” or a way to penalize children, just skip it.

Kid President's 20 things we should say more often...

Friday, November 15, 2013

10 self-reflection questions for all educators... (43)

Our beliefs about teaching, learning, and education in general, make us who we are. These beliefs are a culmination of life experiences, professional experiences, and lots of trial and error. Over time it's possible and quite likely that our beliefs will evolve and adjust. Having said that, spend a few minutes reading the ten questions below. Then, more importantly, spend some time trying to answer these questions.

BONUS: Spend some time speaking with your students about these questions and get some feedback from them...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

5 ways to make your classroom more student-centered... (42)

A student-centered classroom allows students to be an integral part of the assessment development process. This doesn't necessarily mean every assessment is created and designed by students, but it does mean there is a collaborative and joint venture of teachers and students in the planning and implementation stages of assessments. Students who help to design and create their assessments will find the assessments to be more meaningful, and typically students end up creating assessments that are more rigorous than what teachers would have created anyway...

A student-centered classroom focuses on finding solutions to real-world problems. Too often our classroom focus is on solving problems that lack relevance and purpose in the eyes of students. The student-centered classroom addresses real-world problems that affect or will affect students. This in turn will provide meaning and context to student-driven learning, which then will increase levels of engagement and overall student involvement.

A student-centered classroom is not about what the teacher is doing or what the teacher has done; it's about what the students are doing and what the students can do in the future. We all have experienced the teacher observation model that focuses just on what the teacher is doing, but more and more models are now focusing on what the students are doing. Obviously what the teacher does affects and impacts what the students are doing, but the most important piece is what the students are doing or are able to do as a result of what the teacher is doing.

A student-centered classroom embraces the notion that there are multiple ways to accomplish an individual task. When we limit and confine students to following a certain and specific path, we ultimately end up limiting their levels of ownership, innovation, and creativity. A student-centered classroom allows, encourages, and embraces the multitude of paths one can take to solve a given problem. This also allows for students to follow their strengths and their interests when completing a task.

A student-centered classroom firmly believes that there is a partnership and a strong level of trust between educators and students. The teacher no longer is and hasn't been for a while the 'smartest' person in the room. Because of this we need to continue forging a partnership between the teachers and the students and accept an equal playing field when it comes to learning, exploration, and discovery. This partnership is built on trust, and trust happens when we are vulnerable and open to learning with and from others...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Project-based learning... (41)

Traditional American classrooms tend to fit a particular mold: Students face the front of the class where teachers lecture.
Students take notes, finish assignments at home, and hope to memorize enough information just long enough to pass a test.
Engagement and passion are often in short supply — among students and teachers. The system does not necessarily accommodate all learning styles, and even those who fair well may be missing out on other important work-life lessons, like how to creatively solve problems, stay focused, work as part of a team, and organize their thoughts in a way others will understand.
This is where project-based learning enters the equation.
What is Project-Based Learning?
Project-based learning, or PBL, is generating a great deal of buzz in the world of education, and is often portrayed as an alternative to passive learning and rote memorization. If traditional education is classical, PBL is jazz. In a PBL classroom, teachers present problems that students must solve together in groups. Rather than reciting facts and hoping some of them stick, teachers give students the resources they need to research concepts and apply them in a practical form. Mistakes are allowed and even expected in the course of meaningful learning. The result: Students become active rather than passive learners and build important workplace skills. Of course, all of this requires a great deal of planning, a healthy dose of flexibility and an environment that supports collaboration. Here are four essential elements of a successful PBL classroom.
4 must-follow rules for designing a PBL classroom
1. Learning Spaces Help Set The Tone
One of the defining characteristics of a PBL classroom is the emphasis on group work: Students work with their peers to solve problems. That means the space must be organized in a way that supports collaboration — neat lines of forward-facing desks are the enemy. In a multi-disciplinary elementary classroom, portable floor mats or cushions are an excellent alternative to traditional desks, at least during group work periods.
Teachers still need a central location where all students can congregate to hear stories, lessons or project instructions, but there should be enough room beyond that for break-out group work. Older students, on the other hand, often need large work surfaces and comfortable chairs. Large round or rectangular tables are ideal, but if budgets are limited, teachers can simply push desks together in small clusters.
One key? Keep your content area and common project types in mind. Small writing desks may be okay for English students, but science students probably need large surfaces that accommodate lab work. Digital products will require requisite technology access, as will mobile learning approaches, and community-based projects can benefit from social media access and blogging tools in addition to local periodicals, and even space for face-to-face interaction with community members. You might find online tools like Classroom Architect helpful during the classroom planning process.
2. Think Information Access
PBL is not a paper-pushing style of learning. Students need access to chalk or white boards, reference books, and art or presentation supplies. Young children are often spatial and tactile learners, so it helps to divide these multi-disciplinary classrooms into subject-themed areas that organize and display manipulatives, learning materials and other supplies.
Classrooms for older students tend to be subject-dedicated, so teachers might consider reserving an area for rotating, lesson-specific materials in addition to the usual year-round supplies. Whatever their grade or subject, remember that PBL classrooms are by definition unpredictable and, to a degree, student-guided. You may not know what direction a particular project will take, so try to keep a wide breadth of materials on-hand to support rather than limit creativity.
vancounerfilmschool-draw-23. Use Technology With Purpose
While most American classrooms are increasingly “plugged in,” PBL classrooms prominently feature — and make full use of — educational technology. One of the key goals of PBL is to help students develop real-world skills, and today’s professionals conduct research online, use spreadsheets or databases to organize information, and use video-editing and presentation software to transmit ideas. As Maine-based PBL teacher Susan McCray told Edutopia, “I can’t imagine designing the curriculum that I do without being able to click onto the Internet and get all the materials and resources that are available, and I can’t imagine my students not being able to do that either.”
Remember, though, that technology can quickly become a distraction. Internet use should be monitored, and IT specialists should inspect glitchy or sluggish computers that detract from the learning experience. Teachers should also provide guidance on the appropriate use of technology in the grand scheme of a project’s goals.
4. See Yourself As The Ultimate Resource
Perhaps the most important element of a PBL classroom is its teacher. Unlike traditional classrooms PBL classrooms are by nature unpredictable and, to an extent, student-guided. Teachers must be flexible, supportive and engaged in the learning process, even if they sometimes feel like spectators. They must introduce projects’ themes and goals, ensure students have all the resources and materials they need, and keep students — and their classrooms — organized. They must also know when to teach and when to observe, and then have the restraint to step back and let students make mistakes now and again
Words to the wise: Take the PBL plunge.
The decision to transition to a PBL classroom, even on a part-time basis, can be intimidating for any teacher, but especially those for whom PBL is uncharted territory. As PBL gains more traction, expect it to become a more integral part of teacher training. Until then, most PBL teachers learn through continuing education programs, conferences, books and online resources like the Buck Institute of Education. However you get started, consider your experiment in PBL to be your own personal project subject to the same philosophies you intend to teach. That means plan carefully, remain flexible and, perhaps most importantly, expect and forgive mistakes.