Tag Archives: learning

Cramming is indisputable proof of the superficiality of most classrooms in America

Cramming

Marion Brady says:

The Procedure: 1. Take notes during lectures, and hi-lite key sentences in the textbook. 2. Before a big test, load the notes and hi-lited passages into short-term memory. 3. Take the test. 4. Flush short-term memory and prepare for its re-use.

The Procedure, of course, is called “cramming.” Do it well and it leads steadily up the academic ladder.

But here’s a question: Does The Procedure have anything do with educating?

Learning – real LEARNING – starts when, for whatever reason, the learner wants it to start. It proceeds if the aim is clear and what’s being learned connects logically and solidly to existing knowledge. It’s strengthened when mistakes are made, clarifying the potential and limitations of the new knowledge. It’s reinforced when it’s put to frequent, immediate, meaningful, real-world use. It becomes permanent when it’s made part of the learner’s organized, consciously known “master” structure of knowledge.

Slow down for a moment and think about it. Cramming is indisputable proof of the superficiality and inefficiency – even the failure – of what’s going on in most classrooms across America. What’s crammed wasn’t learned or there would be no need to cram; what’s crammed isn’t learned or it wouldn’t be forgotten.

In the real world, where it counts, the gap between crammers and learners is vast, and tends to widen over time. Unfortunately, the thus-far-successful “reform” effort to cover the standard material at a standard pace, and replace teacher judgment with machine-scored standardized tests has further institutionalized cramming and hidden the failure its use proves.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/12/the-procedure-and-how-it-is-harming-education

We’ve been doing a lot of this over the past week as my daughter prepares for her AP U.S. History semester exam (100 multiple choice questions in 90 minutes). I hate it…

Image credit: Cram time (winter+spring), Svein Halvor Halvorsen

Content mastery is a means, not a goal

Grant Wiggins says:

There are really only 3 non-negotiables in UbD [Understanding by Design]:

  1. There has to be a clear, constant, and prioritized focus on ‘understanding’ as an educational goal. Content mastery is NOT a sufficient goal in an understanding-based system; content mastery is a means, in the same way that decoding fluency is a means toward the real goal of reading – meaning, based on comprehension, from texts. This logic requires teacher-designers to be clear, therefore, about which uses of content have course priority since understanding is about transfer and meaning-making via content.
  2. The assessments must align with the goals via ‘backward design’; and the goals, as mentioned, should highlight understanding. So, there can be quizzes of content mastery and questions on the exam re: content, but the bulk of assessment questions and tasks cannot possibly be mere recall of content kinds in an understanding-based system. The issue is therefore not whether or not there are final exams but what kinds of questions/tasks make up any exams given; and whether the kinds of questions are in balance with the prioritized goals.
  3. The instructional practices must align with the goals. Again, that doesn’t mean content cannot be taught via lectures or that content-learning cannot be what lessons are sometimes about. But a course composed mainly of lectures cannot logically yield content use – any more than a series of lectures on history or literacy can yield high-performing historians or teachers of reading. The instructional methods must, as a suite, support performance with understanding.

via http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/final-exams-vs-projects-nope-false-dichotomy-a-practical-start-to-the-blog-year

There are so many good things in this 3-item list. I love the emphasis on student performance; the reminder that content mastery is a means, not a goal; and the emphatic distinction between ‘recall’ and ‘understanding.’ Thanks, Grant.

When parents want to opt their children out of ed tech

Denial

I had a conversation with a parent a few weeks back during which she said something like this:

My husband and I are worried about how prevalent screens are in our children’s lives. We are striving to maintain some balance between screen time and other time for our kids. However, our high school’s 1:1 laptop initiative has made it much harder for us to do this with our son since he is now expected to bring the computer home and use it during the evenings and weekends.

Even the most ardent technology advocates usually recognize that others may have different beliefs and norms when it comes to children and computers. I found myself empathizing with this mother as she found herself in direct competition with an initiative from the school system that was intended to empower her child but instead was undermining her parenting.

Parents often have opt-out rights for some sensitive course or school library materials (e.g., movies, videos, books or other readings, sex education classes) but they don’t typically have opt-out rights for instructional methods or curricula. Should parents have the right to refuse or limit a 1:1 initiative – or other educational technology usage – for their children? If so, in practical terms how would that work (e.g., would schools be required to provide analog assignments and/or homework)? What do you think?

Image credit: karen’s denial, zen sutherland

Adaptive learning

Unit 1

Teacher 1:

In the past I have mapped out my school year ahead of time. I’ve planned how long each unit is going to take; identified the resources, activities, and assessments that I’ll use for each unit; and then marched students through the content. But this year, I’ve got an amazing idea! Before school starts I’m going to print off all of the worksheets, quizzes, and tests that the publisher sends with the textbook. I’ll also add in a few of my own supplemental activities, and put everything into numbered folders. Since kids like videos, for some units I’ve even got some VHS tapes on which I’ll place Post-It notes with time-marked segments for them to watch. Students will have access to a printed checklist for each unit that shows what they need to read, watch, and do, and they’ll also get an overview checklist of all of the units for the entire year. This way, instead of students marching to my pace, they can go as fast or as slow as they need to. They can even bounce around different units as desired, focusing on whatever they want to work on that day, and can skip stuff if they can prove mastery! I’ll also put some stickers into each folder. As students complete each reading, worksheet, quiz, test, activity, or video, they can put a sticker on their checklist showing that they’ve completed it. It will be just like getting points and leveling up in a video game! We’ll also have tracking posters stapled to the bulletin board so that I can monitor overall task and unit completion for each student, and intervene as necessary if students are moving too slow, need extra help, or are ready for enrichment activities. The system will be entirely student-driven, freeing me up to be a facilitator of learning instead of a ‘sage on the stage.’ I’m so excited to set up this system of personalized learning!

Teacher 2:

In the past I have mapped out my school year ahead of time. I’ve planned how long each unit is going to take; identified the resources, activities, and assessments that I’ll use for each unit; and then marched students through the content. But this year, my school has an amazing idea! Before school starts I’m going to have access to an online adaptive learning system that includes all of the worksheet, quiz, and test items that the publisher sends with the digital textbook. There also are some supplemental activities, and everything is organized into numbered units. Since kids like videos, for some units the system even has some digital tutorials for them to watch. Students will have access to an online checklist for each unit that shows what they need to read, watch, and do, and they’ll also get an overview checklist of all of the units for the entire year. This way, instead of students marching to my pace, they can go as fast or as slow as they need to. They can even bounce around different units as desired, focusing on whatever they want to work on that day, and can skip stuff if they can prove mastery! The system also has digital badges for each unit. As students complete each reading, worksheet, quiz, test, activity, or video item, they get a digital badge for their checklist showing that they’ve completed it. It will be just like getting points and leveling up in a video game! We’ll also have access to an online data analytics system so that I can monitor overall task and unit completion for each student, and intervene as necessary if students are moving too slow, need extra help, or are ready for enrichment activities. The system will be entirely student-driven, freeing me up to be a facilitator of learning instead of a ‘sage on the stage.’ I’m so excited we have this system of personalized learning!

12 education guidelines from Alfie Kohn

Alfie Kohn says:

  1. Learning should be organized around problems, projects, and (students’) questions – not around lists of facts or skills, or separate disciplines.
  2. Thinking is messy; deep thinking is really messy. Therefore beware prescriptive standards and outcomes that are too specific and orderly.
  3. The primary criterion for what we do in schools: How will this affect kids’ interest in the topic (and their excitement about learning more generally)?
  4. If students are “off task,” the problem may be with the task, not with the kids.
  5. In outstanding classrooms, teachers do more listening than talking, and students do more talking than listening. Terrific teachers often have teeth marks on their tongues.
  6. Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.
  7. When we aren’t sure how to solve a problem relating to curriculum, pedagogy, or classroom conflict, the best response is often to ask the kids.
  8. The more focused we are on kids’ “behaviors,” the more we end up missing the kids themselves – along with the needs, motives, and reasons that underlie their actions.
  9. If students are rewarded or praised for doing something (e.g., reading, solving problems, being kind), they’ll likely lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward.
  10. The more that students are led to focus on how well they’re doing in school, the less engaged they’ll tend to be with what they’re doing in school.
  11. All learning can be assessed, but the most important kinds of learning are very difficult to measure – and the quality of that learning may diminish if we try to reduce it to numbers.
  12. Standardized tests assess the proficiencies that matter least. Such tests serve mostly to make unimpressive forms of instruction appear successful.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/10/30/a-dozen-basic-guidelines-for-educators

What are we doing to foster ‘get stuff done with other people networks?’

Although you're far...

Kakul Srivastava says:

Millennials are more likely than any other previous generations to daily access their outside-of-work networks to get work done. The forces of micro-entrepreneurship are increasing making each of us our own “corporation,” reliant on our outside networks to make things happen. Finally, as our previous work experience becomes increasingly irrelevant to our future work problems, our real asset to bring to any endeavor becomes our network.

Will Richardson adds:

for most of us, our PLNs are “sharing networks” in that the main currency in our connections are links and or ideas that, in theory at least, amplify our own learning about whatever it is we’re interested in. But seeing our networks as “critical to getting our work done” is a step up for most

What are we doing as school leaders to foster our students’ and educators’ development of ‘get stuff done’ networks? Usually nothing.

Image credit: Although you’re far…, Aphrodite

Before we ask kids to do their best, ask if the task is meaningful

Alfie Kohn says:

Challenge — which carries with it a risk of failure — is a part of learning. That’s not something we’d want to eliminate. But when students who are tripped up by challenges respond by tuning out, acting out, or dropping out, they sometimes do so not because of a deficiency in their makeup (lack of stick-to-itiveness) but because those challenges — what they were asked to do — aren’t particularly engaging or relevant. Finger-wagging adults who exhort students to “do their best” sometimes don’t offer a persuasive reason for why a given task should be done at all, let alone well. And if the rejoinder is that it doesn’t matter if the assignment is just busywork because kids need to develop “good work habits” across the board, well, a reasonable person would wonder who stands to benefit when children are taught to work hard at anything that they’re assigned to do by someone with more power.

via http://www.joebower.org/2013/10/what-do-kids-really-learn-from-failure.html

You learn the work by doing the work

Cale Birk says:

You learn the work by doing the work. . . . So what if we made it a primary objective in education to spend as little time as possible talking to our learners and as much time available out getting them to DO the work? And when I am speaking about learners, I am referring to students AND adults.

via http://thelearningnation.blogspot.com/2013/10/youre-just-not-that-interesting.html

Instead of allowing our son’s school to drain the love of learning from our son…

David and Vasilia Wees say:

We believe that children need these essential elements in order to become healthy adults; creativity, play, intellectual stimulation, exercise, and opportunities to collaborate with and learn from their peers. None of these elements is present in at my son’s current school in a sufficient degree. We can see that the school is fighting a losing battle to maintain some physical activity and art, and from the research we have done, these are often lacking in many of the public schools in New York City.

My son recently told us that his current school is the “No fun school” but that he is “learning to adjust to it.”

Our son’s current school is teaching children that learning is a chore to be done, and not something to enjoy and to love.

We understand that relatively recent legislation in New York State, where teachers and principals are judged based largely on the test scores of their students, is to blame for this situation.

Instead of allowing our son’s school to drain the love of learning from our son, we are removing him from your school’s care.

via http://davidwees.com/content/we-are-homeschooling-our-son

3 big shifts

Three

Trying to keep things conceptually simple, I see schools needing to make 3 big shifts:

  1. From Low-Level Thinking to High-Level Thinking. From an overwhelming emphasis on students doing lower-level thinking tasks (factual recall, procedural regurgitation) to students more often engaging in tasks of greater cognitive complexity (creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, effective communication).
  2. From Analog to Digital. From local classrooms that are largely based on pens/pencils, notebook paper, ring binders, and printed textbooks to local and global learning spaces that are deeply and richly technology-infused (devices + Internet).
  3. From Teacher-Directed to Student-Directed. From classrooms that are overwhelmingly teacher-controlled to learning environments that enable greater student agency (ownership and control of what, how, when, where, who with, and why they learn).

I think the third one’s going to be most difficult. As educators we are not ready to give up control…

How is your school doing with these 3 big shifts?

3bigshifts
Download graphic of this table

Image credit: 3Brittney Bush Bollay

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