Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Music to My Ears

It is easy to gauge success as a teacher of students. It is harder to gauge success as a technology integration specialist. Why I am thrilled by this success is because this came from the teacher! I only planted a seed awhile ago. But I never said, "Hey, for this assignment why don't you....." Our gifted music teacher did this by herself. She asked for help in its execution, but it was her idea. Hearing her interest in doing this was indeed "music to my ears".

In his SAMR model, Puentedera explains that  the best use of technology falls in the transformative stages of modification and redefinition. In her music composition class, +Michele Zuckman,  gave an assignment that did just this. For starters, she had students use Noteflight to compose their scores. At the very least, this component of the assignment already shifted the learning to the Augmentation level, though I feel parts of it sit at the Modification level as without a keyboard students can compose and then listen to the music they have created, which I feel is significant task redesign. More importantly, using Noteflight (somewhat) easily allowed for the next steps of the assignment of which you will read after the fold.

Friday, January 27, 2017

When All You Have is a Hammer...

I wish I found this image for my last post on teacher comments.
Lotta work ! Lotta learning? 

I was Googling for a google site called something like "Not an Essay" which listed things a student can do instead of writing an essay. (If you find it, can you link to it in a comment? I'm still looking for it. I thought I book-marked it; clearly I didn't.) instead, I came across this terrific post called "This is Not an Essay" by Lee Skallerup Bessette.

My reaction? ?Yes, Yes and more Yes!"

She writes:
It is important to understand norms, to be able to replicate them.* But it is also important to interrogate why these norms exist and to be able to see the process for what it is: a process.
 “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. – Proverb”
Set word or page-lengths, prescribed number of sentences per paragraph, limiting the number of paragraphs to five… All of this focuses the student on the form, rather than the content and purpose. The purpose of any essay then becomes, to meet the prescribed formatting requirements, rather than to communicate to a reader. Form and content are intrinsically linked, and students know that. They practice it every day. Except when they are writing for school. (my italics) 
It's a must read. 

Why? Because this all gets to bigger things. Either we teach the kids to challenge the system or conform to the system. 

If we don't help kids to learn ways to express themselves beyond "the hammer" of an essay- a medium which they will never use beyond their formal education- we've done them a disservice. We've made it harder for them to change the system with their words.

* I very much like that she does not fall into binary thinking. It is important to understand and replicate norms. I am not advocating abolishing the essay. It is important. But it isn't the end all and be all of student writing.

Margins Part 2

Just came across this link through my Google+ feed in which David Webster says the same thing more eloquently than me. He writes:

This seems to match my experience. I have asked students, increasingly, about their working processes. This has been interesting in all sorts of ways, but it was notable that none ever mentions that they refer to previous written feedback. Ever. They would probably have to log back in to an Electronic Management of Assessment system to retrieve it, or in the ancient times (still in effect in some lands), find that crumpled paper in the bottom of a bag.*** An obstacle too far. So what can we do instead?

Filling in the Margins

Recently, I suggested that if you ask students if they read your comments, you'd find out that more than half of them don't. I was talking with a colleague, +Layla Helwa  last night who said the exact same thing. The students check their grade – and put it away! All that work never read, all that work for nothing…and as we increasingly move into paperless digital management systems, I expect even fewer students are reading teacher comments. If they aren't reading it on papers handed back to them, they certainly aren't going back into an LMS or Google Classroom or eBackPack to find what you've written.

I don't have easy solutions to this, though I do have some ideas.

1) Consider audio feedback. Record your feedback. Some of our marginalia is hard to follow. And while some of our savvier students will know the traditional symbols and shortcuts we use, most won't. I know that I've had students thinking I've been agreeing with them when I've tried to point out agreement error.
Do you really think a student is going to read any of the comments
accompanying this or any grade below a B for that matter? Where is
the learning? 

2) Insist that students rewrite. I have a colleague, +Jeanette Kelleher, who lets students rewrite for a new grade as many times as they want. You want to have students learn from their mistakes, here is great way to get kids to read corrections.

3) When I taught middle school language arts and social studies, I had students keep an errors sheet. I made a deal with them that I would usually correct only two things per paper and never more than three. In return, they had to add these corrections to their error list and check the error list before submitting new assignments. They were not allowed to make the same mistake twice. The error list was part of the portfolio and turned in with the folder containing the newest assignment. By the end of the year, I'd have 40-50 errors students would repeatedly check for. This took some work though it was highly effective. I wouldn't add misspelled words to the list. However, I would add errors such as its vs. it's. 

4) This suggestion doesn't solve the short term problem and good teachers do this to some degree. I encourage you to be even more intentional. Keep track of common errors and frontload the instruction next time; whether that next time is the next week or with the next year's students. 

5) Use portfolios to promote self-reflection. Make the students responsible, at least in part, for deciding how well they are learning. It's a weird game we play. If we step back and think about it, we'd realize it. We don't really ask students how good they think their work is. It is almost as if some of they are saying, "I don't know how good this is; here, you decide." 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Portfolios Part 3: Portfolios in the Humanities and Social Studies

   Self reflection is central to learning. We write comments on student papers so hopefully students can look at them can think about the work they did. (By the way, unless you are intentional about making students reflect on their learning, students likely won't. If you don't believe me, ask students if they read comments on papers. More than half  will tell you they don't.) The fancy word for this is meta-cognition, which is basically thinking about one's own thinking. Some suggest that this self-awareness is ultimately what makes us homo sapiens. We should do all we can to activate this in our students. Self-awareness about one's learning leads to better learning. Some studies suggest that this tool is most developed between the ages of 12-15. Thus, this is a the perfect time to teach meta-cognitive skills.