Contrived doesn’t mean exciting or engaging

I observe students everyday as they learn and work.  A pedagogical stance of mine is that learning is to be authentic if learning is to occur at all.  Contrived instances or made up schemes seem not to have an impact as I predict they do.  Fairy tale learning atmospheres are thought to increase student motivation and generate a drive for learning. This has not been the case.

 

We brainstorm

Planning for learning is essential.  Assuming a teacher uses backwards design and that he/she plans with someone else, though someone may prefer planning as an individual.  When presented with something new a student has to learn, the teacher thinks of the best possible engaging learning experience possible.  Now, sometimes it is down right boring and that is a fact of life, but I do not believe there is a teacher out there who does not want his/her students really be into learning.  I brainstorm as many ideas as I can that would excite a student to learn.  With best laid intentions and a computer to type with, I compose a lesson plan that is astounding in terms of its creativity and learning potential.  The day comes and I deliver the instruction and you know what I quickly learn?

 

What I thought happened not

Here is a great example of what I thought was engaging was a complete flop.  I wanted students to see a problem in the district where I live and problem was that the town could use a new source of revenue.  Keep in mind this is my problem….the one I said is a problem.  So, in PBL style, I create an exciting opening event.  I made a Prezi, downloaded a snippit of the “Rocky” anthem and as students walk in I was playing it out and acting excited.  By the way, eighth graders do not get excited, and they were not excited or even interested in the Prezi that was playing and anthem.  I realized at that point, it flopped and my contrived instance of engagement went up in a puff of smoke.  I thought I developed an engaging opening sequence.  I thought I would capture their attention.  I thought and I thought and I thought.  My thoughts and planning didn’t do anything.

 

Contrived learning

When was the last time you learned something in a contrived atmosphere?  For instance, buying groceries thinking you have the metal cart under budget but the display as clerk shows the real dollars and sense blowing the food budget?  Or, when was the last time you painted a room only to find you were a gallon short and had to back to the store to get another gallon?  These are real life learning experiences that happen in real time and space.  Should learning be denigrated to contrived instances that have no meaning for students?  Nope.

 

My new plan of action

As I quickly realize the degree to which students do not connect real life to content, I must change how I go about teaching and learning.  In order for me to be an effective teacher I have to allow the feedback students are giving me to change how I go about my practice.  There is no better giver of new teaching tact than a student(s) reaction to my teaching.  If they aren’t into, I am going to have a very hard time getting them learn.  So, my new plan of action is to get a feel for what students want to learn about by proposing some ideas to them allowing them to have choice and then embed the instruction in their content preference.

 

inFORMATIVE Measures

One of the things that really excites me about learning is knowing when I have really learned something new. I know I’ve learned something when I incorporate this new piece of learning into my problem solving and critical thinking. So, as a teacher, how do I know when my students are learning and have learned content? Since I can’t get inside of their heads, I have to rely on formative assessments to tell me how much is being learned, and let this direct my teaching.

20th Century formative measures In 20th Century learning, teachers use paper and pencil having kids answer a few questions, collect them, scramble through them to figure out who isn’t learning, pull those students for intervention, while having something for the kids to do who are getting it. Another strategy is to have kids raise their hands answering questions hoping every student is really telling the truth. Both options are difficult.

21st Century formative measures In this digital age, teachers have the opportunity to leverage technology to their advantage to gain insight into what students have learned. Students have wireless devices today that may be an iPod, iPhone, iPad, Nook, Kindle, Android or laptop, and, because they have these, it gives teachers the opportunity to gather accurate information quicker, easier, and with greater efficiency. These formative measures can be embedded within instruction giving teachers flexibility when to use it. Using technology gives us instant feedback allowing for responsive teaching vs. reactive teaching. By this I mean that formative measures share quick, reliable data helping us give responsive intervention as soon as it is needed rather than wait until the next day when the learning moment is past. Dylan Wiliam, author of “Embedded Formative Assessment” shares his view on formative assessment.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3HRvFsZHoo&w=520&h=315]

Kevin Rich, English Language Arts teacher at Lakeridge Junior High School, wrote a guest blog about formative assessment in writing.  While this post is not about writing, it is about how to do this easily.  His second point brings simplicity to an embedded formative measure:

Don’t try to do too much with any single formative assessment.  Feedback is most effective if it’s given during the writing process.  That means that formative assessment must be very quick and easy for me as a teacher.  By formatively assessing just one or two skills or standards that I taught that day, I can diagnose which students have a lack of understanding as they are writing.

Formative Measure Tools
Getting caught up in measuring every part of your lesson is unrealistic.  So, the measurement tool has to be relatively easy too.  Below are a list of tools that can be used in class and are free.
  1. Tool 1 – Mentimeter  > Interact with your students letting them give you valuable feedback.
  2. Tool 2 – Quiz Star  > Free quiz maker for all teachers.
  3. Tool 3 – Twtpoll  > This is a free or you can pay for powerful features.  Create polls that others can interact with using Twitter.
  4. Tool 4 – polls.io  >
  5. Toll 5 – Edmodo  > This is a free LMS for teachers to help connect them in powerful ways by joining communities.  Once a member, quizzes can be created for students to take which can be either formative or summative.
  6. Tool 6 – Google Form  > Create a Google account and use Forms to create formative measures.
  7. Tool 7 – Socrative  > Engage students in a variety of ways in class to gather important information about what they are learning.
  8. Tool 8 – cel.ly  > Not only can you create cells for students to work within, but polls can be created for formative assessment.  Results of polls are stored for teachers to go back and review.
  9. infuselearning – This is a great site to collective formative data about your students. Not only do you have the normal types of questions – i.e. true/false, matching, and MC – but you have the ability to add in a draw response too!
What To Do Now
Preview the eight tools above to determine which one suits you better.  I have used Google Forms, Edmodo, and cel.ly and like all three.  Whatever one you choose to use, start slow.  Choose one lesson where you can use it easily, match it up to a learning standard, and use it.  The great part about using BYOD as a response system is that the data you get can be stored so you can create an anthology of learning about every student over the course of a school year.  When it is time to communicate with parents, teachers, or administrators, you can bring your data with you to show learning progress.  Having this kind of data kept over time also allows you to determine the effectiveness of RTI.

Threading

As the proliferation of web technology grows, and increasingly gets into the hands of students and teachers, there will be an explosion of educational products to learn from. As it is right now, there is a vast amount of information to choose from, and as mobile devices get into the hands of more people, there will more to learn than we can possibly imagine. How can I have students create original products that show they have curated the content for what they needed? How will kids be able to choose the right web tools to show their understanding? As a technology integration specialist, I grapple with these kinds of questions to help teachers and students make the right choices that accurately portray what was learned. My students today registered for VoiceThread accounts to help them generate authentic products with voice and images as they learn. VoiceThread is one of many web applications that can transform learning.

The typical model in U.S. schools is for the teacher to download what she knows to the student who is supposed to recall, study, and regurgitate information back in almost the original form. Add to this the use of worksheets and the pump is primed for low level, unsustainable learning in the form of factoids that mean nothing. Maybe I went a little overboard there. The question for me as a technology integration specialist is how can tech be put to use to create original works that show a high level of thinking while maintaining the attraction value students love. Using a Web 2.0 app like VoiceThread helps myself and the teacher I work with to energize kids to learn.

Threading is not only about VoiceThread and working to create an authentic product that threads images, voice and video together, but also about the multi-step and multiple pathways that converge and diverge within student thinking. We call it thinking. We may want to call it threading.

Tech snafu

Having a computer has its advantages. I can have kids access information at a moment’s notice to find something worth looking up, or at least something I think is worth looking up, have software pre-installed, and complete needed activities. Would you ever imagine it would be disadvantage?

I had an interesting experience today that, while frustrating, taught me a great deal about helping kids learn with a computer in front of them. First, students don’t see the computer as a gateway to finding unlimited resources and information. I’ll ask a question and a response might be, “Where am I going to find the answer to that?” I might be coy and say inside your head, but it is a striking picture of forgotten ubiquitous technology. I am not saying that a student wouldn’t turn to it to find information at some point. I am saying that it was startling to note how many students need a reminder it is there. Often I over estimate student’s abilities to use a computer and to use it well. I was reminded of this when I was helping 6th graders gain access to the web or help them locate software. Shouldn’t they already know this stuff? Finally, I learned that if I am prepared, which I was prepared for the final class today (I was ready for the previous 3 but tech snafu’s always catch me off guard), that high quality learning takes place, yet to reach that high quality I really had to push the very boxed in thinking students have today in the classroom. As advantageous as computers are, and they really are, there are the disadvantages.

Learning Space

I find it peculiar that students get confused by working in learning spaces online. This is their first time doing so in a wiki and the interface throws them a bit, but that isn’t what I am I getting at. They simply find it odd to work together in a social context when the word school is involved. I think of many ways students might interact with each other digitally, likely in similar ways, and yet it is just odd for them to do so here. Just a reflection for the day.

The week went well and progress was made on the fronts of setting up web browsers, getting usable apps that can be used for productivity and fun, and the kids had a chance to start working together in their own learning spaces. It was a good week and I am looking forward to next.