Thursday, December 14, 2017

Strategies to Extend Student Thinking

Effective classroom instruction is built around student thinking. In recitations, discussions, and other means of checking for understanding, excellent teachers make sure that students are doing the thinking and supplying answers, making connections, correcting errors, etc. 

The invariable temptation of inexperienced teachers is to rescue temporarily stymied students or class discussion. In the interest of student feelings, or in impatience to get on with things, some teachers will plunge in and either give the answers to their own questions (or worse, fail to even ask questions), or focus only on the students they know will give timely and correct answers. This will move the class along, but it will give a probably false impression that the class as a whole understands the learning.

Excellent teachers instead use many of the following to move past easy answers or awkward silences:

      Remember wait time
Provide at least three seconds of thinking time after a question and after a response

     Utilize 'think-pair-share'
Allow individual thinking time, discussion with a partner, and then open up for class discussion

     Ask 'follow-ups'
Why? Do you agree? Can you elaborate? Tell me more. Can you give an example?

     Withhold judgment
Respond to student answers in a non-evaluative way to solicit further discussion

     Ask for summary
To promote active listening, frequently ask students to summarize

    Survey the class
“How many agree with…?’ Use ‘follow up’ questions

    Play 'devil's advocate'
Require students to defend their reasoning against different points of view

    Ask students to 'unpack' their thinking
"Describe how you arrived at your answer"

    Cold call on students randomly or by design
Not just on those with raised hands

    Student questioning
Let or require students to develop their own questions

    Cue student responses
‘There is not only one correct answer for this question. I want you to consider alternatives.’
          
Effective classroom instruction requires thoughtful planning and great flexibility. While keeping the learning targets central, and checking for understanding frequently, excellent teachers focus their efforts on making sure that all students are engaged all the time, that students and not the teacher are doing most of the intellectual work in the classroom. Great teachers use a variety of means to stretch, challenge, scaffold, support, and encourage students

The link below contains a form for classroom observation using these strategies. 

Resources


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Focus on Formative Assessment: Using Sticky Notes

Sticky notes are an easy and flexible means for checking for understanding. The variety of sizes and colors make them adaptable to many kinds of tasks. They're great for facilitating discussions.

Discussion can include:
- adding to, deleting, prioritizing, re-combining, moving to different category, etc. Stickies are easily moved around on the white board (or chalk board), so this makes re-organizing simple and non-permanent.

Students can be asked to record any final product (or questions, etc.) in their composition books before the stickies are removed.

Here are a few examples of how I've used sticky notes in my classes:
  • Characters and Themes, A Tale of Two Cities: In small groups, students were given stickies with the main characters introduced early in the novel. Groups decided where these characters best fit under main themes thus far in the story: 'Buried', 'Recalled to Life', etc., as well as those whose role was uncertain. Simple, but a  great discussion starter. 
  • Long-term & Immediate Causes of the Renaissance: Students worked in small groups, with long-term using one color, immediate another color; each group posted on board; discussion, re-ordering, etc. followed.
  • Text Review, Developments in 19th c.: Groups decided on most important 'new markets and new products' and 'new patterns of life', and post ideas. Discussion followed: prioritizing, eliminating, adding, etc
  • Cause/Effect, Russian Revolution: Group 1 wrote causes on one color, group 2 wrote effects on another, groups 3 & 4 selected key events leading up to and after the revolution. These were posted on the board. Each group presented briefly, with class discussion following.
  • Discussion Prep (17thc. France): Groups with large stickies wrote on four areas: Group A- 3 connections to previous learning; Group B- 3 most important ideas/themes; Group C- 3 excellent questions; Group D- 3 most interesting facts/points. Discussed as class, adding and refining as needed, prioritizing what items to focus discussion on. 
  • Action & Character discussion, Pride and Prejudice: The (first) Proposal, The Letter-- sticky notes for: Darcy's actions for both, Elizabeth's actions for both; Darcy's character traits revealed by his actions for both, Elizabeth's character traits revealed by her actions, for both. Place on board and discuss.
  • Key Dates Review: Students placed individual events on the board in order; other students took turns (cold call!) re-organizing as needed, until sequence is complete. Students then placed dates over the events, following above process. We then had students try to recall the event under the date. 

For more information on formative assessment, check above under Resources  for 'Formative Assessment from Hand Signals to Harkness Discussions'.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Focus on Formative Assessment: Student White Boards

Individual student white (dry erase) boards  are an outstanding means to regularly check for understanding. White boards are inexpensive, easy to use and easy to store. They have the advantage over paper of not being ‘permanent’, so students are often more willing to take risks than if they were working on paper. White boards are excellent tools for younger students as well as for high schoolers. 

White boards enable the teacher to do a quick, full-class check for understanding. Misunderstanding or imperfect recall is easily seen, so the teacher will know if review is necessary for the class or for groups of individuals.

Here are some of the things I’ve used white boards for in my Humane Letters class:
  • Quick review of key dates (sometimes the date, sometimes the event)
  • Identification/recognition of ideas (e.g students write 'M' if the quotation I read is from Montesquieu, or 'R' if they think it's from Rousseau)
  • Summary statements; write, revise
  • Lists of causes, or effects
  • Writing and revising thesis statements
  • Graphic organizers as review activity, individually or in pairs

For more information on using white boards, check out the following site:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Focus on Formative Assessment: Exit Pass

Image result for exit pass
The Exit pass or exit ticket is a versatile and easy method of checking for student understanding. When explicitly connected to the learning target/objective for the lesson (strongly advised) it gives the teacher a quick means of assessment.

How to use: As with formative assessments generally, the exit pass is an ungraded check. Toward the end of the lesson or transition time, students are given a slip of scratch paper, an index card, or a special 'exit ticket' (many versions are easily found on Google image).

I have found that the more 'scratch' the piece of paper is, the less pressure students feel from the exercise, and the less attached they are to the 'work'--there is no need to correct and return these to students. This helps to make checking for understanding a low-key, routine part of the class. Exit passes are not 'events' to be prepared for--they are simply a way for teachers to check on student understanding.

Students are given a few minutes to complete the task, and then hand the exit pass to the teacher on the way to their next class or transition. In my high school classes, it is literally their exit ticket--the student doesn't leave until I get a completed exit pass from them.

Typically the questions are brief, connecting as much as possible to the heart of the lesson, the learning target. The tasks range from simple factual recall (e.g. 'what were the five causes of the French Revolution?' to more involved (e.g. 'if you were writing a quiz over today's material, what two questions would you include?'). Exit passes can seek to do a variety of tasks, using a 3-2-1 format: students write 3 main points, 2 connections to previous learning, and 1 question. A 3-2-1 format not only checks for student recall of the basic information (3 main points) but also can help to bring up questions students may have been reluctant to ask. They can ask for students to reflect on their learning, and even to ask for any help they think they or class needs.

Exit passes are generally quickly reviewed by the teacher and then recycled (at least here in Oregon), but occasionally a teacher may want to copy a few excellent questions for further discussion or to review the next lesson. Typically, exit passes are looked at for patterns of misunderstanding. Are there a few students who missed something that needs to be addressed with them individually? Is there something that a significant part of the class is unclear on, and so needs to be reviewed or retaught?  A quick look at the exit passes will reveal these potential problems.

For more examples of exit pass questions, see the blog post below:

Formative Assessment from Hand Signals to Harkness Discussions

Thursday, March 23, 2017

'How We Learn' Quiz

True or False?
(And there is one trick question…of course.)
  1. I t is most effective for students to have one consistent time and place for study.
  2. Studying a new concept right after you learn it doesn’t deepen memory much.
  3. Cramming works.
  4. Changing the venue for studying can improve ‘retrieval strength’—the ability to remember the content studied—by as much as 40%.
  5. Guessing wrongly when studying tends to interfere with later recall.
  6. Attempting to communicate what you’ve learned is 20-30% more powerful than reviewing an outline.
  7. Giving the mind a break when stuck is counter-productive—it’s best to just ‘power-through’ problems.
  8. People often remember more of what they’ve left incomplete.
  9. Varied practice of many related items is more effective than concentrating on one skill.
  10.  Interrupted and scrambles practice sessions lead to less learning over time than focused and uninterrupted study. 
   Click here to see the answers.

    'How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens', by Benedict Carey

    See here for a summary of the chapters and recommendations from 'How We Learn'. This is a resource we used at Veritas during a recent professional development day. 





Wednesday, March 1, 2017

You're Only As Good As Your Training

Over the years, we've developed resources for use in faculty meetings at Veritas to help us improve our professional judgment. These involve discussions of scenarios of various lengths and complexity, and also the use of a 'critical incident' discussion protocol.

I've posted links to these resources on the 'Administrators' tab, and here:

Using Critical Incidents to Improve Professional Judgment

Scenario-Based Teacher Training

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Good and Great Leadership and Classroom Culture



Teachers are leaders in their classrooms, every bit as much as coaches with their teams or administrators with the school as a whole. How teachers lead has a tremendous impact on the cultures within their classrooms.


One way to think about leadership is to consider leadership not so much as a continuum between bad and great, with good somewhere in between, but rather, to understand effective leadership as the existence of aspects of both ‘good’ and ‘great’.

James R. Bailey, in a September 22, 2016 Harvard Business Review article, explains this view of leadership.

·       ‘Great’ leadership is that which provides clear movement and direction toward fulfilling the mission, holding up the aspects of excellence, and setting goals. This leadership works to equip, inspire, and hold accountable, so that those goals are attained. This is what he calls ‘force’.

·       ‘Good’ leadership protects and supports ethical and moral principles. It focuses on relationships and providing values, ‘direction’, for the organization.

The truly effective leader, the Vital leader, for Bailey, combines both of these, providing clear goals and continual force (inspiring, equipping, and requiring) toward accomplishing them, while at the same time creating an ethical, supportive, trusting environment.

The Amiable leader has good intentions, but the power or the will to implement them is lacking. This creates a stagnant, “pleasant enough place to work, but one bereft of the vitality necessary” to advance the organization’s goals. This leader can be described as amiable—friendly and pleasant. But nothing gets done.

The bottom left quadrant, the Vacant leader, is a combination of lack of force and lack of good direction. “There is none of the energy necessary to compel collective movement to an end goal.” And there is none of the ‘good’ found in upper left. This is a not-good, not-great “cesspool”.

The bottom right, the Maleficent leader, combines great force without direction for good. “It’s an environment of excitable, concentrate participation coupled with dubiously defined purpose.” The ‘great’, without the ‘good’, can result in harm for all involved. 

A classroom culture that is both ‘great’ and ‘good’ is a reflection of the character of the teacher and how that teacher carries out his or her work in the classroom. Classroom teachers strive for an environment that is both predictable and supportive, that works diligently and compellingly toward continual, stretching and inspiring learning. It does this in a classroom that is focused on the goal of wisdom, virtue, and godliness as the context for all the learning going on.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Works, at What Cost

Recent research into teacher development has confirmed that great teaching is the result of systematic efforts in schools to provide on-going support of growth. Conferences, guest speakers, and blogs are fine as far as they go, but the real benefits come when teachers work with others consistently on concrete goals with the opportunity for feedback.

Also interesting in this research is the benefit of some specific strategies to improve learning. 
Some popular approaches, such as ability grouping and individualizing instruction, show minimal improvement or worse. Reducing class sizes, though somewhat effective, comes at a prohibitive cost.

What is most effective in improving learning, those items at the top of the chart below, show not just the greatest benefit but also at the least cost. Best of all, these strategies are available to all teachers in all classrooms, and do not require potentially disruptive or expensive restructuring of schedules. 

Of course, not all methods are created equal, and while teaching students to think about their own learning (meta-cognitive strategies) fits very well in classical, Christian education, strategies such as peer tutoring and collaborative group learning require more careful application. If one thinks of peer editing as tutoring, and seminar discussions as collaborative learning, then these become easier to imagine as methods for classical, Christian schools. 

Readers of Chappuis' Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning will recognize the top two strategies as central to the Seven Strategies. 

Image result for what works at what cost economist







Friday, September 23, 2016




The following is a list of representative observations or behaviors developed by Veritas School teachers during our discussion of the 'skilled in managing classroom procedures' item on our Characteristics of Teaching Excellence. 


Examples of Strong Work
·       Quick transitions
·       Automatic transitions and actions
·       Students ready when lesson starts
·       A “do now” is frequently present
·       “Bell ringer” activities
·       Students have a “to” in transition
·       Focus on next subject/activity
·       Routines completed independently without distracting others
·       Entry work—students know exactly what to do when they enter
·       Kindness
·       Cues for attention
·       Succinct, consistent instructions
·       Schedule on board—notated
·       Teacher sets clear expectations
·       Teacher provides clear directions and expectations
·       Organized copies
·       Respect for others in words and actions
·       Reprimands are quick, consistent, and unemotional
·       Crisis happens: teacher flexibly switches tasks or lesson

Examples of Weak Work
·       One student interacts with teacher, all the rest tune out
·       Unclear instructions
·       Variety in procedures
·       Students are dependent on teacher repeating routines
·       Random thinking without clear purpose
·       Tasks done sloppily, slowly
·       Teacher often reminds
·       Coats, pencil sharpeners, water bottles clutter the floor
·       Disorder
·       Students are not held accountable for their own materials
·       No plan for what students do when they arrive to class
·       Teaching without attention
·       Students interrupt
·       Students unprepared when class starts
·       Students are not sure of routines and cause distraction
·       Teacher waits for students to transition
·       Noise
·       Routines change often/not followed
·       No plan for transitions (lack of clear direction)
·       Frequently heard in the classroom: “what do I do now?”
·       Inconsistent correction of behavior
·       Crisis happens: class grinds to a halt until resolved

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Knowing Rightly

In Philippians 1:9, Paul writes that it is his prayer for his readers that their “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve what is excellent”. This encapsulates well our goal for our students at Veritas. We desire that they will grow in wisdom, virtue, and godliness through their years with us, that their love for God and for others would abound. Ours is not merely an intellectual enterprise, but one in which learning is directed toward an end that is greater than academic achievement. As such, we must consider for what purpose we are learning, and any limits or boundaries of that learning. The purpose of learning is, like everything else in life, to move us closer to loving God with all of our hearts, minds, souls and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. Anything else, any other motive, moves us away from that and therefore from our true purpose.

C.S. Lewis writes in The Abolition of Man about his desire for a kind of learning that “would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself.” He warns against the modern approach to education that tends toward an emphasis on power and control, rather than toward humility and gratitude. In this he is echoing a concern found in sources as different as Augustine, John Milton, and even Mary Shelley. It is an enduring problem because learning, like all things human, can be made to serve and to glorify the living God or it can be bent to serve the whims of fallen man. Too often, of course, the latter has been the case.

We find this problem frequently described using the terms curiositas and studiositas. Not all desire for learning is appropriate or lawful. Curiositas, instead of meaning a healthy wonder, was used describe a vice that desired knowledge that is novel, or an appetite that is prideful and is intently interested in knowing for its own sake, with possessing knowledge in a way that gives control or power to the knower. It is intensly selfish, and while the ‘curious’ in this sense may discover useful things, they do not acknowledge the source. There is no gratitude for the gift or the giver. Augustine writes that the ‘curious’, rather than loving and being thankful for knowledge, actually “hate the unknown because they want everything to be known and thus nothing to remain unknown.” They cannot abide the fact that, ultimately, mastery is impossible. It is simply not possible to fully plumb the depths of the creature let alone the Creator.  Creation is a constant reminder to man that he is a limited and fallible creature. This is hateful to the ‘curious’, and so they end with hating the creator of it all. The object of curiositas is control and power, and its result is ultimately unbelief.

Milton also warns against the desire for knowledge that is inappropriate, that is, not regulated by virtue. In Paradise Lost, Adam and the angel Raphael have a long discussion that ranges from the history of the cosmos to the war in heaven between the faithful and fallen angels. In this discussion, Adam learns much and the angel commends his desire to understand more about God and his ways. But there is a potential danger that Raphael presents to the unfallen Adam. After approving Adam’s questions about the working of the universe, the angel gives this direction: “…the rest from man or angel the Great Architect did wisely to conceal and not divulge his secrets to be scanned by them who ought rather admire.” Milton says here through the angel that people, in our desire to understand, need to be careful that this knowledge leads us to admire God and not just to analyze (‘scanned’). To understand is to worship. This is the essence of ‘studiositas’. It doesn’t mean what we mean by the contemporary word studious, someone who merely has their nose in a book all the time. The ‘studious’, in the older sense, understand that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Studiositas looks for permanence, an eternal perspective that inspires astonishment and joy. It is a virtue that seeks the sublime rather than the mundane, and it leads to devotion, wonder, and gratitude for both the creature and the Creator. The result is worship, and a practical wisdom that both glorifies God and relieves somewhat the present suffering of this fallen world, as an act of service.

Interestingly, the two approaches to learning are well described in Mary Shelley’s early 19th century  novel, Frankenstein. Early in the novel the author contrasts the student (and later creator of the novel’s ‘monster’) Frankenstein’s approach to learning to that of his future wife (his ‘companion’ in this passage):
While my companion contemplated with a serious and satisfied spirit the magnificent appearance of things, I delighted in investigating their causes. The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember.

Frankenstein here begins a gradual descent into an uncontrolled vice to possess “the secrets of heaven and earth”, and he pursues this to his “utter and terrible destruction”. In this pursuit he neglects all duty, abandons his friends and his family, and is completely consumed with his desire to know the secrets of life-giving spirit. This neglect, of course, is a clear sign that this activity is destructive, not virtuous. As Frankenstein later says,
A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind and never to allow passion or transitory desire to disturb his tranquility. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind.

Of course, the opinions of a Romantic novelist are not normative for us, but Shelley has the unhappy Frankenstein give an important warning that we would be wise to heed, about an unbridled, unrestrained lust for knowledge and power. At Veritas, we certainly want students to be curious in the contemporary meaning of the term—interested in many things and learning from a sense of wonder—and classical, Christian education is clearly not anti-intellectual. We joyfully recognize that all wisdom and learning flow to us as gracious gifts from the Father. But all of this, whatever we learn, ought to be guided toward the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom.

Knowledge is a magnificent, astonishing gift, and accordingly, the pursuit of wisdom should be a virtuous and godly undertaking. The purpose of learning is to grow to love God with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is ‘studiousness’, the satisfying of our desire for the sublime and the great, found only in knowing God rightly.


               

Wednesday, May 11, 2016



In our secondary faculty meetings recently we spent several weeks discussing through 'critical incidents'. These were classroom scenarios, some real and some fictitious, that provided opportunities to refine our professional judgment by discussing the situation from many different angles.

What makes the incidents 'critical' is not their seriousness--many were routine or mundane situations--but the critical approach we took to discussing them. They were situations subjected to detailed and systematic critique and analysis. The goal was not preparation for these situations specifically, but the refining of a professional judgment adaptable to the many and varied situations that teachers encounter. 

Below is one of the critical incidents we discussed and the form with the kinds of questions we worked through. The right hand column contains some of the questions and comments that teachers raised during our discussion. 


Critical Incident 7:  The Students With a Concern

A small group of high school students respectfully approached the headmaster with a concern. They said that one of their teachers was addressing what they considered minor problems (e.g. students arriving late to class) in what felt to them to be a public way, thus setting a negative tone for the class as a whole. They wondered what could be done about this situation.



Incident Discussion Comments
and Questions
Diagnostic
Descriptive
What happened?
-Students not parents came to Head w/ issue—why?

-Which students? Same as ‘offenders’?

Causal
What made it happen?
-Had they discussed this with the teacher?

-Are standards clear? Are procedures clear?

Effectual
What does it do?

Affectual
What does it feel like?
-What about our motivations? Irritations?  -Staying objective =supportive?

-How ‘respectful’ were they?

-How do they arrive late--attitude, actions?

Semantic

What does it mean?
-They think ‘minor'—do they understand the importance of these situations?


Explanatory
Why did (does) it occur?
-Is there something in the school that causes this?

-Are expectations clear?

Critical
(+self-critical)
Classificatory
What  is it an
example of? (e.g. practice, action, etc.)
What additional data is needed?
-What follow up actions?

-Is it only certain students being called out?

-How often?

Biblical/Social
Does it contribute to the mission? Does it support the POG? Is it classical? Is it Christian?
Is it true? Is it just?
What does it model or shape?
-Was this ‘initiate respectful dialog' (Portrait of Graduate language) or complaining?

-What was the tone?

-What result?




Tuesday, April 12, 2016



A Curated Discussion is a simple but effective activity that involves all students in taking the role of a temporary expert in small groups.

Curated Discussions have some great features:
  • they provide an excellent means of checking for understanding
  • they require the students to do the work of thinking about, organizing, and presenting content
  • they give practice in speaking to, and leading discussions in, a group, and...
  • they require this on a small scale, so that nearly any student will be comfortable with it

Curated Discussions work as follows:
  1. The class is divided up into small groups (3-5). (Four groups of four, or five groups of five, would lead to an ideal composition of the new groups, but this is not in any way necessary.)
  2. The class works with content, organizing it on poster board, on white boards, or large sticky notes place on the walls or boards in the classroom.
  3. After the content is organized in final written form, the groups are re-organized so that one member from each of the original groups is now placed in a new small group. Each of the new groups will have at least one member from each of the original groups. 
  4. The new groups then move about the room, and as they stop at each of the posters the original member of that group is the presenter/expert, who explains the group's thinking.
  5. Students in the new groups should be instructed to ask questions and to discuss the content. What should happen is that the group will engage in a mini-harkness discussion. 
  6. After a few minutes, groups rotate on to the next group's work, until they have discussed them all.
  7. The teacher is able to move about the room, observing and listening to discussions. Anything unclear or incorrect can be noted to be reviewed after the activity is complete, or the teacher can enter into discussion with the groups as needed on the spot. 

Example of a Curated Discussion:
In my Rhetoric I class students apply principles of judicial speech from Aristotle's Rhetoric to three Old Testament crimes (i.e. Caine's murder of Abel, David's adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, and Haman's attempted plot against the Jews--credit to Jim Nance of Logos School).

After having previously worked through one of the situations individually, students were divided up into three groups, and each group was given one of the crimes  to work with.

The groups discussed the main questions for their crime and presented their analysis and answers on large sticky notes, which they placed around the room.

The students were then re-shuffled into new groups, each with at least one representative from the original groups to act as presenter and discussion leader. Where there were more than one from the original groups the students shared the responsibility to lead.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Formative Assessment from Hand Signals to Harkness Discussions

As a follow-up to the previous post connecting formative assessment methods with Bloom's taxonomy, the chart below moves from very simple quick-checks such as hand signals to more complex and thorough methods like harkness discussions, again connecting them to Bloom's.

Below I've included only a portion of the chart. The full document is available on Google docs using the link.

Method
Bloom’s
Quick Checks
Hand Signals
Knowledge, Comprehension
 White Boards
Knowledge
Writing Prompts
Crystal Ball (prediction)
Application
Take a Stand
Evaluation
         Exit Pass

Pretend a classmate was absent from class today. Tell them what was most important from today’s lesson.
Knowledge
What is the most important thing we learned today.
Application
What concept has been most difficult or confusing in this lesson/section/reading?
Analysis, Evaluation
Write down one question you have about today’s lesson
Analysis
What down one thing I can do to help you
Evaluation
What do you need to do to prepare for tomorrow’s discussion
Evaluation
What would you like us to review tomorrow?
Evaluation
How did today’s discussion go? What do you need to do to improve for next time?
Analysis
If you were writing a quiz over today’s material, what are two questions that you would include?
Synthesis, Knowledge
Write down two things you learned today.
Knowledge
Admit Slip
Knowledge, Comprehension
Yesterday’s News (review previous learning)
Comprehension

View the rest of the chart here for sticky notes, graphic organizers, discussions, etc.