Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"...the office shows the man: for just as vases that are cracked cannot readily be detected so long as they are empty, yet if liquid be put into them, show at once just where the defect lies--in like manner corrupt and depraved minds rarely disclose their defects save when they are filled with authority."
Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Effective classroom teachers successfully integrate four critical skills into their classroom:

1. Content Planning
2. Assessment

3. Instruction
4. Classroom Culture/Management

In this post, I'll describe some of the elements of effective assessment.

Excellent teachers know that it is not enough to have great plans, interesting content, and engaging activities. Teachers need to check frequently to see if students are understanding the learning, that they are achieving the learning targets for the class. The purpose of this on-going assessment is to help the teacher focus the students on the learning, with the goal that students would become more self-directive. All education is essentially self-education, and teachers can move students toward this goal by giving frequent feedback about where students are with respect to the desired learning, and then showing students how to use that feedback to improve their learning.

This assessment must be involuntary—that is, teachers need to check on all students, frequently, whether or not these students wished to be checked on. It is not enough to simply ask the class as a whole “do you understand?” or “are there any questions?” Frequently students will not know whether they understand—they may think they do when in fact they don’t. Some students will cheerfully volunteer to answer every attempt at ‘broadcast’ assessment. So, teachers need to build in means of checking on all students’ understanding on a regular basis. There are a wide variety of quick and easy ways to do this: cold calling, exit passes, summary writing, pair-shares, sticky notes, short quizzes, white boards and more. Written assignments and more complex assignments also provide opportunities for teachers to check student understanding. What’s important is that this occurs during the learning so that the teacher and the student have time to act on it, to make adjustments or even reteach, if needed. Feedback given at the end of a unit of learning in the form of a test is only minimally useful.

This feedback is valuable for teachers, but it is also important for students to receive feedback on where they are in their learning. Teachers should frequently give feedback to students that is descriptive and specific. Expressions like “excellent!” or “good job!”, although perhaps gratifying to students, don’t tell students what they are doing well and what they need to improve in order to reach the learning target. (Interestingly, praise, when not connected to the learning, can actually hinder learning. Students can get the message that they are ‘smart’ and that becomes their focus—proving they’re start—rather than maintaining a mindset toward learning that emphasizes taking risks toward growth.) An effective practice is to separate grades from the descriptive feedback as much as possible, as students will often be distracted by the grade and will tend to ignore the comments.

As mentioned above, students should be given time to do something with the feedback they receive. They should be given time and be directed to focus revision on a few items of quality at a time. There should be time scheduled for students to self-reflect about their learning, to set specific goals, to track and share their learning. All of this takes precious class time, time teachers may not think they have for such luxuries. But the long-term pay-off of prioritizing these things is that students will increasingly take responsibility for their own learning, and that is, ultimately, what we’re hoping for.

Assessment Checklist
-There is frequent and involuntary checking for understanding (formative assessment)
-Feedback to students is descriptive and specific
-Students are given time to act on the information from the formative assessment
-Students have opportunities for self-assessment and goal setting
-Students are directed to focus revisions on a few items of quality at a time
-Students are given time for self-reflection about their learning
-Students are required to track their own learning
-Students are given opportunities to share their learning

From the Commonplace Book: Virtue and Eloquence

"...a virtuous course of live would seem to me preferable to one even  of the most distinguished eloquence. But in my opinion, the two are combined and inseparable. For I am convinced that no one can be an orator who is not a good man; and, even if anyone could, I should be unwilling that he should be."
Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

From the Commonplace Book: The Teacher as Host

"The truly great teacher is the host of a party, a symposium if you will, where the guests of honor are the students as well as thinkers of the past such as Homer, Plato, Virgil, Cicero, Boethius, Dante, Chaucer, and Shakespeare."    
Grant Horner, John Milton: Classical Learning and the Progress of Virtue

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Effective classroom teachers successfully integrate four critical skills into their classroom:

1. Content Planning

2. Assessment
3. Instruction
4. Classroom Culture/Management

In this post, I'll describe some of the elements of effective instruction.

Effective teachers make sure that classroom activities engage all students. There are some students in every class who would love to answer every question and do every demonstration. Their hands are constantly in the air, enthusiastically waving. It's tempting to let this enthusiasm have its way, and, of course, there are many other students in the room who would be content to have it so. This must not be. All students need to know that all of them will be expected to participate in class. Cold calling is one way to do this. The best procedure is to ask a question, pause for all to consider, and then call on a student (by name, through drawing a stick with their names, etc. In the case of sticks I'd recommend putting them back into the holder so that students don't think they're finished.) Teachers should set up all individual and group activities in such a way that all students must participate. One example is to have all students write three review questions, then have students work in small groups to refine their questions down to a few. This way all students are engaged. Making sure that activities are meaningful and challenging is another way to encourage engagement. 

Effective teachers use frequent models of strong and weak work. These examples help students to come to hold a similar understanding of quality that the teacher has. When students, working individually and in small groups, apply rubrics and scoring guides to the models this makes this understanding even greater. 

In effective classrooms students are required to do most of the work. A book I read a few years ago was titled 'Never Work Harder Than Your Students', and that really says it all. Teachers should constantly monitor the ratio of talking or other work done in the classroom. Students should talk more and teachers talk less. When teachers must talk, they should look to employ more questions, helping to guide students to understanding. They should use other students, as well, drawing in the class when possible for the solution, rather than jumping in to supply the answer. I have observed classroomw where the teacher put on an impressive and interesting display of their knowledge--and the students contentedly observed in quiet, with virtually nothing expected of them but to write an occasional note. Of course there are times when the teacher will instruct directly, but the general rule is that students should always work harder than the teacher. 

When teaching a new skill many effective teachers employ an I Do, We Do, Y'all Do, You Do approach. This gradually moves from demonstration to guided practice, to partner or small group practice, to individual practice, all with feedback along the way from the teacher or other students. 

Instruction Checklist

-All students are consistently involved in class activities
-Activities are meaningful, that is, challenging and thoughtful at the appropriate level
-Models of strong and weak work are used to make the elements of quality clear
-Rubrics or scoring guides are clear and communicated in advance of the learning (students may help in designing)
-Students practice with models and rubrics
-Students are required to do most of the work during the lesson; students talk more than the teacher during the lesson
-The teacher employs I Do, We Do, Y'all Do, You Do steps when introducing a new skill
-The teacher's movements in the classroom support instruction

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Not everyone is obliged to excel in philosophy, medicine, or the law, nor are all equally favored by nature; but all are destined to live in society and to practice virtue."
           Vittorino de Feltre (1378-1446)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Effective classroom teachers generally excel at implementing four foundational skills. There practices are critical to establishing a classroom culture that is focused on learning. The four foundations are:

1. Content Planning

2. Instruction
3. Assessment
4. Classroom Culture/Management

Content is obviously central to the classroom. The concepts or skills to be taught direct the work of the classroom. When planning, effective teachers start with the goal. They plan units and daily lessons 'backward', that is, they consider what the end goals are for the learning and then design the learning to support those goals. As teachers write daily lessons they want to be sure to construct them with student learning in mind. What matters in the classroom is not what the teacher does but what students will do and learn. So, learning targets for the lesson are written with student action central. A quality learning target or objective is specific and as assessable as possible. For example, "describe" is better than "observe", and "explain" better than "appreciate". The key is that teacher and students can all know what learning looks like and are able to assess it as specifically as possible.

Learning targets should be shared with students as often as possible, as this provides context for learning, which makes learning more lasting and effective. As well, effective teachers keep an eye on the kinds of targets they write to be sure that classroom objectives reach the full range of academic and intellectual work (using Bloom's or some other taxonomy). This ensures that students are challenged, appropriate to their age.

Planning for teaching often requires teachers to do additional reading and preparation. Effectiveteachers don't rely on their previous lesson plans and knowledge but are always seeking to learn something new about their content. This enables them to have flexibility with the content, to make adjustments on the run, make new applications, to redirect student questions, to restate concepts in different ways, etc. 

Finally, pre-teaching planning includes thinking about the beginning and ending of lessons, keeping in mind that these times are often the most memorable for students. Effective teachersbuild frequent review into lessons, often at the end of a lesson, but taking advantage of any periods of time that might otherwise be wasted. They also take time to make connections for students to future learning.

Content Planning Checklist

-Units are planned 'backward'
-Daily lessons are planned 'backward'
-Learning targets are shared with students
-Learning targets are put into contact of the class for students
-The teacher demonstrates facility with content, is able to make adjustments on the run, to redirect questions, to state concepts in different ways
-Review is built into the lesson
-Connections to future learning are made at the end of the lesson

Friday, September 4, 2015

Extra screen time drags down students' grades

Extra screen time drags down teenagers' exam grades, study finds

Teenagers who spend an extra hour a day surfing the internet, watching TV or playing computer games risk performing two grades worse in exams than their peers who don't, according to research by British scientists.
In a study of more than 800 students aged 14 and 15, researchers from Cambridge University also found that physical activity had no effect on academic performance.
Since this was a prospective study, in which the researchers followed the pupils over time to see how different behaviors affected performance, the scientists said it was reasonable to conclude that too much screen time reduced academic achievement.
"We only measured this.. in Year 10, but this is likely to be a reliable snapshot of participants' usual behavior, so we can reasonably suggest that screen time may be damaging to a teenager's grades," said Kirsten Corder of Cambridge's Centre for Diet and Activity Research, who co-led the work.
The study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, found the average amount of screen time per day was four hours.
An extra hour in front of the TV or online at age 14-and-a-half was linked with 9.3 fewer exam points at age 16 -- equivalent to two grades, for example from a B to a D. Two extra hours was linked to 18 fewer points.
Unsurprisingly, the results also showed that pupils doing an extra hour of daily homework and reading scored better - getting on average 23.1 more points than their peers.
The scientists said further research was needed to confirm the effect conclusively, but advised parents worried about their children's grades to consider limiting screen time.
In a breakdown analysis of different screen activities, the researchers found that TV came out as the most detrimental in terms of exam performance.
The article:


Thursday, September 3, 2015

From the Commonplace Book: Nature and Education

"For the fallen, the long process of 'regaining to know God aright' begins, logically and naturally, as we begin to explore the world around us. While the created world neither fully reveals nor contains Milton's God, respectful and rational investigation of the creatures remains the sacred ground upon which the divine presence manifests itself."

          Richard DuRocher, Milton Among the Romans