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. 


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.