Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Homework and Grading for Learning

While following #edchat last night on Twitter there was a lot of discussion around homework.  So it got me thinking about some of the things I have read and how it has impacted my view on the use and effectiveness of homework.

First of all I want to touch on the impact that homework has on student learning.  Marzano's research showes that homework has a much greater impact at the secondary level than at the elementary level.  The biggest benefit of homework at the elementary level is that it develops good study habits and can reinforce the idea that learning can take place outside of school.  If that is true do we really need to have students complete 50 math problems, or spend hours on homework - I would say NO!!  Just because parents want to see homework does not mean we should be send stuff home.  We need to get out of this mindset for our students sake.

Homework should be practice around content that students already have a high familiarity with, not skills they can not do on their own, or it should extend learning that has already taken place in the classroom.  In either case a teacher should not send work home if they are not positive the student can do it without assistance.  If parents need to help their students with their math homework it should not have gone home.  In general if homework goes home I prescribe to the less is better mentality.

I believe if we are truly grading for learning we should not include homework as part of the grading process.  Homework in essence is practice, and students should not be penalized for practice.  We don't penalize a basketball player for shots they miss when practicing, nor do we penalize the musician who misses a note while practicing.  Homework is a formative assessment, and should be used to guide instruction.  Students should be encouraged to challenge themselves, and if their only goal is to accumulate points they won't do that.  NO PENALTIES FOR PRACTICE!!  Coaches and music directors learned this a long time ago.  We need to apply the same principles to the classroom.

Extra credit is another way to accumulate points.  It is very rarely about student learning.  More work should result in a higher level of achievement, not just more points.  Students should all have the opportunity to show they can achieve at a high level.

Ed Leadership's November issue has some great articles about effective grading practices.  Another great resource is the book A Repair Kit for Grading - 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O'Connor.  I would contend that they way we grade students negatively impacts a majority their learning.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Making Math Facts Stick

Getting students to learn their math facts can be a very trying process.  Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to help students learn their facts.  To me, this has become even more problematic with elementary math curriculums becoming more and more problem based.  With the newer curriculums students learn by problem solving and making their own connections.  This is a huge leap from the days when I was in school and everyone was told how to do math problems and if you "got it" great and if not too bad.  Students are encouraged to create their own paths to problem solving and create their own connections.  This approach has help many student make sense of math, but their are still students who need strategies that make sense to them and that they can apply to other problems.

I have had the opportunity to work with Nancy Nutting on numerous occasions.  She developed a system of introducing and instructing math facts so that students have strategies that apply throughout math fact acquisition.  I have seen the effectiveness of this system in two different school districts.  I will briefly outline the system, and if anyone is interested I can direct you to Nancy!!

Addition facts are taught off of students learning the "Doubles".  1+1, 2+2, 3+3, etc.  This is the only group that needs to be memorized.  Addition facts are introduced in this order:

  • Doubles
  • Doubles +1
  • Doubles +2
  • Adding 0 and 1
  • Adding 9 and 10
  • Using What You Know
We no longer just give a student a sheet with 100 addition problems, or work on adding 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, etc.  Students are able to build off prior knowledge (the previous strategy) to gain the fact acquisition. To put it in simple terms we are not throwing a bunch of random math problems at students and asking them to make connections.  We present the math facts in a connected way to start with!!.

Multiplication facts are taught in different order that what is traditionally done in most curriculums.  We introduce 2's, 5's, and 10's since most students learn to count by these numbers in earlier grades - remember multiplication is really skip counting.  We then move to 0's and 1's.  These two can present problems because they are very different than when adding 0 or 1.  We then move to 9's (because there are a couple of quick "tricks" students can learn).  Square numbers come next.  The last ones we introduce are 3's and 4's, and then the 6's, 7's, and 8's (that haven't been covered in one of the previous strategies).

I should talk about timed math test real quick - they do more harm than good - especially the 5 minute ones with a hundred math facts.  In most students it creates anxiety and very few students are motivated by this.  We do our assessments in 30 sec snippets.  Students take a quick 10 question assessment on a certain strategy - we allow 3 seconds on each problem thus the 30 seconds.  This gives us a good idea of where a student is in terms of their fact recall, but does not take a lot of time.  If student struggles writing we allow them to verbally give the facts, but again we use the 10 problems in 30 seconds.

We have a bunch of different games the students play to get direct practice - they don't even know they are gaining accuracy and speed.  We have buddy classrooms that work with each other a lot.  There are also a couple of other activities that allow for differentiation.  Your whole class can all be working on a different strategy on the same sheet!! 

I really like how this has helped our students, it connects and gives teachers a way to help with direction instruction if needed - if you are not teaching math facts this way you should reconsider.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How Digital Learners Prefer to Learn

I have started reading Understanding the Digital Generation: Teaching and Learning in the New Digital Landscape by Jukes, McCain, and Crockett.  I am through the first four chapters and the distinction they make between how digital learns prefer to learn and how many teachers prefer to teach really made me think about how we are instructing.

Digital Learners Prefer:

  • receiving information quickly from multiple multimedia sources
  • processing pictures, sounds, and video before text
  • to network simultaneously with many others
  • learning just in time
  • instant gratification with immediate and deferred rewards
  • learning that is relevant, active, instantly useful, and fun
Is this going on in your classroom?
  • slow and controlled release of information
  • text provided before anything else
  • students working independently before they interact
  • teaching stuff just in case they may see it on a test
  • delayed rewards
As I continue the read this book it is apparent that I, and many teachers, have not had the training needed to incorporate what the research tells us about how the digital brain functions. 

We are in the process of incorporating the Gradual Release of Responsibility as our instructional model, and I see this as a step in the right direction of having our learning opportunities be more relevant and engaging to the students.  I see PLCs as a big piece of this as well.  Whether we will admit it or not we have too many standards.  This leads to the "teach it just in case" scenario.  That is about teaching - not learning and that is not goo for kids!!  PLCs allow teams to narrow their focus on what is important and creating learning opportunities that are rich and authentic.

My goal is to figure how to support teachers and narrow the gap between digital learning styles and teachers' non digital perspective about teaching, learning, and assessment.

TIES Conference 2011 here I come :)

Friday, November 11, 2011

7 Habit Rap

Below is my rap that I performed for the students during our leadership assembly.  Sung to Paul Revere by the Beastie Boys.

Now here’s a little story I got to tell
About 7 cool habits you’ll learn so well
They started way back with Dr. Stephen Covey
And now we’re bring’em to this elementary

The 1st three habits start with you
So here is all the stuff you’ll want to do

Habit #1 is about being proactive and being in charge
You’ll do the right thing and you’ll be livin’ large
Habit #2 is to have the end in mind
Always have a plan and won’t get yourself in a bind
Habit #3 is putting first things first
Only start to play when your work’s done first

The next 3 habits are about working well with others
Remember to think of everyone as your sisters and brothers

Habit #4 is always thinking win-win
Find a solution for everyone and make it the best it’s ever been
Habit #5 is seeking to understand then being understood
If you can remember to do that then it will be all good
Habit #6 is the habit of working together
Synergizing with others will help you forever

The final habit is remembering that balance feels best
Remember to sharpen your saw and it’ll take care of the rest
Take time each day to make the 7 habits who you are
Don’t forget being a leader will take you really far

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Single Story

Two of the teachers I work with led our staff through some powerful learning at our staff meeting today.  Our discussion centered around the concept of a Single Story, and how these Single Stories effect our perceptions of others.  The video does a terrific job of explaining what a Single Story is, and gives very specific examples of how these can be harmful.

This is a powerful video that would be great for any staff to watch and discuss.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Focus by Mike Schmoker

I just finished reading Focus by Mike Schmoker for the second time.  If you have not had a chance to read this book you need to find time.  I love the fact he preaches simplicity.  I truly believe we make things too complicated.  That is one reason I really love PLCs - they focus on four questions and that is it.  Schmoker believes there are three elements that need to be understood and implemented in every subject area.

1. What we teach.  Basically we need to have an understanding of what is essential and teach those standards in depth, with enough time for deep writing and talking.  Marzano states that this "guaranteed and viable" curriculum is perhaps the most significant school factor that effects learning.
2. How we teach.  Effective lessons feature a concientious effort, throughout the lesson, to ensure that all student are learning before moving on.
3.  Authentic Literacy. Purposeful reading, writing, and talking.

Obviously PLC work facilitates implementation of these three elements.  Schmoker states, and I concur, that these three element - even if reasonably well-executed, will have more impact than all other initiatives that a school would take on combined.

I learned this fact through coaching.  My high school basketball team always performed better when we did less and focused on only a few things.  We don't need to be complicated or fancy.  We just need to be more FOCUSED!!

PLCs and Leadership

Teachers establish common, concise set of essential standards and teach them on roughly the same schedule
Habit 1: Be Proactive, Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind, Habit 3: Put First Things First
Teachers meet regularly
Habit 4: Think Win-Win, Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood, Habit 6: Synergize
Focused on student learning
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Frequent use of common formative assessements
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Learn by doing - "try it, test it, improve it"
Habit 4: Think Win-Win, Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Systematic response when students don't learn
Habit 4: Think Win-Win, Habit 6: Synergize
Expand learning when students are already proficient
Habit 4: Think Win-Win, Habit 6: Synergize

What is a Professional Learning Community (PLC)?

This is an article I shared with my staff as we began our journey this year of formalizing our PLCs.  Obviously it is based off the work of DuFours :).  

PLC, MCA, RtI, CFA - it seems like you cannot hear about education these days without hearing an acronym.  Very rarely does anyone explain what the letters mean.  Hopefully this article will shed some light on how professional learning communities (PLCs) function at Lincoln Elementary School.

Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) found that great organizations “simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle, or concept that unifies and guides everything.”  The most exciting characteristic of a PLC is that it simplifies the complexities of the work of schools to three big ideas:

1.       Big Idea #1 - The fundamental purpose of the school is to ensure that all students learn rather than to see that all students are taught – an enormous distinction.  If the emphasis is on learning members of a PLC will concentrate their effort and energy on four critical questions thus ensuring learning for all:
a.      What is it we want students to learn – by unit, grade level, and course of instruction?
b.      How will we know when each student has learned – this is, acquired the knowledge or skills deemed essential?
c.       How will we respond when students experience difficulty in their learning?
d.      How will we enrich and extend the learning for students who are already proficient?
2.       Big Idea #2 – Educators that work as a PLC recognize that they must work together to achieve their collective purpose of learning for all.  They strive to promote a collaborative culture.  The powerful collaboration that characterizes PLCs is a systematic process in which teachers work interdependently to analyze and improve their classroom instruction in order to improve results for students.
3.       Big Idea #3 – PLCs judge their effectiveness on results rather than intentions.  They strive to find the evidence of student learning and use that evidence to inform and improve their instructional strategies.  Common formative assessments (assessments used to inform instruction and not assign a grade) are used so teachers can compare their students within their classrooms and with student in other classrooms.  Individual teachers can call on their PLC team members to reflect on areas of concern.

The following are examples of activities teachers participating in a PLC may be involved in:
·         identifying essential outcomes
·         creating common formative assessments based on essential outcomes
·         examining student progress on formative and or summative assessments
·         identifying students who are in need of additional time and support
·         identifying specific instructional strategies designed for specifically identified students
·         reviewing data over time

The professional learning community model is a powerful way of working together that can affect the practices of a team and school.  It requires school staff to focus on learning rather that teaching, work collaboratively on matters related to student learning, and hold itself accountable for the result that each student is learning.

Habit 2 - Begin with the End in Mind

This habit teaches our students that mental creation precedes physical creation.  It is the thought that you live life by design, and not through default.  In essence it is teaching students the ability to make a plan.
    One important behavior that we are working on with our students is to envision outcomes before you act.  If students are able to do this they will have a clearer definition of their desired results. By knowing exactly what they want to accomplish students will have a greater sense of meaning and purpose in their work.
     Giving students the ability to make meaning of their work will also give them criteria for deciding what is or is not important.  Being able to determine importance will allow our students to improve their outcomes.
     One activity that can really help clarify what is most important to students is having them write a personal mission statement.  This statement helps provide students with focus and allows them to design their life instead of feeling like it is designed for them.  Personal mission statements can be used to guide day-to-day decisions students must make.  It can act like a road map guiding students based on what is most important to them.

Habit 1 - Be Proactive

As we begin to talk to our students about being proactive we are using the principle that people are free to choose and need to be responsible for their choices.  We are working to have students see themselves as a product of their choices, not a product of their circumstances.  Proactive people see life is a result of their decisions not their conditions.  We want our students to understand that they choose their response in any circumstance.
     The following are some examples of proactive language:
·         I choose . . .
·         I will . . .
·         I prefer . . .
·         I’ll do it.
·         There’s got to be a way.
     Being proactive also helps students to focus only about those things that they have direct control over.  We want our students’ energy to be spent on things they can directly influence.  This is referred to as their Circle of Influence.

Leadership Foundation

     The five elementary buildings in the Owatonna Public School District have embarked on developing a Leadership foundation within each building.  Our Mission at Lincoln Elementary is to develop each student's leadership skills.
     The foundation of leadership will be taught every day, though it may happen quite subtly and unexpectedly.  It will become part of everything we teach – math, language arts, science, art, music, social studies, and physical education – every subject.  Teachers will continue to teach core subject, but they will do it while looking through the lens of leadership incorporating life skills and character lessons whenever possible.
    The habits are organized into a sequential, progressive model based on research of highly effective people.  They are also based on timeless, universal principles that have been around for ages, and transcend all cultural boundaries and socioeconomic layers.
     Habit 1 Be Proactive          
     Habit 2 Begin with the End in Mind
     Habit 3 Put First Things First
     Habit 4 Think Win-Win
     Habit 5 Seek First to Understand
     Habit 6 Synergize
     Habit 7 Sharpen the Saw