Monthly Archives: April 2014

Teacher Feedback and Student Feedback

When thinking about effective feedback you want to think about two types: the feedback that you as the teacher gets which informs how you teach the next step and the feedback that the students get which helps them to move forward. The two are, of course, intertwined. There should be a balance of both types. Both are formative because they happen for learning or as learning occurs.

Feedback you get from small group instruction—while watching what students are doing, you are able to see what needs to happen next. This is far easier to do when working with a small group of kids than with the whole class. You can probe deeper to understand what a kid is thinking.

Feedback students get from small group instruction—you are giving on the spot, as they do it help to kids. It is important for learning to get the support on-the-go. For example, if I were teaching you to drive it is far better to have correction as you do it (OMG watch out for that car!), than after the fact (remember when you hit that car, well you should have…).

Feedback you get from little white boards—doing a whole group guided lesson where students practice doing something as you teach it allows you to automatically see who is getting it and who is not. You can adjust your lesson as you go or make a note of those kids you need to work with later.

Feedback students get from little white boards—it always looks easy when the teacher does it. However, if students have a chance to practice the skill while the lesson is happening, they are able to make minute corrections along the way as opposed to trying to make bigger corrections after the fact.

Feedback you get from turn and talk—when you ask kids to turn and talk you can listen in briefly or note how many kids actually do know the answer. You can also observe how engaged the students are in discussing a topic. You don’t find this out when you ask the whole class and rely on students to put up their hands.  Many kids know the answer or know part of the answer but don’t put up their hand.  Think about the kind of information you get if you do turn and talk and then put your answer on a white board to hold up.

Feedback students get from turn and talk —when students turn and talk to a partner they get feedback from a peer because either the peer agrees or disagrees with their answer. Whenever students have to talk about their thinking or adjust their thinking they are getting feedback. Did my partner understand my reasoning? Am I clear in my thinking? Can I express my thoughts? Does the opposing view make more sense?  Have I made an error in my thinking?

Feedback you get from setting goals – When we ask students to set a goal for the term, the activity, the month, or the day, we learn about their thinking with regards to the topic. If a student is able to identify appropriate goals and move towards them, you know they  understand the concept. If students are unable to identify goals or next steps they do not clearly understand what is being asked of them and you know what to do next.

Feedback students get from setting goals– When a student is able to set a goal and receive feedback on how well they are meeting that goal then the learning is meaningful and personal. It is far better to be in charge of your own learning than have goals imposed upon us. When students are unsure of which goal to choose, we can offer a menu of goals and have them pick one. As the teacher, you will have to come back to the self-reflection piece regularly. Don’t expect them to do it on their own.
Feedback you get from conferencing – When you find time to conference with students you can probe their thinking and understanding at a very individual level. Try conferencing about only one thing, or stopping the conference as soon as you discover one next step. Then both you and the student find the next step manageable. If your conferences are too long, and you end up with too many goals, both of you will become frustrated.

Feedback students get from conferencing – The student has your undivided attention and an opportunity to explain their thinking. When the student has to explain it, s/he receives automatic feedback based on your understanding. Also, it is an opportunity to learn as you are doing so that the student can apply the feedback immediately.

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Filed under Effective Feedback, pedagogy, small group instruction

Is Teacher Lingo Good for Kids?

This week I went to an engaging literacy workshop. I had a wonderful time discussing strategies and meeting with colleagues. I came away feeling like I “get it” even better and that is my definition of good professional development. And, I learned some new lingo: ‘Rules of Notice’ based on the work of Peter Rabinowitz in Before Reading. I liked, as a teacher, the idea behind “Rules of Notice” because it helps me, as a teacher, break down reading comprehension, develop mini-lessons, better understand how readers process text. (Here’s a link: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/collateral_resources/pdf/r/reading_bestpractices_comprehension_rulesofnoticechart.pdf). Among the literacy teachers we began to discuss things like:

– should this become an anchor chart?
– should kids know that these things are called “Rules of Notice”?
– how much of this language should we use?
– do kids need to ‘learn’ this?

Over the past few years I have begun to worry about how much of the language of pedagogy is being transferred to students, all with good intentions, and probably arising from the very clear research that states that students learn best when we give them clear learning goals and success criteria. But, do they need to learn the lingo in order to learn the stuff? And, do we get caught up in having kids learn the lingo at the expense of learning the stuff?

It is not uncommon to hear young readers having a lesson on “Making Connections”. The teacher is reading an engaging book aloud and the young readers are putting up their hands every time they “make a connection”. The worry I have is that the students are so focused on the singular task of “making a connection” that they are missing out on the richness of the story. And, often, many of their “connections” do not add to their deeper understanding of the story at all. It reminds me of the time I saw my daughter doing her grade 11 English homework. She was flipping through the novel while watching TV and messaging her friends. I asked her what the assignment was. “I have to make a connection. I’m looking for one. I’m really getting tired of this making connection stuff.” In both cases the lingo of teaching had become the task and the greater point of why and how readers use the strategy of making connections to understand text had been lost.

So how much of the lingo that is embedded in our current practice is important for students to understand? Can a student understand the associative property of multiplication without being to able to name it? Do primary students need to know the term “success criteria” in order to understand what to do to make their writing better? Can I, as the teacher, use the “Rules of Notice” to help students understand text without calling them such? I think so.

When I go to the doctor, I don’t want the doctor to speak to me in the same lingo that she speaks in with other doctors. When I go to the mechanic, I definitely do not want to speak the same lingo, and, in fact, I do expect him to understand ME when I refer to the thing-a-ma-jig that is rattling. And, when I go to a five-star restaurant, I do not need to know all the fancy cooking terms to talk to the chef. Now, one could argue that in all those cases I am not learning the material the “expert” knows, I am only conversing with them. But our students are not learning to be teachers–they are learning to think and create and do at the level that is appropriate to their development.

Learning goals and success criteria do not need to be hung in a primary classroom labelled as such. They certainly don’t need to be written in a kindergarten room where no one can read them anyways! However, a primary class could have an anchor chart titled “What Good Writers Do”. A junior math class can have examples of how multiplication works without labeling it the associative property and the distributive property. We need to begin to think about how to communicate the ideas to students in language that is jargon free and appropriate to their learning.

Educators know that clear targets, examplars, learning goals and success criteria communicated to students will help them to succeed. But, let us not mix up clear communication with rote learning of educational jargon. Let’s remember that they are just kids trying to make sense of the world. We, as their teachers, have a lot of knowledge about content and pedagogy. We use that knowledge to make sense of our profession and talk to each other. We are not teaching students to become teachers. The real gift of teaching is engaging students in discovery and wonder in ways that make sense to them. I don’t think the pedagogical lingo is helping.

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Filed under learning golas, pedagogy

Curriculum design that is messy (but research based?)

Traditionally curriculum is designed in units: persuasive writing, short stories, fractions, cell theory etc. In order to make the content easier for teachers, (and textbook writers-or perhaps it is the other way around), to organize, we chunk it into start-and-finish units of study. We teach, teach, teach and then we test the students AND THEN WE MOVE ONTO THE NEXT TOPIC. Do we give students the “percolating” time suggested by distributed learning? Do we “interleave” topics so that students have opportunities to see connections between concepts and ideas? Do we often insist that students over-practice a skill even after they know how to do it (think about math textbooks)?

What would happen if we adopted a more recursive method of curriculum design? Let’s take a year in math as an example. Many students struggle with fractions. Most students learn about fractions sometime in the spring, usually because it is placed in the latter half of the textbook. And then they don’t study fractions for an entire year. The same thing happens with long division, area and perimeter, and how to find the mean, median and mode of a data set. We teach addition separately from subtraction and multiplication separately from division. Then we are distressed that kids forget what we taught the year before. We are distressed when they don’t understand how to solve a problem. If we designed a year- long math program that touched a little bit on fractions every month, a little bit on data, a little bit on operations and so on, students would have distributed learning opportunities and by interleaving concepts, students would be able to see how mathematical concepts are inter-related.

A workshop approach to curriculum allows students to revisit topics on a regular basis. Teachers can easily employ small group instruction within a workshop environment. Mini-lessons to the whole class and small groups form the basis for direct teaching. There is more freedom for students to revisit topics of interest, or topics of confusion. In a writing workshop students can explore writing formats throughout the year based on their audience and purpose. In a reading workshop, students read a wide variety of texts and become more proficient at discussing texts critically as they have multiple opportunities to engage in authentic conversations and work about their reading. In a math workshop, students work at different problems from different strands every day, thus developing flexibility in mathematical thinking as opposed to memorization of algorithms. In an arts workshop, students have the opportunity to explore concepts and work with different mediums multiple times of the course of the year.

The spring is a great time in teaching because we begin to think about next year. We want to refine those lessons that worked well this year and toss those that didn’t. In teaching you always get a do-over. As you begin to do some preliminary thinking about next year, think about how you could design your year to be more recursive:
• How often do you come back to the big ideas?
• How can you organize content so that students have percolating time?
• How can you sequence content so that you come back to ideas multiple times?
• Which concepts in your subject are similar or go together? Can you teach them in an interleaved way? How can you help students to make those connections?

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Filed under Differentiation, small group instruction