Monday, October 31, 2011

How Learning Targets Can Motivate Students...What Halloween Can Teach Us.

Trick or Treat!  Happy Halloween to all my education friends.  Isn't it amazing that even the students who are not so motivated to participate in classroom activities or extra-curricular groups are excited about Trick or Treating and wearing costumes?  My own daughter has been planning her costume for a month and knows what route to take through our neighborhood to collect the most candy in the least amount of time. She has a clear target - acquire as much candy as possible - and a clear plan to achieve that - wear a costume, go to lots of houses, get mom to carry extra bags for overflow candy.   Not all the kids out and about tonight will be moving at the same speed, have the same level of costume design or collect the same amount of candy - but they all have the same clear target....Using my knowledge of neighborhood geography and my public speaking skills, I will be able to collect as much candy as possible in one evening.

So, how can we use student friendly learning targets to motivate our students on a daily basis?  Remember the purpose of a learning target is to set the learning outcomes for a lesson - what the student should be able to do at the END of the instructional time.  Kids like to know where they are going and be included in the planning of how they are going to get there.  Learning targets should be specific and be standards based.  Learning targets need to be measurable or observable so that the teacher and students can provide feedback (formative assessments) as they work toward their target.  Students who have a clear understanding of what it is that they need to be able to do and why they need to be able to do it are more likely to be motivated to do the work involved with reaching that target.  Once students see value in their learning, they can begin to see that what they are doing in class also has value. Once they recognize this value, they are more likely to work in collaborative groups, give specific feedback to peers, participate in class discussions and spend time learning outside of school.  So, we do not need to dress up in our favorite seasonal sweaters and ties or pass out candy everyday to motivate our students.  We need to make sure that we are helping them to grow as learners by identifying what they need to know, why they need to know it and supporting them along the way.

Guiding Questions for Writing Clear Learning Targets

  • What have I done to make sure that the learning target is specific and standards based?
  • What scaffolding might I have to do in order for all of my students to achieve the target?
  • What extensions do I have in place for students who are ready to move on to a new target ahead of their peers?
  • How can I incorporate Bloom's Verbs into the writing of my learning targets to help differentiate them for students of all ability levels?
  • How will I assess or measure student mastery of the learning target?  
    • Will I use a rubric?
    • Will I use a project?
    • Will I use peer evaluations/feedback?
    • Will I use a checklist?
    • Will I use some sort of common assessment?
  • What is the time frame for mastery of the learning target - is it a single lesson or part of a larger unit, or maybe even a year long target?
  • How can I use the learning targets at the beginning of a lesson to help me differentiate the learning opportunities my students will be given?
  • How can I use the learning targets at the beginning of the lesson to help activate prior knowledge and experiences my students have had with the topic or skill?
  • How many "formative assessment" activities will I need to put into place to make sure my students are on the right learning path to master the target?  What will the activities be?


Sunday, October 23, 2011

How To Use Technology To Transform the Way You Teach and Students Learn

When you think about transformers, you probably think about cool robots that are also cars or planes. With a few quick turns and clicks any child can convert the car to a robot and back again. The robots do things the car can't and take on the world in a whole different way.

Whether you have access to a netbook cart, a library lab, an iPod set, an iPad or classroom computer stations, it is time to think about how computers can also be transformers. Students are able to use their imaginations and knowledge to create and share ideas in ways that would never have been possible with paper and pencil. Teachers can collaborate with students and their peers, have access to a global network of resources and teach using real world data. Computers make it possible to make connections to classrooms beyond the limits of our brick and stone building and our fieldtrip budget. Computers also can play an important roll in formative assessments allowing students to show what they know...and what they still need to learn.  This kind of transformative learning is at the core of the 21st Century Learning concept.

In order for the computers to become transformers, teachers need to be transformed. This is not an easy task. Their approach to classroom management, assessing student learning, sharing knowledge and mastering content can not just be bent, twisted and clicked into place to create some new, 21st century teacher. Instead, teachers need to be coached and encouraged to make these changes themselves. They need to see concrete examples of how technology can be used in a transformative way in their classrooms, they need access to tools that work and they need the support and recognition of their peers as they try out new ideas. Over the next year, as we work together on Align Assess Achieve and the Ohio Common Core, it will be my job to help with this transformation.
To help us get started, I have put together some guiding questions to use as you plan lessons for this year and we begin to plan for aligning our curriculum to the Common Core by 2014.

Guiding Questions for Transformative Technology Planning
  • Am I using technology as a subsitute for existing materials in my classroom or am I using it in an innovative way to assess student learning, help students work towards content mastery or develop 21st century skills?
  • Are my students passive users of the technology or active users of the technology?
  • How has technology changed the way I think about teaching?
  • How has technology changed the way I collaborate and communicate with my colleagues?
  • How has technology changed the way I collaborate and communicate with my students?
  • I am embedding technology into my daily teaching or is it more of a "special event"?
  • What are the state technology standards that can be embedded in my course?
  • How can I integrate technology standards into my daily lessons?
  • How can I integrate 21st century skills into my daily lessons?
  • How can I use the technology to differentiate my lessons for different learning styles, different learning levels and different ability groups?
  • How can I use the technology as tool to help with formative assessment?
  • How can I encourage students who have an interest in working with technology hardware or innovating with technology?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

How Does Math Help Us To Understand the World Around Us?

It is a rainy Sunday in the fall and football is on two televisions and a radio in my house.  Football is a game of probabilities, averages and percentages.  Just spend a few minutes listening to the announcers talking about quarterback ratings, first down successes, field goal distances and the wisdom of kicking to Devin Hester who holds an NFL record for punt returns and you will hear all kinds of statistics.  I spent time this past week at the OCTM State Math Conference.  I learned that my brain can only view 5, maybe six objects in a group and know how many are present without actually counting them or breaking them into smaller groups.  I tried that out while watching the football game and it is true!  I could not just know how many men were on the field, there were more than 6 and I had to count them.  Brain researchers have studied how our brains learn math and this research has been used to help write the new Common Core Math Standards.

Students learn math best when they can make a connection to the world around them.  As teachers, we need to find new ways to help students experience mathematics.  Our focus has been that we are all teachers of reading and writing - but what if we also were all teachers of math?  Social Studies lessons can include population statistics, financial literacy, using maps to teach scale, calculating area, interpreting graphs  and reading about mathematical ideas within the context of history.  There are many children's books that focus on math concepts. English classes focusing on writing supporting details can include lessons in how to write a specific proof, lessons on how to find key details in a word problem, and how patterns can become poetry. Persuasive writing can include the use of averages, percentages and other statistics to help prove a point.  Science and math are traditionally paired. Lessons designed to  help students to  really understand how to measure distances in space, how to analyze real data they collect as a group, how to find math in the natural world and how to use math to make decisions on energy usage are all ways to help make meaningful connections to mathematics.  Music and Art are the creative extension of math.  Pitch, note length, rhythms, angles, color value, perspective all are dependent on mathematical concepts.  Our society has encouraged the idea that it is ok to not be good in math.  We have allowed students to opt out of more challenging math simply because we as adults may not have felt we were good at math.  My challenge to you this week is to see how you can incorporate mathematical ideas appropriate for your grade level into your other lessons.  Can you find real world examples...better yet, can your students think of real world examples of math around them?


Sunday, October 9, 2011

How to Help All Students Grow - Life In the Pumpkin Patch

What kind of pumpkin is your favorite?  I have always liked the round, fat pumpkins for my jack -o-lantern.  Although, occasionally I have selected the tall, thin one.  As I wandered through the pumpkin patch this fall, I was once again presented with so many different options to choose from - small, large, short, tall, bumpy, smooth...endless possible combinations.  As I paused before each one, I tried to picture with my mind's eye what kind of face might emerge from the orange skin.  This year, I went for the 23lb kind of oblong pumpkin - with some cool scar-like lines across it. I think it will make a great creepy jack-o-lantern for Halloween.

This fall we have been focusing on formative assessments as a way to help all of our students grow as learners.  Sometimes as teachers, we tend to have a favorite kind of student, a favorite kind of assignment, a favorite lesson.  It is easy to picture how our class will go with the right students, the right materials and the right lessons. But life isn't usually like this.  Our classrooms are more like the pumpkin patch.  Even with careful tending and the right growing conditions, all the pumpkins do not turn out the same. It is up to us as teachers to use formative assessments to be like our mind's eye to see the potential in each of our students and adjust our lessons to help each of them to grow.  One way to do this is to give students choices in how they learn a new skill or demonstrate a mastery of a skill.   Another way to stretch all the learners in your classroom is to use performanced based activities.  PBA's are built around real world problems or scenarios and can be designed to let students work collaboratively or individually to create solutions.  Rubric grading works best with either of these assignment types. By giving the students a rubric ahead of time, the rubric becomes a checklist to help guide their work. Students like to do performance based activities. They know up front what is expected of them.  These activities also help them to connect the facts and skills they have learned with their day to day world.   

Learn More About Performance Assessment and Rubrics

Monday, October 3, 2011

How to Challenge All Learners - Running in the Rain

I have a new respect for the student athletes who choose to run cross country.  This past weekend I stood in the gusting wind and driving rain to cheer for runners from many area districts - including Bay.  More than 200 of them competed on a course consisting of rain slicked grass, shoe-eating muddle puddles and gravel.  I saw runners covered in mud - running with one shoe on and carrying the other. I saw a lot of determination. I heard a lot of encouraging words as teammates  supported each other along the course of the race.  I watched coaches yelling out times at intervals on the course to give runners feedback on their pace. They all finished the race, even those who in the end needed to walk to the finish. At the finish line, they high fived each other and talked about the giant puddles they had splashed across or the narrow woods where they couldn't pass. They shared their success. They all finished because they felt value in running the race. For most runners this is intrinsic. For some, the promise of trips to Dairy Queen at the end of the season might be enough to drive them through the season.

As teachers, I think we can learn from cross country runners.  Students need to be challenged in our classrooms.  They need to know that if they struggle with learning new materials, they will be better as learners in the end. We need to set up a learning course for them that provides these challenges at a level that is appropriate for the diverse learners we face each day.  Our classrooms need to be places where students are given the chance to support each other. As teachers, we need to let them know how they are doing along the way. We also need to make sure they have had the basic foundational work they need to meet the challenge of new material.   Clear Learning Targets are one way to do this.  I was sitting in on one of Darryl Innocenzi's Assessment for Learning sessions this past week.  One of the discussions focused on using I CAN statements as a way to help students focus on what they need to learn and what they already know.  In his example, a teacher provided the students in her class with a list of I Can statements for their next unit.  She had the students circle the I Can statements they felt they could already do.  She had them rewrite the remaining statements as I AM LEARNING TO statements. This gave her an idea of what scaffolding she might have to put in place to support some students- and what ladders she may have to build to allow other students to climb higher and stretch what they already know.  As we move through the next few weeks, focus on challenging all of the students in your classroom to stretch their learning.

Read More On Challenging All Learners