Monday, December 19, 2011

How To Be An Education Innovator - Education Outside of the Box

Stan Heffner, Superintendent of Schools for the State of Ohio, is challenging districts to think outside the box and begin to change the way education looks in Ohio's schools. (article link)   Educators like to talk about change, but the focus usually is on how students, budget, parents or curriculum needs to change in order for learning to change.  Teachers who are innovators in their classrooms move past the limitations they face and look for ways to use their resources in new ways. Over the next few weeks I will focus on strategies innovators are using to change the way education looks moving into 2012.

Part 1 Using Time Resources In A New Way
Traditional schools have standard class periods or segments of the day devoted to one specific content area.  Students in traditional classrooms spend class time focusing on learning new information, then go home to practice or apply the new information. 

Flipping the classroom - In this innovative approach to class, the teacher uses video and audio technology to record the "lecture" component of the lesson.  This is posted on a class or school website.  Students watch the video at home.  Actual classroom time is then spent on applying the lesson material to real world problems, guided practice, collaborative group work and formative assessment to measure student mastery.
Article Links

Integrated Instructional Units - This approach has been around for a long time, but still has a lot of potential for innovation.  The classroom teacher uses a content web to map connections between science, math, social studies, language arts and fine arts standards.  From this content map, the teacher than develops a teaching unit that helps students see connections across contents and to real world applications.  This kind of unit planning allows teachers to focus key standards without having to "short change" a content area. This type of unit planning also works well with Performance Assessments and Service Learning.
Article Links

Flexible Scheduling - Teams of teachers are given a block of time to divide up as they feel is necessary to accomplish the learning targets established by the team.  This means that one day, more time might be allotted for a science lab to be completed, with less time for other content areas, the next day more time might be spent on a social studies presentation etc.  A related concept is Block Scheduling, where students can complete the curriculum for a year long course in a semester, allowing them to take a wider variety of courses each year. The blocked class is usually 80-90 minutes long. Teaching in the block allows teachers to spend some time on direct instruction, time on guided practice or cooperative learning and time on individual learning and enrichment or support.
Article Links

Virtual Classroom - this concept can take many formats, from using web based collaborative tools like Google Docs that allow students and teachers to work together outside of the boundaries of the standard school day, to a true web-based classroom.  By offering students opportunities to participate in an online course, schools can go outside of the 7:30-3:00 school day and meet the needs of a diverse group of learners. Florida is now requiring that students participate in an online course as a way to prepare them for the types of learning they will be doing as college students or professionals.  Students and teachers participating in an online course may meet at a regular time during the day for live chat, but then also have the flexibility to post comments and assignment responses during a defined time window.  Districts can use tools like Moodle to help teachers create an online course component in their traditional classes.  Some districts are working in partnership with their teachers and outside agencies to develop hybrid courses where students spend some time in an actual classroom and some time in the virtual classroom.
Article Resources

Monday, December 12, 2011

How to Provide Effective Feedback...When A Smile Sticker Just Isn't Enough

Great Job!
How many times have you read through a stack of student papers and provided a smiley sticker, star, check or point total as the feedback for the student.   Kids love stickers, even high school students get excited when you take the time to put a sticker on the paper.  But what purpose do stickers serve, and what message are they sending to the student?  Point totals tell students a value for the "right" information they provided, but don't really help them identify what they may need to continue to work on.   Stickers let students know that we "like" their work or that we acknowledge the effort that they put into completing it.  Stickers are a type of feedback, but they are not effective feedback. As teachers, we need to ask ourselves how our feedback will help our students grow in their learning.

There are three categories of feedback:
    • Effective feedback - moves learning forward
    • Success feedback -helps students focus on what was done well
    • Intervention feedback - helps student focus on what needs work and provides guidance for what to do about it.
Stickers are SUCCESS feedback.  They let students know what was done well.  Stickers can be used when students are working on developing  mastery of a learning target and may need the success feedback to help them identify areas of strength. With success feedback, the focus is on reinforcing existing knowledge or past knowledge.

EFFECTIVE feedback needs to be specific and related directly to the learning targets. Effective feedback helps to move learning forward, so the focus is not just on existing knowledge but on building additional knowledge or deepening existing knowledge.  Rubrics are one way to provide effective feedback.  A rubric contains clear descriptions of learning expectations. Student input on the development of the rubric makes them even more powerful as feedback tools.  Providing a rubric at the beginning of an assignment allows students to adjust their learning and their work to meet your clear targets.  Another type of effective feedback is to provide students with examples of strong and weak work samples.  Spend time discussing these samples.  Compare them to the rubric. Asks students how they would improve upon weak samples or what characteristics make a sample "strong". Finally, Jan Chappuis, in her book Seven Strategies of Assessment For Learning, uses an approach called "stars and stairs" to help students identify areas where they are showing mastery and areas where they may need additional practice, revision or support.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why Performance Assessment Is Effective...Christmas Concert Season

For the next two weeks, hundreds of student musicians will take to the stage in our district to perform their holiday concerts.  Countless hours have been spent in music classrooms teaching rhythm, pitch, volume control, technique, interpretation and how to blend with a group.  Many more hours have been spent outside the classrooms practicing these skills.   Concerts are a great opportunity for these musical learners to demonstrate their level of mastery of their skills.  They get immediate feedback from their peers, teacher and parents who attend the performance.  Performing a piece of music with a group allows the musicians to compare themselves to those around them.  Finally, performing a piece of music in concert allows a musician to apply all of their knowledge of rhythm, pitch, form and interpretation to a real world situation.

We are not all musicians, but all students can benefit from the opportunity to take the knowledge they are building in a class and apply it to a real world scenario.  This can be simple, like using math knowledge of measurement to make a fall craft project or using persuasive writing techniques to write a letter to the editor. Performance Assessment can also be done on a larger scale as students develop their own research projects, propose service learning opportunities or work to solve real world problems.   One group of high school science students in Columbus took what they learned in chemistry and created a simple water filtration system that could be used by earthquake victims.  Students from Westerly Elementary in our own district worked with local businesses to create a rain barrel project.

As we move toward aligning to the common core curriculum, we need to also consider ways to integrate performance based learning and assessment, and service learning into our classrooms.  By giving students the opportunity to apply what they learn to real world situations, we not only reinforce their understanding of the concepts, but we give them the chance to see how their skills can benefit people in their community.

Resources for Performance Based Learning and Assessment and Service Learning:
National Clearing House for Service Learning
North Olmsted SITES Program
Performance Assessment Ideas - Science
Performance Assessment Ideas - Math
Teacher's Guide To Performance Based Learning and Assessment. K. Michael Hibbard et. al. ASCD Publications.
NETS-S Performance Tasks - Technology integration tasks. Developed by the Georgia Dept of Educ.
Jon Mueller Authentic Task Toolbox
Performance Task Research -