Tag Archives: Good Teaching

Does Technology Improve Learning – No! A Keynote

I recently had the honor of keynoting at the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) conference.

My message was that technology alone will not improve learning; only teachers improve learning. But technology can be wonderful tool for teachers and for students under the guidance of teachers.

Watch the keynote here. And related resources are down below.

 

If we want to leverage technology well for learning, then these are the components we should attention to:

  • Focus on Learning
  • Deliberate, Shared Leadership
  • Community Engagement
  • How You REALLY Protect Stuff
  • Support the Heck Out of Folks

Resources

Technology:

Learning:

Leadership:

Community Engagement:

Supporting Educators (Professional Development):

 

A Child Struggles in School: Where Does the Problem Lie?

In a conversation recently with a caring, conscientious teacher, she commented that she had success working with struggling learners and helping to make them feel smart.

But when they got to the next grade and perhaps had a teacher that wasn't as effective at reaching those children, or perhaps thought there was a pace for learning and students should stick to it, or perhaps simply saw the onus for learning as being on the student, the students really struggled again.

She worried that perhaps she had led those students to have an unrealistic view of themselves by not being more up front with them about being struggling learners. She wondered, despite her success helping those students to learn, to feel successful, and to feel smart, if she shouldn't be more direct with them about being struggling learners, to prepare them for possible pain and disappointment later.

And I caught myself wondering, is the problem that each child isn't where the school is in the curriculum?

Or is the problem that the school isn't where the child is in the curriculum?

 

Is “What’s the iMovie Curriculum?” the Wrong Question?

A while back, I was part of an online conversation when a tech director asked for ideas for an iMovie curriculum. His district was working to establish a course in digital video production at their high school.

Right away, I had to wonder if asking for ideas for an iMovie curriculum wasn't the wrong question. iMovie, after all, is just a tool. And you already know that I believe the real power of technology isn't having a “learning technology” focus, but rather a “technology for learning” focus.

I don't object to learning iMovie. I object to learning iMovie out of the context of a compelling purpose to use the tool.

In fact, my experience is that the lessons about the tool (iMovie) are much easier to learn (students remember the skills better) when they are taught in the larger context of being used for something. In fact, I have seen well intentioned teachers teach all the skills for a tool in advance of using it for some purpose meaningful to students, and having to reteach all those skills again when the task was at hand.The brain just really isn't wired for “just in case” learning. It's wired for “just in time” learning.

So I wondered, “Knowing their interest in students learning iMovie, what is it that they might really want students to learn?” What might be the authentic reason to learn how to use iMovie?

For example, a school could offer a course in digital storytelling. In addition to iMovie skills, the students would likely also learn interviewing; scripting and story boarding; pre-production, production, and post-production; visual communication styles, etc. (I have included some links to resources below.) But it would all start with students learning about and doing storytelling.

Or why not take it a step further and have students tell stories that they feel compelled to tell? Perhaps a documentary making class. Students could take on an issue of social significance to themselves, research it, and create a documentary that may even ask it's watchers to take action (and what action would they recommend!?).

Think of how powerful those courses could be for students!

Digital Storytelling Resources:

Documentary Making Resources

 

We Thought We Were Pretty Good Tech Integrators, Until We Met Jennie

Our team of technology integrators is very experienced and does great work. At least we thought so, until we met Jennie Magiera. 😉

Jennie works with teachers in Chicago Public Schools on leveraging technology to engage and motivate students, as well as strengthen their learning. We were fortunate enough to have her join us for last year's Leveraging Learning Institute: iPads in Primary Grades. She not only keynoted, but led several sessions, collaborated with participants, and worked closely with our middle grades twitter reporters. She even convinced us all (in the middle of the Institute!) that a panel of our student reporters should do one of the evening keynotes! (We took her advice, and the kids were great!)

Her energy and positive attitude are contagious (although there is a chance that the Energizer Bunny is exhausted by having her around!), and her great ideas about teaching with technology are so numerous, you just can't try them all at once.

But that's ok. Take your time. It's worth the investment of practice and the effort to make them part of your repertoire.

This is her keynote from last year. Her slides are here. I hope you get as much out of it as we did.

 

The Leveraging Learning Institute highlights Auburn's experience and “lessons learned” from the country's first district-wide 1to1 iPads in primary grades initiative, and helps participants learn how to successfully design and implement an iPad initiative to customize learning for students. This year's Institute is Wednesday Nov. 13 through Friday November 15, and registration is currently open.

 

Getting Better at Engaging Tasks Through Revision.

A great way to get better at Engaging Tasks is to use the criteria for great Engaging Tasks to critique and revise other Tasks. (I’m not sure that I would say that all Tasks are Engaging Tasks! – or, at least, they don’t all start out that way.)

For example, look at this Task:

Imagine that you are living during the Great Depression and that your classmates have decided to put together a time capsule for students of the future to use to learn and understand what life was like during the Great Depression.

Lets start by looking at this critically with an eye to the criteria for Engaging Tasks.

  • Standards-based: Yes.
  • All 3 pieces – Scenario, Role, & Task: Task, yes: put together a time capsule. Role: sort of: you are someone living during the Great Depression. Compelling scenario, not really: the Task doesn’t really provide much more of a context for doing this than you and your classmates have decided to do it…
  • In the form of a “story”- no “teacher talk”: Not written like a little story. Reads like a teacher’s assignment. “Imagine that you are…” “your classmates” are teacher talk, and clues that the Task needs to be revised.
  • HOTS – Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Create: Could be, depending on how it is framed.
  • Students: authentic or believable: Yes, people do leave time capsules for others to open in the future.
  • Students: interesting or of significance: Mostly: some would clearly enjoy working on this, but there are others who would not. This could be because the Task doesn’t have all three pieces. Often the compelling scenario helps with this.

So if we were to revise this task, we would likely work on the following:

  • Make sure the Task has a compelling scenario and a stronger role
  • Rewrite it as a story, and remove the teacher talk
  • Make sure the Higher Order Thinking focus is more clearly articulated in the activity the students need to complete
  • Double check that the new version would seem significant and interesting to students (or at least more so than the current version)

A new version of the Task might look like this:

It is 1936 and as part of the New Deal, your town is building a new Town Hall. The mayor has issued a challenge to all the school children to help create a time capsule that will be put in the corner stone of the Town Hall then opened far in the future. Your teacher has broken your class into teams of 4 and 5 students and each team needs to help identify the best items to include in the time capsule. The best ideas will be included in the actual time capsule.

How does this version of the Task fare against the criteria? I’ll let you decide, but here are a couple of my thoughts. I’m hesitant to write tasks where the student is a student (I tend to find more engaging the ones where students can imagine themselves in a different role), but this Task already had them as students; whereas I didn’t mind revising this Task, I didn’t want to totally rewrite it. There is now a compelling scenario (new Town Hall and the Mayor’s challenge). The whole thing is written as a story (ok, there is a little teacher talk here, but not the author telling the reader, rather the teacher is a character in this story – see my comments above about students in the role of students…). And “Which is best?” is a short-cut question for getting to higher order thinking (analysis and evaluation).

How might you now get practice getting better with Engaging Tasks through revision?

Maybe you and a group of colleagues are working to write your own Engaging Tasks. You could swap drafts and critique each other’s, offering suggestions for revisions.

This Engaging Tasks Feedback Form might be helpful.

Or you could look for WebQuests with Tasks in need of critiquing and revising, and practice your skills on them.

Or you could use these sample elementary Engaging Tasks or these sample high school and middle school Engaging Tasks to practice critique and revision.

Resources:

 

It’s Not About Blaming Teachers, It’s About Locus of Control

I keep writing about, and presenting about, how teachers need to teach differently… Pretty soon you'll start thinking that I'm blaming teachers for the challenges in our schools…

Most of what I write about in this blog is educational change, usually focused on instruction and/or technology integration (which, of course, is just a subset of “instruction”). But when you talk a lot about changing expectations for teaching and learning, and how teachers teach, and paradigms, and getting them to focus on the right thing instead of the wrong thing, and supervising for those changes, it's easy to start to think that I believe that teachers are the reason that schools aren't changing or that more students aren't learning.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

First off, I write about the changes that need to happen and how to help teachers make those changes because they are things that most teachers have not experienced before themselves.

I believe that the rules for education have changed. The world of work has changed and we now need every child to learn in school what we used to only need the college prep kids to learn (well, actually what has changed is that we now need every kid to be college prep!). Second, new tools (laptops, tablets, cell phones, iPods, information access, personal broadcasting, the read/write web, multimedia, etc.) have changed how kids work, necessitating changing how schools have students learn (or risk becoming irrelevant to students).

As I described when Bea McGarvey came to Auburn, she points out that schools still do industrial age education, when we need an educational system for the information age:

During the industrial age, schools’ goal was to sort out talent and make the rest compliant. We got really good at that. But for this economy, the goal needs to be to develop talent in every child. That’s why we’re so frustrated: we’re trying to meet one goal with a tool that was designed for another…

It doesn’t matter how much we agree with the burning platform that our schools need to work for all our children, or how well we understand that the root problem is how our goals have changed and it isn’t “the teachers’ fault” (Bea says, according to Deming: 95% of the problems are not with the people; they are with the structure), the fact is, at some point teachers understand that they are good at a system designed for an old goal, and that they might not know how to do the system for the new goal…

So teachers are now working in an environment they didn't really experience as students themselves, and probably weren't trained for professionally. Even if teachers need to be the ones making most of the changes, the reason is that the rules have changed, not because they weren't doing a good job.

But even more importantly, we focus on teachers making the changes because teachers are the ones who can solve our challenges. They have the power, the locus of control. When we look at all the factors that impact our students being successful, the one we (schools, educators) have the most control over is teacher practice: what happens in the classroom.

And if teachers have to make changes for a new environment they haven't experienced or been trained for, and if they are the ones who have the power to make the changes, then we have to be very, very clear that we don't blame teachers. Nothing could be more inappropriate, nor unproductive for achieving our new goals.

Instead, what we need to do is support the heck out of teachers.

We need to provide teachers support to a level like we never have before. Side by side with an expectation to teach in ways so all students can learn a high status curriculum, and that makes use of the modern tools for intellectual work, we have to be making a promise to support teachers in this work, making clear we believe in our teachers, and that we know that they can do this hard work. We have to provide training, resources, and time. We have to let teachers try, and allow them to make mistakes, and also to get better – and hold them harmless in this important work. That includes sticking up for them and their efforts, even when (maybe especially when!) it doesn't go well the first time.

If we don't, we guarantee failure: for our schools, for our teachers, and for our students.

 

Not All Motivators Are Created Equal

I continue to get questions from educators about motivating seemingly unmotivated students. The teachers are often frustrated because they are “trying hard” and “working hard,” but with little to no payoff.

When I talk more with those teachers, I find two common misperceptions that stand in the way of the teacher being more successful (they are hard to teach students, after all. We can't expect complete success motivating them!): (a) motivation resides entirely within the student (the teacher has no role in student motivation); or (b) all teacher efforts to motivate are created equal and should have the same impact on students.

The teachers who believe (a) have larger issues… (The research is pretty clear – as is common sense: teachers who don't believe they can influence student learning, don't.)

But we can work with teachers who believe (b)!

Most of these teachers who are struggling to motivate students, are simply trying to leverage the wrong motivators, often undermining their own efforts.

Many of the struggling teachers I have observed have the right instincts and do try to motivate students, but most of the motivators teachers say they use, or were observed using, tend to be “low payoff” motivators such as showing enthusiasm, being nice to students, or using manipulatives.

They also used “no payoff” motivators such as grades, or statements like “you’re going to need this in high school (or college, or work, etc),” or “it’s going to be on the state test.” These may be motivators for easy to teach students, or important to teachers, but they tend not to be motivators for hard to teach students. In many cases, this approach only succeeded in agitating the hard to teach students or exasperating undesirable behavior. It’s no wonder that if teachers are putting a lot of energy into these kinds of motivators that they are frustrated with the results, and the students.

But, trying to teach hard to teach students qualifies as extraordinary circumstances requiring extraordinary efforts.

Teachers need to not just “try” or “work hard”; they need to try the right things and work hard at effective practices.

Teachers who were more successful motivating the students used strategies such as making the material interesting, using real world examples, or leveraging their positive relationship with the students.

Teachers need to be using “high payoff” motivators, such as these:

  • Project-based learning
  • Connecting with students
  • Connecting learning to the community and the students’ lives
  • Focusing on higher order thinking activities
  • Learning by doing
  • Making learning interesting
  • Involving students in designing their learning

(It's not hard to see how these map onto the Meaningful Engaged Learning Focus 5)

Dewey reminds us just how important using effective motivators is:

Our whole policy of compulsory education rises or falls with our ability to make school life an interesting and absorbing experience to the child. In one sense there is no such thing as compulsory education. We can have compulsory physical attendance at school; but education comes only through willing attention to and participation in school activities. It follows that the teacher must select these activities with reference to the child’s interests, powers, and capacities. In no other way can she guarantee that the child will be present. (1913, p. ix)