Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Top Ten Think Abouts Numbers 7-4

Top Ten Think Abouts are some concepts of pedagogy that I heard from Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete. Fogarty and Pete are a married couple who entertainingly deliver important and useful tips and activities for teachers to implement in their classrooms. This post has a prequel and a sequel.

In this post, I will give you some more educational musings that got me thinking about ways I could improve my teaching. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it's a good place to begin considering change. I've  put them in a Top Ten format providing 7-4 in this post. My rankings may not be necessarily yours, but I do hope that you find them thought provoking.

7. What do we want kids to know? (Standards) How will we know when they know it? (Assessments)

What research says:
Learning in a nutshell. What do they need to know, and how are we going to get them there? There are copious amounts of research that supports the use of formative assessment in the classroom--too numerous to mention in one post. The brilliance of formative assessment is that it lets you know if you students are understanding what you want them to discover. If they are not, you get the chance to take a new direction in order to satisfy your teaching goal.

One of the main hurdles of using formative assessment is the large amounts of standards and curriculum educational systems need to cover and the lack of time to do it. How many times have you just plowed through a concept because you were running out of time; plowed through even though you knew your student didn't fully understand?

I have--several times.

Common Core standards in Math and Language Arts have been adopted by most of the states in the union. The Common Core may help alleviate the pressure of quantity with more of a focus on quality. Make room for formative assessment. The practice of formative assessment will inform you of what your students need. That's what we are there for.

What it might look like:
I have posted a few formative assessment ideas on this blog already. Please check here, here, and here.

6. Frequently ask your students to think about: How does ___ connect to something you already know? How might you use ___ in the future?

What research says:
The essence of number 6 is schema and application. According to educational researchers Dr. Debra Pickering and Dr. Robert J. Marzano, building background knowledge is essential for literacy. Pickering explains that the way new information "sticks" in long-term memory is due in large part to having background knowledge or a "connection" on which new information can attach. Think about a time when you were trying to learn something new and it strikes you that you've experienced something like this before. Remember how much easier it became to learn that new skill?
Having students realize that there is an audience outside of the classroom walls can make all the difference when they are creating and learning. Think about when you are having students create some artwork. When you tell them that you plan on hanging the work in the hall--Whoa! That changes the ball game. Suddenly students become a little more careful about creating something worth showing off to the public. Students also should realize that learning is global and for every age. Also consider the idea that when you teach the material to others you learn the material even better.

What it might look like:
One of the most powerful examples of connecting new concepts to schema is learning a foreign language. Maybe you've studied a "romance language" in high school or college? Do you recall the term cognates? A cognate is a foreign word that is very similar to a word in your native language.

Try this: Read the Spanish verb danzar, what English word do you think of? If you thought dance, you'd be right. Danzar is a Spanish cognate to English speakers. If you have ELL students, you can utilize cognates to your advantage because linguistic cognates activate schema, and thus will have a much better chance of "sticking" in the brain.

5. Flexible lesson planning: What will we do if/when they don’t know it, or already know how to do it? (Re-teaching and extension)

What research says:
Differentiated instruction is a huge topic, too big for a small part of a blog post (Dr. Tomlinson describing D.I. in a series of quick videos). However, the idea of keeping your instruction "on it's toes" is a wise tactic. Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson, author of several globally read books and articles, and oft cited researcher on differentiated instruction, says active planning is one of the vital aspects of ensuring student learning success. Finding out what your students need and how to best help them get there is the "common sense" of differentiation.

What it might look like:
According to Tomlinson, there are several areas teachers could differentiate instruction. One of the areas is student interest. For example, the objective is to build upper body strength in students during physical education class. The physical education teacher can offer a lot of different options to increase upper body strength that students may choose from: weight lifting, rock wall climbing, a circuit of several low impact upper body activities, kick boxing, etc. The student will complete the objective by doing what they want to do. This idea is flexible for students who need more or less upper body work.
4. Active, Engaged, Involved.

"Let's move the blood away from your feet and  seat." -- Brian Pete

What research says:
Physical activity, even the simple act of walking, improves blood flow to the brain. The blood brings oxygen and glucose which helps the brain function better (The Franklin Institute). Fogarty and Pete suggest getting the students active (walking around the room, stretching, dancing, handshakes etc.) before beginning an engaging activity.

Engagement in an activity improves learning, according to Michael Prince author of Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. When you mix blood flow inducing movement with engaging activities and offer students a way to involve other people with their learning, you have a good recipe for success.

Students become the "teacher" of the material by sharing what they learned with peers or with someone at home.

What it might look like:
You want your students to engage in an activity to review some key vocabulary about butterfly metamorphosis.

You get them out of their seats by playing music. You tell the group that they should high-five classmates until the music stops. They should pair up with the person they were high-fiving when the music stopped.
Students engage in a game like AB Pyramid (think $10,000 Pyramid).
Have students think about who they could teach these key vocabulary terms to when they get home. Have parents or siblings sign off on your student's daily planner to verify that they shared the information at home.

The top three Think Abouts will be posted soon.

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