Friday, June 22, 2012

Universal Reading Questions

 I often make reference to my Universal Reading Questions (URQs) which I devised as a way to try and get my history students to interact with their history readings instead of just finding answers to a series of questions from the book. I wanted question one to give me what the students thought was interesting versus what I thought was interesting because sometimes these are wildly different. I recently added the "or important" part for my students who sometimes complained that "nothing was interesting."

Question two was important for me because I often found out in the middle of a class that something I thought all the students knew was in fact something that few if any knew. It helps me to find out their prior knowledge to build upon and to find out misconceptions that may need to be corrected.

Question three is the one that I feel is the most important, to make a connection. History should not be seen as a list of facts and dates, but a story to be told and understood. Without seeing the connections between events students will not be able to see how one action affects another and how things from the past influence their lives today.

So if you are interested, here they are. Feel free to use, or modify them as you see fit. If you can think of ways to improve upon them, let me know as I see them as a living document that is constantly being modified and hopefully improved.

1. List two things from the reading you thought were
    interesting or important and why you think so.

       Things that strike you as:

2. List two things from the reading that were unclear and/or
    that you want to know more about.

                 -Don’t get it? Let me know, we’ll find the answer.
                -Got it? Do you want to know more about?
-There is always more to know! (Pleas Be Specific)

3. Can you think of a similar situation (from the past or
    something more current)?     

What is the relevance of something from the reading to today’s world, your life, or the lives of your friends & family?

                 -This can be from history     -From other classes
-Events at school                  -Something at home
-From your experiences
-Or from pop culture such as TV/YouTube/movies

Blog Post #2b for C&I 579 "2b but Not to Be"

Excepts from Justin Reich’s blog entitled Don’t Use Kahn Academy without Watching this First, June 21, 2012

In a send-off of the Comedy Central classic Mystery Science Theater 3000, two teacher-educators sit in front of a Khan Academy video on multiplying and dividing fractions and offer their critical commentary. Dave Coffey and John Golden are the hosts here (they really do need at least one talking robot), and they clearly are not big fans of Mr. Khan or his patron Mr. Gates.

The two teachers systematically dissect the video, noting a variety of missteps. There are a few unquestionable errors of mathematics: Khan uses incorrect terminology at a couple of points. Khan is also inconsistent in his language about positive and negative numbers (using plus when he means positive, or minus when he means negative), which is perhaps a lesser sin, but poor practice and misleading for students. He's also inconsistent in his use of symbols, sometimes writing "+4", sometimes writing "4", never explaining why he does or doesn't. He making the kind of mistakes that would reduce his score on the Mathematical Quality of Instruction observational instrument, used in the Gates-funded Measures of Effective Teaching Project

Coffey and Golden are probably most savage when Khan makes these outright mistakes, but I think the true fuel of their satire is their broader critique of Khan's approach. Khan teaches students to memorize a small set of procedural rules for dealing with multiplying negative numbers, with essentially zero effort expended to explain conceptually what the symbolic manipulations represent. In fact, in the final minute of the video, Khan says verbatim, "In your own time, think about why these rules apply." 

For many math teachers, the most important work to do is to get kids to think about why the rules apply, to help them derive them where applicable, and to help them contextualize them when derivations are impractical. 

Khan Academy pulled down the video satirized in MTT2K, Episode 1 within a day or so of publication. It will be interesting to see if they simply fix the outright errors, or if they address some of the broader pedagogical concerns. 

My Response:

Once again you point out what should be obvious, but sadly is not. In mathematics today the ongoing debate about teaching for conceptual understanding versus procedures continues with the concept side losing, no doubt thanks to teaching to the high stakes standardized tests under NCLB. But as my wife (a PhD in Mathematics Education) would say, the debate continues among mathematics teachers themselves as many do not buy into the Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) ideas set out by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). 

Too often people who are “good at math” think they are because they are good at learning and memorizing procedures, yet they may not understand the concept or its applications. This becomes a problem if they become mathematics teachers as they can only tell students the procedure, which merely represents one way to solve a given problem, and they will not able to explain the concept or applications of the procedure. One result, people who don’t think or learn that way begin to see themselves as “bad at math” at an early age.

This may once again be a negative effect of “teaching to the test” and may actually be made worse by some aspects of Common Core standards as more ideas, in the form of procedures, are to be taught to students with little time devoted to conceptual understanding. 

As one of my professors says, the result is exposure to information that is, “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

Link to Justin's Blog: 

Blog # 2 for C&I 579 (Blog Comment)

Excepts from Justin Reich’s blog entitled Rethinking Teaching and Time with the Flipped Classroom, June 20, 2012

For me, the Flipped Classroom is about one essential question: What is the best use of our class time? More precisely, how do we ensure that students do the most cognitively demanding work inside classrooms?
In general, educators agree that listening and receiving content is not nearly as difficult as applying new ideas and practicing new skills. Watching a teacher demonstrate the solution to a problem is less cognitively demanding than solving new problems. Kids shouldn't go home to solve hard problems, they should do so in class with peer and mentor support. We can make that possible, by sending them home to watch content delivery.

For Jon and Aaron, the best part of flipping class is that after eliminating the need to stand in front of class lecturing every period, they can commit to making time to check in with every student, every class, every day. How many teachers can say that a personal connection with every single student is a routine part of every class? To me, the potential for this kind of personal connection and relationship building is the most compelling reason for experimenting with Flipping class. 

Note to reformers: if you try to use Flipped models to increase class sizes or supervise computer-using students with paraprofessionals, then you will miss out on the most powerful benefits. Let's spend time-gains on deeper learning, not on making school cheaper. 

My Response:


You hit the mark on what I see as an important goal of flipping a class, ensuring, “that students do the most cognitively demanding work inside classroom” and not simply as some new way of doing things. The goals of any instructional change should be to make education time (always too limited) used to promote collaboration, higher order thinking, and addressing misconceptions as needed. As you note, critics often think that this is a way replace teachers or increase numbers in the classroom but they miss the point. (In my opinion, any teacher who could be replaced by videos probably needs to be replaced.) You aren’t replacing the teacher, just turning the lecture into a shorter, reviewable part of homework, thereby freeing up classroom time for making connections and teaching understanding over procedures and facts. With the ability to link in other video clips hopefully it can be a more interesting lecture as well.

Note: As I mentioned in a blog post to Joe Bergmann, I’m trying for step 2 for next year—flipping an entire class.  I dropped one of my graduate classes this summer to have the time to start recording videos for my students. I have gotten my software (Camtasia) and hope to have my other items next week (a nicer microphone and a sound adapter for the laptop that will now be my classroom computer).  

I plan to flip at least one of courses for next year (History of Western Civilization) starting at the beginning of next year, and possibly my World Cultures class as well. My goal is to emphasize connections to see how prior events, geography, and decisions are connected and influence history. With the introduction of laptops for all students I plan to have them post their answers to my Universal Reading Questions and to group them daily by topics to research additional information to interact with the reading, build on their prior knowledge, and to make connection between events and to their world today.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Relection 1 (for C&I 579)

It has been a crazy almost four weeks and a lot has changed on the educational technology for this guy. I just finished a book review (for an course incomplete) on a book by Rowen & Bigum (Eds.) that looks at new points of view for using educational technology to address growing student diversity in our rapidly changing society. Lucky for me a lot of the ideas in it make it a perfect fit with this class, so sorry in advance for quoting it a lot.

I noted in an earlier post (Amusing Ourselves to Death?) that I felt overwhelmed with the vast amount of information coming in while following blogs and through Twitter, let alone things for this class and that Dr. T shares. I like to read through things thoroughly, but I have had to develop the skill of skimming to deal with the time I have available. Additionally, I have developed an new attitude, that of realizing that I can’t do all of the things I read about, so I have to just pick one or two and go from there. Big concept in terms of changing how I teach? It has, “much more to do with pedagogy than with the technology itself” (Cummings, Brown & Sayers (2007), “p. 91). Of course I plan to leverage the technology.

One thing I’ve learned that I’m sure I will not forget is that this technology-mediated learning requires a lot of planning and organization, nothing worse than a, “it’s due when?” moment. ;-)
I like things in one location, but I am adjusting.

I am looking to find ways in which I can have my students do more of the knowledge creation with me on the side. I want to use my Universal Reading Questions in a new way to have students use the technology they will have to find the information and make the connections. I think students today are good at finding information, connections…I think not, but the jury is still out. Hopefully I can guide them in the future by having them research the information versus me telling them and making connections for them. The connection will last longer if they make it themselves.

I also plan to try and find ways to connect to students and parents in ways that are outside traditional / formal school channels, ways that more closely resemble their technology use and communication outside of school. Currently I am playing with My Big Campus—our school is thinking about using it next year. I will probably do my final project using it instead of Wikispaces; it might end up being a pilot for the school for next year.

We are going with a 1:1 program for ALL our students next year and calling it a pilot, technology hasn’t been bought yet and available software / programs are up in the air (like MBC). I am also looking at Edmodo and will even open very limited Facebook account to see how the two interface. (Hey, I did two-person control of nuclear weapons in the army; I can be VERY confidentiality conscious.)

Hey, I’ll try to with the flow. I do think I’m getting individual tables and chairs for my classroom that can be grouped so hopefully I can try some Stanford d-school-like ideas.

Cummings, J., Brown, K., & Sayers, D. (2007). Literacy, technology, and diversity. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Rowen, L., & Bigum, C. (Eds.), (2012). Transformative approaches to new technology and student diversity in futures oriented classrooms: Future proofing education. Dordrecht, Germany: Springer.

NETP 2010: In Favor...

Blog Pro Post (Pulley): (Sorry in advance, I got carried away)

The goals of the National Educational Technology Plan (NETP) for 2010 of transforming education in America in the areas of learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity are far reaching and necessary, not only if we wish to address the inequity in American education, but also aspire to making our country once again a leader in education in the world. Learning and teaching need to change to become collaborative situations where students becoming constructors of new knowledge based on scaffolding, to support and build upon prior knowledge (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005, p. 106). Assessment need to move from reforms of standardization and high stakes testing to a new way of thinking with a focus on, “change but not measurement, on the social, and not simply the technical, [that] allows us to identify the ways technology may help disrupt the traditional relationships: between schools and knowledge; knowledge and children; children and teachers; and learners and communities” (Rowen & Bigum, 2012, p. 26).

For any of this to take place, change must happen, not only in terms of infrastructure, but also in terms of equity. Rowen & Bigum (2012) assert that despite all the decades of technological innovation in the world, and the adaptation of that technology to schools, equity issues have not changed much:
The children at risk of educational alienation and failure in 2011 are the same groups of children at risk more that four decades ago: kids from rural and isolated areas, indigenous communities, language backgrounds other than English. Kids from low-socioeconomic families, single parent households. Kids with physical and intellectual disabilities. Kids who don’t match their world’s “mythical norm” (p. 47).

            As the report acknowledges, in today’s world finances are tight and monies need to be reallocated, but that reallocation needs to consider first the schools that are furthest behind by improving their infrastructures (including technology), not to punish them because they are behind and rewarding those already ahead. One byproduct of the new call to renew, update, and jump onto each new technological change is that the amount of time and money invested has resulted in calls to measure the results, something Rowen & Bigum (2012) call a distraction because of the domestication of technology that takes place, that is, “schools often use those technologies in old and familiar ways: integrating them into existing routines, deploying them to meet existing goals and, generally, failing to engage with technologies in ways consistent with the world beyond the classroom” (p. 22).

Much more important is to help teachers engage in collaboration to become 21st Century educators because they are a more important part of the solution than technology. Cummings, Brown & Sayers (2007), note that the failure of educational technology to achieve change, “has much more to do with pedagogy than with the technology itself” (p. 91).

Cummings, J., Brown, K., & Sayers, D. (2007). Literacy, technology, and diversity. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Darling-Hammond, L., & Bransford, J. (Eds.), Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teacher should learn about and be able to do. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rowen, L., & Bigum, C. (Eds.), (2012). Transformative approaches to new technology and student diversity in futures oriented classrooms: Future proofing education. Dordrecht, Germany: Springer.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Thoughts on Flipping the Flipped Classroom C&I 579 Blog #1B

David Thornburg at thornbugthoughts recentely brought up some good points about the Flipped Classroom movement (  I agree that there are issues and that one size or technology does not fit all, but I think we need to look beyond the tool to how it is used by people in education. Here is my response to David:

I believe the goal is not to do traditional homework in class, but to move it beyond recall towards sustained projects with inquiry and higher order thinking. Yes, the videos can be boring, but no more so than a lecture. But, if you want them to be more interesting, keep them short and link in other sources including primary sources, credible websites and even other videos. The videos are used to present the basic background information and then class time can be used in exactly the ways you suggest. 

The real problem to me seems to be that people think that technology will solve the problems, it won't. What can solve problems is using technology (or a technique) in creative ways by educators (people) to engage students by enlisting them as knowledge creators (not as vessels to be filled) and thereby making learning relevant to the world today. Of course as you point out, a flaw in this logic is the assumption that students will watch what they won't read. If there is no accountability for not watching, then they won’t. Basically, it isn't the tool, it is how it is used and as Jon Bergmann (who helped start the flipped classroom concept) notes, it might not work for all classes or grade levels. See:

Rowen and Bigum (2012) would call for us to be "sportively skeptical"of new technology ideas (p. 222).

Rowen, L., & Bigum, C. (Eds.), (2012). Transformative approaches to new technology and student diversity in futures oriented classrooms: Future proofing education. Dordrecht, Germany: Springer.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Webography Pulley C&I 579

Click on the link below to go see the list on annotated ed tech websites I've been looking at this week.

Webography Pulley C&I 579

Friday, June 8, 2012

Doing the Flip...C&I 579 Blog #1A

The Flipped Class as a Transition to Deep 21st Century LearningPosted by jbergmann on May 10, 2012 in Flipped Class

The Progression:
1.  Teacher Flips a lesson or a unit and find it to be successful
2.  Teacher decides to flip the whole class
     a. (At least at the upper grades.  At the lower grades I don’t see teachers flipping a class, but
         rather, flipping selected lessons).
     b. Often this step takes an entire year as the teacher needs to focus in on making the videos
        —assuming they make all of their own videos.
3. Teacher realizes they have more time and begin to explore engaging activities.  This is where the magic of the flipped class happens.  When the teacher moves away from the stand and deliver approach and realize there is more to learning than disseminating content.

Phil’s Response:

So I’m at step 1 (or trying for step 2 for next year). Like all of the blogs and Twitter feeds I’m getting, I’m feeling overwhelmed, but I’m sure I am ready to take the first steps on the journey.

How sure, I dropped one of my graduate classes this summer to have the time to start recording videos for my students. Tomorrow I’m off to see about getting my software and microphone ASAP, I’ve got work to do so my students can learn, and not who, what, when, and where, but WHY? Why are these facts important…today? How are they relevant in my students’ lives? How can I get them to figure it out on their own?

Wish me luck, persistence and faith in this endeavor to make learning better and more meaningful for those that count, my students.

That was my response to Josh, but it felt incomplete to finished thought:

I’ve used my Universal Reading Questions for several years now and it is time to take them to a new level. Students always had trouble with the last one, “Can you think of a similar situation from the past or the present?” I plan to add: OR What is the relevance of something from the reading to today’s world, to your life, or the lives of your friends or family?’ I hope this will get them thinking and get them to make the experience more meaningful. With a flip (and 1:1 next year) I can have students research the background and make the connections themselves, instead of me showing them to them. Next year, I hope to be the one guiding them.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Rules...Who Makes the Teachers Enforce Them? C&I 579 Blog #1

C&I 579 Blog #1
From Josh Stumpenhorst, "Stump the Teacher"
"Rules...are for the Teachers" Posted Friday, May 4, 2012

Link to original post:

None of these discussions or potential rule changes had to do with student behavior but rather on staff behavior. Let me explain…

The gum chewing conversation came about because many teachers were not enforcing the rule and some sit in front of their class chewing it themselves. Yes, I realize gum chewing is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. However, if it is a school rule it must be enforced universally or it causes confusion among students and pits teachers against each other. I am labeled a “mean teacher” if I follow the rule we have in our handbook when others are not. So, this rule discussion was really not about kids chewing gum, but more about teacher’s enforcing a rule or not...

On a total sidebar, I laugh at the number of teachers who are constantly on their cell phones during school hours texting, emailing, updating status and playing games right in front of the students. What message does that send the kids when the staff won’t even follow the rules set for the students?...

Many of the other rules we discussed in the open forum had similar themes. More than once I heard, “it is too hard to enforce that rule.” I heard very few people mention what was in the best interest of the student’s and their learning environment. It may just be me, but I saw evidence that many of my school’s rules were a product of not keeping kids safe or protecting the learning environment. What I did see was rules being created because teachers were afraid to step up and enforce existing rules, or to step up and recognize learning opportunities and not punishment opportunities.

I wonder how many schools have rules established for the sake of the adults rather than for the sake of the kids. 

Phil's Response (7 June 2012):


I know exactly how you feel and precisely what it is like to be the “bad guy” because I enforce the rules. Yes, we have rules that I deem to be silly, but those are the rules that the administration or the teachers said were important, but they become a problem when some staff either ignore the rule or worse, blatantly do the opposite. Like you I often feel that the problem with most rules is not the students, but with the teachers.

On a side note, it is even worse if the administration will not do anything about the teachers who do not follow the rules. (Note to administrators, please tell the people who ARE breaking the rules, do not send an email to everyone.)

As for cell phones, we need to learn to make technology and communication inside of school more closely resemble those outside of school.

Amusing Ourselves to Death?

Feeling very overwhelmed at the moment with all the new information coming my way via Twitter, blogs and RSS feeds...

But unlike Orwell's 1984 were the government controls all the information, or  Huxley's Brave New World in which people no longer seem to care about information, are we more like Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death where we stop paying attention because there is just too much?

I don't want the form to become the function so perhaps I should just treat it all like a giant buffet (is that French for bad food you have to get yourself?) or smorgasbord (is that Swedish for bad food in gravy you have to get yourself?) and try what looks appetizing, knowing that I can always go back and try something new, or get more of something I like; with a new clean plate of course.

I'll glean the results that show up, avoiding the junk and looking for the pearls and thereby "glean what afflicts me" (bastardized from Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead).

Tongue firmly in cheek.

Transformative Technology (From Rowan & Bigum 2012)

Great quotes from book “Transformative Approaches” about technology and education reform:

Parker Palmer 1998, p 3: “reform will never be achieved by renewing appropriations, restructuring schools, rewriting curriculum, and revising texts if we continue to demean and dishearten the human resource called the teacher on whom so much depends” (p. 10).

Future Proofing, “a commitment to educational agendas which look beyond the boundaries of schools to think about how every single educational moment is working (or not working) to provide diverse kids with the attitudes, dispositions and self belief that will serve them well in a future that no-one is in any real position to describe” (p. 10).

“a disposition or commitment to re-thinking the purposes, content and processes of schooling with a view to ensuring that all children, from all backgrounds are prepared by their educations to cope, engage with and actively shape the futures that could be ahead of them” (p. 10).

Further goal should be not only preparing children, “to be good at doing school, but rather to be good at doing life” (p. 10).

“the impact that past ways of doing things have upon what is done and also what can be imagined is significant” (p. 30).

“An example away from schools illustrates well the longevity of choices and decisions made in the past. Kevin Kelly (2010, p. 179–180) recounts the story of the influence of Roman carts on roads and rail through time. Since the carts followed in the ruts of the war chariots the carts were built to the same specifications. The chariots were built to allow two warhorses to pull them side-by-side. In time, as the English began to use carriages, they too were built to fit the existing ruts which had become roads of similar width. When railways were built, the horseless carriages were also built with the same width of almost 5 ft. labourers from England built the first American railway tracks and because their tools were designed to build the British tracks the end result was that rail tracks in the US also ended up being a little under 5 ft. More recently, the rockets which launch the space shuttle were brought via rail to Florida. They had to pass through a tunnel not much wider than the 5 ft wide track, so their diameter could not be much greater than that same measure. Kelly quotes the conclusion of one wag who commented that: “So, a major design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over 2,000 years ago by the width of two horses’ arse” (pp. 30-31).

We need to stop limiting students futures by limiting their present, what they call “future proofing”.

Rowan, L. & Bigum, C. (Eds.) (2012). Transformative approaches to new technology and student diversity in futures oriented classrooms: Future proofing education. Dordrecht, Germany: Springer.

Big Picture 407

Re-Post from C&I 407, Summer 2011:

I think the most important reminder I got from this class was to always to remember to think about the students, what they know, and how they think. I try to model tasks for students but I know I need to go back and remodel more often for them as a reminder. I think though that if I want to reflect back on the course I should also go back through my old posts and try to pull out the main points and common threads that I plan to implement in the future.

Declarative knowledge is important and becomes the database from which students can draw facts that they need to solve problems. While declarative knowledge—like that described by E.D. Hirsch in “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know” (1987)—is important, it is also necessary to keep students moving towards conditional knowledge which according to Bruning, et al, “is needed to help students make effective use of their declarative and procedural knowledge.” (p.37)

With my URQs—a way I try to move students in that direction—I plan to change how those are introduce at the beginning of the year. Instead of me telling them why I plan to use the questions I will put them in groups and have them look at a standard set of questions in the text, asking them to list things they think are good about the questions and to see if they can identify any problems that might be inherent in the questions. This will hopefully get some of them to engage in divergent thinking as described in Bruning et al. (2004) p. 166. I will then ask them to read a section as a group and develop a set of answers to those questions. I will then have them repeat the process with the URQs and see if they can see why I think they are a more useful set of questions. I can also use their answers as a form of, “inexpert modeling,” to improve their self-efficacy.  I can then provide other examples to help demonstrate, “expert modeling” (Bruning et al., 2004, p. 119).

In my history classes my students’ least favorite reading question at the beginning of the year is the third one that asks them to make a connection to something else. But, what good is it if you know a set of historical facts if you are not required to connect the dots and to see how those facts can and should be applied to new or similar situations. I use my URQs to try to get students to engage historical readings in a way they normally do not. Often they need to answer question from the end of a section or from a study guide and instead of reading, then answering questions, they read the questions and hunt for the answers. The problem with that method is that they often take things out of context and it can be hard to correct the misconceptions that they develop. By the end of the year I can only hope they can at least appreciate the importance of my connection question.

In trying to remember how my students think I remember in Bruning et al. (2004) when they mentioned several times about students who feel that they are, “no good at math.” I think that applies to students in any other subject as well. They have “learned—perhaps become acclimated is better—from being told (by teachers, parents or peers) that they are not good at a subject. I think that this negative reinforcement has turned them into performance oriented, essentially taking an entity theory model stance that they are not good at something and so they avoid it or don’t try.  In a previous post I noted that Bruner et al. stated on page 143 that, “[f]rom a practical viewpoint, all theorists agree that goal orientations are changeable, given careful consideration on the part of the teacher and an awareness by students of the consequences of adhering to different types of goals.” They go on to give the suggestion, of [e]phasizing daily academic improvement while simultaneously deemphasizing the importance of ability are central to establishing a learning oriented environment, and that this must be, “emphasized from the onset.”

Finally, I want to make sure that if I want students to make relevant connections then my assignments should be relevant as well.  With my Renaissance and Cold War projects I want to make sure I address some issues from the “Factors to Consider” (Popham, 2008, pp 178-9) to make sure my students recognize the larger importance of those assignments in terms of:

1. Generalizability—I would hope that the ability to research and summarize information in a coherent manner could be used in a variety of tasks. The presentation part is as well as Power Point and video production skills are useful in a variety of areas.

2. Authenticity—I think that for many jobs, and for future schooling, the ability to put together a researched report and to be able to present information from that report are important skills. Power Point has been important but with the rise of YouTube and instructional video and asynchronous communication, video production is perhaps becoming as important. Just look at this class!

3. Fairness—Perhaps there is a problem here. I usually book many days in the library for research and in the computer labs for students to work on these projects. The problem is that they still need to work from home and not all of our students have internet access at home.

As for me I need to make sure that I remember the teachability aspects of the project and that reinforce skills from other classes that are now applied to history content. The researching and writing are reinforcing skills taught in English classes and are part of the new Common Core English standards applied to social studies. The oral communication reinforces our English II classes and my dual credit communication course. The video production skills are also used in our media classes.

I’m perhaps going to take the easy way out and say that I think both are needed to measure learning. True-False, multiple-choice, and short answer are needed to check for declarative and some procedural knowledge, but obviously when I think of “academic skills” I would certainly think that performance assessment (and portfolios) provide a much deeper and richer understanding of a student’s skills and abilities than the “snapshot” that is given in other forms of testing.

David Ausubel says the most important thing to know in teaching is what the student already knows, so perhaps Socrates had it right, question and answer. Students don’t like it—they just want to the answer to the question—and teachers get tired of it or just give the answer so that they can cover everything. I will try to take the time to have the students think, then guide them to the answer so that they can see the answer and how it is connected or related to other events and to their lives today. To quote from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, “the old ways are the best ways. Question and answer, glean what afflicts.”

Using Assessments to Influence Instruction

Re-Post from C&I 407, Summer 2011:

While I try every year to make changes to my assessments, I think that I need to work harder at making sure that those assessments are kept in mind when making teaching decisions. One of the things I plan to do is to move faster into transitioning students from selection answers into creation answers. For next year all of my social studies classes are once again at the freshman level. I start tests off early in the year with all selected response and gradually add in constructed response level questions; short answer and then longer essay questions. Over the years I have found that they get very little of those in our junior high and I want to build them up to it.

I teach history and as a result need to find out how many historical facts my students know, making selected response questions a good choice (Popham, 2008, p 166). Over the years I have noticed something that seems odd to me; some of my students do very poorly on matching questions. I have students that won’t miss a single multiple choice question, but will miss almost all of the matching ones! One thing I will try to improve that is to work with them in class on those types of question, giving them practice and tips. Another thing that I might try for next year is to use pre-test and post-test to help me measure the effectiveness of my teaching (pp 102-103).

As I attempt to move my students up Bloom’s Taxonomy to application and synthesis (or to conditional knowledge in Bruning et al.) I will work with them to improve their short answer and essay questions. Doing so will take time, but if I have them analyze sample responses to essay questions, I can hopefully show them specifically why and answer is great or not so great.

As for my assessment types, I don’t think I will change them radically, but as I mentioned, attempt to incorporate higher level questions earlier. I will continue with my Universal Reading Questions (URQs) but I will make changes in how I use those to improve student involvement in the classroom. I will attempt to involve the students more in my responses to those questions. My goal with those questions was to get them beyond “seek and find” questions that often come at the end of a section or chapter, and to engage with the text. I also get to find out the things that the students find to be interesting and the things they don’t understand or want to know more about.

In the future instead of me explaining the answer or background to their questions, I will try to get them to look up that information and guide them to the connections instead of simply pointing them out. To be fair, they do make connections, but I would like for them to make most of the connections. I plan to grade their individual responses then group them by those with similar responses or questions. Their follow up assignment will be a series of questions concerning related facts and topics I will ask them to look up to help them answer their own questions providing them the opportunity to make deeper connections. I can still provide additional information and connections as needed.

I always tell my students that history textbooks are boring because they contain a lot of facts and very few of the really good stories—don’t get me started on why that is, it would require another blog page! I tell them that if they read and learn the basics I will tell them the interesting human twists and possible explanations that get left out. Now they will hopefully learn how to go about finding out more about those things on their own with additional guidance on my part.

Finally, I plan to limit my instructional objectives by combining what Popham calls, “lesser, smaller-scope objectives,” (p. 104) into curricular aims that will improve what I teach and how I assess it. I want to avoid the super specific goals (like Illinois’ pages of social studies standards) in favor of ones that help the students learn historical connections and support the English and Language Arts goals of the Common Core Standards. I hope that having these broader curricular aims will help guide my instruction by helping me to focus on larger concepts and avoid getting bogged down by the myriad of standards, or as Popham says, “end up paying attention to no objectives at all (p. 103).

In today’s world a historical fact can be looked up in 0.05 seconds (for 3,373,000 results!) My selected response tests will continue to monitor their knowledge of the basic facts, but the URQs, essay questions, connection essays and projects will address higher levels. What I think is most important is that students can correctly arrange those facts into related ideas, themes and connected concepts that can help answer the questions of “who we are,” “where we came from,” and “where we are going,” thus making the past capable of being seen as relevant in the world, both today and tomorrow.

Technology and Education Theory

Re-post from C&I 407, Summer 2011:

So I feel like I’m lazy for picking Chapter 10 as it is the first on the list to choose from, but education technology is certainly the area I am most interested in, so here goes.

Chapter 10, Technological Contexts for Cognitive Growth, looks at the use of new technologies, the connections of those to cognitive theory, and how those technologies can best be used to improve student attention and learning at all levels. The chapter looked at cognitive load theory, the 4C/ID model and social cognitive theory and the implications each has for designing and implementing technology into classroom situations.

Before looking at these areas the chapter includes two detailed charts that look at; 1) how students can use technology and 2) key cognitive skills students need to use technologies effectively. These two charts make for a nice concise reference for ways to use technology with students and how to make sure that the technology enhances teaching and learning rather than leading to cognitive overload that can stop the learning process. (I wish now that I had the newer version of the text to have updated charts, especially at the pace technology options and preferences have changed!)

Cognitive load theory looks at, “the role of working memory in instructional design” (Sweller, 1999; Sweller, van Merrienboer, & Paas 1998 in Bruning, et al. 2004). Two of the key concerns they point out are avoiding cognitive overload and ways to improve student learning through select applications of simultaneous presentations. Intrinsic cognitive load deals with the material that is being learned and is relatively set in difficulty. The key is to balance the extraneous cognitive load, how the presentation media are organized, and what information is included (Bruning et al. 2004, p. 220). They look at long term memory schema and describe how making subgoals of tasks automatic is needed to better complex tasks. The second area they look at is the avoidance of overload by limiting the number of ways in which information is presented at one time. Their example from Mayer & Moreno, 2002 shows that showing a task while narrating what happens is effective, but that adding the text of the narration is not as the visual text interferes with the visual of the actual task.

The second theory is the Four Component Instructional Design of 4C/ID. The basis of this theory is, “that complex skills are learned by performing them” (p. 223). This has four components; 1) learning task, 2) supportive information, 3) Just-In-Time (JIT) information, and 4) part-task practice. The idea behind learning task involves learning skills in an integrated versus individual manner while supportive information, “provides a bridge between learner’s prior knowledge and the learning tasks” (p. 224). JIT information is given as needed while performing a task with the goal of making those skills, “as automatic as possible as soon as possible, thereby freeing cognitive resources” (pp 224-225). Finally, part-task practice is a way to try and improve procedural expertise by intermixing task practice with, “complex, authentic tasks” (p 225).

The final section of the chapter looks at social cognitive theory the developing classroom communities. This theory focuses on, “technology’s role in classroom interactions and knowledge construction,” (Bruning et al.  2004). The authors look at the work of the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (CTGV), and CSILE (Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environment). CTGV created a series of problem-based materials called the Adventures of Jasper Woodbury that improved mathematical thinking through complex problems solved by groups. According to Bruer, 1993 the, “primary goals are ability to reason, think critically, reflect, argue, and learn independently.” CSILE on the other hand looks at creating knowledge-building communities that allows for students to, “interact with their classmates about,” ideas concerning the topic being studied (p. 229). What is interesting from this is how it allowed shy and soft-spoken students can better interact in the conversations.

One project I plan to modify using information from this chapter is the Cold War video project I use in my history classes. In this project students research a Cold War topic, write a summary that becomes a narration script and then find pictures and video (provided by me from Discovery Streaming) to illustrate the script. These are then shared with classes and discussions develop around the topics and their connections. In the past we have taken up to three weeks of time for research and production of the videos. Every year some groups get panicked at the end, especially as it is a new skill and the project comes together at the end of the school year around finals time.

To try and improve this (beyond yearly tweaks) I plan to apply ideas from cognitive load theory (from Chapter 2) to make sure that the multimedia presentations I use for presenting storyboarding and editing limit the number of simultaneous presentation to prevent overload. From the 4C/ID theory I plan to expand to process to a semester long assignment. I will take a day a week to introduce material and allow students time to practice. JIT information will be provided to help transition students from controlled processes to automatic information processing (in Chapter 2), moving as Chapter 3 says from schemata to procedures.

Breaking the project down from an intense three weeks to over a semester will hopefully allow students to work together to finish subtasks and allow me to give the students part-task practice to improve the slow moving process of practice leading to expertise (Chapter 8). I also hope to employ aspects of CSILE to get the quiet students more involved in the learning process. If we move to one to one net books this can be accomplished through students creating mini blog posts involving journal entries of what they have accomplished and questions that they may have. Without net books, computer lab time will have to be booked as not all students have internet access at home.

p.s. If I do get to pilot net books I plans to implement that with my URQs as well, allowing students to post their entries which I can then review and call up in class to improve participation, plus that will allow the technology to address the needs of some student I have with IEPs and 504 plans.  

Self Efficacy

Originally from C&I 407, 2011

In reflecting about the three topic areas of beliefs in Chapter 6; self-efficacy, attribution theory and autonomy, I found the information on self-efficacy to be the most informative for me. I might feel this way as it was an area the details of which I was least familiar.  As teachers we are often told to praise our students to help raise their self esteem but, as is the case with most professional development, we are rarely given examples of how to best do this let alone the research detailing why it should be done.  I found it interesting that Bruning et al. not only clarify the differences between self-efficacy and self esteem, but also provide research explaining its importance and examples of how to implement those ideas into the classroom.

Bruning et al. pointed out a critical distinction about what I had been told about students "believing in themselves" in the past; that self-efficacy is not to be confused with self esteem. As defined by Bandura (1997) self-efficacy is, “a judgment of one’s ability to perform a task within a specific domain. “ An importance aspect of this for me was the four influences on the level, generality, and strength of student self-efficacy. Learning how student self-efficacy develops through influences described by Bandura (1987) as: 1) information acquired during the performance of a task, 2) observation of others, 3) verbal persuasion and 4) psychological state. I find this fascinating because it gives insight into how students develop the perceptions they have about themselves and their abilities.

When being told to praise and encourage students to bolster their self esteem there was often a problem for me when it came to some students, I felt that they actually needed to do something to get praise for. I wasn’t looking for something grand, just something, anything in some cases, for which I could give them some positive feedback and encouragement. I would remind them about an assignment, the importance of doing their work and vividly demonstrate the effects on their grade of not doing their work. What I didn’t not realize—or had forgotten—is that often the students had decided in advance whether or not they were good at a subject and had already determined the approximate level their grade would be regardless of my insistence on doing their work.

I have now come to realize that I need to find a way to assess student efficacy immediately at the beginning of a school year or semester and begin to guide those students that have low self-efficacy. At my school we are even fighting negative impacts on school efficacy, a general negative attitude started by some parents and nurtured by the students themselves. You hear it every day with comments like, “this school sucks,” or, “this place is so gay.”

As a teacher I plan to try and incorporate the implications for improving self-efficacy on pages 118-19 of Bandura et al. (2004) to help students become more aware of the learning processes. I think it is important that students realize that they have already developed set patterns of actions (and inactions) that have an incredible influence on how they learn. Once they become aware of the concept of self-efficacy and how perhaps we as teachers can (opefully help them to enact changes to the negative learning behaviors that they did not even know that they had. (This is expanded upon in Chapter 7 with ideas about implicit beliefs of both students and teachers.)  

I would like to think that I am not one of those experienced teachers that has moved to the, “custodial view of classroom control,” described on page 115 by Bruning et al. (2004). I was told my student teacher field supervisor not to eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge as all you will hear are complaints and get negative ideas about students before you even have them. I was even luckier that my supervising teacher felt the same way. I have already found a few simple tests I can administer to my classes at the beginning of the year that I can incorporate into the beginning of the year process of setting student expectations and hopefully starting a new learning chapter for my students. Once I have set a baseline for them and made them aware of the concept I can follow through with the modeling ideas listed on pages 116-117 and the implications listed on pages 118-119. This school year isn't even over and I already have new plans for next year!

Learning New Material

This was originally from C&I 407, Summer 2011

When it comes to learning new material the most important thing for me to do is make it relevant. I’m at the point now that for me to take the time to learn something it is because I have a specific reason that I plan to implement that skill or knowledge. This makes some people think I can be a bit intense, because when it comes to things I am interested in, “I’m in.” If I can’t see—or be made to see—a way I can utilize it now or in the future, count me out. That makes it good when I want to learn something, I’ll allocate all the resources I can. However, I would make a bad politician because I have a tough time remembering the names of people I’m sure I’ll never meet again. Not my classmates of course, but then again we haven’t actually met!

When I am “allocating resources” to learning something new, what steps to I take? First I try to relate the new material to prior knowledge. What similar situations, activities, or processes that I already know are similar to the new material? If it is similar to something I already know then I can recall a similar schema (Bruning, 2004, pp 22-23) from long-term memory and hang the new information on it. When learning new video editing programs I make comparisons to Windows Movie Maker or Adobe Premiere. (I plan to introduce Final Cut to my Media II students next year and they will have to make connections to the similarities in Premiere, as well as the differences.)

If the material is new and I can’t make a connection to a long-term memory schema, then I find I use a few different strategies including chunking, including visual components, and practicing if applicable.

First, I like George Miller’s idea of organizing material into chunks to increase the amount of information retained (Bruning, pp 26-27) is what I do in a lecture or when reading. I take notes, usually in an outline form. I teach speech as well as history and that discipline’s emphasis on outlines works well for me because I have always used them. Now I realize I am using them as a way to chuck information to help me retain and recall it.

Second, I always had a hard time remembering student names at the beginning of the year. I used to make name cards for them to set on their desks for the first week until I made the connection between the name (a word) and the person it represents. This is one way in which I discovered that I like to have visual and auditory presentational aspects to material that I am learning. On page 22, Bruning, et al states under the “Implications of Research on Sensory Registers” that, “there may be real benefits to presenting information both visually and auditorially.” Perhaps because I like to learn that way, I try whenever possible to do the same for my students. From overheads, to video clips, to an interactive whiteboard—that makes it easier and faster to integrate visuals—I have found through the years that having both is something I not only like to include but that I am including more of as it becomes easier to do.  Now I get their picture included in my electronic gradebook and can make the connections through a seating chart that includes faces and names—works great for substitutes.

Finally, I like to practice, practice, and practice. I am guess I am trying for  automaticity (Bruning, p. 25). Don’t just show me how to do something, let me actually do it. My pet peeve with a lot of professional development is that it only shows you how to do something and tells you to practice it when you get back to your classroom. Unfortunately, they showed you an overload of new things to try and when you get back to the classroom you have to deal with the things you left for the substitute, get the students and course back on track and soon there is no time to practice what they showed me. I was asked by my local ROE to teach some workshops on video editing. I told them I would with a big if. If they would make the training a day long workshop so that participants had time to practice what I showed them. I had them bring in materials and an idea of some type of video they wanted to create. By giving them time to practice (play around) they got to know the program and most came away with a newly created video to share or use in the classroom. Malcolm Gladwell in his book
Tipping Point points this out in terms of the hours of practice that it takes to learn something, to become proficient at it, and the point at which the skill tips and a person can become an expert at it.