Thursday, March 27, 2014

Teach the Way They Learn

My friend, Grace, sent me a message the other day via Facebook. It was an image she had seen online, and she said it reminded her of me. (I was honored by this--I had the privilege of teaching Grace's kids back at the beginning of my career when I was young and foolish and impetuous. I'm thankful I didn't do too much damage.) The image is one of Michael J. Fox with a great quote on it. I think the quote is misattributed though; for all my searching, I believe it actually belongs to Ignacio Estrada. I decided to make my own version...

And, honestly...I'm grateful that Grace saw this quote and thought of me. This has been my goal, my approach throughout my teaching practice.

I'm not trying to brag, and I'd be lying if I said I have done this perfectly. But I think teachers could take this message to heart:

School is not really about teaching. 
School is about learning.

If a child can't learn the way we teach...maybe we're doing it wrong.

I'm not arguing here for a student-centered classroom. I'm arguing for a learning-centered classroom.

This isn't easy. If we are starting from a strongly teacher-centered teaching practice, I don't think we can't just turn a switch and make a change. (At least, I don't think I can.) I think that modifying our teaching from teacher-centered to learning-centered will take concentrated effort, a daily commitment to learning. And this will probably mean opening ourselves up to the fact that we--the teachers--need to keep learning as well!

Maybe it's time to start taking a long, hard look at what we are doing as teachers. I challenge you to reflect with me on this: 

"Am I structuring my teaching practice 
in a way that is convenient for me, the teacher? 
Or am I practicing my craft in such a way 
that I focus on learning?"

Monday, March 24, 2014

The More Things Change...

We had a family gathering yesterday, and I wound up talking with my wife's 90+ year-old grandfather for at least an hour or so. I think my wife felt a little sorry that I was "stuck" with Grandpa for so long, but it was actually really, really great: he was sharing memories from his childhood and adolescence growing up in the ranchlands of the Great Plains.

He told great stories: a train ride from Chicago he remembers well. Breaking horses when he was a hired hand on a ranch. The amazing amount of dust that would seep in through through the cracks of the house during the years of the Dust Bowl. Grasshoppers and locust that would strip the wheat fields of anything green. Hitch-hiking 400 miles when he left home to move to Minnesota at age 16. His first paying job, where he worked for three dollars a day, and felt good about the money he made.

And--very interesting to me--he told about the country school he attended from grades 1-8.

There were about 30 students in the school at a time. Teachers rarely lasted for more than one year. He was humble about his academic work--didn't want to brag--but he completed the first and second grade in one year's time, and skipped the fifth grade entirely, because he would have been the only student...and the teacher asked his parents if they would be all right with him moving on to sixth grade early, so he would have classmates studying the same material.

Image by bdinphoenix [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Reflective Practice in a Chinese Restaurant

My wife has been out of town for a few days, so last night my kids and I decided to go out for supper to the local Chinese buffet.

I love Chinese food. Well, I love the silly, Americanized version of it, anyway.

I love that there are many things to choose from on the buffet. Some have very straightforward names, like Beef and Broccoli, or Mushroom Pork, or Hot and Sour Soup. You can be pretty sure of what you're getting there. Others seem downright exotic: Moo Goo Gai Pan, or General Tso's Chicken, or Kung Pao Chicken. I love the noodles. I avoid the bright red sweet and sour sauce, because it seems unnatural.

My kids' favorite part is dessert, and of course that means fortune cookies.

With great ceremony, we crack open our cookies and read our "fortunes." And then usually look at each other with a raised eyebrow and a grin on our lips, trying to decipher the meaning of the mystical message hidden inside the convoluted, crispy cookie.

But every once in a while, the "fortune" rings true, and not just in a goofy, game-like way. I had one of those last night. According to the all-knowing cookie, my "fortune" was this:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Maybe We Should Ban Worksheets

I've been thinking a lot about homework and the way we have students work in school. I've been thinking about worksheets in particular lately. It's not that I've never assigned a worksheet; I have.

But I'm wondering whether it's time to reconsider what worksheets are for, and why teachers use them instead of other learning strategies?


I took the time to participate in #satchatwc (Saturday Education Chat, West Coast Edition) on Twitter this past Saturday morning. Great chat--wide ranging group who attends, but a little overwhelming because of the sheer number of participants.

This week our topic was student engagement, feedback, and data-informed instruction. (That's a lot for a one hour chat!) This chat uses a question and answer format, so the moderators tweet questions (Q1, Q2, etc.) and we share our answers in response (A1, A2,...)  Our responses to the questions often spark side conversations in which we interact more with the ideas our fellow-chatters share.

About 45 minutes in to the chat, the 6th question was raised: "How can we make learning 'visible' to parents?"

Love that question! There are many ways to share stories from school at home.

As we discussed this question, some folks began talking about sending work home. And since I've been thinking about homework a lot lately, and worksheets in particular, I tweeted this:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Standards-Based Assessment and College Readiness

I recently received this email from a former student who is working in a school exploring standards-based assessment:

Hi Dave!

Long time, no see! I am emailing you as credible source on standards-based grading. I have been doing digging with this stuff and I feel like I have somewhat of a good grasp on what it does and how it's assessed. My only question is how it aligns with college readiness. Being that you seem to have some knowledge in this area :) and are at higher education level, could you help me answer this question? I am interested in it and think it is beneficial to help kids really learn the content, but I just feel that this is what is holding me back from being completely on board with this new system and mindset.

Thanks for your help in advance!

What a great question! I was glad she asked.

I had to think about my response a bit. Does standards-based assessment help prepare students for life beyond school, whether that means college or other opportunities? I think it does.

Here's my best thinking on this for now, and subject to future revision:

Friday, March 7, 2014

Kingdom Building

Hanging on my bulletin board, directly above my desk so it is staring me in the face, I have this sheet of paper tacked up:

It is the chord sheet for Rend Collective Experiment's song "Build Your Kingdom Here." This song is getting a lot of airplay on our local Christian radio station, and I have to confess, I love it. I printed out the chords so I could work on learning it myself.

If you haven't heard the song yourself, you should give it a listen.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Gamification: Motivation and Competition

I've read some about gamification in education over the past year or so, and I find the idea intriguing. First a clarification: gamification is not the same thing as game-based learning. (Which is also interesting to me, because I think people can and do learn by playing games. But that's not the point here...)

Image by dullhunk [CC BY 2.0]
Gamification is adding game-like elements to your teaching practice, or to a learning situation. That might sound a little strange to be honest, I wasn't sold on it either.

Until this semester, when I'm actively trying it from the students' side of things.

My classes I'm taking for my doctoral program are entirely online, which means I have to be deliberate about keeping in touch with my classmates. (No hallway conversations online!) But many of us in my cohort are actively working on this--finding ways of collaborating, encouraging, and motivating each other. And here's where the gamification comes in...