Monday, April 21, 2014

Is there an advantage in "reading for teaching" vs. "reading for testing"?

For more than twenty years, my students have done their (almost) nightly reading with the expectation that they would have a short quiz on some of the main plot elements the next day. The quiz gives students immediate feedback on their understanding of the basic plot and characters in the reading and me a sense of who is prepared for that day’s discussion of the text.

But, has this “reading for testing” approach been a detriment to them? Can a slight adjustment in their expectations for what may happen after the reading improve their understanding?

In the article “Learning from Others” by Matthew D. Lieberman in the April 19, 2014 issue of The Chronicle Review, the author cites a 1980 Yale study that showed when college students read with the expectation that they would have to teach the content to others (summarize and evaluate) as opposed to reading to prepare to be tested on it, the “reading to teach” group did better when tested on the content.

Lieberman did a similar study recently involving participants reading descriptions of possible network television shows with the expectation to summarize and evaluate each show for their boss. Brain imaging revealed that “it was activity in the regions involved in social thinking that was associated with accurate recall of the information” which he states is different from the “classic view” of how the brain learns.

In the classroom, this theory certainly plays out when students are assigned a large project which they ultimately present to the class and in activities such as Think-Pair-Share because students are preparing the content they learn to present to others.  Neither lends itself to daily use in this instance but maybe the possibility of doing something similar will give my students a more effective approach.

This leads me to several questions which is not surprising because my posts always create more questions than answers for me.

Do students who are "good" at studying already do this with the thought that they plan to be able to teach the material to the teacher on the test?

Will this approach to reading lead to the deeper understanding and therefore, hopefully, appreciation we are striving for all along?

What will a possible daily assessment look like for my students if I want them to read using this approach?

Monday, December 16, 2013

A picture worth a thousand conversations

An email from ISTE14 came the other day and featured a picture of hundreds of people gathered in small groups enthusiastically in discussion. As I looked at the groups trying to see if I recognized anyone, I couldn't help but wonder which discussion I might want to join. The problem was that there would be no way to know what each discussion was about unless I walked up and stood within earshot, trying to be noticed without interrupting. Such an awkward situation. Just thinking about it takes me back to middle school mixers. 

If only there was a way to listen in to each group and then decide which one (or more) to join. On Twitter, there is.

This is one of the big differences between traditional and social media professional development. On Twitter, through weekly chats, online conferences, hashtags, and typical activities, I can pick and choose to lurk in on any or all of those conversations and then decide which, if any, to participate in. Real-time or on my time with a group of people I have "invited" in one large enthusiastic room and it's their words and ideas that bring draw me to the group. 

Looking at that room full of people it made me realize how powerful this tool has become for me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How the edcamp-lite model worked out

This past summer I put together a professional learning day at my school using a hybrid edcamp and traditional conference model as a guide. Modifications were necessary due to size, late planning, and nerves. In the end, though, things turned out well for the twenty or so participants who came from my school (DeMatha) and the three county private schools we also invited.

Planning for a limited number of attendees (under 50), I was worried that there might not be enough variety to go completely edcamp. Quite frankly, I also wasn't looking forward to the blank stares I was going to get when I replied "I don't know" to their "What are the session topics?" Therefore, I set up the day for one track and a total of five sessions, each lasting approximately 50 minutes. There would not be presenters (the edcamp influence) but each session would have a topic (my nerves influence): Communication, Assessment and Feedback, Online Classroom, Professional Development, and Study and Learning Tools. All topics focused on the use of tech-related tools in and out of the classroom.

My fears that each session may only last 10 minutes because no one had anything to contribute were assuaged early when the first session went over an hour before we purposefully switched gears to the second topic. Each person in attendance had something to contribute at some point in the day and those with more experience in an area helped lead things along. The conversation was lively and the show and tell of tools and ideas continued throughout.

The feedback was positive and the experience was quite successful thanks for several factors. DeMatha's administration was very supportive throughout and even provided a free lunch for the entire group. The attendees varied in experience (some even admitted that they planned to just lurk the entire day) but everyone was very enthusiastic. As a matter of fact, my principal has already asked that we hold it again next year and will give it his full support. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Out of the mouths of freshmen

Here's one of the reasons I like to teach freshmen. A conversation today:

Student: How long has Chipotle been around? Did it exist in the 1940's?

Me: I hope you aren't asking me that because you think I have first-hand experience.

Student: No, no! You're 30.

Me: (pause) That's about right.

Student: Because you were born in the 60's. Correct?

Me: (another pause) Yes.

There are so many opportunities during the course of the day to make immediate corrections but sometimes it's nice to let things work themselves out on their own. This young man may put two and two together at some point and he'll get the "ah ha." 

As to the math, I will not say our math department is to blame because they haven't had enough time with him yet. His interpretation skills (how close he came to my real age), however, are obviously sharp from the short time with me. :)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I haven't learned it - yet

Can I know a student's effort?


HOW can I know a student's effort?

Carol Dweck's "Mindset" is rubbing off on me already. I wrote it out the first way, added the "How" in front because it felt so negative otherwise. 

Because it was.

If I left it the original way, I may have even convinced myself that it would be impossible and it probably would have ended there. Instead, I'll be looking for more ways to gauge my students' efforts which is so key in helping them figure out their way. 

The growth mindset leads us to try to figure out a way as opposed to a way NOT.  It's the difference between "I can't figure this out" and "I can't figure this out - yet."

That little word changes that sentence in a big way.  It's the difference between giving up and and trying another way.  I'd much rather have a room full of students who add the "how" before or the "yet" after.  That's what I'll aim for this year. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

What can the #2 pick of the NBA draft teach us about the growth mindset?

Victor Oladipo was the 2nd pick in the NBA draft last week. Until the week before, he probably was never told he could be taken that high in the draft and most likely, that's why it happened.

Oladipo went to DeMatha Catholic High School where I teach but I never had him in class. Everything I have heard and experienced about Victor though, shows he has a growth mindset.

A year ago there was no mention of Oladipo being one of the top picks in the draft. This was not a new scenario for him. He was not highly recruited out of DeMatha and choose to go to Indiana, a school with an incredible basketball reputation but coming off records of 6-25 and 10-21 the two prior seasons. He also did not make DeMatha's varsity team as a freshman but would sweep the floor after freshman practices to prepare the gym for the varsity team he did not make. As a junior on a varsity team full of future NCAA talent, he volunteered to come off the bench to give the seniors their opportunity to start. 

Even now, doubters are saying that he does not deserve to be taken that high in the draft because part of his game is not good enough for the NBA. When asked by an interviewer what he would say to these doubters he didn't hesitate in his response. "I'd say 'Thank you. Thank you.'," responded Oladipo. "They motivate me to go out there and work harder." 

Carol Dweck states in mindset that research shows that those with a fixed mindset, when faced with setbacks, tend to lay blame and find excuses. Those with the growth mindset take the setbacks as a challenge to work even harder to improve. Oladipo had plenty of chances for excuses along the way but turned them into opportunities to improve. He left college a year early but even that was not excuse to end school early, he got his degree in three years.

About a month before the draft Oladipo was honored at a small ceremony at DeMatha. Coaches, teammates, classmates, family, and friends were there for him. After the ceremony most people gathered in the Alumni lounge for conversation and munchies. Oladipo went to the weight room and gym and worked out for 90 minutes.

In interview after interview, when asked what he planned to do after a particular moment of success, Oladipo often responded that he was going to work hard to get better. This seems to be the goal of the growth mindset - to get better. It is something that is in our control, whether it be athletics, academics, or the arts and it is in comparison to only one thing - ourself. The goal is simple: to improve.

Oftentimes we choose to ignore the hard work it takes for someone to reach a certain level of success. It gives us an excuse not to work as hard because their achievements were reached only because they had been "born special" in some way. Oladipo never assumed he was special and therefore, continually had a goal.

As a senior, when virtually no one was looking, I saw him stop to help a freshman who had dropped some of his books while rushing down the stairs to get to his next class. A little help and a few calming words and the freshman was hurriedly back on his way. He stated that he hoped by going to Indiana he could help bring it back to national prominence. This year, they were ranked #1 in the nation for part of the season. All five of the players who started ahead of him when he was a junior, play for a college team today. 

If we make ourselves better then those around us can and often do  get better. But these examples from Oladipo show that the growth mindset goes beyond improving ourselves to those around us in more than an inadvertent way. 

In other words, does the growth mindset lead us to act in ways that purposefully help others? I'd like to think that it is a side-effect of a mentality that growth is possible, not just within ourselves, but everywhere.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tech Tuesdays for Teachers becomes a one day CAMPference

Photo by Tom Krawczewicz.
In summers past, I have helped organize weekly tech sessions at school for teachers who are interested in learning during the summer months. I thought weekly sessions would help keep the learning going throughout the summer but vacations and other interruptions caused sporadic attendance at best. 

This summer, with inspiration from the edcamp and "normal"conference models, I am trying a one-day hybrid model and using the working term of a CAMPference. Thus was born the DeMatha Technology in Education Conference (#DMTE13). I had grand plans for at least three simultaneous tracks (one exclusively for newbies) but the realities of time and first-time efforts set in and there will be just one track. Each session of approximately 45 minutes (this can be flexible thanks to just one track) will fall under a topic and tools and methods (both practiced and possible) will be discussed. There will not be a presenter for any one topic (which has me quite nervous) but instead those who have used tools and methods with them will be asked to share their ideas and concerns. The session topics include Communication, Assessment and Feedback, Online Classroom, Professional Development, and Study and Learning Tools. 

We have also invited others from outside our school to participate for the first time which is something we are all looking forward to. Hopefully, this format will work provide a chance to hear many different voices and we can learn from each other.

Will it work? Well, it's not like I haven't tried new things with my classes in the past only to have them land with a thud. But I have also found that my students are always very forgiving of those instances because they appreciate the effort. We teachers aren't always the best students, though. Maybe it'll be good practice for all of us.

The conference website: