Author: Barbara Weed

Reflect That!

February 6, 2013 by

BW4Reflecting on the work that has just been completed is one of the most valuable steps in the learning process, but it’s a step that is easily neglected in school. Students who take the time to look at what they’ve done and think about what they could do to improve are the students who make consistent, visible progress in their learning. Reflection is a competency that should be a routine activity in every student’s school day. Teachers know that students need to reflect, but time constraints make it easy to drop this relatively passive step that is already at the end of a learning experience.

Helping students develop positive learning habits is one way that we ensure that students are prepared to be lifelong learners. Thoughtful reflection has to be one of those habits, otherwise students are just engaging in the skills of the moment and aren’t building on previous learning.  Getting students to take the time to ponder what they have learned helps them deepen their learning by connecting the various steps in their process and comparing them to previous experience. (more…)

Spending Time

November 27, 2012 by

Time is one of the most precious commodities in a school, and students should know how to spend their time wisely.  Students frequently expect their teachers to direct all of their time, and they assume that they are free to hang out or socialize if they don’t perceive that they have been specifically directed. This underlying assumption is so pervasive in many school cultures that it isn’t even recognized as a problem. It is, however, a key competency—and independent time management is almost a requirement in a competency-based classrooms.

Teachers universally agree that there is not enough time in the day to do all of the things that are expected. Part of that time crunch stems from the fact that whole class instruction is still a prevalent mode of delivery, and this method inherently wastes a lot of time. Teachers gravitate to whole class instruction because it offers a sense of control and it is easier to manage. Our experience has told us that kids who aren’t being managed are likely to be off task. This doesn’t have to be the case, but it does require some explicit changes in the way that adults talk to students about time.

Teachers have to understand that kids passively wait to be directed because that’s what they have been taught to do. In order to have kids understand that they are responsible for active learning at all times, they have to be taught this expectation and they have to be taught how to manage their time. In my own classroom, I see students in grade 5-8 for a quarter every year. The first time that they come to my room, they sit down and wait for something to happen. That is probably what they do everywhere, but I want them to learn to get their work out as soon as they arrive. That means that I have to devote time to creating an activity that young students, who possess limited executive skills, can initiate independently, and I have to prompt them repeatedly at each arrival. Eventually, they start to get it, and I no longer have to tell them to get started without me. Of course, they are only in my class for a quarter of the year, so they need a little reminder when they come to class the next year, but, in the end, they know that they are expected to get to work as soon as they arrive in my room. Students who are in other classes where this is the expectation find it easier to become self-directed, primarily because the expectation is reinforced by multiple adults in various situations. Those students come to expect that it is their responsibility to get to work. (more…)

Snare Your Students

October 26, 2012 by

Students who are caught up in what they are doing don’t need to be managed, and students who succeed become self-propelling. If you can find a way to make your students’ work personal and meaningful, they will offer extraordinary efforts in the classroom. They willingly pursue challenges that personally matter to them.

I once had a student, Average Joe, who put in no more effort than was necessary for him to ensure that he was eligible to play sports. He was a nice kid, but he didn’t find art exciting. Then I decided to see if I could get my students more engaged by letting them make all of the decisions about their projects. I still identified the concept that they needed to demonstrate, but I let the students design the work that they wanted to do in order to show that they understood the skills and concepts.

The result was that most of the students did better quality work than they had ever done. Average Joe’s engagement was the most startling because he had to publicly defend his change of attitude to his peers. Some of his classmates were perplexed by his sudden dedication to art, but he told them plainly that what he was doing was “his” and because it was his, he wanted it to be “right.” That day, I saw the real power of engagement. I saw Average Joe intrinsically motivated. (more…)

The Creative Process — Spark It!

August 16, 2012 by

Instruction of the creative process is primarily the domain of arts educators, but application of the creative process belongs in every classroom. It is central to 21st century learning, and direct instruction of the process shouldn’t be marginalized.

Teachers know that students don’t integrate learning that is shallow, and that the creative process helps their students invest in what they learning. Most teachers, however, have not had any education about creative thinking and how to actively encourage students to engage in it. There is more and more science behind creativity, which means that it’s time for educators to expand their own understanding of what it means to be creative and why it matters in their classrooms. (more…)

Assessment at the Center

July 9, 2012 by

Student-centered instruction must be built around the feedback and assessments that are given to students while they are learning. Unfortunately, almost all of us have been raised in learning models that focus exclusively on what students do while they are in the classroom and fail to incorporate effective feedback and measurement. We’ve experienced this model as students, and in our teacher training.

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The vast majority of teachers spent years being taught how to write lessons. Single content lessons were at the heart of what we were expected to produce for most of our education courses. Assessments and tests that were to be delivered at the end of a unit of study were usually included in our lesson plans, but learning to write lessons was the core of our training. The result is that we are comfortable with lessons. We even feel a sense of ownership and personal identity about the lessons that we write. Our misplaced attention means that we don’t learn how to develop routine, formative assessments that provide students with feedback, and that provide us with the information we need to provide targeted instruction. Instead, we stick with what’s comfortable, and our colleagues, who have been trained just like us, reinforce the focus on lesson plans. (more…)

Measure What Matters

May 18, 2012 by

Teachers need to make sure that they are measuring the right elements of student work. Teacher training places a lot of emphasis on curriculum, but not a lot on assessment. The result is that we teachers become comfortable, invested even, in the materials that we design for instruction. We share lesson plans and ideas, but there is little discussion about what we are measuring.

Those of us who routinely create rubrics for our students’ lessons are moving in the right direction, but we need to make sure that we are actually measuring competencies. Too often, our rubrics are nothing more than quantitative lists that don’t really articulate the complex thinking skills that students are being asked to learn. (more…)

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