Reflection and the Student Centered Classroom

taxonomy of reflection graphic

This week I head to Grand Prairie TX to work with teachers and students at Adams Middle School. We’ll be demonstrating high value learning strategies that foster rigorous thinking, student engagement, and deeper student reflection on themselves as learners.

The key to fostering reflection is scaffolding more choices for students to make about key elements of the lesson. Providing options gives students more to think about. Divergent student products gives students a chance to explain and defend their thinking. Student can then compare outcomes with their peers, assess successes (and failures) and design improvements. See my post The Reflective Student: A Taxonomy of Reflection

Students can be given “appropriate” choices to make about:

  • Content – what knowledge and skills will be studied?
  • Process – what materials, procedures, etc will be used?
  • Product – what will students produce to demonstrate their learning?
  • Evaluation – how will the learning be assessed?

We have a variety of activities planned for the week including workshop sessions focussed on how to foster students engagement when using learning strategies for defining, summarizing and comparing. For example, when we ask students to summarize we should giving them the opportunity to use their higher order thinking skills to analyze the patterns, evaluate what’s most significant to them and craft a unique summary. 

While summarizing has been shown to be one of the most effective strategies for building content knowledge, that gain only applies when students are allowed to make their own judgements about what’s important and frame their summaries for an audience. When we ask them to “learn” the teacher’s summary – they are reduced to memorizing “another fact.”

Our training sessions will be followed by classroom walkthroughs – PD works best when you can make the connection to the classroom. I’ll also have the opportunity to work with some groups of students on the Marshmallow Challenge to demonstrate these approaches. 

Student centered Look-fors

Think Like a Historian: Close Reading at the Museum

I’m planning for an upcoming full-day workshop for Chicago-area middle school teachers entitled “Think Like a Historian: Literacy and the Common Core.” The Common Core encourages students to more closely read a text (in all it’s multimedia formats) by answering three critical questions

  • What did it say?
  • How did it say it?
  • What’s it mean to me?

If you were apply those questions to my workshop you might answer them like this:

  • What did the workshop say? For all it’s controversies, the Common Core provides a basic road map for helping your students to “think like a historian” and enhance their literacy and critical thinking skills.
  • How did the workshop say it? Don’t lecture at people. Model the strategies and let teachers experience them in a classroom-like setting.
  • What’s it mean to me? What are the workshop’s strategies and perspectives that I could feasibly incorporate into my classroom to support Common Core skills?

Now that I’ve “flipped” the workshop, here’s a brief lesson in using Common Core questioning. I’m currently visiting Turkey and I thought I’d model a Common Core close reading of my visit to an Istanbul museum exhibit. I’ll dig a little deeper into the three questions with a few more prompts and provide brief answers as if I were a high school student reflecting on their experience.

First the setting: I visited the “Anatolian Weights and Measures” exhibit at the Pera Museum in Istanbul. It’s one large room with exhibit cases around it’s perimeter. A very manageable number of artifacts, labeled in both Turkish and English. I spent about an hour there. So here goes – Common Core close reading prompts, followed by “student responses.” Left: Roman steelyard weight – Hercules

1. What did the text (artifacts / exhibit) say? Summarize the key ideas and provide supporting details.
A: The museum exhibit is a roomful of measurement tools – weight, volume, distance. When I first walked in I turned right and looked at some tools from the 1900s. As I continued around the wall I realized that I was going back in time. Sort of an interesting way to look at the artifacts.

As I progressed “back in time” to the Egyptians era, I realized how important measurement was to civilization. I realized that if you were going to trade things, you needed to measure them. The same was true for owning land. You needed to have a way to measure it. Plus people need to have some way to agree on the “official” measurements. That means the ancients needed some sort of government or rules for trade. You can see that many of the weights had “official” seals on them.The exhibit showed that the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks created standardized systems for measurement.

Common Core close reading prompts, followed by “student responses.”

2. How did the text (artifacts / exhibit) say it? How is it organized? Who created it and what were their goals? What patterns do you see?
A: I’ll answer this one from two perspectives – first the creators of the original artifacts and then the curators who designed the exhibit.

The weights were all designed to serve a function, but they were often very artistic as well. At first I wondered if that was because craftsmen wanted to personalize their work. Then I thought the artisans might have decorated the weights to make them harder to counterfeit. Ancients would want to be sure that weights were accurate and that some trader wasn’t ripping them off with a phony measurement. I think the weights were also designed to look official to give people confidence in the measurements they were getting.

The curators of the exhibit used a chronological approach to present the artifacts. But they also grouped items together by themes to help you make connections across time. For example there was a section featured mobile scales from different eras. They were designed for traders that needed scales that they could easily bring with them. That got me thinking of the long history of trade routes tranporting goods from far off lands.

18th C Money Changer's Balance 18th C Money Changer’s Balance

3. How does it (artifacts / exhibit) mean to me? How does it connect to my life and views?
A – The exhibit is called “Anatolian Weights and Measures” and it makes it very clear that every artifact was found in that region. I think one of the goals of the curators was to prove that Turkey has had a long history of civilization and trade. The exhibit showcases thousands of years of measurement tools that reinforce the idea of Turkey as as the crossroad of different cultures. That echoes the image of modern Turkey as a gateway between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The exhibit also makes me realize that the idea of a global economy is actually not a new thing. People have been trading across vast distances for thousands of years.

In one way, in the exhibit reminded me of how some things never change. It seemed like there was little difference in the scales used in Egypt or the portable balance of 18th century money changer. The basic physics stayed the same. The Roman steelyard balance works using the same principals as a locker room scale with sliding weights.

But in another way, the exhibit reminded me how much the new technologies have changed things. The exhibit included a set of linked folding metal measuring rods that today are easily replaced by a small laser distance finder. They would could both measure distance, but the technology, accuracy and portability of the tools are dramatically different.

Image credit/ Pera Museum Pinterest

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Selling Sleeping Pills – Common Core and Close Reading

intermezzo-featured

I was streaming a show on Hulu last night and saw this ad for Intermezzo sleep medication. (Video below)

I was amused by the disparity between the cute animation and the ominous narration of the mandated health warning. I thought this would make a good exercise to illustrate techniques in “close reading” and demonstrate the approach advocated by William Kist’s in New Literacies and the Common Core Educational Leadership ASCD March 2013.

Close reading requires students to consider text (in it’s different forms) through three lenses: what does it say, how does it say it, and what does it mean to me?

Here’s the steps to follow:

  1. Visual elements: Turn the sound off on your computer and watch the Intermezzo commercial (below). Make a list of visual details you observe – character, mood, lighting, editing, set design, shot composition. 
  2. Narration: Now turn the sound on and listen to the soundtrack without looking at the screen. Outline the verbal information given about the product in a T-chart. List benefits on one side and possible adverse effects on the other.
  3. Musical soundtrack: Listen to the ad without watching the screen again. This time focus on the musical soundtrack – instrumentation, tempo, mood. Write some adjectives that come to mind while listening to the ad (ignoring the narration.)

Compare your three lists – visual elements, narration and musical soundtrack. Be ready to use specific textual evidence to defend the observations in your lists. Here’s a few guiding questions to consider:

  • How do your three lists compare? To what extent do the visual elements, narration and musical soundtrack reinforce (or contradict) each other?
  • What do you think the ad’s creators were trying to communicate?
  • What artistic and narrative choices did the creators make to communicate their message?
  • How successfully did the ad sell the product? Would you consider using this product? Why?
  • Drug companies are required by the FDA to list all a drug’s possible risks. What impact does that requirement have on the content of this ad?

Congratulations – you’ve been exploring Common Core:  Reading Standards for Literature, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, Standard 7, Grade 7. Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (for example, lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).

Reading Standards for Informational Text, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, Standard 7, Grades 11–12. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (for example, print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.

Digital History Workshop – Tech Meets Critical Thinking

I recently spent a few days working with the middle and upper school history department at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, San Juan Capistrano CA. Shout-out to James Harris (chair) and the department for being great hosts and invigorating to work with.

Photo – teachers are challenged to design Yes-No Decision Diagrams and experience the difference between creating a sequence and merely memorizing one.

yes-noOur goal was a practical hands-on workshop that fused technology, critical thinking, and strategies for students to be the “historian in the classroom.” SMES has implemented iPads at the middle school, and they’ll will be following 9th graders to the upper school next year. We were focused on ways to use iPads for content creation, feedback and reflection. Throughout the workshop, teachers used their iPads to respond to activities via LearningCatalytics (LC) and had guided practice in producing and delivering LC questions. iPads plus student response via LC is a killer app for student engagement.

I created a resource website that gives all the details of the project – but here’s some highlights.

  1. How to select and craft historic documents into DBQs. Key takeaway – use documents that students can interpret with minimal background knowledge, or your just giving them another reading assignment with illustrations.
  2. Summarizing and comparison strategies that work. Key takeaway – are you really asking students to present what they think is important, or are you merely asking them to “guess what I’m thinking?”
  3. How to craft the iPad DBQ. Easy: Haiku Deck. Harder (but worth it) iBooks Author.
  4. Effectively curating information and sharing it with your team – How to use Evernote in the classroom.
  5. How to integrate statistical analysis into the history / social science classroom – nGram Viewer and GapMinder.

By the end of the workshop teachers had created a variety of DBQs using Haiku Deck and iBooks Author. Lots of ideas for using HistoryPin, Evernote, nGram Viewer and GapMinder. While it wasn’t a definitive tech training, I think they left with critical lens to reflect on their practice and enough knowledge about the programs to see their feasibility for use in their classrooms. Not to mention “high-fives” when they got to show off the first iBooks they created.

Photo – teacher demonstrates her newly created iBook on US Imperialism.
ibook-test

Here’s a few comments from the participants:

  • All of the examples and learning experiences you chose for us were right on the mark. They were relevant and forced us to reflect on our practices and the students’ experience when in our rooms. I have a lot to think about and a lot to change! Now if only it was the summer!
  • Liked the interaction and really appreciated the hands on aspects of the training. I appreciate that you focused on higher- ordered thinking because I think that sometimes I hear some folks talking about iPads as if they (in and of themselves) are going to foster higher levels of thinking. In my experience, you still have to work really hard to make sure the kids are engaging in meaningful ways!
  • Loved learning about learning catalytics. I will definitely start using this with the next unit, especially to focus on building reading comprehension skills with my sixth graders. The haiku deck will work to introduce units in a visual way and to have students demonstrate understanding. The main thing I focused on yesterday though was the need to be more deliberate in providing rigorous higher level thinking activities for students. I think I do a good job of this, but I want to do an audit on the curriculum to see where exactly I am providing these opportunities for students.
  • I am really enjoying so many aspects of this. It would be great for more SMES teachers to be involved. It’s practical and philosophical. The tone is upbeat and helpful and the flexibility of meeting us where we are at is terrific. There are certainly a few things I’ll do differently.
  • I really liked all of the concrete ideas of apps and teaching strategies I can use in my classroom. I feel energized to go back and change all of my units, which does feel quite overwhelming though! I feel like I am doing so much wrong, but then again, I am grateful that I have ideas for where I need to go.
  • I especially liked discovering Learning Catalytics and Evernote. I could see both being very applicable to the classroom. Learning Catalytics is the tool I have been needing in order to keep middle schoolers engaged. I have been looking for ways to help them become more active learners, and this will be an excellent tool for that purpose.
  • Really great day- I so appreciate your conversation about analysis! I am now thinking about new ways to increase rigor and I actually think it will make my class more enjoyable. This line stuck with me, “When do we stop modeling for students… and have the courage to be less helpful!?” I feel like I am always answering student questions with, “I don’t know… can YOU?” or, “I really hope you figure that out!” I know it makes my students uncomfortable, but I THINK it makes them uncomfortable in a way that helps them learn to be problem solvers. Thank you for sharing strategies with my colleagues to empower us to be more courageous in the way we deliver instruction to help foster more divergent thinkers

As James Harris, the department chair, later wrote me in an email - 

At dinner on Sunday, as we discussed the school, the department, and the needs of both, you mentioned the danger of “shiny objects” – educational technology pursued solely for the sake of it. I’ve always considered myself wary of ed. tech reps and their products. So often, in my opinion, the costs of hurriedly implementing their products – “critical thinking” activities over true analysis, etc. – often far exceed the limited gains they may bring. That is why I was so pleased with our time together and with the message you brought to our faculty. When you said that you were “all about what is simplest and most effective” to aid student learning, be that “a paper and pencil” or programs such as Learning Catalytics, I knew we were in great shape.

In following up with the department over the past 48 hours I can say confidently that your time here was a success on a variety of levels. First, and perhaps most importantly, you gently challenged us all to reflect on our own teaching practices and reconsider our definitions of “analysis”, “student learning”, and “rigor”. It is quite easy to fall into a pattern after several years of teaching with a certain model and our discussions this week on how best to challenge our students forced us all to reflect on our own strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, your modeling of programs such as Learning Catalytics and Haiku Deck opened my eyes to one of the simplest, most reasonable fusions of traditional / technological pedagogy I have seen to date. Our faculty left so excited about the possibilities ahead of them yet reassured as to the value of their previous best practices.

Podcast: Reflections on Teaching Strategies That Work

I had a great time recording a podcast with Mark Hofer and David Carpenter for their series Ed Tech Co-Op. Go to show 26: Peter Pappas (Dec 9, 2012) via Web | iTunes 

If the art teacher taught art, the way I taught history, his students would be sitting there watching him paint.

Mark led off by asking me to reflect back on my some of the driving themes in my career. I confessed that as a novice teacher, I mimicked my experience as a high school student and taught primarily via lecture mixed with an occasional “guess what the teacher is thinking” whole-group discussion.

But I recalled an “aha” moment after repeated visits to the art class in the classroom next door. I realized that if the art teacher taught art, the way I taught history, his students would be sitting there watching him paint. I remember that got me thinking …

Our podcast continued with a lively discussion about what works in the classroom. Below are a few of the prompts they tossed at me. No ed theory or brain research in my responses. Just my candid and unrehearsed thoughts ranging from “why teaching should be the opposite of magic” to “how schools are not teaching good digital hygiene.”

  • Can you talk a bit about how you shift responsibility for the learning to the students. 
  • How did you support a constructivist model is information-laden, high stakes courses like AP / IB?
  • Did you get much push-back from your students and how did you deal with it? How do you deal with parents and administrators?
  • What do you say when teachers tell you “I’ve got so much to cover, I don’t have time for more student-based approach?”
  • Tell us more about your post “Why Johnny Can’t Search?” and how librarians and instructional technologists can partner to improve student information skills.
  • How is the analytic process different in different subjects – say science vs history?

See these posts for more on subjects raised in the podcast:

Stay tuned to Ed Tech Co-Op – a collaborative effort between the College of William & Mary, Alexandria Country Day School, and other educators interested in technology integration in K-12 classrooms.

Image credit flickr/ visual.dichotomy

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