Encouraging Students to Ask Questions

Question MarkWhile reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower for a Young Adult literature digital book talk, I read a passage that sent me even further into teacher mode. Charlie, the main character and a “gifted” student, describes how he will be ending his “first year with straight A’s” (Chbosky 165).

Charlie says, “I almost didn’t get an A in math, but then Mr. Carlo told me to stop asking ‘why?’ all the time and just follow the formulas. So, I did. Now, I get perfect scores on all my tests. I just wish I knew what the formulas did. I honestly have no idea” (Chbosky 165).

The sad thing is, this is a relatable school experience for many students. Even if it isn’t directly stated, it can be part of the invisible curriculum. However, asking questions is a huge part of how we learn. I think students suffer when their curiosity isn’t supported. I realized that this was a problem in my own learning. As a math minor, I have struggled in some of my classes and realized in my EMTH 300 class that it was because I was taught formulas, not to think mathematically. It is one thing to be able to plug numbers into a formula, and another entirely to understand the mathematical reasoning behind them. You can’t learn by being fed knowledge to memorize; questions are a necessary mode for deep learning.

Meaningful questions have to be asked by the teacher and the students. As teachers, it’s good practice to keep questions open-ended when you can. However, it is also important that we create a learning environment where student ask questions. On “The Critical Thinking Community,” they say that “thinking is driven by questions” and I can’t agree more. Innovative Management points out questions that people (Newton, Darwin, Einstein) asked that led to great discoveries (learning). This is another reason I want to include inquiry in my classroom.

In EMTH 300, we were asked to re-imagine the teaching of mathematics. The Pythagorean theorem had to be discovered, and students through critical thinking and problem solving can come to the knowledge behind theorems. They don’t need to be force fed formulas. They need to be able to work with idea and ask many questions until they are able to solve problems and construct their knowledge.

As I am currently inquiring into how I can engage learners through student-centered teaching, I thought about how I might take this moment to reflect on how teacher and student questions and inquiry can be a part of it. Edutopia asks the question “How Student Centered is Your Classroom?” in an article that gives two ideas for using questioning to support this kind of learning environment. Specifically, they point to guiding questions and ensuring the teachers role is balanced to support a student-centered design.

After reading the quote from The Perks of Being a WallflowerI was able to see the importance of questioning in learning and in creating a student centered classroom. I really don’t believe that great learning can happen without asking honest and meaningful questions.

What are your thoughts on this quote and the role of asking questions in learning? Do you have anything to add? Please feel welcome to share your thoughts and ask any questions you have.

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: MTV Books/Pocket Books, 1999. Print.

Advertisements

Inquiry: Student-Centered Instructional Strategies

I found this video while inquiring into student-centered learning. I like it because it targets the practical aspects of teaching in this way and provides clear examples as well. The video presents idea on direct instruction, indirect instruction, learning in pairs, cooperative groups, heterogeneous grouping, individual roles, intelligent behaviours, inquiry and discovery, project-centered, writing across the curriculum, learning by games, graphic organizers, mnemonics, and music and movement (strong memory devices). Of these, there are a few that I would like to further reflect on.

Direct and indirect instruction

I like that direct instruction isn’t completely abandoned, but that it is said it needs to be limited/brief. I think for most learners learning purely through direct instruction doesn’t work. Moreover, instruction of all kinds need to be varied to target different levels of thinking and differentiate for learner needs. Indirect instruction may align more easily with the idea of student-centered learning as it can be a more constructive approach. I think both are needed and the extent to which each is used must be decided by the teacher and learners of a classroom.

Different ways of groups/group learning

The video expresses different ways and purposes of grouping. Pairs and cooperative learning groups are two things that I have been slowly wading into. My first instinct as a student is to recall frustrations that come with group work, but I am seeing the power of collaboration more and more. I believe that collaboration is important to learning and is a skill students will need. The idea of heterogeneous groups is another idea brought up in the video. I think it is good to have some groups, but I still think there is a place for some homogeneous grouping that can help with learners at different ability levels. I do, however, believe that creating groups that are made up of diverse learners with different and unique abilities could be a powerful learning experience for all.

Inquiry, discovery, and project learning

I really enjoy this aspect of student-centered learning. I believe that this is where direct instruction can be minimized. I believe that inquiry, discovery, and projects support higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Inquiry projects allow students to learn through areas of personal interest. In an English classroom, I think this could easily be done for essay writing by allowing students to research something they want to. I also believe students could pick out a theme or idea from a novel to explore further. Discovery and project learning invite hands on learning. I want students to take responsibility for and enjoy their learning. I think these strategies allow students to see how learning is relevant and how they, as individuals, are important.

Learning through games

This is a newer concept for me. I have looked into gamification of education and I have liked what I’ve found. To me, gamification uses intrinsic motivation that people have when they play games, but for educational purposes. For example, we will repeat a level until we succeed and we will work hard to gain and improve our skills related to the game. Why? Because we want to. Education can be the same. I think learning through games is completely relevant. It is another way to make learning engaging and get students responsible for their learning progress.

Strong memory devices

I know that some memory devices are needed. My worry is about the idea of memorization. I am more interested in deeper methods of learning, but I believe that ways that can help students own their knowledge is still good. Ideally, students will be able to analyze, evaluate, and create. In which case, simple memory devices won’t be necessary. I think it is important to use different learning styles (such as music and movement) in the classroom, but the goal should not be to memorize. The goal is to be able to do something with the knowledge.

Conclusion

These are some strategies that I will continue to consider and inquire into using for the purpose of student-centered teaching. Do you have anything to add? Are there issues with any of these methods or additional methods I should look into? I would love to hear feedback and get any further advice that can help me in my inquiry into student-centered learning. Thank you.

Assessment: Communicating, Evaluating, and Reporting

“… we can tell a little more of the truth. In doing so, it turns out that we can avoid pretending that a student’s whole performance or intelligence can be summed up in one number.” -Peter Elbow

As Davies describes throughout chapters nine and ten of Making Classroom Assessment Work, there are various ways we can assess and communicate a students whole performance/intelligence that are more reliable than a single mark or number on a report card. I can appreciate and see the importance of encouraging consistent communication, throughout the learning period, between student and teacher as well as parent and teacher.

As an elementary and secondary student, I always discussed my schooling with my parents, but I know that not all students do the same. In fact, some students actively avoid doing so. However, as Davies emphasizes, communication is a key part in the learning process. I really like the approaches Davies provides to help improve communication between parents and teachers. I like the idea of an open house where students lead the demonstration of their learning. I also like the idea of a class web page with examples and evidence of student learning. Students could be involved in creating these kinds of communication tools, which would support learning through reflection and support computer use in the classroom (what I view as building valuable and real-world relevant skills).

I also, prefer student-led conferences to teacher-led. This belief is supported by the idea that getting students involved helps their learning, but also in personal experiences. In one of my elementary school conferences, I had a teacher ask why we came, because there was little to say (meaning: I didn’t have any problems in school). This didn’t give me a voice to discuss my learning or ideas of areas I could improve in. While in high school, I lead a conference and was able to take responsibility of my learning and express my thoughts on how I can improve. I feel the latter was more beneficial.

When it comes to reporting student achievement, I think the communication piece is still vary important. Because it is a subjective process, it can be very challenging. However, when we consider all of the procedures completed throughout the process, it is easier to reflect and be confident in our professional judgement. That being said, I really like the idea of involving students in this process as well. Davies says to consider asking students if the report makes sense to them, if they feel it reflects what they learned, if it’s fair, and if we missed anything (99). I think this could be a really constructive method. I think, because our goal is to consistently involve students and have them reflect on their learning, asking them such questions would further support this goal.

Elbow, P. 1986. Embracing Contraries: Explorations in Learning and Teaching. New York: Oxford University Press.

Davies, Anne. Making Classroom Assessment Work. 3rd ed. Courtenay, B.C.: Connections Pub., 2011. Print.

Why Multiple Intelligences are Important

Why do I believe multiple intelligences are important?

I believe they’re important because they represent another facet of student diversity. I appreciate that as learners we are all different. We have different ways of learning and demonstrating our learning. We are good at different skills to varying capacities, and one skill is not inherently better than another. I believe it is important to see the many ways learner diversity exists. I believe that it should be reflected in the classroom.

Classrooms, that don’t take these kind of diversities into consideration (and celebrate them), run the risk of pushing students toward conformity. Moreover, if we assume that there is only one way to be a good student or one way to learn, than we marginalize students. Additionally, if we do not encourage and celebrate the many ways people learn and use knowledge, we place certain ways of knowing above others. We can begin to place certain skills and intelligences above others. This kind of privileging tells people that there is only one way to be intelligent.

Sir Ken Robinson says that we know that intelligence is diverse, dynamic, and distinct. If we don’t support these notions then some students will begin to believe that they aren’t intelligent, just because they don’t fit into the valued intelligences. Sir Ken Robinson describes schools as progressively focusing on the upper body, then the head, and then just the right half of the brain. That is to say, that we hold the thinking of the right side of the brain over everything else. That is to say that we favor maths and sciences above the arts and humanities.

Schooling that only delivers instruction and assesses understanding from one form of intelligence is marginalizing all of the learners that don’t think that way. This kind of school says some people are smart and some aren’t. Some things are worthwhile and some aren’t. It can become too standardized and too lopsided. That is why I believe multiple intelligences are important. We need diversity and we need to value all different types of learners, because the best education is one that reflects all people and gives everyone a chance to learn and share their learning in their own way.

 

Student-Centered Assessment

Assessment

In Making Classroom Assessment Work, Anne Davies cites, “[r]esearch shows that when students are involved in the assessment process… they learn more, achieve at higher levels, and are more motivated. They are also better able to set informed, appropriate learning goals to further improve their learning” (82).

This chapter has connected a few ideas for me. Ways of involving students in the assessment process continue to be generated, process portfolios have been presented and modeled for me, and I have been exploring student-centered teaching. As I see everything come together, I get a sense of how I will be able to structure student-centered assessment in my classroom.

I really like the idea of a process portfolio, because in addition to allowing student to show their growth over a period of time rather than through high-stress exams/final assignments, as Davies mentions, they allow students to take ownership of their learning and often end up learning more as a result. Davies argues that “students need to be accountable for their learning” (77) and I agree. I want my students to engage with their learning and I think that means that I don’t try to make it all about me. For this reason, I also like the idea of expanding the audience to whom students share the evidence of their learning process with (78). I think it would ease any parent’s worries to see how this type of assessment functions through a student-led conference. I think this will also prepare students and allow them to make connections between what and why they learn class material. Presenting evidence of our learning, our abilities, and areas we are working on improving, are lifelong skills.

I am excited to include assessment into my consideration and practice of student-centered learning/teaching. I am intrigued by the opportunity to have student involved in another aspect of their education. I want to consider more the idea that Davies presents at the end of chapter eight, that is that I must “decide the balance of teacher work and student involvement” (83). I believe that as a learn more I will gain a better sense of what that means for me, but more so, I will learn through experience.

Davies, Anne. Making Classroom Assessment Work. 3rd ed. Courtenay, B.C.: Connections Pub., 2011. Print.

Reflecting on “The Classroom Experiment”

“We still struggle to keep everyone engaged”

The classroom experiment is about making changes and trying different strategies to improve schools and tackle the struggle to get students engaged. There are many interesting approaches taken and responses to them. At first students and teachers both struggled to embrace the changes, but over time some ideas were warmed up to.

One of the most interesting changes was when teachers held back grades and instead focused on giving feedback first. Many students didn’t know what to do without grades and did not understand how the feedback worked. It is sad that schools have become so fixed on grades. I think that it is something that the students need to be warmed up to and included in. If students are too used to only looking at a grade, then we need to teach them how to interpret and use the feedback they’re given. I believe that with this the idea of continuous learning will be better supported.

I liked the idea of using stoplight cups and whiteboards to check for student understanding. I felt like the cups gave students control and some level of self-assessment. They would be helpful in letting the teacher know who needs help just by a quick check and they would allow students to consider and voice their level of understanding. The whiteboards are another way to give students a voice. I would worry about doodles, but I don’t think it would be as much of an issue if student engagement was being supported in other ways (ex. inquiry). Additionally, all learners learn differently, and as long as it’s not a distraction, I don’t think it’s an issue. Students could show their learning or bring up concerns with a quick whiteboard check. I don’t think either would cause too much controversy.

The Popsicle sticks did receive a lot of mixed feedback in the videos and in my personal discussions with others. I can see the positives and the negatives. On one hand, it does present the opportunity for all students to be engaged in discussion and, as the video said, people who do partake in discussion are learning more. On the other hand, it puts students on the spot and was an issue for many teachers and students. I am typically a quiet student myself and haven’t liked to force students to speak, but I can see how the sticks could encourage engagement. I don’t know if I would use it myself or if their is an adjusted version that could work better.

All in all, I found this experiment interesting and it has made me consider many different techniques and how I might encourage engagement in my own classes.

“Changing Education Paradigms” and Considering Students and Myself

This video is not directly connected to grading or why we become teachers, but within it are many ideas that I consider when I think about myself as a teacher. I think about the way that education is changing and how I would like to change particular things myself. There is so much I could say, and would love to discuss if you should find anything in the video or my blog that is of interest, but I am going to focus on one major theme. It comes from the part in the video (beginning around 1 minute in).

While setting up the reason schools need to change, Sir Ken Robinson talks about the changing future and the result of current education paradigms. He says that students getting degrees are especially less likely to be guaranteed a job “if the route to it marginalizes most of the things that you think are important about yourself”. This quote makes me consider many aspects of my teaching philosophy. Particularly, how much I value student diversity and all of the things that make up who they are and who they want to be.

The reason I wanted to be a teacher, was for a few reasons. As a child school was one of my favourite places to be and I have always loved to learn new things, it was a career that could also allow me to continue my other passion of writing, and finally, amidst my love for education I saw its flaws and it stung me. I want to share the beauty of education, which brings me back to changing education paradigms and ensuring students aren’t forced to marginalize the things they value about themselves.

There are two major areas I have tried to focus on. First, I want grading to take a back seat to assessment. I want to assess more holistically, with differentiation and heaps of non-evaluative feedback. People have become dependent on grades and too often they make us believe they define us. I think this is a part of marginalizing the parts we like about ourselves. If those parts aren’t worth grading or if they don’t receive a good mark, then they aren’t good. It’s not a good way to think. Secondly, I want more student-centered learning. I want more inquiry. I want students to have a voice and be able to bring the things they like about themselves into their learning. I believe these are two steps forward. I don’t have all the answers and I will make mistakes, but I will always be trying to improve.

What do you think?