Looking at Student Work

A method of teacher professional development is LASW, or Looking At Student Work. The full description of one of the methods of LASW is here.

I want to modify it a bit, because I have work here from two students and two teachers. The same basic assignment, though.

I want to know which assignment is better at meeting the standard? Which assignment is more likely to encourage writing? Which assignment would you rather see in your classroom, or from your student?

Story by Neenan262

Story by Neenan262

Story by Birdy Bus 262

Story by Birdy Bus 262

Reading the Words

Imagine reading a paper (Culture Shift: Teaching in a Learner-Centered Environment Powered by Digital Learning) that said this:

 Learner-centered education dramatically impacts the work of educators, and education systems and school must empower teachers to apply their pedagogical knowledge, instructional skills, and digital tools and resources to meet the needs of individual students.

So teachers should know about the science of teaching and be given the authority to determine best practices for teaching in their classrooms.

Educators are empowered to use innovative approaches and personalize learning in face-to-face, blended, or virtual environments.

Teachers empowered again to choose different approaches.

…opportunities for teachers to learn from each another and from outside experts, …

Teachers as chief learners, right?

…students who have the knowledge and ability to solve problems, think critically, collaborate with others, and communicate in a variety of media.

More important than content is teaching students to think critically, and problem solve.

Deeper learning skills:

  • Knowledge and mastery of … content

  • Critical thinking and complex problem solving

  • Effective communication

  • Collaborative work, self-direction, and incorporation of feedback

We might be able to measure mastery of content with tests, but the rest of those skills require more of an experts subjective observation.

…meeting students where they are and helping them to develop the knowledge and skills they need.

Getting to know our students and tailoring instruction to them.

For example, a student may have the option to utilize simulations or access content that is in a visual or audio format.

Note it doesn’t say teacher creates content in all possible formats but allows students to access.

…open-ended nature…problem-solving strategies and critical thinking are applied…

More thinking skills

…access to learning anytime and anywhere.

This might just require a touch of Connectivism


Imagine a public school (not just a teacher) that is flexible in terms of meeting a student’s needs.

…extend learning opportunities outside of school…

This is flexible. Will the learning I do on my own time have meaning to a public school?

Learner-centered instruction demands that teachers develop different professional roles and responsibilities.

I am willing is my administration? Is my school board?

…shift the teacher’s role from disseminator of knowledge to a facilitator of learning or “education designer.”

A teachers evaluation should not depend on how well students listen.

Formative assessments…

A formative assessment could be an observation while a student struggles with a problem and a well-timed question or comment.

Providing the student with control of his or her learning

Is this possible in public school? Does this fit with Common Core State Standards?

Eliciting student work to demonstrate understanding of specific language and concepts

This is called measurement of knowledge, or mastery of content, through a means that does not include a test. Sometimes known as allowing teachers to be professionals.

…learner-centered teaching encourages collaboration …

Meaning teachers talk about how effective they are, and what they can do better, not how poorly the students listen.

“When teachers collectively engage in participatory decision-making, designing lessons, using data, and examining student work, they are able to deliver rigorous and relevant learning for all students and personalize learning for individual students”

Teachers are part of the decision making process of education. I wonder why students and parents were left out of this process?

Professional learning communities

Emphasis on professional

These other countries dedicate significant resources to professional learning opportunities that are ongoing and sustainable and emphasize collaboration among educators.  …about 60 percent of their time in classrooms.

Done right the most important part of a teacher’s day is his or her reflection and discussion of teaching practices, not time spent in the classroom. Remember from earlier, teachers’ roles are changing. They don’t need to lecture content as much, rather they are “education designers”. They need to spend a significant amount of time thinking, talking, and designing the educational environment. After that the classroom teaching really just happens.

Professional learning: Informal …Communities of practice

Informal yet still professional.

In some cases, teachers who are early adopters of digital learning or other instructional strategies do not have peers with whom to collaborate in their own school or district, so they seek out others on social networking sites or CoPs.

Like students learning for teachers is not limited to within the school walls or what is provided by the district.

…the education system faces many challenges that can hinder the development of strong cultures in schools.

Culture is empowering teachers to be the decision makers. Allowing them to take chances and innovate. Not everything will be perfect and that is what make each child’s education right for the students.

Classrooms many not be as quiet, ad students should be working on different things at different times.

Learning is often social and noisy.

While instructional practice should be evidence based, educators need to trust that it is acceptable to try a new lesson or strategy and possible fail, and that reflection and learning will be encouraged.

Not everything is perfect. No one person or one observation should make or break a decision about the quality of a teacher. It’s a holistic thing.

The culture shift required to move toward a learner-centered model must respect teaching and what is necessary to meet the individual needs of students on a daily basis. The culture must carefully consider collaboration among teachers and the development of professional learning community among educators in which they are all working together toward the same goal.

We are a long way from this and measuring test scores is counter-productive.

  • …understanding …a learner-centered environment…

  • Empower school and district leaders to develop collaborative working environments for teachers….

  • Integrate technology and digital learning into the strategic planning…

  • Elevate the profession of teaching

Again the power of teaching is not in how much content a student masters, rather it is in setting up the best possible environment to facilitate that learning. Measuring teacher quality through student test scores is counter-productive. Instead we should be measuring teacher quality through their ability to adapt to specific situations in their classrooms. This requires close observation over long periods of time. It requires collaboration among equals. It requires teachers to be allowed to make mistakes and honestly implement reforms that may or may not work the first time. reforms that may have to be reevaluated and changed depending on the circumstances. Basically the best teachers are those who are continually changing practices and implementing new ideas based on individual circumstances.


I just think if a group is going to say what we want to do but then later implement practices contrary to the stated philosophy then perhaps we should point to their words and hold them to it.



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Day Four Tuesday From Walled Gardens to Authentic Approaches

The BYOL No Paper? No Problem! Effective Teaching in a 1-to-1 Classroom sounded like something that would be interesting. While the basic premise, that of a classroom working solely with 1-to-1 computers, was true I, and I think about half the participants expected something a bit different.

Wenger Swiss Army knife, opened.Image via Wikipedia

I was kind of expecting to see free range students plucking tools from the Internet to solve real world problems collaboratively. What I got was teachers using technology to control the content their students could work from to complete rigid and structured lessons.
Way back on day 1, Saturday for me, I caught the end of the discussion on iPads and their role in education. The debate there was that some felt that iPads were more suited to consumers and didn’t allow for the creation of content. Thus they restricted the ability of student to SHOW what they learned. Others felt that not every tool needed to be a Swiss Army knife. At times students would be asked to build content that could be assessed, but at other times the size, simplicity, and speed of an iPad would be better than a full strength laptop.

This “No Paper? No Problem” group fell into a third category. They fall into what I call the “we want to point our learning to a specific goal and chart the shortest and fastest route to that goal” group. Is that how they see themselves, I doubt it. I’m sure they see themselves more along the lines of doing a great job in meeting the standards set forth by the governing bodies. We are the best teachers in the state because we have the highest test scores. As a matter they claimed proof that their methods work because one of the presenters did have the top scores in the state.

Was the entire session completely without merit? No, I did like the idea feature of the platform they were using that allowed the teacher to see a thumbnail of every student’s computer. I know I could set up something similar in just about any computer lab, but sometimes having something developed and managed for you just makes life easier. (I think that’s why some many people like Macs they work and synch with all things Mac with almost no fuss)

It wasn’t the monitoring of the student’s computers that I liked it was the fact that she would project the screen onto the wall and let the students monitor each other. She also did this during discussions. Students would then make sure everyone participated in the discussion and didn’t slack off.

I was most disappointed in their seeming glee in the fact that one student was removed from the program because he managed to break the security and explore sites that were inappropriate.

About an hour later I went to Creativity and Standards: Amazing Authentic Approaches presented by Annette Lamb alamb@eduscapes.com. Her outline can be found here eduscapes.com/sessions/creativity

Basically she wanted to present some ways teachers could meet the NETS 1 standard of creativity and innovation. She wanted to show us ways that teachers can help students demonstrate creative thinking and construct knowledge.

Start by thinking different. Think visually, she lists several different visual dictionaries and thesauruses. Allow students to explore them and then create their own visual dictionaries, or create vocabulary videos.

Provide options, which she did in spades, If students can’t or don’t draw, give them options of create animations online using the stock images they provide.

Model, I don’t know about you, but I was always taught to model the behavior I wanted. Model behavior, learning, exploring, thinking, and anything else I wanted my students to exhibit in the classroom.

The world is rich in resources, so why do we limit ourselves to the textbook bought by the district. Infuse the classroom with a variety of resources. Novels, graphic novels, comics, editorial cartoons, sketches, caricatures, and more are out there waiting to be used. Find them and show them to your class. Then why not let them surprise you with what they can find or create.

Scaffolding creativity. This was repeated in the unplugged session I attended next. Basically, if you throw everything at your students they will be overwhelmed and return to you a copy and paste. Model the use of one tool and then ask the students to use it. Later, after they are comfortable using the tool, you can ask them to be more imaginative in their creations.

Use the tools to be a more creative teacher. As you can from Annette’s website being a creative teacher means being:

  • Generative

  • Imaginative

  • Ingenious

  • Innovative

  • Inventive

  • Originative

  • Productive

  • Progressive

She provides a nice definition and explains at least one way to make it authentic in your classroom. The rest of the work along that front is up to you.

Conclusion (direct from her website)
Be a model. Use the technologies you plan to integrate into your classroom. Explore our Graphic Inquiry project.
Facilitate learning by creating pathfinders, learning guides, and WebQuest. Explore the Leviathan pathfinder.
Finally, get outside with your digital camera, create a comic, or contribute to an online discussion.

This was a great BYOL session. She had practical ideas to use in the classroom supported by several resources to use to create great artifacts. Everything showed how the NETS 1 standard applies to the student-centered classroom.

If you are like me and you like to see how people take this philosophy of student-centered technological rich classrooms and use it everyday in ways that are elastic and yet at the same time focused directly on reaching learning objectives this was the session for you.

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Trying to Think

I’m not a strict Problem Based Learning (PBL) person, but I am one who loves to try to make my students think. Actually, I love to think so I just assume my students should also. It isn’t always true.

Suppose I gave this problem to my students:

What is the measure of angle C?

Even my best students would probably give this problem about five minutes before giving up. They simply don’t know HOW to go about finding the answer.

I have noticed that as soon as I start asking students to think they often just shut down. Problem solving at its core is a creative endeavor. Students must transfer the problem from English, or better yet an observation, decide what the actual problem is, devise a strategy of attack, evaluate the effectiveness, and often times start over again from the beginning. Or as illustrated:

Picture found at Man With No Blog.

The problem is students are in school and as Sir Ken Robinson is so famous for saying, “Schools Kill Creativity”.

When asking student to take the time to solve a problem they often don’t know where to start. So it might help to list everything they know about the particular subject as a class before hand. As the students get used to this practice they will start to learn to anticipate what they will need to know by what you get excited over, so to counter act this it might do to start putting big posters on the walls entitled what we know about _______. This in turn becomes a resource for students to use throughout the year.

So the thought goes: Students have been socialized into thinking school is a place where knowledge is given not developed. Students generally don’t or won’t think for themselves. If we start slow we can re-teach our students to use their own brains. If students are asked to use what they know to solve problems without being lead by the hand eventually they will start to work on their own. The end goal of course is to get students to put some value on the knowledge they possess. I guess in the hope that they will apply it when needed.

Please share some of your favorite tactics for getting students to work on their own.

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