Monthly Archives: July, 2014

Assigning Homework

Prior to reading Chapter 7 of Dean et al (2012), I hadn’t fully formed my beliefs about homework. While I knew it was important to not force students to teach themselves something and only assign homework about things students have learned, I hadn’t done much research into how much to give my first graders. Dean et al (2012) and make three recommendations pertaining to the assigning of homework across the grade levels. First, a policy should be created across a school or a district in order to clarify the purpose and goals of homework for teachers and parents. Second, homework should support what is being learned in class and have a clear, communicated purpose. Finally, feedback should be provided on homework. I used to consider homework to be extra practice for what was learned in class – a chance to better hone the skills discovered in class. I never thought much about the use of homework as a way to give students additional feedback. Instead of just grading correct and incorrect, taking the time to analyze student homework can not only show what “stuck” from their learning, but also help identify student misunderstandings that should be corrected before the error is practiced into habit. While this may seem like a daunting task, Pitler and Stone suggest many alternatives to hours of grading, such as students getting feedback from peers, having students keep track of their accuracy or speed, or keeping a homework portfolio to be reviewed and commented on weekly (2012, p. 215).

As I take control of my own classroom, I have looked into the homework policy for my new school. The school requires a minimum of 10 minutes and allows a maximum of 30 minutes of homework. I would like to assign homework, but to keep closer toward the minimum, in order to ensure my students do get practice with what we’d learned in class without creating so much paperwork for me at a later time, as my students will likely have difficulty keeping track of their own work in portfolios or giving feedback to peers. Sticking to a short amount of homework per night, in addition to their reading, will allow students to enjoy their time at home while still serving as a gradual introduction to class work at home.

In regards to self-assessment on my practice, I would consider myself to be at an overall “2 – Basic” according to the Teacher Rubric from Pitler and Stone (2012). While I haven’t had much opportunity to solidify my homework philosophy just yet, I do understand the importance of the three recommendations of Dean et al (2012). As I establish relationships with parents in the upcoming year, I believe a main focus should be to ensure we are on the same page regarding what homework will look like and why it is assigned.

References:

Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Pitler, H. & Stone, B. (2012). A handbook for classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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Video Analysis

In my Instructional Strategies course, we were asked to analyze a video based on the strategies we had focused on thus far in our readings and discussion. You can see many of them as blog posts on this blog (Objectives and Feedback; Cooperative Learning; Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers; and Note Taking). The video, link here, is a third grade class lesson on adjectives in which the teacher emphasizes the senses to give more detail to written work.

Very evident in the video was the teacher’s linking content to previous lessons and to prior knowledge. According to Dean et al, “Effective cues and questions help students access their prior knowledge and put that knowledge to use learning new information” (2012, p. 52). The questions, however, were fairly surface-level: recalling the definition of an adjective from previous lessons and how they would use them. As the lesson progresses, students have to become more creative in their responses, coming up with ideas of how to describe the ocean using the senses: how it smells, how it sounds, how it looks, how it feels, and how it tastes. This allows the students to continue reflecting on adjectives, but in a way that forces them to think more creatively and inferentially than the recall questions did.

The teacher did not, however, set a clear objective for the students. While it was simple to put together the pieces of what was going on, it might not have been so obvious for the students. She began to introduce what was to be learned, but then transitioned into asking what the senses were. She then noted that “Our senses help us describe,” but never explicitly states that the goal for the day was to learn how to write using our senses to think of adjectives that help describe. According to Dean et al, “It is important to communicate learning objectives to students explicitly by stating them verbally, displaying them in writing, and calling attention to them throughout a unit or lesson” (2012, p. 7). I wish the teacher would have taken a little time to directly and explicitly state the learning objective.

Something that I believe the teacher did really well was modeling note-taking for her students. Though she never explicitly taught the note-taking procedure during this lesson, she was exposing her students to the kinds of notes they would take from a brainstorming session. Initially, she wrote down the ideas that students were throwing out about the ocean in an organized way on the board. Like the biology teacher example in the Dean et al text, this teacher also “demonstrated one way to provide teacher-prepared notes: create notes for students as information is presented” (2012, p. 91). The teacher then does the same process while the students have a graphic organizer on their desks, which students then fill out using the class brainstorm of how to experience an Oreo using the senses. I am a fan of the “I do, we do, you do” format of learning, so I enjoyed that she modeled the format, then had students organize the information with her before they were then left on their own to write. I did think, however, she could have again been more explicit with the objective of and instruction of the note-taking, which she later said would be five sentences about experiencing an Oreo with all of the senses. Pitler and Stone state that “Students often struggle with this strategy because note-taking strategies are not intuitive” (2012, p. 185). By exposing them to this strategy during brainstorming, the teacher is getting the students used to the idea of note-taking that can be elaborated on later during an explicit lesson.

Overall, I loved the idea of the lesson. The students were thrilled to get to write about something they loved – to be honest, I wanted an Oreo after watching that. The students seemed engaged throughout the lesson and got their creative juices flowing in coming up with how to describe the Oreo.

References:

Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Pitler, H. & Stone, B. (2012). A handbook for classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Note Taking

Unsure of how to incorporate note taking into an elementary classroom, I did not explicitly teach the practice in my student teaching experience. This may change for me, as I have found that note taking can be taught even in the early elementary years using strategies that do not necessarily require a high command of written English. According to Dean et al, note taking strategies provide “opportunities for students to capture, organize, and reflect on important facts, concepts, ideas, and processes they will need to access at a later time” (2012, p. 73). As students then progress through their schooling, they will become accustomed to taking and using notes to better recall information and review concepts; they will also be more comfortable with the practice as they go into higher levels of education where such practices are critical to student success. Currently, I give myself a “1” overall in note-taking as an educational strategy. However, I will give myself credit for creating teacher-prepared notes on occasion to help students follow along and have reference materials accessible, so in the sub-category of “Give students teacher-prepared notes,” (Pitler and Stone, 2012, p. 198) I would give myself a 2 for having tried this practice before, but no more than that since I did not provide much opportunity for students to contribute to those notes in their own way.

Next year is my first year in a first-grade classroom. I feel as if Dean et al (2012) provided me with some useful examples of how I can introduce note-taking to my students. One of the authors’ examples was to use teacher-created notes with pieces missing, as shown in the example on p. 92 with student “Marty.” The teacher created a table that was partially filled in, leaving the student to fill in information about each place value such as tens being a group of ten ones and what a base-ten block “long” (or “ten”) reminded him of. Not only does this allow Marty to focus on content instead of what to write down, but also allows this first-grader a chance to relate this concept to his prior knowledge – what the block reminds him of from his own life. I also enjoyed the example of the reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar in which students drew pictures of the main points of the story on adding machine paper in order to retell the story to a friend. This helps students understand from an early age the importance of focusing on the main points in the story when taking notes – a concept that some college students still have yet to master. I enjoyed that these examples used little-to-no written language, allowing students to be able to express themselves in a way they can later understand, even with their limited writing ability.

Next year, I may use some of these ideas, but would also like to incorporate technology in helping teach my students about note-taking. Apps like Kidspiration allow students to use visual representations to create idea webs and other documents that allow students to organize their ideas in a creative way. For students who are more concrete in their thinking, short phrases could also be used to keep track of main ideas. By being able to manipulate the figures with their fingers or a mouse, students will be able to experiment with different ways of organizing the information without having to start on a new piece of paper. Regardless of the method by which I introduce my students to note-taking, I surely will be ensuring they are being taught explicitly, as “note-taking strategies are not intuitive” (Pitler and Stone, 2012, p. 185).

 

References:

Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Pitler, H. & Stone, B. (2012). A handbook for classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers

This week, I chose to focus on the previewing strategies of cues, questions, and advance organizers. As a new teacher, previewing material has yet to be much of a focus for me, but I now understand how important it is to student understanding of material. By activating prior knowledge and getting students excited about the material, students will be better able to hit the ground running with material as the lessons begin. I have never personally used any of these strategies, so in my own personal practice I would consider myself a 1 – Unsatisfactory by Dean et al (2012) and Pitler and Stone (2012) standards, but I have seen two great examples of how these strategies look in practice from my two mentor teachers. One used a skimming strategy as an advance organizer, while the other used a cuing strategy.

The skimming strategy was a way to get students excited about what they were going to learn in social studies throughout the year. It also gave my mentor teacher an idea of which lessons should have more emphasis and which ones were not of interest to the students. My mentor gave each student a text book and three Post-Its. The students were to put their name on each sticky note, then look through the book, reading headings and looking at pictures. After about five minutes of skimming, the students were then asked to choose the three chapters for which they were most excited, then post their sticky note next to the chapter title on a large poster. Like a bar graph, student votes made apparent the chapters for which students were most excited. It also sparked discussion about why certain chapters were their favorites, jogging their memories about their previous experience with the material. After the first month of school, though, the poster disappeared and I am not sure if my mentor took advantage of the valuable information it contained. If I were to do this in my own classroom, I would surely use this chart to seek out in-class experts that might help other students develop their prior knowledge and to help plan additional activities to supplement the curriculum.

In my other mentorship, my mentor teacher used KWL charts in a similar way to my first mentor teacher’s strategy, but she used them more often – usually to introduce units of instruction. This way, students were able to activate more specific prior knowledge and the teacher got immediate feedback on how much students already knew about this specific topic, as well as what they would want to learn. Additionally, she used this information to help guide pacing through the unit and to review the unit upon its conclusion. Not only does this activate prior knowledge, but it also acts as a great resource for the teacher in understanding where the students are in their understanding.

Again, I have little experience with these strategies in my own teaching experience, so I would rate myself as Unsatisfactory, but I understand the importance of this strategy. Pitler and Stone state that “students are more likely to learn if they connect new information to what they already know” (2012, p. 102). This makes sense, as it warms up their mind to the idea and reminds them that they are already partial experts about some aspects of what we are to learn. It is also important for me to remember that explicit cues are critical when introducing new ideas. Dean et al note that “there is no need to be subtle or ambiguous with students about what you want them to learn” (2012, p. 62). While it is always fun to have a little surprise in store, surprising students with content is not beneficial to learning.

 

References:

Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Pitler, H. & Stone, B. (2012). A handbook for classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Cooperative Learning

This week, I chose to focus on cooperative learning rather than effort and recognition because, while I can always work on improving how I communicate the expectations of hard work with my students and increase the amount of specific, tailored recognition, I cannot think of a situation in which my group work has met the criteria for cooperative learning. When it comes to cooperative grouping in my classroom, I do not believe I take the time necessary to look ahead and plan larger-scale group work. While I often employ the use of think-pair-share or buddy work, the cooperative work that goes on in my classroom so far does not fit the criteria set forth by Dean et al (2012) as something that constitutes cooperative learning. The authors say that the key components of cooperative learning were that there is positive interdependence, or that success can be obtained by all members of the group, and individual accountability, or students are each held accountable for their learning and receive feedback on their efforts in relation to the overall goal. These criteria are much less specific than those set by Johnson and Johnson (1999, as cited in Dean et al, 2012), which are five requirements that must be met by productive group work.

My previous classroom practice, though limited in its scope as it was a student teaching experience, did not include group activity that was structured enough to be considered cooperative learning. While buddy reading allowed both students time to read and help the other tackle difficult content-based words, there was hardly ever enough follow-up to consider the reflective piece to be “accountability” for their learning. I would consider myself, on a standards-based grading scale of 1 (Unsatisfactory) to 4 (Distinguished), to be at a 2 – Basic: I would like to do more cooperative grouping, and have in essence done pseudo-cooperative learning, but have yet to become proficient in the follow-up piece that allows students to know they are held accountable for their work.

The videos in class this week showed three cooperative learning activities, Silent Card Shuffle, Jigsaw, and Numbered Heads Together, two of which were new to me. I had done jigsaw-style lessons before, but not in the same manner they had in the video. In class, we would have students work in groups on one aspect of a lesson, then present what they learned with the class. The video showed a different strategy – each student was in two groups: their “home group” and their “expert group”. This small grouping made it easier for students to be responsible for others’ learning. Pitler and Stone find small group size to be important, stating that if there were larger groups, “it would be possible for some students to fade into the background and not be a part of the positive interdependence” (2012, p. 80). This echoes what Dean et al say when they state “members of larger groups tend to feel that their individual contributions will go unnoticed” (2012, p. 41). Doing the jigsaw activity as part of two smaller groups will help ensure that each student has a definitive role (the “expert” of their home group) and that their contribution will play a major role in their peers’ learning. I would like to try the other two activities that I had not tried before, but in the primary classroom I can imagine students will need much in the way of guidance for the first few times – this could be a great use of parent volunteers to help keep students on track.

References:

Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Pitler, H. & Stone, B. (2012). A handbook for classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Objectives and Feedback

The readings for this week in EDU 6526 – Survey of Instructional Strategies – focused on setting and communicating clear objectives for students and giving timely and detailed feedback on student work and ideas. Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, and Stone (2012) claim that objectives are important in education, as they link what students are doing in class to what students are actually supposed to learn. While to the teacher it may seem obvious, clearly stating the objective in both written and oral form allow students to clearly make the link between what is done and what is to be learned. The authors also state that feedback can help students “confirm, refine, or restructure various kinds of knowledge” (Dean et al, 2012, p. 3). In my own practice, I would consider setting objectives something I have worked on with great improvement, while providing students with feedback would be an area in which I would like to grow more.

In my experience as a student teacher, objectives were highly emphasized. My mentor teacher used objectives as titles for the lessons in order to better remember what students were to come away with at the end of the lesson. The objectives were posted on the board in the back, too, in second-grade language, sometimes denoting new vocabulary in a different color marker. Those words on the board, in and of themselves, were a great reminder to the teacher to stay on course and to keep the end goal in mind. The trouble I had, though, was trying to ensure students were on board with our target – that students were “getting it” and knew what we were doing and why. Using objectives as a tool for students, as well as for me as a teacher, can help everyone be on the same page in their understanding of what we are teaching and learning for the lesson. For me, writing objectives has been a good practice in how to plan units that align to Common Core – Dean et al state that “teachers must ‘unpack’ the statements of knowledge in their standards document to drill down to more specific statements of knowledge and skills” (2012, p. 5). This unpacking process allows me to organize the missions of each lesson in a way that better guides students to the overall goal of the unit: meeting the standard. Objectives are better, according to Dean et al, when students are informed of the objectives and can personally set their own objectives. While I have become much better at communicating objectives and having students discuss what the targets mean, I must improve on having students “buy in” to the objectives, possibly by better linking them to what students want to learn.

Feedback is an area in which I struggle. I want students to have a great deal of practice in what they are learning, so giving in-depth and timely feedback on what the turn in to me can be difficult. Dean et al (2012) recommend that feedback given to students be specific and timely: lets students know what they did correctly and on what they still need to work, references specific criteria such as rubrics, and comes in time to fix their misunderstandings before the confusion become integrated in their understanding. My next step in improving the feedback I give to students will be to create rubrics that specifically lay out what I expect of students in order to receive a given grade. This way, students will have more specific goals to reach a certain grade and know what is expected of them, but I will also be able to use it as a reference in discussing student understanding with the students and their parents. Pitler and Stone (2012) discuss a website called Rubistar in their vignette on criterion-referenced feedback. Rubistar allows teacher to create rubrics based on templates, making it simpler to give students the expectations and comment based on the same expectations for all students. This tool will be going into my bookmarked pages in order to use it this upcoming school year.

 

References:

Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Pitler, H. & Stone, B. (2012). A handbook for classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.