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Education reform

Encouraging Students To Take Responsibility For Their Education

This topic is a hot button for me. So many parents think education is the school’s job and student think it’s SUD–Some Other Dude’s responsibility but not them. I was thrilled when Ask a Tech Teacher guest author, Pete McAllister, sent this article in:

While teachers are often challenged with students who lack responsibility and self-motivation, enhancing student learning can be a tedious ongoing task. Because many students are unaware of the true importance of tertiary education and relevant qualifications, following a career path can be an overwhelming task. However, there are several effective ways that teachers can encourage students to further their education and take full responsibility for their own educations. The following top tips will enhance student learning and encourage a more positive attitude from students who would otherwise fall behind and lose sight of future planning.

Discuss Potential Career Options

A large number of young students in high-school would rather avoid thinking about how to further their education after high-school simply because they are unaware of alternative options. When taking into account that students lacking motivation may be burdened with financial stress at home, it would be wise to discuss potential paths that make studying further a possible reality. Discussing the details of bursaries [a ‘bursary’ for those not familiar is basically a grant for students] and partial subsidies would essentially enable students who are unable to rely on their parents’ financial situation to understand that they can take their futures in their own hands. In addition to this, you may find that some students are unable to attend universities full-time for several realistic reasons, which is why discussing part-time and correspondence tertiary education is absolutely necessary. By providing your students with ample realistic options, it is far more likely that you will be able to spark interest.

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Videos: Why, How, Options

videos in educationWhen I started teaching, videos were used only for a few reasons: to teach historical events, as a prize for something students did well, or for the sub to fill the time while I was out. A lot has changed since then, most importantly, teachers now recognize that students learn in a variety of ways, only one of which is via text.

Why use videos

It turns out, videos are much more than the distraction from life Hollywood would have us believe or the visual encyclopedia those educational movies of a decade ago always were. Today’s videos are highly-effective learning tools, cerebral entertainment, and well-suited to visual and auditory learners.  Videos are entertaining but not in the sit-back-and-eat-popcorn sort of way that you experience with Netflix or the theatre. Rather than check out of the world, viewers willingly dig deeply into the topic in a way that can’t happen from a textbook or lecture. The videos you show in your classroom likely will be professionally produced with a script that appeals to short attention spans and draws students into the excitement of the material. Students will engage actively meaning you can expect them to take notes (digital is fine and rewind to rewatch either to review, to ensure they got everything they should, or simply for the entertainment.

Once you accept the reality that learning can take place outside of a textbook, reading, or notetaking, it’s not hard to see the great value of videos. Done well, students retain more information, understand concepts more rapidly, and are more enthusiastic about what they are learning. Videos have become a cornerstone to the effectiveness of self-paced learning programs like Purpose-driven Learning and Unschooling. Teachers provide the essential question and big idea, and then share a collection of videos students can select from as they design their own learning.

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How Behaviorism Can Turn Your Classroom Around

I first ran into Behaviorism in child psychology classes I took for my Early Childhood Education credential (ECE). It was developed by a renowned psychologist named John B. Watson and formed into the Theory of Behaviorism by another famous psychologist, B.F. Skinner. The technical definition they provide is:

“…scientific and objective methods of investigation concerned with observable stimulus-response behaviors; all behaviors are learned through interaction with the environment.”

They used the infamous example of Pavlov’s Dogs. No surprise, with this gobbledegook definition that used dog training as the example, I laughed, rejected it, and then forgot it.

Fast forward a decade, to a time when I was studying for my teaching credential. One of my classes reviewed education pedagogies such as Purpose-driven Learning, the Socratic Method, Depth of Knowledge, Unschooling, and Behaviorism. Applied to education, Behaviorism focuses on:

“… conditioning student behavior with various types of reinforcements and consequences…”

I still cringe at words like “conditioning” and “consequences”, but in the fullness of the class, I came to understand that whether teachers know it or not, they use Behaviorism as an effective, reliable teaching tool. I’ll get back to that later but first, I want to deconstruct how a theory that started with training dogs is now a cornerstone in education pedagogy.

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How to Do Student-led Conferences

sad girlI remember report card days as a child, me sitting outside on a brick wall, scared to death as my mother met with the teacher and received the (always bad) news about how I wasn’t doing. It never motivated me to try harder, didn’t make me like school better, and angered me at everyone involved.

Fast forward to me as a K-5 teacher. I love report card days now because this is when I get to meet parents. Often, it is the only time I see those who don’t drop in with questions or email me about concerns. Even before it became protocol, I invited students to join the conversation. I wanted to let parent and child know I considered the three of us a partnership in the student’s success.

Today, that inclusive approach is integral to student-led conferences.

What is a student-led conference?

studentled conference is where students between kindergarten and 12th grade meet with parents (with the teacher quietly at the side) to share the work they completed during the grading period and their progress toward overall goals. Simply stated, student-led conferences are about process not product. Where traditional conferences seek to delineate how students rank academically at a point in time, student-led conferences revolve around the work students have produced. They are less about grading than measuring learning. In fact, the grades earned are secondary to how students understand what happened in the lesson.

The philosophy behind student-led conferences

If we were teaching writing skills, the philosophy would be called “show don’t tell”. In student-led conferences, this means that students demonstrate their acquired knowledge not by a grade but by communicating their progress.  For student work to be relevant, students must be engaged, responsible for the learning and involved in reporting that to stakeholders. 

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How to Help Students Find Their Passion

Of all the gifts students receive from education, passion is the greatest. If students are taught that learning is difficult, that math and science are boring, that history is a waste of time, they miss out on life’s most exciting, most meaningful motivator: passion.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” – Steve Jobs

Why passion is important for students

Sometimes called Passion-based Learning, a focus on the student’s passion is a clear path to helping kids excel. By doing what they love, students learn to try hard, take risks, overcome obstacles, and never quit no matter the frustration. Passion makes learning fun which can drive success.

For educators, passion offers one of our most effective tools for engaging otherwise unengaged students. If kids can focus on something they love (say football), goals (like, say, trying to get into Notre Dame’s football program) become achievable. That juxtaposition may inspire students to commit to the study, homework, and test prep necessary to succeed.

A final reason why passion is important in the school setting is that its pursuit can teach students to get along with others. It is enormously powerful for kids to share ideas, experiences, and stories with those who reciprocate the interest. In its own way, this confirms that the student is valued. Finding those with similar interests is especially important in middle school where fitting in takes on an even higher priority to many than learning.

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8 Practical Ways to Use AI in Learning

ai in education

Every year, education finds new ways to make learning more inclusive and diversified. The latest change agent is Artificial Intelligence (AI), now being used in classes to focus learning, simplify redundant tasks, and infuse lesson plans.  Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Kamy Anderson has eight practical ways to use AI in learning:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is disrupting the education industry. Traditional classrooms may not go extinct anytime soon, but edtech will certainly change the way we learn and think about learning. It’s already challenging us, as educators, to revisit our role as sole providers of formal knowledge and professional L&D. And we must admit, AI is making things better and easier.

These are the eight practical ways to use AI in learning:

1.      Smarter Content

The primary ability of AI is to collect and analyze data. Not only is this technology designed to sift through massive amounts of information but it is also ingrained with powerful curation capabilities. As a result, AI helps create smart educational content that’s being used in both classrooms and online courses. Using AI, we can deliver textbooks, lesson summaries, and flashcards that are highly focused, relevant, and applicable. Moreover, AI-empowered edtech can keep updating content with the latest findings from leading academic researchers and scientists.

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9 Ways to Teach Tolerance

teach toleranceIf you watch the news, tolerance seems to be a lost art. College kids shout down speakers. Mobs throw chairs through windows. Hordes of hooligans loot stores. It’s not that we don’t try. The Kindness Movement is more popular than ever. TeachingTolerance.org even uses Black Lives Matter as a model for tolerance education. Martin Luther King Day is always chockful of admonitions against prejudice and intolerance.

But how do you teach it in the confines of a classroom? Another lesson plan? A movie about Mahatma Gandhi? Quotes like this from Helen Keller:

The highest result of education is tolerance.

These have all been done and by many measures, America and the world are more intolerant than ever. So what do you do in your classroom to get this important attitude across? Here are some fresh ideas that you may not have tried:

Model tolerant behavior

Words don’t stem the tide of intolerance. No matter how many times we say, “See the other’s perspective,” or “Be kind,” these words are meaningless to a dedicated zealot who feels the end justifies the means. Sometimes, the best way is simply to model tolerance. In writing, this is a powerful storytelling device called “show don’t tell”. It means instead of talking about tolerance, be tolerant. When a student gets angry over a grade, explain where they fell short or how to improve a grade.

Admittedly, in the current social media world, words are today’s doing. People join hashtag campaigns like #Nevergiveup or #Bringhomeourgirls. While these may raise public awareness, they don’t deliver the tolerance necessary to change the outcome. Don’t hashtag a sentiment; find an action for the words.

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Why Mastery Based Learning is a Good Option

mastery-based learningLast year, only 61 percent of students who took the ACT high school English achievement test were deemed college-ready. In math, it was even worse — only 41 percent. Without doubt, we teachers recognize this as a problem but what do we do about it? An option several school districts I converse with are trying is called “mastery-based learning” — MBL. When I read this article about it, I got pretty excited. This could be a solution, if not for all students, at least for those who don’t excel under traditional teaching.

What is MBL

Also known as “competency-based learning” or “proficiency-based learning”, mastery-based learning is described by The Glossary of Education Reform as:

“a system “of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting … based on students demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education.” 

Learning is personalized, based on school standards. Students who don’t understand a topic and don’t do well on the summative assessment for that subject, aren’t automatically moved on because time allotted for that topic ran out. Instead, they are given additional support and then retested until they have the skills to move on to the next stage.

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The Importance of SEL to Education Success

social emotional learningLife is much simpler when you — as a parent or teacher — can point to one solution for a problem, solve it, and everything is golden. Success in school was like that when grades were the barometer and studying harder was the tool. Now, we know academic achievement is much more complicated.

“Students are telling us there’s a big missing piece in their education” –John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic

Today’s educators realize learning has as much to do with academics as how students get along with themselves and others. This is called “Social Emotional Learning” or SEL. It’s akin to the importance of play in teaching preschool kids to socialize with others, develop tenacity, and learn respect for those around them. If you’re not convinced of the importance of SEL, here’s what students say:

“Students and young adults believe SEL schools would create a more positive social and learning environment” — report by the Collaboration for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

A positive attitude about themselves and others is linked to not only academic success but correlated to lessening the negative impact of future-ending problems such as drug use. It should surprise no one that as of mid-2018, two states have passed SEL measures, sixteen SEL-related bills and resolutions have been introduced, and twenty-three states are working on SEL standards.

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Peer Feedback That Works

Assessing student learning traditionally is accomplished with tests. The problem teachers have with this approach is managing them. If they’re short answer or essay —  the preferred way to check understanding — grading takes a long time. And unless assessments are frequent, it’s easy to miss the student who is lost or just doesn’t get it. Even with the advances technology offers in responding directly to students, it can be too time-consuming for large classes.

A solution that has become popular is peer feedback. This isn’t new; in fact, it is prevalent in universities. What exactly is peer feedback and how is it being applied to lower grades?

What is peer feedback?

When used as an assessment strategy, peer feedback is much more than casual comments shared between classmates. It is the logical evaluation of one student’s work by another using predetermined characteristics and measures. Through the implementation of a prescribed rubric, a student’s classmate looks at their work and determines if it satisfies the goals of the lesson, the Essential Questions, and the Big Ideas.

One important difference from teacher evaluations is that students don’t grade each other.

Why peer feedback?

Peer feedback has become popular as teachers move to a “teacher-guide” model of education rather than a “teacher-lecturer”. When the time comes in a lesson to assess student learning, instead of a formal test in a quiet room with a clock ticking, teachers employ a system of peer feedback. For many, this is more effective, less stressful, and maintains the goal of encouraging lifelong learners. Sometimes, this is an excellent way to address school budget cuts, large classes, and the burden of too many pieces to be graded. Other times, teachers employ this method because not only the one being reviewed benefits but so too does the reviewer as they must know what the lesson is about to effectively review classmates. As a pedagogical strategy, it teaches critical thinking, one of those traits that is hard to teach but essential to being a productive adult.

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