If you use the VARK model of Student Learning, you know why I’m excited about it. VARK started as a questionnaire to help students and teachers understand their best approach to learning but has since become more of a guideline for teaching and learning. The questionnaire is deliberately short (thirteen-sixteen questions, depending upon which version you take) in order to prevent student survey fatigue.
The acronym VARK refers to four learning modalities — Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic. Though often classroom lessons focus on the Visual, with a bit of preparation, they can be taught using all four modalities thus accommodating students who learn best in a different way. Why go through this extra effort? VARK’s creator, Neil Fleming, explains it this way:
- Students’ preferred learning modes have a significant influence on their behavior and learning.
- Information that is accessed through students’ use of their modality preferences shows an increase in their levels of comprehension, motivation, and metacognition.
For me, that extra time and effort is a no-brainer. Let me back up a moment and explain how I got to that point. I realized after a few years of teaching that something was wrong with the methodology I had been taught. Lots of clever, smart kids weren’t getting what I was putting out. I taught in a way that addressed how the majority learned (because that covered most kids, didn’t it?) but that turned out to be more like a plurality. Or less. In fact, where that plurality of kids might be the biggest group in the class, those that weren’t learning in this prescriptive manner was an even bigger group. To say it another way:
What the Bell Curve considers the “typical student” was always far outnumbered by those who weren’t.
Interestingly enough, Dr. Fleming reports that Kinesthetics (the K in VARK) is the most common learning style though not the most common teaching style.
Knowledge is meant to be shared. That’s what writing is about–taking what you know and putting it out there for all to see. When students hear the word “writing”, most think paper-and-pencil, maybe word processing, but that’s the vehicle, not the goal. According to state and national standards (even international), writing is expected to “provide evidence in support of opinions”, “examine complex ideas and information clearly and accurately”, and/or “communicate in a way that is appropriate to task, audience, and purpose”. Nowhere do standards dictate a specific tool be used to accomplish the goals.
In fact, the tool students select to share knowledge will depend upon their specific learning style. Imagine if you–the artist who never got beyond stick figures–had to draw a picture that explained the nobility inherent in the Civil War. Would you feel stifled? Would you give up? Now put yourself in the shoes of the student who is dyslexic or challenged by prose as they try to share their knowledge.
When you first bring this up in your class, don’t be surprised if kids have no idea what you’re talking about. Many students think learning starts with the teacher talking and ends with a quiz. Have them take the following surveys:
Both are based on the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Harold Gardner’s iconic model for mapping out learning modalities such as linguistic, hands-on, kinesthetic, math, verbal, and art. Understanding how they learn explains why they remember more when they write something down or read their notes rather than listening to a lecture. If they learn logically (math), a spreadsheet is a good idea. If they are spatial (art) learners, a drawing program is a better choice.
It’s no secret many parents are frustrated with public schools. Are kids learning to think or just to pass tests? Are they spending classroom time wisely or just doing what’s always been done? Are we developing lifelong learners or simply kids who can’t wait to graduate?
If this describes you, you’re not alone in your concerns, but there’s hope. Consider a pedagogy that transcends rote memorization and the stock drills often found in today’s classrooms, expects critical thinking that teaches how to learn anything — not just school subjects. It’s called a “Growth Mindset”. In an Edsurge article by Rupa Gupta, former Redesign Administrator at Burnett Middle School in San Jose, Calif., she summarized the issue like this:
“In a recent national survey, 97 percent of teachers agreed that all students can and should have a growth mindset, and that same number said fostering a growth mindset is an important part of a teacher’s job. Yet only 50 percent said they have adequate solutions and strategies to shift mindset.”
So nearly everyone agrees this type of cerebral approach is important to real learning but few know how to make it happen.
What is Growth Mindset?
Let me back up a moment and define “Growth Mindset” more clearly. Most people believe basic human qualities like intelligence and talent are fixed traits: nature supersedes nurture. Kids are born with the characteristics that will mold their future. They are good at math or they aren’t. They can throw a football well or not. As kids grow, they figure out what they can and can’t do and adjust learning and life as needed to these truths. They come to believe that understanding and adapting to this process equates to success.
In a Growth Mindset, people believe ability can be developed through dedication and hard work. The cerebral and physical traits they were born with are just the starting point. Students are responsible for setting the patterns and strategies that allow them to succeed, by evaluating what they can do at any given point and making a plan for learning everything else.
Every teacher I know has virtual reality on their radar. It’s one of those short-listed disruptive technologies that kids want to be involved in and will change teaching for the better. I was thrilled when Amanda Ronan over at Teach.com suggested that she write a how-to for teachers on getting virtual reality started in their classrooms. I think you’ll enjoy her thoughts:
Suddenly, virtual reality is everywhere. The technology lets you experience worlds you’ve never dreamed of visiting. You’ve seen people drop their phones into what look like small cardboard boxes and suddenly they’re transported back in time or to the moon.
As an educator, you probably look at those devices and wonder if you need a degree in computer science to figure out how to use them, let alone how to incorporate the tech into your classroom. But, we’re excited to let you in on the secret: VR is super easy to get started with.
Get Started with VR
Just follow these simple steps and you’ll be the hippest teacher around. Not to mention, your students will be totally engaged in the world, both real and virtual, around them. Set an example, and you might even get the whole school on board. Talk about leadership material.
1. Pick Your Equipment.
To use virtual reality in the classroom, all you need is a smartphone capable of downloading the VR apps or videos (more on those in a second) and a headset. The VR headset provides different screens, and therefore different images, for each eye. They also include sound and motion-sensors, so when you move your head, the image moves, too.
If your school has a BYOD (bring your own device) policy, you can ask for student volunteers willing to download the apps or videos onto their phones. You’ll only need enough phones with the apps as you have headsets. Teachers just getting started with VR usually start out by having groups share a headset.
One of the best ways to start out is with the Google Cardboard headset. There are a bunch of different options, but they start are $7.00 each. This keeps the tech affordable. If you order a few for your classroom and find yourself using VR more than you thought you would, order a few more. Or, if your students love the experience, you can possibly convince your district to invest in an account with Nearpod, an educational company that offers everything you need to do VR right, from the headsets, to standards-aligned lesson plans, to the opportunity to make and produce VR lessons yourself. Being a tech ambassador is a great way to influence change in your school on an organizational level so get excited and let your enthusiasm be contagious!
How many times have you experienced teachers who based report card grades on how well students complete classwork, homework, and quizzes? They mistakenly conflate these exemplars with learning. For example, a book report may require a certain number of written (or typed) pages or paragraphs rather than evidence that the student drew conclusions and summarized knowledge.
That’s changing. Today, many educators want to not only evaluate progress at a point in time but optimize that against the ongoing standards their school mission is built on such as Common Core, International Baccalaureate, NGSE, or TEKS.
What is Standards-based Grading
To accomplish this, many schools and Districts have turned to Standards-based Grading. According to Tomlinson and McTighe, standards-based grading (SBG) “measures student proficiency on well-defined course objectives.” This means students have clear guidelines for how to define success over time, making it easy for all stakeholders in a student’s learning to determine if they are accomplishing what must be done for college and career. It de-emphasizes subjectivity by providing an objective delineation of requirements.
Here’s a good four-minute video overview of SBG:
Over the years, I’ve struggled to teach in ways my students would understand. Standing at the front of the classroom stopped working so I researched (and tried in some cases) Whole Brain Teaching (WBT), Socratic Method, Understanding by Design, Mindfulness, and a lot more options that colleagues mentioned as helpful with their differentiated student groups. They all worked for a while and then, maybe when the novelty wore off, I was back to the same Bell curve of successes, failures, and those in between.
The same could be said of Standards and curricula adopted in my varied teaching gigs. That includes everything from Common Core to the IB philosophy, from Depth of Knowledge to Project-based Learning. I confess, I found it frustrating. Everything worked for a while and nothing worked in the long term.
That’s when I heard about John Hattie at an education conference I attended and his concept of Visible Learning. John Hattie is a teacher but more significantly, he’s an education researcher. His life’s goal is to determine what education strategies work best for the largest number of students. He engaged in a fifteen-year evaluation of over 50,000 research articles and something like 240 million students — making it the biggest evidence-based education research project ever — and discovered something no one expected and few believed: Almost any approach will work if delivered well. The one foundational element required for success is passionate, involved, committed, flexible teachers:
“The remarkable feature of the evidence is that the greatest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students become their own teachers.”
How can that be? According to John Hattie, what he came to call “visible learning” happens when we teachers look at what we’re doing:
“Visible teaching and learning occur when there is deliberate practice aimed at attaining mastery of the goal, when there is feedback given and sought, and when there are active, passionate, and engaging people (teacher, students, peers) participating in the act of learning.
I get a lot of questions from readers about what tech ed resources I use in my classroom so I’m taking a few days this summer to review them with you. Some are edited and/or written by members of the Ask a Tech Teacher crew. Others, by tech teachers who work with the same publisher I do. All of them, I’ve found well-suited to the task of scaling and differentiating tech skills for age groups, scaffolding learning year-to-year, taking into account the perspectives and norms of all stakeholders, with appropriate metrics to know learning is organic and granular.
Today: Organizing your classroom
18 webinars (more added as they become available), approx. 30 minutes each, show how to set up your classroom to be tech-infused.
For years, my teaching revolved around textbooks as my resources. When the Internet arrived, I — as did my colleagues — adopted it mostly for two reasons: 1) research — in place of the library, and 2) rote drills, such as supporting math practice. But that has changed. Using the Internet in classrooms has morphed from optional to organic. In fact, it’s transformed 21st-century education, offering a normative tool for adapting to varied student needs, a scalable approach to differentiating for student learning styles, and a collaborative must-have with its vast offering of virtual meeting and storage options. It is regularly called the “present and future of education”, “one of the central features of modern school reform”, and “the newest way to personalize education”.
For many teachers, it’s fundamental to a style of teaching called “blended learning” (sometimes referred to as “hybrid learning” or even “flipped classroom”). Blended learning occurs when an education program combines Internet-based media with traditional classroom methods. For example, a unit on space is supported by a virtual chat with an astronaut from the space station or his Houston training facility. What used to require school buses and lots of time now is accomplished more effectively for less money through the Internet.
But blended learning is more than simply replacing lectures and books with web-based technology. If you follow the SAMR model, this type of substitution is the lowest level of the pyramid. When technology is mixed agilely with traditional teaching methods to deliver a more rigorous, more purpose-built program, it moves your class to the top SAMR levels — Modification and Redefinition — by replacing less-effective approaches (like pictures) with more-authentic methods (like a virtual visit to a zoo).
Created by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, Understanding by Design (UbD) is a lesson planning approach that visualizes the end result (what students should understand) to better select learning activities (the path that will get students there). Tens of thousands of educators use it for unit and course planning; hundreds of districts and schools use it as the basis for their curricula. Look at who has adopted UbD:
- the College Board, to guide the revision of its Advanced Placement (AP) subject matter courses and for the development of its courses AP Seminar and AP Research
- the framework for the national curriculum in the Philippines and Puerto Rico
- the state of Massachusetts, for its Race to the Top federal grant program to create more than one hundred exemplary units and associated classroom videos
- the Next Generation Arts Standards
Additionally, the two largest textbook publishers, Pearson and McGraw-Hill, use the UbD framework in many of their textbooks and programs, similar to this example from Pearson’s biology curriculum.
Today’s guest writer is Finja Kruse, a teacher experienced in different educational tools and engaged in creative writing activities in school. You can contact her via LinkedIn. Her article today can be summed up by a line in the last paragraph:
“Technology is not your enemy…”
Educators aim to equip students with an understanding of the world, its fragility, & opportunities, by teaching them various common subjects like math, language, or science. By learning various subjects simultaneously, integration between them and relativity to the world outside of academia can sometimes get lost in translation. Luckily, this is where effective explanation comes in, and thanks to 21st-century technology there are plenty of ways to explain just about anything.
Topics like health, history, geography, music, etc. are often integrated on the web, whether lessons are on the same video hosting site, LMS system, or free online academy. So, the emerging approach of blended learning is becoming more bound by technological glue per se, and tools that provide a broad spectrum of knowledge intake or creation and allow for a wider range of application opportunities are becoming more and more popular.