Archive | April, 2013

How do YOU want to teach?

27 Apr

Being a teacher makes our core values become visible. All the small (and bigger) choices we make in the classroom talk about our beliefs of good learning and teaching: how we place our students, what kind of questions we ask, what is valued in our class, etc., and they all also contribute to our students’ perception of education. Improving learning and teaching becomes easier when we empower every teacher with the knowledge of choices. Please watch and share:

CHT video

Taking time to think HOW exactly YOU want to teach makes all your choices become more conscious. It is easier to choose wisely when you have better understanding about the consequences of your choices.  Walking the talk of making well-informed choices is important for everyone who wants to teach. Fortunately choosing is a skill that grows with use, just like language fluency.

The same principles apply to our students:  they need to have opportunities to practice choosing in an emotionally safe learning environment.   The first step is to make students aware that there is a choice. So, how exactly do we help our students to make wise choices? This thinking process led me to write the book:

Nina's book

My own belief, based on experiences, is that independent and autonomous students are also the most successful ones. I think this happens because they have so good control over their own learning processes, and also use several different learning strategies.  Guiding all students towards being self-sufficient and having more successful learning experiences can be done if we let go of some unnecessary control and start providing more choices in the daily classroom situations.

Please note that I am not talking about students running wild in the class. The best environment to improve learning and practice choosing is where we can allow students to make mistakes without penalties. This of course means having informal and non-punitive assessment and self-evaluation systems in place.  Student accountability is built on the foundation of their autonomy. How could you be accountable for something you cannot control?

How can you help students practice choosing and become more independent in their learning?

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The break-things-into-bits mistake we have been making in education for centuries – happening today with standards

20 Apr

Grant Wiggins about splintering the learning content. This is an important message for all curriculum and instruction designers, but also for each and every teacher. Good teaching is about providing information in student-sized chunks, and making sure the details don’t obscure the whole, the entity we are learning about. Contexts and connections are SO important in meaningful learning!

Granted, and...

In the just-released Math Publisher’s Criteria document on the Common Core Standards, the authors say this about (bad) curricular decision-making:

“’Fragmenting the Standards into individual standards, or individual bits of standards … produces a sum of parts that is decidedly less than the whole’ (Appendix from the K-8 Publishers’ Criteria). Breaking down standards poses a threat to the focus and coherence of the Standards. It is sometimes helpful or necessary to isolate a part of a compound standard for instruction or assessment, but not always, and not at the expense of the Standards as a whole.

“A drive to break the Standards down into ‘microstandards’ risks making the checklist mentality even worse than it is today. Microstandards would also make it easier for microtasks and microlessons to drive out extended tasks and deep learning. Finally, microstandards could allow for micromanagement: Picture teachers and students being held accountable for ever more…

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Cooperation vs. Competition

7 Apr

I know we live in cultures that value winning. In the modern world competition is infused to all areas of our lives: work, sports (of course), advertisements, entertainment, and relationships, even education – the sad example of wording an educational goal being the Race to the Top.
In competition there are always winners and losers. But can we really afford to have losers while making choices about education? Shouldn’t we try to educate every child?
While studying to become a teacher in Finland the answer was very clear: every student has a subjective right to learn and to be measured against her/his own previous achievements. Not those of someone else. Very fair, I think. Why should I compete with someone else, if our starting points were different?
We all have diverse skills and needs, because that’s what the life is made of – individuality. Students, while being the same age, have many more qualities that make them individual than those making them alike. Focusing on differences and supplementing those creates much better foundation for learning than highlighting superficial similarities and making ranking lists of those with competition.
The secret is to understand how equality doesn’t mean that resources and outcomes should be standardized. Equitable education simply means that every student gets the support and challenges what s/he needs – not what the other students need.

Competition usually revolves around power and/or control, no matter whether it is initiated by the students or the teacher. Often teacher is the one who has control, and sets up a competition, and then acts as a judge, deciding who is the best – a common classroom situation where points are given for various behaviours/performances/tasks/answers or taken away for misbehaviour. How does this build the learning motivation?

Another everyday example is when a student who feels powerful challenges others into competition, in hopes of gaining (more) power/admiration (we have all read Lord of the Flies, right?). I have seen many students compete about being faster, better, taller, smarter, more popular, etc. than their classmates in situations where cooperation would have been much easier and more beneficial choice.

Competition is about using power over others, in one way or other. Even while it is just an attempt to get the teacher’s attention with disruptive behavior! Unfortunately some students have learned the negative attention being the only option available for them. And as human beings we need that attention – we need others to acknowledge our existence. Finding competition in surprising situations happens when we start to pay close attention to reasons for doing certain things!

The two most harmful phenomena occurring while mixing competition and education are the externalization of the learning motivation and the distorted self-image of students. These are problematic for both losers and winners. Extrinsic learning motivation focuses on tangible rewards and makes students perform tasks instead of trying to deep learn the content, because only intrinsic learning motivation makes learning itself fun and rewarding. And for the self- image the educational psychology and research have long time been telling us how devastating comparing your personal attributes can be for the developing sense of self – and we still don’t get it??

The growth mindset (concept borrowed from Carol Dweck) is equally important for all students, because it builds grounds for life-long learning. Fostering cooperation and collegiality in the classroom enables students to grow and learn in their own pace and support each other in individual challenges.

Cooperation is about doing things together – not because we are told to do so, but because it makes sense. It is about helping each other and feeling compassion. So instead of competing who gets to go first for recess, the class could work together to make everything and everybody ready for it – this builds accountability too, when students help each other.

Cooperative learning is the diversity statement coming alive in the classroom. It is not about power or control, but about being equal, yet unique, and acknowledging the intrinsic value of each human being. It is supporting each other and understanding that everyone has different needs. Cooperation is about sharing ideas and learning constructively from each other. It is also about building better future together by setting mutual goals. Sounds like something we would want to see more in classrooms?