Monday, July 29, 2013

Why didn't you tell us about that?

I never heard about any of this in my school of ed

Statements like this occasionally pop up in my Twitter stream - usually during something like #edchat. Given my involvement in teacher preparation, it is easy to get defensive about these Tweets. So I try to ignore them. Last week, however, was Twitter Math Camp (TMC) and the following was Tweeted at the end of the sessions: "None of this stuff we've talked about these last three days came up in my education program." Sorry, I couldn't ignore this one.

I am not here to defend the current state of teacher preparation. There are certainly issues that need to be addressed. But introducing the latest popular instructional approaches is not the answer. In fact, chances are your education classes were talking about ideas that were popular at some point in time.

Hattie (2011) suggests that schools of education often put too much emphasis on particular methods of teaching, thereby ignoring what is most important - learning. Reading this reminded me of a time when I made sure all of my preservice teachers were proficient in writing Launch, Explore, Summarize (LES) lessons. What I considered to be one of the best middle school mathematics curriculum, Connected Mathematics Project, used this format and I wanted my students prepared to use it. Then I got an email from a former student who had just got a teaching position in a middle school that used Saxon Math which follows a much more traditional approach. She was at a loss about how to apply the LES format. I was preparing teachers to use a particular method but not necessarily to support learning.

For Hattie, teaching for learning requires educators to gather data on and analyze the effectiveness of the instructional methods being used. Reading this was affirming since after several episodes like the one described above I moved from pushing the LES approach to encouraging a certain stance. I wanted the preservice teachers to see themselves as educational researchers in order to determine what was and wasn't working for their students.

The push-back from some of these future teachers has been interesting. I usually get a few each semester who ask, "Why don't you just tell us the best way to teach math?"

I respond, " I don't know what grade level you're going to teach. I don't know where you're going to teach. I don't know what text you're going to be using. Deciding the best approach to use is dependent on these factors and many more. My goal in this class is to provide you with opportunities to practice using the tools that will support you in making those decisions. I want to help you to develop educational phronesis: practical wisdom that allows you to consider what's currently available to foster learning and what's worth doing under the circumstances."

Does this mean that my students might not be familiar with 3 Acts or foldables or "My favorite no" or some other great ideas the mathtwitterblogosphere comes up with in the coming years? Probably. But if these preservice teachers become educators who attend TMC and critically consider how to adapt what they hear for their students, then I will be happy.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Do you, David ... ?

Sixteen years ago today, Kathy and I were married at a lovely spot in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Her kids from a previous marriage made up our wedding party. I actually knew the kids before I knew Kathy (long story).

Before we were married, Kathy promised me that life with her and the kids would be an adventure. She wasn't kidding. It has been an amazing adventure. And whenever things got interesting, we would remind each other of that promise by humming the first few bars of the Indian Jones Theme Song.

I often tell this story to preservice teachers to prepare them for the adventure of teaching. And whenever one of the lessons I'm observing gets interesting, I might remind them of the promise that teaching is an adventure. Or I might begin singing: da da da daaaa, da da daaa, da da da daaaa da da daa daa daa...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Where were we?

Why teachers ought to use re-caps instead of warm-ups

With the exception of news and sports, I rarely watch live television. It is just so much more efficient to use our DVR to record a show and then fast-forward through the title footage and the commercials. There was a time when I also skipped the re-caps that started each show - until Lost.

What I came to see was that these re-caps offered more than a simple review of what had happened previously in the story. The information provided at the beginning of each episode was meant to prepare me with what I needed to know to understand what was going on. It highlighted certain points that I might have missed or dismissed as unimportant. At times, it also foreshadowed a plot point that would be uncovered in the episode; this helped me to see the story as connected (and gave me the feeling that I had solved some puzzle). In other words, it got me to engage at a deep level.

This is what I want to happen at the beginning of my lessons. Instead of spending time on a typical warm-up, I want to use a re-cap that highlights what is important and foreshadows what is coming up in the lesson. We know that learning is supported when it builds on prior knowledge and is seen as fitting into some larger structure (How Students Learn). In The Teaching Gap, there is a description of how a Japanese math teacher uses something similar at the beginning of a geometry lesson:
One lesson ... began with pure memorization. The teacher asked students to recite three properties they had learned already about parallelograms ... As it turned out, the three properties they had just memorized were the key pieces they needed in order to work out a proof. Most students were reasonably successful. (pp. 75-6)
As Hattie points out that, "Too often, students are asked to relate and extend with minimal ideas on which to base this task - leading to impoverished deeper learning. It is for this reason, the workshop model puts such attention on the Schema Activation phase of the lesson and why a traditional warm-up does not cut it.

If professional storytellers understand the importance of activating the schema of a viewer (just look at the number of shows that use re-caps in the video below), then why don't educators make better use of this approach?

Here is where I need your help. What would a re-cap look like in a lesson? Is it the First Act in the 3 Act framework (or perhaps Act 0)? Maybe it is student-work or video of students doing work collected previously that the current lesson will build on. Could it entail students developing a video at the end of a lesson synthesizing what had been done that could be shown during later lessons to provide a reminder of important information that relates to new content?

What do you think?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Is rewinding the answer?

“If you don’t get it, pause, rewind and listen again.” 

"Mastery is easy to achieve using a computer, because a computer doesn't get tired of showing you the same video five times."

Whether we are talking Khan Academy or Massive Open Online Courses, proponents nearly always get around to the power these resources offer the people watching their videos. The power is that viewers are given the chance to replay the video. So watching the lecture over-and-over again is the answer to learning with understanding?

If I am reading John Hattie correctly, the answer is no.

A strong message from the findings in Visible Learning is that, more often than not, when students do not learn, they do not need 'more'; rather, they need 'different'. p. 83
it will not be enough merely to repeat the same method again and again. pp 84-6 

But maybe I need to reread it to truly "get it".

Thursday, July 4, 2013

What is Holonomy?

July 4, 2013: This morning National Public Radio aired a piece with visitors to the National Mall reading the Declaration of Independence. As I listened, I was reminded of a new word I learned during the Cognitive Coaching Seminar (CCS) - Holonomy. This is the study of the relationships that exist between the part and the whole.

From the Cognitive Coaching Seminars Foundation Training Learning Guide:
Arthur Koestler described the dual tendency of every individual to preserve and assert his or her individuality as a proud and quasi-autonomous whole while functioning as an interdependent part of a larger system. (p. 22)
In 1776, the Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain. While historically the focus is placed on independence (and rightly so), the Declaration of Independence ends with a pledge of interdependence: "we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." Too often in our society we see either one (the independence) or the other (the interdependence) and miss the role both play in a successful system.

In mathematics, the ability to see both the part and the whole is important in developing number sense. For example, do you see ten individual beads or one set of ten beads ... or both?
The inability to see the connections between these two perspectives limits a person's mathematical fluency. This is what I immediately thought of when I was introduced to holonomy. 

However, it gets much more complicated when you begin to look at human systems. All you need to do is ask anyone familiar with the history of the United States or the workings of a school. How does a teacher maintain self while fitting into the system? There has even been some discussion related to this regarding the mathtwitterblogosphere. Perhaps we need a Declaration of Interdependence.

Not it!