Homework vs No Homework: A pedagogical argument

Homework has always been a debatable issue in the academe.  Of course, traditionalists would always go for it. On the other hand, contemporary educationists would rather scrap the idea of it.

Henceforth, this article will weigh the pros and cons of giving assigned tasks based on the article by Ramdass & Zimmerman (2011).

Homework and self-regulation

This collective study by Ramdass & Zimmerman (2011) looks at the correlation between homework and self-regulation.

Perhaps, there is no need to further define ‘homework’ as an extra task given to learners.  At this level, we may refer to this as a pedagogical tool assigned by teachers to students after school time. Simply, it’s like an extra school work to be done at home.

Next, self-regulation pertains to an individual’s predetermined process of organizing and utilizing knowledge and skills.  For example, self-regulatory acts may include goal setting, self-monitoring, and time management just to name a few.

Logically, these two have overlapping attributes.   In completing a task, students need to employ self-management skills.  But then, how can we justify this?

Empirical evidence on homework and self-regulation

An experiment by Stoeger and Ziegler (2008) looked into the ways elementary students performed in working on a homework.

In this scenario, 219 students participated and 17 teachers monitored them. In effect, the quality and quantity of the homework given to the students led to improvement in self-regulation.

With respect to middle and high school students, Zimmerman and Kitsantas (2005) reported several factors affecting self-regulation through homework.  Accordingly, middle school students could manage their distractions well.  Gender is also a factor as middle school girls show efficiency in completing their tasks.  Geographically, urban students show more motivation than those from the rural areas.

In college level, Kitsantas and Zimmerman (2009) revealed that longer periods of studying or doing such tasks have a significant effect on examinations in math.

To give or not to give a homework

When it comes to developing skills in self-regulation, teachers MUST be conscious enough to give relevant assigned tasks.  Definitely, the aforementioned studies establish the need for this. However, educators must be aware of the quality of tasks given to students.

In doing so, teachers should design an assigned task that:

  1. is appropriate for the student’s age and level;
  2. has clear goals and expectations communicated to students & parents; and,
  3. enhances not just skills but also positive attitudes towards learning.

Definitely, assigning tasks still depend on the nature of the student.  In the ideal setting, if a homework is designed to fit the needs and wants of the students, this could maximize learning opportunities.

Reference

Ramdass, D., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2011). Developing self-regulation skills: The important role of homework. Journal of advanced academics, 22(2), 194-218.

Zooming in educational leadership theories: Instructional leadership & distributed leadership perspectives

 

Educational leadership theories are broad and universal. Thus, there is a need for a context to scrutinize these theories. Oftentimes misconstrued with management, we have to clearly define leadership as a separate entity in the school context.

Hence, by zooming in educational leadership theories from instructional and distributed perspectives, we can look into the differences between management and leadership.

Management vs Leadership

To distinguish management from leadership, we have to put the latter in a distributed perspective. Whereas management is all about maintenance, leadership is about progress and development. This is one of the key dimensions of distributed leadership.

Generally speaking, leadership from a distributed perspective emphasizes that leadership is not just a function of an individual. It is more of a social interaction.

Distributed leadership perspectives

Two schools of thoughts lead to further elaboration of distributed leadership. First, Spillane (1999) defines distributed leadership as a cognitive activity engaged in by the interaction of leaders, followers, context, and tasks. This deviates from the centralization of power to social and situational distribution of leadership tasks and functions through schemes of interdependency (Spillane, 1999).

On the other hand, Harris (2012) brings the ideas of Spillane forward from a psychological activity to a social reality. The literature simplifies the cognitive concept of distributed leadership as a form of “leadership shared within and between schools.”

This study also notes that this is not a matter of spreading responsibilities or delegating. This needs to be planned purposefully to carry out the following:

  1. sharing of power and decision-making
  2. leadership as interaction
  3. a high degree of trust
  4. blending leadership practices and activities to school development
  5. system transformation

Critical thoughts on distributed leadership

Until now,  the practice of distributed leadership is still in question in school systems.  One contention is that this gets simmered down and confused with ‘delegation’, which is what’s happening in a lot of schools.

Worse, the idea of distribution of leadership seems to be more of distribution of titles/positions to those deemed more collaborative with the principal rather than the merit of ability and competence.

Despite having a lot of ‘leaders’, it might seem that this decentralization is more of assigning roles and responsibilities to fill in the gap. Does the distribution of leadership start from transactional leadership?

If it is, then won’t that be more of delegation of tasks by a transactional leader?

If not from a transactional leader, what if the distribution starts from an instructional-transformational leader?

Would that fit the ideal conception of distributed leadership?

Needless to say, distributed leadership is one of the highly idealized educational leadership theories. If practiced to the core, it could yield amazing results for the stakeholders of the school: teachers and students in particular.

If only all schools could ensure a purposefully and well-planned distribution of leadership, then there would be harmony in school system fostering better learning outcomes.

Instructional leadership perspectives

Other than distributed leadership, another educational leadership theory in practice is instructional leadership. From Hallinger & Murphy’s conception of the theory in the 1980’s, instructional leadership has gone a long way. To be more specific, instructional leadership has links with school improvement in the past decades.

Come to think of it, instructional leadership is a highly transferable idea since teachers are also instructional leaders in their own classrooms.

For an instance, teachers usually start their class by sharing with their students the specific learning goals for the session. To avoid exclusion and to be more flexible, they spend minutes looking into these goals. Also, they emphasize that these goals are not set in stone.  In this way, teachers practice the idea of framing goals.

From a small classroom setting, we can amplify the importance of framing and communicating goals in a larger school setting. A principal should not resort to draconian measures by imposing school goals as this impedes flexibility to change. Instead, the principal should invite stakeholders in formulating school goals based on mission-vision.  In effect, everyone can have a shared accountability for these goals.

Furthermore, the principal may have to set up a committee to look into these goals so that they can assess whether these are CLEAR and SMART goals.

Through this measures, the community could be able to frame a set of SCHOOL’s goals that truly reflect the SCHOOL as a learning community and not just that of the principal. The next step is how we could live up to the standards of these goals.

The next step is how the school could live up to the standards of these goals.

Instructional leadership  and principalship

Is it possible for an ‘outsider’ to be a school principal?

This ‘outsider’ refers to a person who is not from the field of education, and worse, who pretends to be knowledgeable in this field.

This might be highly contentious, but it is a NO.

For schools to be effective, there is a need for a principal who knows the ins-and-outs of the school system (the CONTENT and PROCESSES involved). How can you manage something that you are not even familiar with? Who could be the best candidates for

How can you manage something that you are not even familiar with? Who could be the best candidates for the principalship?

Those who have been in this system–the teachers.

Teachers know the curriculum, the instructional processes, and the students based on the assumption that this is part of their nature.

Hence, in managing the instructional program, the school system needs PRINCIPALS who ‘have been there and done that’ and not just because they are sons or daughters of some rich aristocrat basking in the glory of medieval feudalism.

The instructional leadership challenge

As one of the educational leadership theories, the most challenging dimension of instructional leadership is developing school climate. It involves people to achieve the ends of progress and sustainability.

In a way, this can also be the product of the first two dimensions. As leaders define goals and manage instructional programs, a school climate needs to be in place to support and enact the two dimensions.

For example, even though a school has clear goals and has well-crafted instructional programs, the whole system is still away from perfection. If the school principal tends to overlook instructional time, then a possible meaningful learning opportunity gets lost.

Based on the Pareto effect, it is this 20% (the simple things) that make up the whole. If we strive to clean up and be consistent in acting on these acts to develop a school climate anchored on clear goals, then we could have more progressive and sustainable schools.

Educational leadership theories and improving the system

To prepare for the future of this school system, we just need TWO BITES of REALITY. There is no single recipe in running a perfect school, but there are more than a hundred and one ways by which we can transform schools and sustain this development. This is the first reality we have to embrace.

To aim for perfection is to shoot for the stars. We are not shooting for stars; we are cultivating students. Neither are we propagating educational leadership theories.

The second reality is that school leaders must uphold the processes of TEACHING and LEARNING. The goals, actions, and plans of the leader should all go back to the ideals of teaching and learning.

If it’s not for teaching and learning, forget about it. We may name all the educational leadership theories and models of teaching and learning: distributed, transformational or instructional leadership. However, what matters most is the way leaders conduct themselves as a principal–bringing forth the essence of teaching and learning.

Empower teachers and prioritize students. Be patient for it may take more than 100 days before you get a full hang of it.

At the end of the day, if school leaders know where they and the school are heading to, they will eventually get there.

References

Hallinger, P. (2009). “Leadership for the 21st century schools: From instructional leadership to leadership for learning.”

 

Harris, A. (2011). “Distributed leadership: Implications for the role of the principal.” Journal of Management Development 31(1): 7-17.

 

Spillane, J. P., et al. (1999). Distributed leadership: Toward a theory of school leadership practice, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University Evanston, IL.

Myth busting educational practices for better teaching and learning

There is no single way of doing something, especially for learning’s sake.  As teachers dwell into the intensive practice of planning, certain conditions tend to be overlooked.

Likewise, some educational practices may seem acceptable for some but not for the rest.  They may be effective, but still quite questionable. Through time, these practices became ingrained in the system that they end up becoming mythical in nature.

Here are some of educational practices and principles teachers and school experts may find mythical:

Rote memorization is an ineffective way of learning.

Bloom’s taxonomy dictates that acquiring knowledge through remembering is the lowest form of learning.  From his classification, the most effective way to learn is to create and to synthesize ideas.  Hence, memorization seems to be ineffective in developing high order thinking skills.

However, in acquiring a new language, rote memorization can be effective.  Definitely, we can not discard the fact that learning through memorization can be helpful.

In a study on language acquisition by Wang et al. (1992), they found out that rote memorization can help students retain information for a longer period of time.

Again, memorization as a learning practice depends on the student’s ability and purpose.  There are certain tasks that require routine and jargons, which require memorization.

On the other hand, there are also tasks that require high-level order thinking skills.

Critical thinking skills are transferrable.

Is it possible to teach students how to be critical thinkers? Indeed, teachers could claim using several practices to train students to think critically.

They also believe that the subjects and topics lead to critical thinking development.  For example, teaching computer programming and reading comprehension may claim to develop high order thinking.

However, current research on developing critical thinking skills is still skeptic about this idea.  Critical thinking skills do not transfer according to studies by Hirsch (1996) and Mayer & Wittrock (1996).   In their studies, schools that taught critical thinking skills or used academic programs could not really produce critical students.

For example, students could not really apply mathematical concepts even when they go to the grocery or elsewhere.  What students applied were the things they could remember and feel would work instinctively.

Assertive discipline strategies are archaic educational practices that have no place in 21st-century schools.

Proponents of student-centered approaches would claim that assertive discipline damages children in the long run.  In addition, they would go as far as likening this to medieval educational practices.  For them, what schools should cultivate is an idea of students who could self-manage.  Self-management comes from self-worth and not strict adherence to rules and policies.

On the other hand, teachers and school leaders know for themselves that an assertive discipline is an effective tool.  Research may still be divided on this matter, and other teachers may still be in denial. However, responsible and mature teachers would know that assertive discipline is a must.

In a study among schools in Oregon in 1989, 78-90% of the teachers admitted that there was a positive change in student behavior after implementing strategies in assertive discipline.

Needless to say, assertive discipline does not refer to physical or verbal abuse.  It is all about helping students to be more responsible through the policies in place.  Moreover, it is also by helping students make proper choices and accept consequences of their actions.

Well, there are still loads of debatable educational practices out there.  Next time, we’ll talk about the value of tests and homework.

Reference

Hoy, Anita Woolfolk., and Wayne K. Hoy. Instructional Leadership: A Research-based Guide to Learning in Schools. Boston: Pearson, 2009. Print. pp. 1-20.

Working towards a culturally inclusive classroom where no one is left behind

Every teacher must start aspiring for a culturally inclusive classroom.  In this era where we thrive in cultural coexistence, the classroom is a good starting point.

Cultural diversity breeds cultural inclusivity.  Of course, we now live in the world where we see different beliefs as part of our lives.  Gone are the days when one could be burnt at the stake for indifference. This is the 21st century. Hence, accepting cultural differences makes up who we are now.

In effect, there is a need to be inclusive in this diverse environment.  When it comes to inclusivity, it’s all about taking everybody in.

Cultural inclusivity starts from accepting cultural differences and working on these differences for the good of all.

A culturally inclusive classroom

How do we define a culturally inclusive classroom? It’s more than just a harmony of teacher and a bunch of students from different race, religion, ethnicity, gender, and beliefs.

Firstly, we need to set the parameters of what we need to be inclusive of.  Students are different in one way or another.

Thus, this is what teachers and school leaders need to accept.  Without identifying and accepting such parameters, this won’t lead to inclusivity.

One of the parameters is the differences in learning styles.  These learning styles may emanate from the prior knowledge and skills of every student.

Next, social organizations contribute to the differences among students.  It is important to look into the family or community background of the students. Most importantly, cultural practices and values define the bulk of a multicultural classroom that requires inclusivity.

Now, if we consider and accept all these factors, we are one step towards a culturally inclusive classroom.  Then, this could help us form a culturally relevant pedagogy.

A culturally relevant pedagogy

From defining a culturally inclusive classroom, we now have to develop steps in achieving inclusivity through a culturally relevant pedagogy.

A culturally relevant pedagogy refers to educational principles that could help students achieve academic success.  Consequently, this could develop cultural competence and critical consciousness to challenge the status quo.

In this kind of set up, we can try the following practices:

  1. A range of teaching and learning ways to address different needs
  2. Working on different groupings to ensure multicultural learning
  3. Directly teaching classroom procedures that are culturally sensitive
  4. Identifying different behaviors of the students and how to address them
  5. Knowing and celebrating customs and traditions of students
  6. Detecting racist messages

Hopefully, with these ways, teachers could promote cultural inclusiveness in their classrooms.

The potentials of culturally inclusive classrooms

Racism stems not from extreme differences but from ignorance.  Accordingly, classrooms could help bridge the gap on this issue.

Admittingly, racism breeds other school and social issues like bullying and injustice. Hence, there is a need for an education system to foster values that could address these issues.

Certainly, words are not enough to address racial issues.  We just can’t say “No to racism” and expect the world to change overnight.  Thus, this must start with clear actions expressed and practiced in a culturally inclusive environment.

Aside from addressing racial issues, the learning opportunities in a culturally diverse environment are limitless.  If we open up to learning directly from other people with their different perspectives, we could establish connections among the different realities around us.

Eventually, culturally inclusive classrooms may unlock the gates of knowledge and open up vast learning opportunities without boundaries.

Reference

Hoy, Anita Woolfolk, and Wayne K. Hoy. Instructional Leadership: A Research-based Guide to Learning in Schools. Boston: Pearson, 2013. Print.

Learning community in practice: Building PLCs in schools

Building a learning community is a primal catalyst of change. In the greater schema of interrelatedness, a change in a community creates a ripple effect on a particular system. Subsequently in this cycle, the changes in the system trickle down to the psyche of the individuals.

Hence, by applying these generalizations in the education system, individual learning stems from building a professional learning community (PLC).  This will then branch out to the idea of systems learning.

The question here is: How do we apply these conceptual ideas in the reality of the school system?

building a learning community

 The conception of a professional learning community

Although the concept of PLC’s has been in existence since the 1990’s, the studies of Harris and Jones from 2008-2014 refine the idea of PLCs.  Harris and Jones gave it a clearer and more feasible structure that any school could adapt as a groundwork for individual and systems learning.

A professional learning community may refer to a group of connected and engaged professionals.  These people are responsible for driving change and improvement within, between and across schools that will directly benefit learners’ (Harris and Jones, 2010).

In designing a PLC in school, Harris and Jones (2008) advise that the change agents should bear in mind that the main goal of staff learning is to support students’ learning through a ‘Disciplined Collaborative Inquiry’.

This collaborative inquiry requires a system that is inclusive in nature according to the goals set.

As a disciplined collaboration, teachers need to work together rigorously. In addition, they should focus on the aims of improving each other’s practices (Harris and Jones, 2012; Jones, 2013).

To be more specific in defining the structure of a PLC, Harris and Jones (2009) outline the seven phases of a PLC.  This starts with establishing one and ends with the sharing of outcomes, which could lead to another cycle of a PLC.

Thus, a disciplined professional collaboration stems out from a systematic analysis of data for evaluating and planning to increase staff’s capabilities to support students’ learning (Harris and Jones, 2009).

A PLC case study

In evaluating the PLC programs in place in a school, we need to identify certain practices like this case study from one IB school:

  1. The teaching staff is clustered according to three levels: PYP (Primary), MYP (Middle) and DP (Diploma).  Each level has subject groups/departments that are overlapping especially in the Languages, PE, Arts, and Humanities departments.   PLCs come in the form of grade levels and by subject groups.
  2. At the end of each grading period, teachers scrutinize their data and define learning issues. Then , they set target for the next quarter. They call this their ‘Action Plan’ that they work on collaboratively on Google Sheets.
  3. In their subject groups, they have video conferences with other campuses that are usually focused on housekeeping matters. They spend three meetings listening to talks by our colleagues on literary analysis and concept-based teaching-learning.
  4. On Wednesday afternoons, they have a level meeting (MYP).  In the past three weeks they are doing an experimental “PLC” of their principal. In this PLC, they sit in a group of five and collaboratively work on the structured online modules designed by their school’s leadership team.

 Evaluating a professional learning community

Based on the professional learning community overview suggested by Jones (2016), the PLC program and practices in this case study school is ripe in its implementation stage. However, it is totally lacking in the stages of innovation and impact.

To address the limitations of this PLC, we may consider the following action steps into practice:

1. Establishing PLC groups should be natural and purposeful.

The concept should be clearly introduced to the entire school community.  In addition,  the school needs to embrace the culture of professional collaboration as communicated by the school’s change agent/s.

In effect, this will address the learning of the teachers and the students. The school might want to have a PLC coordinator to serve as a facilitator or ‘traffic manager’ of discussions and collaboration.

Teacher’s timetable should have an allocation for PLC sessions happening simultaneously across all departments.

2. PLCs formed should have a clear focus based on issues from students’ data.  

This should go beyond quantitative data on Google Sheets. PLCs should be sharing qualitative information on the issues based on their experiences.

Since the PLC in the case school lacks innovation, the groups should have ample time during the allocated session to look for new, appropriate strategies from various sources.  Then, they may share these strategies among themselves instead of just referring to structured modules online.

3. From the sharing of strategies, the group should consensually adopt at least one strategy to address the desired learning outcomes.

The group must agree upon a timeframe. During the particular period, assessments for learning (formative assessments) should take place for immediate feedback on the strategies.

At the end of the grading period or the timeframe, the PLC group should look into an assessment of learning (summative assessment). This could give data on the learning issue in focus. From here, the community may adopt an evaluation of the strategies.  If a particular strategy works well, a member of the group can share this to the school community.  Later on, the leadership team may draft policies or practice guides on this.

As an IB school, this case school is expected to network with other IB schools in the region. They may plan a regular summit so that they may share the best practices on a larger scale.

 PLC and learning needs

Although Fullan (2007) believes that PLCs are not really bad to do, he expresses his doubts on the theory in use.  This is due to its premise of being superficial and school-centric.

In ironing out these doubts, PLCs should have a meaningful and specific design. In addition, it should give opportunities for the school to engage in a larger scale of collaboration through networking (Fullan, 2007, p. 6).

Thus, school leaders need to make PLCs more meaningful and authentic. They have to take the necessary actions to further its PLC program.  PLCs should continually support not just the teacher’s learning, but more importantly the students’ learning needs.

References

Fullan, M. (2007). Change theory as a force for school improvement (pp. 3-13). Springer Netherlands.

Harris, A., & Jones, M. (2010). Professional learning communities and system improvement. Improving schools, 13(2), 172-181.

Embracing and evaluating professional learning community in schools

Being a teacher does not exempt one from the learning process. Following an obvious dichotomous logic, teaching will not take place if there is no learning involved. Instead, this could be achieved through a professional learning community.

As educators, we tend to forget the essence of our own learning. Usually, our personal and professional baggage bog us down.

In fact, social change will not take place if we become so content. Sticking to status quo of acquiring knowledge and skills won’t  help either.

In this journey of meaningful change in the education system, we need to reflect on the value and pitfalls of professional learning communities (PLC).

Working on a Professional Learning Community (PLC)

Professional Learning Community (PLC) offers promising ideals of change in the education system. In line with Tri-level reform and the idea of systems learning for educational change, PLCs strive to achieve an environment of collaboration.

It goes by the purpose of having various carefully planned strategies.  In any case, this leads to staff development and system improvement (Fullan, 1997; Harris and Jones, 2010).

Although open for scrutiny, properly implemented PLCs lead to more motivated teachers who perform effectively in and out of the classroom (Huffman and Jacobson, 2003 in Harris and Jones, 2010).

On the other hand, Fullan (2007) looks at PLCs as a “flawed change theory”.  Despite being a promising espoused theory of action, the theory in use ends up being superficial, individualistic and school-centric.

Similar to any proposition for change, if PLCs are properly implemented and sincerely adhered to, then this would yield meaningful and long-term changes not just in the schools but in the system.

 PLC’s in schools

Dr. Jose Manuel Villarreal, who was then Senior Director of San Diego County Office of Education, had a talk on Building Professional Learning Communities. His idea of PLCs centered on ideas of reflective organization, self-talk or professional language, a culture of collaboration and teacher leadership.

Learning walks as a PLC opportunity

The ‘learning walks’ system is one of the many ways to improve visibility and guidance for all teachers.   Learning walks is a classroom observation strategy in which school leaders or principals literally walk around the school and observe teaching practices as they happen spontaneously (Finch, 2010).

Superficially, this strategy may seem as a euphemism for monitoring teacher’s activities and ensuring security protocols. Worse, others may deem this as an invasion of teachers’ and students’ space.

However, if the school leaders enlighten the  receivers of ‘learning walks’ of the value and sincerity of this strategy, then change in perception may lead to positive impact.

With this, is there a prescribed timeframe to evaluate the impact of a program in an educational system?

Evaluating PLCs

Taking into account these two contexts, PLCs could provide a good foundation for school reforms if strategically implemented and collaboratively accepted.

Needless to say, the initiative for genuine PLC must come from a charismatic, visionary, sincere, and capable leader.  In effect, this leader could build the grounds for this change by making the teachers understand the need for such actions and by directing the flow of this “double-loop learning” process. Perhaps, to sustain the momentum and promises of progressive change by PLCs, school

Perhaps, school leaders and teachers must dig deep into the core of PLCs.  This helps sustain the momentum and promises of progressive change by PLCs.  The school must look at this as a way to transform the culture of the community through motivation, contextualisation, evaluation, and system engagement (Fullan, 2007, p. 8).

The future of professional learning community

In the same way that schools in Wales operated its PLCs well (Harris and Jones, 2010), it could be an alternative that other schools could replicate this success.  Schools could considered and later on evaluate the following steps in adopting PLCs in this particular school setting:

  1. Schools should institutionalize PLCs and not just concentrate on one department. Departments should also learn from each other.
  2. There must be a clear policy framework  in place with a pilot PLC program covering achievable agreed goals, and grounds.
  3. Evaluation should include a regular collection of evidence from the piloting of the PLC programs. For example, learning walks, collaborative learning, learner engagement could serve as factors. The community should regularly address commendable outcomes.
  4. Establish networks with other international schools within the district or region.
  5. Engage in global learning by having online links with international schools in other countries.

PLC offers idealistic conditions for educational change, which some might misconstrue as messianic especially those clamouring for true, long-term reforms.

Schools can put to test the feasibility of these PLC programmes when implemented and evaluated consistently.

Systems should always be open to learning. Thus,  PLCs must usher in long-term reforms.  Through collaborative, interconnected, and transformative learning among teachers, administrators and the system itself could lead to better learning.

Transformational leadership effects on schools: A myth or reality?

Transformational leadership is a productive approach in leading organizations. Generally, schools that had undergone remodeling used such an approach under certain conditions.

However, transformational leadership has turned into a hot topic to be investigated systematically in school contexts. As mentioned, this model to leadership basically targets to engage capability development and improved levels of personal commitment to an organization’s goals on the part of the leaders’ colleagues.

This article will be looking into the findings of Leithwood & Jantzi in their article, Transformational School Leadership Effects: A Replication.

Transformational leadership group dynamics

What are the conditions faced in the context of transformational leadership?

These “conditions” consist of decisions and actions taken outside the classroom but within the school. This aims to enhance the “teaching and learning” environment in the classroom.

However, in spite of Hallinger and Heck’s (1998) purposes and goals of instructional leadership, we had perceived “school planning” as a separate entity as in school condition.

In effect, this does not exclude the approaches used for decisions on mission and objectives, and on the action plans executed for their own success. Besides that, “organizational culture” also plays a role in school-level mediating variable.

For classroom conditions, these refer to the decisions and actions directly linked to the “teaching and learning” environment in the classroom.

This closely resembles Scheerens’ (1997) conception of classroom-level variables. In lieu to that, student participation in schools has both behavioral and affective elements.

The research approach

In this study,  Leithwood & Jantzi obtained the data about all variables aforementioned in the framework through two distinctive surveys in one large school district in central Canada. The district with a population of around 400,000 served elementary and secondary students. Likewise, this ranged from not only urban, but to rural area, made up of approximately 57,000 students in total.

There were two survey instruments used for data collection. One survey gathered data from teachers on school and classroom conditions, and on the practices and integration of transformational leadership.

The second survey collected substantial evidence from students on their engagement with school and their family’s educational cultures.

All teachers in the district took part in the “Organizational Conditions and School Leadership Survey”. The aim of this study is to investigate the effects of transformational leadership practices on school organizational conditions and student engagement with school.

In addition, this took into account the potentially large, moderating effects of family educational culture.

The results: A myth from reality

As a result, transformational leadership approaches have a mediocre but statistically significant effect on the psychological dimension of student engagement.

The size of these effects is approximately the same as those found for the effects of leadership provided specifically by principals in two of the other studies by Leithwood and Jantzi, which also used student engagement as an important factor.

Nevertheless, the best explanation is that principals and transformational leadership practices make a disappointing contribution to student engagement.

In fact, student engagement is a product linked directly to teachers’ classroom practices and not the leadership. Accordingly, this notion of leadership goes back to the term, “romance of leadership” (Meindl, 1995). This argument puts leadership as a convenient, phenomenologically legitimate, social construction. Hence, this disguises a multitude of influences on organizational outcomes including teachers’ practices.

Consequently, people stick to the idea of leadership in part because it provides a simple explanation for organizational effects that otherwise would defy their understanding.

Apart from that, leadership has very small effect on student engagement. Transformational school leadership practices do explain a large proportion of the value-sided variation in school rather than classroom climates. Furthermore,

Furthermore, large proportion of variation in student engagement explained by family educational culture raises the possibility that different student outcomes may range considerably in their sensitivity to family, as compared with school, variables.

Limitation and reflection

For the limitation of the study, further research needs to include a wider set of student outcome variables. These may resemble the general set of academic, social, and psychological outcomes included in the curricula of most schools.

Second, such research would step up its conception and parameters of “student background” variables, focusing on a quite specific sub-set of variables.  These may likely justify other factors influencing students’ accomplishment credited to background variables.

Finally, the premise of this study tries to debunk the myth of a transformational leader that Leithwood himself worked on for years.    This humbling gesture from an established researcher reveals the nature of educational research as a dynamic field.  Although leadership plays only second to teaching, still it is a key factor in any organization.

Leaders must always aspire to be transformational leaders that promote better teaching practices and learning strategies.

Choosing the better research approach: quantitative or qualitative

At first glance, choosing a research approach seems like a daunting task. Differentiating the word ‘quantitative’ from its seemingly identical counterpart ‘qualitative’ is another challenge.

Though distinctively differed by merely two letters, quantitative sets itself apart from qualitative. In the context of research, a quantitative approach has a world of its own—a complex world that typically defined by numerical data.

Creswell (2010) dedicates chapters of his book to explore and differentiate quantitative and qualitative approaches.  The conception of the research questions up to the collection and analysis of data forms this intensive process.

In fully understanding quantitative research, one has to weed out its differences with qualitative research as shown in the tables below:

differentiating research approach

Research approach and educational  leadership

In the process of planning a study focusing on educational leadership, choosing the most suitable approach is like deciding to choose between two different paths. At times and despite these tables of differentiation, it is still confusing to decide on an appropriate research approach.

Is there a way by which we can determine the appropriateness of a particular approach in relation to the intended purpose of the researcher?

Is quantitative approach better than qualitative, or vice versa?

In addition, methodology relies on the intention of the researcher whether to explore or examine variables or explain a particular phenomenon.

This kind of logic leads to another question: Can we qualify variables or quantify a phenomenon? For a novice researcher relying on readings and lectures, the methodology must go according to the ‘academic judgment’ of the researcher.  One must then justify the appropriateness of the approach on the purpose and focus of the study to arrive at conclusive and impactful findings.

 More thoughts on quantitative research

Creswell’s (2010) idea of quantitative research highlights the notion of variables and instruments as the core ideas of this approach. From a linguistic point of view,  quantitative research refers to a more technical process.  For example, this involves numerical-statistical data gathered through an experiment, quasi-experiment, or a survey.

On the other hand, one needs to be skeptical n analyzing data in quantitative research.

Perhaps, this somehow goes against the essence of a quantitative research.  It presents information in the form of numbers.  In addition, this approach seems to be absolute and backed up by the laws of statistics.

 Should educational researchers use quantitative approach for my research?

Although numbers serve as a definitive and objective tool for logic, educational researchers may opt to go for a quantitative methodology.

Certainly, it would have been more helpful if references in Educational Research present a matrix.  This table should show pros and cons of quantitative and qualitative approaches.

In addition, it should indicate how this could be applied to a particular research topic. Through this matrix, one could easily answer questions like: ‘Is quantitative research more efficient/effective than qualitative?’

To initially address this gap, here are some videos on YouTube that clearly delineates quantitative and qualitative research:

Qualitative vs Quantitative Video

Overview of Quantitative Research

Overview of Qualitative Research

Although seemingly identical, quantitative and qualitative are two distinct approaches in research.

In the early stages of the process, it is important for a novice researcher to determine a research approach. This is in order to employ methods that best address the purpose of the study.

Metaphorically, this is one of the first crossroads a researcher has to face in this journey.

 

Reference:

Creswell, J. W. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (pp. 58-77, 103). Boston: Pearson.

Crazy classroom ideas worth tinkering in the 21st century

The 21st-century opens up the pandora’s box to crazy classroom ideas.  Despite the fact that the education system still revolves around traditionalist ideals, some out-of-this-world thoughts could be worth trying.

Around the world, teachers are constantly searching for ways to innovate in order to keep the students engaged.  Although a lot of these cool and creative practices have been circulating on the internet, there are still some that haven’t got through the mainstream.

Generally, the craziest ideas that have turned around schools are those that have something to do with the existing technology.  Education has continuously been embracing technology and all its promises.

Nowadays, there is always an app or a software for any classroom activity.  For example, Kahoot makes educational games more creative and competitive.  Edmodo allows connectivity and productivity.  Whereas, Padlet makes collaborative discussions more interesting and surprising due to anonymity.

However, crazy classroom ideas are not just all about maximizing technology.   Craziness could be something beyond extraordinary, non-traditional, or even provocative.

Crazy classroom of games

What if we dedicate 80% of classroom time to playing games?

Some pedagogical traditionalists would say that there needs to be a balance between student talk time and teacher talk time. On the other hand, progressivists may argue for longer student talk time.

By following this progressivist thinking, why not replace the talk time with game time?

Games help develop multiple learning skills depending on its focus and approach. A clear example of this is how PE teachers help students learn a particular sport.  They spend more time in the gym than in the classroom to learn to play basketball.  Thus, they acquire the skills by playing the sport most of the time.

Can we apply this in other classes? Yes, of course.

For an instance, students may play with word games or board games like Scrabble or Taboo, which takes at least 30 minutes, to improve vocabulary.  Classroom competitive math quiz games can replace the usual classroom drills.

However, traditionalists will always say ‘nay’ to this idea, for they are still in the mindset of having more teacher talk time as an effective way fo teaching.

The power of choice

Most of the time, or even all the time, teachers decide what to teach.  If not the teachers, the principals or districts do so.

Who are the ones learning? Is it the teachers or students? Then, why not let the students decide what they want to learn?

Certainly, in a natural world, human beings thrive when they live according to their free will.  Likewise, if schools help the students in developing capabilities to exercise their free will, things might change.

Progressivist countries like Finland have already started giving the kids more liberty by converting strict study time to play time.  In addition, some private schools in the US and Germany try a new concept of allowing students to choose their subjects.

On the contrary, the world is still under the mercy of exams. Standardized exams chain students and systems.

Instead of allowing the freedom of choice, school systems teach what board exams want.

Naturally, human beings do well when doing things according to their choice.  We enjoy the food we like to eat.  Teachers perform well in their field of expertise. Students study for their favorite subject.

Why can’t students study what they want?

Don’t teach at all!

Here’s the craziest idea of them all. Just don’t teach.

The iPad can make kids hooked for ages. YouTube has all the lectures. Google knows more than even the best teacher you have.

Students do not need teachers.  They need life coaches.

With all these, teachers should step up and do more than regurgitating what students can find online.  Moreover, teachers should stop acting like iPads and harbor technology as a go-to when it comes to taming students.

Teachers must strive to be LIFE COACHES.  As a life coach, an English teacher won’t just talk about Shakespeare, but about the value of love.  A maths teacher will never scare any student in Algebra with all the big numbers but use arithmetics in earning money selling lemonade.

As a final thought, these crazy classroom ideas still don’t go beyond the boundaries of insanity.  We don’t expect the teachers to teach naked or students to go berserk.  Sometimes, we just need craziness to change an old system.

Receiving feedback to improve teaching and learning

Receiving feedback from students is one of the most effective and genuine ways for teachers to improve their practices.

As teachers, it should always be a personal mantra to never settle for what’s good but to continuously improve one’s craft.  In doing so, setting up an effective and efficient evaluation system could pave the way to improve teaching and learning.

receiving feedback from students

Receiving feedback from students

Students’ feedback serves as a valuable tool.   Due to the fact that they are the ones who are at the receiving end, students experience the full process of teaching and learning in every single session.

Thus, it’s always about looking at feedback constructively and filtering comments from students to maximize the best learning practices suitable for the students.

For an instance, if students feel that a writing activity gets tedious, a teacher may modify a writing reflection task.  In effect, instead of writing a 500-word essay individually, they just may write it collaboratively or in just 350 words.

Of course, good feedback is worth keeping and improving. Knowing what the students prefer would enable teachers to develop plans in such a way that it could hit the students’ interests and preferences.

Likewise, by knowing what they don’t like, teachers could modify the activity next time and compromise with them so that they could still develop certain skills without straining them that much.

Feedback instruments for students

Student evaluation may come in oral or written. Teachers may gather information from written reflection and some oral or casual comments from students.

For example,  value-guided reflection writing may be one form of acquiring feedback. In this exercise, students get to write a short, standard essay of at least 150 words to express what they learned and how to improve their learning experience.

In addition to reflection activities,  teachers could ask students to do the following:

  1. Think Logs. These are just short reflections and points for reflection students should write in a notebook.
  2. Exit Posts. On a board near the door, teachers may ask students to post whatever they think about the session before they leave the room. A simple code scheme like smileys or ticks could determine how they liked the class. If a student puts a sad face, the teacher may have to ask the student how to help him/her.
  3. Mind map/interactive reflections. Reflections may come in different forms like mind maps, video, PowerPoint, blogs, audio recording or even a sketch.

Other than that, teachers could also conduct formal self-evaluations and interviews to gauge student feedback. Students may fill in an evaluation sheet at the end of a particular unit. Perhaps, teachers could have a more holistic perspective on the students’ learning and perspectives from this exercise.