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.

Assessments: Is it just about evaluating students?

Assessments have always been a part of the school system.  Well, some might say that this is just a rebranding of examination.  However, it is more than that.

Since we follow a system in which every unit is assessed with a summative task, it is just proper to plan relevant assessment methods.  Relatively, this could help students develop skills necessary to meet the objectives of the unit through the assessment task.

Needless to say, it is important to have clear goals to measure one’s success.  By looking at these learning objectives, a teacher could be sure that relevant tasks measure students’ knowledge and skills.

Planning assessments

To be more specific, here are some guiding questions a lot of teachers consider in choosing and planning formative assessment methods for their students:

Does this reflect students’ understanding of the content and the concept?  Will my students find it interesting? Does this meet the set objectives of the unit? Are my directions easy to follow considering the level of my students? Does this contribute to the development of knowledge and skills necessary for the summative assessment?

With these questions in mind and with the thought of the capabilities of students, the next step is to draft an assessment plan suitable to students’ needs.

Post-assessment

In order to support the learners’ progress, this assessment has to be continuously and consistently monitored.

For example, in a language class, teachers usually follow the writing process. Through this writing process,  students get to plan their work then draft their essays.

After that, teachers may ask students to engage in peer and teacher evaluation prior to submission of their final work. This process enables teachers to gauge whether the students are developing skills essential to the completion of the task.

Since this is a formative task, teachers ought to give opportunities for our students to learn from their work through an effective exchange of feedback in the form of comments, written or oral, and the use of rubrics.

Both teachers and students should look at assessments as learning tools instead of merely tools for evaluation. It is through this perspective that real learning takes place–learning that goes beyond marks and letter grades.

Differentiating lessons and catering to individual learner needs

A major aspect of differentiating the process is by using different materials and resources.  As a result, this must suit the need of the learners and the demands of the activity.

Though it may sound like a spectacle of sorts,  the quality of teaching is proportionally affected by the quality of learning materials and resources we use in class.

Differentiating content

In gauging the quality of teaching materials and resources,  we have to ask these questions:

  1. Are these resources and materials relevant to my lesson and my activity?
  2. Are these resources and materials appropriate for my students—their needs and their preferences?
  3. Will these resources and materials help my students in achieving their learning objectives?

However, the questioning does not stop there. The quality of these resources and materials had to be tested in the classroom.

For example, let’s take a look at one lesson in exploring the concept of IDENTITY through the movie, Divergent.

First, in introducing the concept of ‘Identity’,  the teacher may use the latest movie (Divergent, a movie adapted from a novel) students could relate with.

Assuming that a lot of students were able to watch this movie and read the book, they may easily able to grasp the concept.

On the other hand, some students may not be familiar with the book or the movie. So we may use slides (PowerPoint) to show the different factions and let some students share what they know about the movie and the book.

Through this harmonious use of resources and materials, students get a clear picture of the concept that leads to a meaningful and productive learning experience.

Differentiating the process

Various classroom activities lead to a higher level of learning outcome and holistic engagement (Marzano and Brown 157).

Again, this is anchored on the principles of differentiation.  Perhaps, we may plan teaching sessions in such a way that we divide the entire 80 minutes  into different segments of various relevant activities.  Thus, this leads to the realization of the learning objectives.

There is a need to put emphasis on the ‘Tuning In’ or motivation stage of the lesson. The first 15 minutes of the lesson is crucial in catching and keeping learners’ interest throughout the lesson.

By using social interactive strategies,teachers could catch the students’ attention. For example, teachers may refer to the latest  in popular culture.  More importantly, it’s always good to provide opportunities for students to talk about themselves.

As for maintaining their interest and making them stay on task, inconsequential competition could make the students more engaged.

During collaborative activities, students could work on differentiated tasks that follow the Multiple Intelligence theory.  As such, teachers may use a variety of question structures to make the students talk about their work.

Of course, stating the learning objectives at the start of the class and by reminding the students of their goals for the day help in managing the class.

By differentiating lessons, studentsMore importantly, teachers work specially on individual needs of the learners. won’t stray away from accomplishing their learning objectives. More importantly, teachers work specially on individual needs of the learners.

Engaging learners through curiosity and creativity

How do we keep learners engaged?  Getting engaged could lead to positive learning outcomes. However, achieving this is also a huge challenge for any educator.

Engagement is a major factor in pushing the students.  Perhaps to reach their full potentials, teachers need to make sure that students are holistically into what they are doing. (Marzano and Brown 157)

learners and creativity

Learners’ motivation 

Motivation is a powerful tool when dealing with any kind of learner. In effect, the power of knowing one’s students becomes effective in planning and carrying out activities.

The first five minutes 

The first minutes of the class play a crucial part in the learning cycle. Hence, teachers always need to make sure to open the class with a motivational activity.  Moreover, this should vary every now and then.

There is a need to spend a great deal of time thinking of a creative way to start the class.  After laying down the goals and outcome for the day, fun activities should jumpstart the lesson.

For example, this could be in the form of a game, a rhetorical question, a short clip, a song, an anecdote, etc.

These activities should be in the first 15 minutes of the session.  In effect, these lead to students getting hooked to class and wanting to learn more in the remaining time of the session.

Keeping learners productive 

One student quipped, “In English class, we’re always busy and time passes by so fast.”

Highly engaged students usually give positive feedback on their learning.  Furthermore,  students immersed in their work will always remember their lessons even after years pass by.  When asked about their work completed years back, productive students could easily relay what they did years ago.

learners in action

The value of creativity 

It is always good to know that students enjoy what they’re doing. It’s part of our basic human instincts that we do things best when we enjoy it.

Creativity is a key, and it is personal. Thus, in fostering learners’ creativity, it is a must that we know what our students want.

It is good to give them structure sometimes, but differentiating tasks make it more meaningful and personal to them.

For example, we could have just asked our students to do a research and write a journal, but that won’t foster creativity. As such, we’d rather give them options as to how they could show their research: by drawing, making a mind map, a PowerPoint, or short notes.

When learners are given the option based on their preferences, we allow them to explore their strengths. Eventually, this opens up doors to a collaborative environment and a better learning atmosphere banking on strengths.

Reference:

Marzano, Robert and Brown, John. A Handbook for the Art and Science of Teaching. US: ASCD, 2009. Print.