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Los grandes profesores siempre han entendido que su verdadero papel
no es enseñar asignaturas, sino instruir a los alumnos. La tutela y el
entrenamiento son el pulso vital de un sistema educativo vivo.
Cuenta Ian Gilbert que cuando en las investigaciones se les pregunta a los niños qué esperan de un buen profesor, aparecen de forma predominante en las respuestas el sentido del humor y la coherencia. Para justificar la importancia de generar diferentes emociones positivas en el aula para motivar y facilitar el aprendizaje del alumnado, el propio autor comenta: “el suspense, la intriga, la curiosidad, la novedad, la sorpresa, el sobrecogimiento, la pasión, la compasión, la empatía, conseguir objetivos, el descubrimiento, la competición, la superación de obstáculos, los logros, la sensación de avanzar … todo esto desempeña un papel fundamental para abrir el cerebro del aprendizaje” (Gilbert, 2005). En definitiva, seguimos hablando de la importancia decisiva que tienen las emociones en la educación y de la necesidad imperiosa de conciliar el conocimiento con el entretenimiento, o lo que es lo mismo, de armonizar el cerebro racional con el emocional.
En un experimento muy famoso, los investigadores mostraron cortometrajes de profesores a alumnos para que éstos evaluaran a aquellos únicamente a través de las imágenes observadas. A los pocos segundos de ver al profesor, estos alumnos lo valoraban de forma parecida a otros que ya habían estado un semestre en clase con él (Ambady y Rosenthal, 1993). A parte de demostrar este estudio la capacidad del alumno para detectar con rapidez qué profesor puede ser beneficioso para acompañar su proceso de desarrollo y aprendizaje, revela la importancia de la comunicación no verbal en las relaciones en el aula y, en definitiva, del ingrediente emocional. El buen profesor muestra expectativas positivas a sus alumnos y éstos son capaces de captarlas obteniendo mejoras académicas (efecto Pigmalión positivo).
¿Qué piensan los alumnos?
Quisimos plantear la cuestión que da título al presente artículo a un grupo de 39 alumnos de primero de bachillerato (etapa preuniversitaria en España). Para no condicionar las contestaciones, no se les facilitó ningún tipo de respuesta orientativa, aunque se les pidió que dieran tres, como máximo, que ellos creyeran que caracterizan a un buen profesor. Las respuestas fueron las siguientes:
Como observamos en el gráfico, los alumnos creen que la competencia profesional del profesor no se restringe a las cuestiones meramente académicas (conoce su materia) sino que, aun siendo importantes, han de ser complementadas por otras relacionadas con aspectos socioemocionales, entre los que destacan la necesidad de mantener una relación empática (se preocupa por el alumno), entender las problemáticas del adolescente actual tanto a nivel personal como académico (es comprensivo), u otros relacionados con el propio carácter (muestra entusiasmo o es simpático).
Lo cierto es que el profesor no puede estar margen de la opinión de sus alumnos y no puede plantear los procesos de enseñanza y aprendizaje sin tener en cuenta sus particularidades o no ser sensible a la diversidad.
El buen profesor desde la neuroeducación
Conoce su materia y reflexiona sobre ella
El buen profesor conoce bien la materia que imparte y es capaz de reflexionar sobre qué es lo importante saber en esa disciplina (Bain, 2007). Ello le permite organizar las clases de forma adecuada optimizando la atención del alumno que sabemos sigue procesos cíclicos.
El buen profesor es inspirador y transmite entusiasmo por lo que hace, fomentando un aprendizaje significativo. Es capaz de generar un contagio emocional en el aula que facilita un aprendizaje por imitación adecuado a través de la activación del sustrato cerebral que nos mantiene conectados, las neuronas espejo.
Uno de los grandes objetivos de la educación debe ser el de fomentar la autonomía del alumno haciéndole participar en el proceso. A través de su motivación intrínseca, el alumno ha de responsabilizarse de su aprendizaje (Gerver, 2011). Y para que se dé esto, en el proceso inicial, la neurociencia ha desvelado la importancia de despertar la curiosidad (el lóbulo frontal se activa más ante una tarea novedosa) para así, mediante el estímulo emocional adecuado, facilitarse la atención necesaria para el aprendizaje (Mora, 2013).
Propone retos adecuados
El buen profesor descubre y estimula las fortalezas de sus alumnos, siendo capaz de proponer retos adecuados. Para ello es imprescindible tener en cuenta los conocimientos previos del alumno y ahí desempeña un papel importante la memoria. Cada nueva idea debe construirse sobre lo que ya se conoce, fomentándose así la comprensión a través de ejemplos reales y sus correspondientes comparaciones (Willingham, 2011).
Fomenta la creatividad
Pero sólo con la memoria no es suficiente. Ante un futuro incierto, es fundamental enseñar estrategias que permitan un pensamiento creativo, crítico y flexible. El buen profesor sabe ceder el protagonismo al alumno suscitando procesos de investigación a través de las preguntas adecuadas y aceptando diferentes formas de resolver los problemas.
Acepta el error
El error forma parte del proceso de aprendizaje y ha de ser aceptado de forma natural. El cerebro, que tiende a justificar las creencias previas (disonancia cognitiva) requiere del error para progresar; la equivocación nos permite acercarnos al éxito de una idea (Forés y Ligioiz, 2009). La propia plasticidad cerebral conlleva el proceso de aprendizaje continuo.
El buen profesor disfruta de su profesión, se responsabiliza de la misma y asume su enorme trascendencia, reflexiona sobre las prácticas educativas partiendo de la base de que el aprendizaje es un proceso complejo, se adentra en el futuro a través de una formación continua y comparte. Como dijo Manfred Spitzer, el profesor es el instrumento didáctico más importante (Spitzer, 2005).
Y sobre todo, mira con afecto a sus alumnos
El alumno necesita ser reconocido. Para ello, es fundamental elogiarlo por su esfuerzo y no por sus capacidades, activándose así el sistema de recompensa cerebral asociado a la dopamina. El buen profesor interactúa de forma adecuada con el alumno, es accesible y agradable. Y sabe que la educación restringida a la transmisión de conocimientos académicos es insuficiente, es decir, que es imprescindible una educación socioemocional que forme personas íntegras capaces de generar un futuro mejor.
En el proceso de mejora de las prácticas educativas entendemos que es esencial tener en cuenta la opinión de los alumnos. En cuanto al papel que desempeña el profesor, lo que lo alumnos nos responden está en consonancia con lo que sabíamos, esto es, que el profesor que dejó huella en nosotros fue por cuestiones emocionales. Ese buen profesor seguramente era exigente, pero tenía grandes expectativas sobre sus alumnos y eso posibilitó la necesaria motivación.
En los tiempos actuales en los que nos planteamos una transformación en la profesión docente y un cambio de paradigma en la educación, resulta imprescindible tanto para el profesor como para el alumno conocer cómo funciona el cerebro humano. La excelencia educativa pasa por concretar las finalidades del aprendizaje, que por supuesto ha der significativo, y disponer de los conocimientos científicos que nos suministra la neuroeducación sobre cómo aprendemos. Y en este camino hacia la mejora de la práctica educativa, el rol que desempeña el nuevo y renovado profesor es fundamental. Ken Robinson lo resume muy bien (Robinson, 2011): “Los verdaderos desafíos a los que se enfrenta la educación sólo se solucionarán confiriendo el poder a los profesores creativos y entusiastas y estimulando la imaginación y la motivación de los alumnos”.
Jesús C. Guillén
1. Ambady, N. & Rosenthal, R. (1993): “Half a minute: Predicting teacher evaluations from thin slices of nonverbal behavior and physical attractiveness”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64.
2. Bain, Ken (2007). Lo que hacen los mejores profesores universitarios. Universitat de Valencia. Sevei de Publicacions.
3. Forés, Anna, Ligioiz, Marta (2009). Descubrir la neurodidáctica. UOC.
4. Gerver, Richard (2012). Crear hoy la escuela del mañana. Ediciones SM.
5. Gilbert, Ian (2005). Motivar para aprender en el aula. Las siete claves de la motivación escolar. Paidós.
6. Mora, Francisco (2013). Neuroeducación: sólo se puede aprender aquello que se ama. Alianza Editorial.
7. Robinson, Ken (2011). El elemento: descubrir tu pasión lo cambia todo. Grijalbo.
8. Spitzer, Manfred (2005). Aprendizaje: neurociencia y la escuela de la vida. Omega.
9. Willingham, Daniel (2011). ¿Por qué a los niños no les gusta ir a la escuela? Graó.
What makes a good teacher in the eyes of students? It is those teachers that involve their students and engage with them, allowing students to take control over their own learning. It is those teachers that trust us (believe it or not, kids won’t set the school on fire if they are allowed out of their seat). It is those teachers that genuinely want to help us.
We all know why most students want to achieve their potential: to make their parents and themselves proud. However, as a student, when you are taught by a teacher that you believe actually wants the best for you, you begin to work for the teacher. I hold that as a massive factor on whether students pass or fail.
If students cherish your schooling, there will be no paper aeroplanes strewn around or graffiti on the desks. Students these days have a flip switch. We turn our engagement on or off. What makes us listen and offer opinions and insights to be listened to? What does real teaching look like in the classroom? Here are six things that I think would make a difference.
Recent technological advances have affected many areas of our lives: the way we communicate, collaborate, learn, and, of course, teach. Along with that, those advances necessitated an expansion of our vocabulary, producing definitions such as digital natives, digital immigrants, and, the topic of this post -- "21st-century teacher."
As I am writing this post, I am trying to recall if I ever had heard phrases such as "20th-century teacher" or "19th-century teacher." Quick Google search reassures me that there is no such word combination. Changing the "20th" to "21st" brings different results: a 21st-century school, 21st-century education, 21st-century teacher, 21st-century skills -- all there! I then searched for Twitter hashtags and Amazon books, and the results were just the same; nothing for the "20th-century teacher" while a lot for the "21st": #teacher21, #21stcenturyskills, #21stCTeaching and no books with titles #containing "20th century" while quite a few on the 21st-century teaching and learning.
Obviously, teaching in the 21-century is an altogether different phenomenon; never before could learning be happening the way it is now -- everywhere, all the time, on any possible topic, supporting any possible learning style or preference. But what does being a 21st-century teacher really mean?
Below are 15 characteristics of a 21st-century teacher:
1. Learner-Centered Classroom and Personalized Instructions
As students have access to any information possible, there certainly is no need to "spoon-feed" the knowledge or teach "one-size fits all" content. As students have different personalities, goals, and needs, offering personalized instructions is not just possible but also desirable. When students are allowed to make their own choices, they own their learning, increase intrinsic motivation, and put in more effort -- an ideal recipe for better learning outcomes!
2. Students as Producers
Today's students have the latest and greatest tools, yet, the usage in many cases barely goes beyond communicating with family and friends via chat, text, or calls. Even though students are now viewed as digital natives, many are far from producing any digital content. While they do own expensive devices with capabilities to produce blogs, infographics, books, how-to videos, and tutorials, just to name a few, in many classes, they are still asked to turn those devices off and work with handouts and worksheets. Sadly, often times these papers are simply thrown away once graded. Many students don't even want to do them, let alone keep or return them later. When given a chance, students can produce beautiful and creative blogs, movies, or digital stories that they feel proud of and share with others.
3. Learn New Technologies
In order to be able to offer students choices, having one's own hands-on experience and expertise will be useful. Since technology keeps developing, learning a tool once and for all is not a option. The good news is that new technologies are new for the novice and and experienced teachers alike, so everyone can jump in at any time! I used a short-term subscription to www.lynda.com, which has many resources for learning new technologies.
4. Go Global
Today's tools make it possible to learn about other countries and people first hand. Of course, textbooks are still sufficient, yet, there is nothing like learning languages, cultures, and communication skills from actually talking to people from other parts of the world.
It's a shame that with all the tools available, we still learn about other cultures, people, and events from the media. Teaching students how to use the tools in their hands to "visit" any corner of this planet will hopefully make us more knowledgable and sympathetic.
5. Be Smart and Use Smart Phones
Once again -- when students are encouraged to view their devices as valuable tools that support knowledge (rather than distractions), they start using them as such. I remember my first years of teaching when I would not allow cell phones in class and I'd try to explain every new vocabulary word or answer any question myself -- something I would not even think of doing today!
I have learned that different students have different needs when it comes to help with new vocabulary or questions; therefore, there is no need to waste time and explain something that perhaps only one or two students would benefit from. Instead, teaching students to be independent and know how to find answers they need makes the class a different environment!
I have seen positive changes ever since I started viewing students' devices as useful aid. In fact, sometimes I even respond by saying "I don't know -- use Google and tell us all!" What a difference in their reactions and outcomes!
I have written on the importance of both student and teacher blogging. Even my beginners of English could see the value of writing for real audience and establishing their digital presence. To blog or not to blog should not be a question any more!
7. Go Digital
Another important attribute is to go paperless -- organizing teaching resources and activities on one's own website and integrating technology bring students learning experience to a different level. Sharing links and offering digital discussions as opposed to a constant paper flow allows students to access and share class resources in a more organized fashion.
Technology allows collaboration between teachers & students. Creating digital resources, presentations, and projects together with other educators and students will make classroom activities resemble the real world. Collaboration should go beyond sharing documents via e-mail or creating PowerPoint presentations. Many great ideas never go beyond a conversation or paper copy, which is a great loss! Collaboration globally can change our entire experience!
9. Use Twitter Chat
Participating in Twitter chat is the cheapest and most efficient way to organize one's own PD, share research and ideas, and stay current with issues and updates in the field. We can grow professionally and expand our knowledge as there is a great conversation happening every day, and going to conferences is no longer the only way to meet others and build professional learning networks.
Connect with like-minded individuals. Again, today's tools allow us to connect anyone, anywhere, anytime. Have a question for an expert or colleague? Simply connect via social media: follow, join, ask, or tell!
11. Project-Based Learning
As today's students have an access to authentic resources on the web, experts anywhere in the world, and peers learning the same subject somewhere else, teaching with textbooks is very "20th-century" (when the previously listed option were not available). Today's students should develop their own driving questions, conduct their research, contact experts, and create final projects to share all using devices already in their hands. All they need from their teacher is guidance!
12. Build Your Positive Digital Footprint
It might sound obvious, but it is for today's teachers to model how to appropriately use social media, how to produce and publish valuable content, and how to create sharable resources. Even though it's true that teachers are people, and they want to use social media and post their pictures and thoughts, we cannot ask our students not to do inappropriate things online if we ourselves do it. Maintaining professional behavior both in class and online will help build positive digital footprint and model appropriate actions for students.
While this one might sound complicated, coding is nothing but today's literacy. As a pencil or pen were "the tools" of the 20th-century, making it impossible to picture a teacher not capable to operate with it, today's teacher must be able to operate with today's pen and pencil, i.e., computers. Coding is very interesting to learn -- the feeling of writing a page with HTML is amazing! Even though I have ways to go, just like in every other field, a step at a time can take go a long way. Again, lynda.com is a great resource to start with!
I invite you to expand your teaching toolbox and try new ways you have not tried before, such as teaching with social media or replacing textbooks with web resources. Not for the sake of tools but for the sake of students!
Ever since I started using TED talks and my own activities based on those videos, my students have been giving a very different feedback. They love it! They love using Facebook for class discussions and announcements. They appreciate novelty -- not the new tools, but the new, more productive and interesting ways of using them.
15. Keep Learning
As new ways and new technology keep emerging, learning and adapting is essential. The good news is: it's fun, and even 20 min a day will take you a long way!
As always, please share your vision in the comment area! Happy 21st-century teaching!
This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.
by Terry Heick
As teachers, we’re all trying to better understand how people learn–not now they’re taught in terms of teaching strategies, but more so learning strategies–only not really strategies. Learning actions, or cognitive actions. Strategies for learning.
Self-directed and social learning will undoubtedly be at the core of any sort of future learning–both near and far future. But to improve learning in both self-directed and teacher-centered learning environments, it can be illuminating to look past the activities, projects, and courses to try to see what sort of brain-level actions learners are performing. Like push-ups, wind sprints, and weight training are physical actions that help train an athlete’s body, what kind of cognitive actions train a learner’s mind?
Bloom’s taxonomy–especially the annotated “Bloom’s Wheel”–helpfully offers power verbs that drive the planning of learning activities, but I wanted to be even more specific. The goal here is to create a self-directed learning model that supports 21st century learners in finding, analyzing, improving, repackaging and sharing data in pursuit of self-knowledge. But pushed further, what are those specific strategies that work universally?
Using “Universal Strategies”
So how can this help you as an educator? Use them as thinking prompts or discussion cues. Consider them as starting points for project-based learning. Have students use them as “empty shells” to fill with self-selected learning topics to create learning paths of their own. Use them for Genius Hour.
The big idea is that these kinds of “brain actions” are not only the kinds of tasks you can use to create assignments, but more importantly are the kinds of acts that promote inquiry-based understanding. So rather than start with a topic–fractions, metaphors, or racism–you can simply insist on the cognitive action itself. Learners can choose topics of their own, or you can offer a range of topics.
An example? Learners are given this list, and ask to provide a topic they’re curious about. They choose an “action” that makes sense of their self-selected topic, then asked to come up with an assignment, project, or simply activity that is authentic. If they have trouble, offer them three choices that align with your curriculum or given academic standards. A Social Studies teacher might offer push-pull factors, industrialism, and factors in social change. For social change, 2, 4, 11, and 16 all make perfect sense.
Individually, in small groups, or in a dialogue with you, students begin to create their own assignments, and you transition from task-master to learning facilitator. In and of themselves, they’re not “ready-made” assignments, but they’re not supposed to be. They’re meant not to build content capacity, but learning capacity. Ideally they’d be part of a larger self-directed learning model–a simplified version of which I’m working on as well.
30 Universal Strategies For Learning
30 Universal Strategies For Learning; image attribution pixabay; this post has been updated from a 2013 post
Founder and Director at TeachThought, author, and former classroom teacher interested in how and why people learn.
10 Indicators Of Efficient Teaching
by TeachThought Staff
Notice that we didn’t use the more vague “good teacher” phrasing.
That’s an important distinction, because here we’re talking about something a bit more clinical. Not entirely scientific and analytical and icky, but not entirely rhetorical and abstract and mushy either. Something somewhere in the middle–human, efficient, and hopefully happy and sustainable as a result.
10 Indicators Of Efficient Teaching
1. You make frequent minor adjustments.
To curriculum, pacing, assessment design, curriculum materials, etc. This implies not a lack of planning or poor foresight, but the reality of a dynamic classroom where you, as an effective teacher, are constantly taking formal and information measurements, then making minor adjustments as necessary.
2. You have access to “good” data.
Fresh data. Data accessible in 30 seconds or less. Data that is visualized, easily skimmed, but also useful enough to study closely and extract takeaways. Data that is a product of timely well-designed assessments. (See below.)
3. You don’t teach, you design.
You know the pros and cons of project-based learning, scenario-based learning, learning simulations, and the like. You know the skills are perishable, transfer matters, and that assessment design can make or break everything. While others spend their lunch breaks swilling Diet Coke and counting down days until the weekend, you sketch out scope-and-sequences for fun.
Speaking of instructional design, the design of experiences that promote understanding of the most important content is a huge part of what an effective teachers do. You resist the temptation to simply implement passed-down initiatives and staid curriculum maps that are (probably) bunk. Instead, your mind can swing back and forth—even if not equally well—between the macro and micro.
Which is what design is about.
4. You plan backwards.
What you plan backwards from is up to you, but you start with a goal in mind—a standard, habit, assessment, indicator, or some other goal. How objective or subjective you are is up to you, but to begin with the end in mind is a habit of an effective teacher.
5. You don’t do what you’re told.
Because the best teachers never do.
6. You’re a learning feedback machine.
You know what useful feedback looks and sounds like. And feels like for the student. Most of your assessments are brief but insightful snapshots of what students understand. This makes it easy to give immediate feedback—often during the same class. You use technology (e.g., like Kaizena) to give in-depth feedback on writing without costing you your weekend. You design collaboration so that students can usefully provide one another feedback when you can’t—using sentence stems that scaffold the task for them, for example.
In short, you give students–or arrange for them to receive in some other way–consistent feedback that they can understand and use.
7. You prioritize endlessly.
Most important standards, most efficient data collection tools, most accurate assessment designs, most reliable apps, more flexible planning templates, etc. It’s impossible to do it all, so you instinctively start with what’s most important.
8. You change your mind.
Nothing you do is perfect. This implies the need for change. Students change as you teach them. This implies the need for change. You change—get better at some things, learn to prioritize, and also forget good practices along the way because you’re human. Your content area is alive with discoveries, trends, and progressions even if your “standards” only change every decade or so. Technology changes, curriculum changes, communities change.
This all implies the need for constant change.
9. You see each student individually.
It’s been said that Ted Williams could see the stitches on the baseball as it rotated towards the plate at 90 MPH. Where novice hitters see a ball, Ted Williams saw a cover separated by dozens of stitches. Novice, ineffective teachers see a classroom. Or even rows. You see students.
And then you see them not as “students,” but as human beings. Not shades of proficiency, or “Novices” to move to “Apprentice.” And you see them individually—each student, what that student needs, and what resources can help them the most. Even if you can’t always make it happen every day for every student, you see it—which requires you see them individually.
10. Your students are changing–all of them.
They’re taking ownership. Growing across assessment forms. Asking better questions more persistently. Challenging plans. Demonstrating curiosity outside of a given curriculum. Seem to be having fun, either with the content or their own performance. This can be vague–what does it mean that students “are changing?” Is change enough? Changing how? With what pace? This depends on your grade level, content area, and where the students started, and so can’t be standardized.
And smarter teaching produces learning experiences that change all learners, not just those that would’ve grown with you–that may even be growing in lieu of your teaching, which can be a rough pill to swallow. Murky as it may be, as far as smarter teaching goes, it all ends here, with the students and their growth as people.
Which makes it the best way to know if your teaching is actually smart–when it results in smart learning for all students.
10 Indicators Of Efficient Teaching; image attribution flickr user jirkamatusek
Editor's Note: This piece was adapted from Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and Beyond by Larry Ferlazzo, available March 21, 2015 from Routledge.
My previous post reviewed research on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and described the four qualities that have been identified as critical to helping students motivate themselves: autonomy, competence, relatedness, and relevance.
In this post, I'll discuss practical classroom strategies to reinforce each of these four qualities.
Providing students with freedom of choice is one strategy for promoting learner autonomy. Educators commonly view this idea of choice through the lens of organizational and procedural choice. Organizational choice, for example, might mean students having a voice in seating assignments or members of their small learning groups. Procedural choice could include a choice from a list of homework assignments and what form a final project might take -- a book, poster, or skit.
Some researchers, however, believe that a third option, cognitive choice, is a more effective way to promote longer-lasting student autonomy. This kind of cognitive autonomy support, which is also related to the idea of ensuring relevance, could include:
Feedback, done well, is ranked by education researcher John Hattie as number 10 out of 150 influences on student achievement.
As Carol Dweck has found, praising intelligence makes people less willing to risk "their newly-minted genius status," while praising effort encourages the idea that we primarily learn through our hard work: "Ben, it's impressive that you wrote two drafts of that essay instead of one, and had your friend review it, too. How do you feel it turned out, and what made you want to put the extra work into it?"
But how do you handle providing critical feedback to students when it's necessary? Since extensive research shows that a ratio of positive-to-negative feedback of between 3-1 and 5-1 is necessary for healthy learning to occur, teachers might consider a strategy called plussing that is used by Pixar animation studios with great success. The New York Times interviewed author Peter Sims about the concept:
The point, he said, is to "build and improve on ideas without using judgmental language." . . . An animator working on Toy Story 3 shares her rough sketches and ideas with the director. "Instead of criticizing the sketch or saying 'no,' the director will build on the starting point by saying something like, 'I like Woody's eyes, and what if his eyes rolled left?" Using words like "and" or "what if" rather than "but" is a way to offer suggestions and allow creative juices to flow without fear, Mr. Sims said.
"And" and "what if" could easily become often-used words in an educator's vocabulary!
A high-quality relationship with a teacher whom they respect is a key element of helping students develop intrinsic motivation. What are some actions that teachers can take to strengthen these relationships?
Here are four simple suggestions adapted from Robert Marzano's ideas:
Learn their interests, hopes, and dreams. Ask them about what is happening in their lives. In other words, lead with your ears and not your mouth. Don't, however, just make it a one-way street -- share some of your own stories, too.
Smile, joke, and sometimes make a light, supportive touch on a student's shoulder.
One of my students had never written an essay in his school career. He was intent on maintaining that record during an assignment of writing a persuasive essay about what students thought was the worst natural disaster. Because I knew two of his passions were football and video games, I told him that as long as he used the writing techniques we'd studied, he could write an essay on why his favorite football team was better than its rival or on why he particularly liked one video game. He ended up writing an essay on both topics.
Be positive (as much as humanly possible) and encourage a growth mindset.
Have students write about how they see what they are learning as relevant to their lives. Researchers had students write one paragraph after a lesson sharing how they thought what they had learned would be useful to their lives. Writing 1-8 of these during a semester led to positive learning gains, especially for those students who had previously been "low performers."
It is not uncommon for teachers to explicitly make those kinds of real-life connections. However, research has also found that this kind of teacher-centered approach can actually be de-motivating to some students with low skills. A student who is having a very difficult time understanding math or does just not find it interesting, for example, can feel threatened by hearing regularly from a teacher how important math is to his or her future. Instead of becoming more engaged in class, he or she may experience more negative feelings. These same researchers write:
[A] more effective approach would be to encourage students to generate their own connections and discover for themselves the relevance of course material to their lives. This method gives students the opportunity to make connections to topics and areas of greatest interest to their lives.
What other strategies do you use in the classroom to reinforce any of these four critical elements of intrinsic motivation?
June 27th, 2012
I’ve been doing some presentations on classroom interaction and thinking yet again about how we could do better with our questions — the ones we ask in class or online. Good questions make students think, they encourage participation and I think they improve the caliber of the answers students give and the questions they ask. To achieve those worthwhile outcomes more regularly, I’d like to recommend three actions that have the potential to improve our questioning.
1. Prepare Questions – For most of my teaching career, I never planned the questions I would ask. I spent lots of time preparing the content; making sure it was current, getting it organized, finding examples, working through explanations, relating what I shared in class to content in the book, but I never prepared questions. I just asked whatever came to me at the moment. Not surprisingly, I asked a mixed bag of questions—some stimulating and provocative; some mundane and not especially clear. When a question was unclear (I could tell—nobody answered and lots of people looked confused), I rephrased it and in the process I usually ended up asking a different question, which only increased the confusion.
It was an article by Bill Welty (it’s a classic piece on discussion that I still reference regularly) that motivated me to try going to class with some prepared questions and it made a world of difference. When you write out a question, you can make it clearer … not just the wording, but clearer conceptually. Is it the question that needs to be asked? When is the best time to ask it? I can list more reasons why preparing questions is such a good idea, but I think if you try it, you’ll be persuaded.
2. Play with Questions – Sometimes we forget when questions are most powerful, when they best engage students, and when they are at their thought-provoking best. It’s in that space between the question and the answer. As soon as the question is answered, it loses most of its power to engage students. Yes, some students continue to think, especially if the question is intriguing, but given students’ propensity for answers, once they hear one and the teacher says it’s correct, most of them stop thinking about the question.
Playing with the question means leaving it unanswered for a while and using some strategies that encourage students to think about it. The question might appear on a PowerPoint slide or written on the board. Students might be encouraged to write the question in their notes. They might be given a bit of time to write some ideas or discuss potential responses with another student. The teacher could collect several different answers, discussing their various merits and detriments before designating a right one. Maybe the question appears at the beginning of the period but isn’t answered until the session is almost over. Maybe an answered question returns on a subsequent day when more information and greater understanding enables a better answer.
3. Preserve Good Questions – Good questions can be kept. They can be asked in a subsequent class, perhaps revised or refocused so that they accomplish the good question goals even more effectively. Sometimes I jotted a few notes about the answers students offered and discovered that simple act helped me revise the question and content surrounding it.
Occasionally a student asks a really good question and there are reasons to save those as well. When you solicit questions and there aren’t any, but you think there should be, you might be able to start the process this way, “While you are thinking of questions, let me share one a student in a previous class asked about this.” The teacher I first saw doing this also oohed and ahhed a bit about the question and using student questions this way demonstrated how he remembered and valued what students ask.
We should be working on our questioning techniques, but not just because our questions are more effective when skillfully used. We need to ask good questions so that students see the importance of questions—how they make us think and help us learn. Eventually students may start asking better questions themselves, including ones we can’t answer. And those are the best questions of all.
Reference: Welty, W. M. “Discussion Method Teaching: How to Make it Work.” Change, July-August 1989, pp. 40-49.
If you made it past the headline, you’re likely a student, concerned parent, teacher or, like me, a nerd nostalgist who enjoys basking in the distant glow of Homework Triumphs Past (second-grade report on Custer’s Last Stand, nailed it!).
Whoever you are, you’re surely hoping for some clarity in the loud, perennial debate over whether U.S. students are justifiably exhausted and nervous from too much homework — even though some international comparisons suggest they’re sitting comfortably at the average.
Well, here goes. I’ve mapped out six, research-based polestars that should help guide you to some reasonable conclusions about homework.
How much homework do U.S. students get?
The best answer comes from something called the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP. In 2012, students in three different age groups — 9, 13 and 17 — were asked, “How much time did you spend on homework yesterday?” The vast majority of 9-year-olds (79 percent) and 13-year-olds (65 percent) and still a majority of 17-year-olds (53 percent) all reported doing an hour or less of homework the day before.
Another study from the National Center for Education Statistics found that high school students who reported doing homework outside of school did, on average, about seven hours a week.
If you’re hungry for more data on this — and some perspective — check out this exhaustive report put together last year by researcher Tom Loveless at the Brookings Institution.
An hour or less a day? But we hear so many horror stories! Why?
The fact is, some students do have a ton of homework. In high school we see a kind of student divergence — between those who choose or find themselves tracked into less-rigorous coursework and those who enroll in honors classes or multiple Advanced Placement courses. And the latter students are getting a lot of homework. In that 2012 NAEP survey, 13 percent of 17-year-olds reported doing more than two hours of homework the previous night. That’s not a lot of students, but they’re clearly doing a lot of work.
That also tracks with a famous survey from 2007 — from MetLife — that asked parents what they think of their kids’ homework load. Sixty percent said it was just right. Twenty-five percent said their kids are getting too little. Just 15 percent of parents said their kids have too much homework.
Research also suggests that the students doing the most work have something else in common: income. “I think that the debate over homework in some ways is a social class issue,” says Janine Bempechat, professor of human development at Wheelock College. “There’s no question that in affluent communities, children are really over-taxed, over-burdened with homework.”
But the vast majority of students do not seem to have inordinate workloads. And the ones who do are generally volunteering for the tough stuff. That doesn’t make it easier, but it does make it a choice.
Do we know how much homework students in other countries are doing?
Sort of. Caveats abound here. Education systems and perceptions of what is and isn’t homework can vary remarkably overseas. So any comparison is, to a degree, apples-to-oranges (or, at least, apples-to-pears). A 2012 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development pegged the U.S. homework load for 15-year-olds at around six hours per week. That’s just above the study’s average. It found that students in Hong Kong are also doing about six hours a week. Much of Europe checks in between four and five hours a week. In Japan, it’s four hours. And Korea’s near the bottom, at three hours.
How much homework is too much?
Better yet, how much is just right? Harris Cooper at Duke University has done some of the best work on homework. He and his team reviewed dozens of studies, from 1987 to 2003, looking for consensus on what works and what doesn’t. A common rule of thumb, he says, is what’s called the 10-minute rule. Take the child’s grade and multiply by 10. So first-graders should have roughly 10 minutes of homework a night, 40 minutes for fourth-graders, on up to two hours for seniors in high school. A lot of of schools use this. Even the National PTA officially endorses it.
Homework clearly improves student performance, right?
Not necessarily. It depends on the age of the child. Looking over the research, there’s little to no evidence that homework improves student achievement in elementary school. Then again, the many experts I spoke with all said the same thing: The point of homework in those primary grades isn’t entirely academic. It’s about teaching things like time-management and self-direction.
But, by high school the evidence shifts. Harris Cooper’s massive review found, in middle and high school, a positive correlation between homework and student achievement on unit tests. It seems to help. But more is not always better. Cooper points out that, depending on the subject and the age of the student, there is a law of diminishing returns. Again, he recommends the 10-minute rule.
What kinds of homework seem to be most effective?
This is where things get really interesting. Because homework should be about learning, right? To understand what kinds of homework best help kids learn, we really need to talk about memory and the brain.
Let’s start with something called the spacing effect. Say a child has to do a vocabulary worksheet. The next week, it’s a new worksheet with different words and so on. Well, research shows that the brain is better at remembering when we repeat with consistency, not when we study in long, isolated chunks of time. Do a little bit of vocabulary each night, repeating the same words night after night.
Similarly, a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, Henry “Roddy” Roediger III, recommends that teachers give students plenty of little quizzes, which he says strengthen the brain’s ability to remember. Don’t fret. They can be low-stakes or no-stakes, says Roediger: It’s the steady recall and repetition that matter. He also recommends, as homework, that students try testing themselves instead of simply re-reading the text or class notes.
There’s also something known as interleaving. This is big in the debate over math homework. Many of us — myself included — learned math by focusing on one concept at a time, doing a worksheet to practice that concept, then moving on.
Well, there’s evidence that students learn more when homework requires them to choose among multiple strategies — new and old — when solving problems. In other words, kids learn when they have to draw not just from what they learned in class that day but that week, that month, that year.
One last note: Experts agree that homework should generally be about reinforcing what students learned in class (this is especially true in math). Sometimes it can — and should — be used to introduce new material, but here’s where so many horror stories begin.
Tom Loveless, a former teacher, offers this advice: “I don’t think teachers should ever send brand-new material that puts the parent in the position of a teacher. That’s a disaster. My own personal philosophy was: Homework is best if it’s material that requires more practice but they’ve already received initial instruction.”
Or, in the words of the National PTA: “Homework that cannot be done without help is not good homework.”
September 30th, 2015
I once heard class discussions described as “transient instructional events.” They pass through the class, the course, and the educational experiences of students with few lingering effects. Ideas are batted around, often with forced participation; students don’t take notes; and then the discussion ends—it runs out of steam or the class runs out of time. If asked a few days later about the exchange, most students would be hard-pressed to remember anything beyond what they themselves might have said, if that. So this post offers some simple suggestions for increasing the impact of the discussions that occur in our courses.
1. Be more focused and for less time – It’s easy to forget that students are newcomers to academic discourse. Academics can go on about a topic of interest for days; hours, if it’s a department meeting. Students aren’t used to exchanges that include points, counterpoints, and connections to previous points with references to research, related resources, and previous experience. Early on, students do better with short discussions—focused and specific. Think 10 minutes, maybe 15.
2. Use better hooks to launch the discussion – Usually discussion starts with a question. That works if it’s a powerful question—one immediately recognized as a “good question.” Prompts of that caliber require thoughtful preparation; they don’t usually pop into our minds the moment we need them. But questions aren’t the only option. A pithy quotation, a short scenario that requires content application, a hypothetical case or situation, a synopsis of a relevant current event—all of these can jump-start a discussion.
3. Pause – Stop the discussion and ask students to think about what’s been said so far, or ask them to write down what struck them as a key idea, a new insight, a question still unanswered, or maybe where they think the discussion should go next. Think short pauses, 30 seconds, maybe a minute.
4. Have note takers – Ask whether there are two or three students who’d be willing to take notes during the discussion. Then post their notes on the course website or otherwise distribute them. This should count as class participation! It gives introverts a way to contribute comfortably. You might encourage some extrovert who has tendency to over-participate to make your day by volunteering to quietly take copious notes, which he or she could use to summarize the discussion when it ends.
5. Talk less or not at all – Too many classroom discussions are still dominated by teacher talk. You will talk less if you assign yourself a recorder role. You’ll key in on the essence of comments, record the examples, and list the questions. You’ll be listening closely and will probably hear more than you usually do because you aren’t thinking about what to say next. Or you can function as the discussion facilitator. Recognize those who are volunteering. Encourage others to speak. Point out good comments that merit response. Ask what questions the conversation is raising. Challenge those with different views to share them. Do everything you can to make it a good student discussion.
6. End with something definitive – Return to the hook that launched the discussion. Ask some students to write a one-sentence summary of the discussion. Ask other students to list the questions the discussion has answered. And ask a third group to identify unanswered questions that emerged during the discussion. Finally, use what students have written to help them bring closure to the discussion.
7. Use the discussion – Keep referring to it! “Remember that discussion we had about X? What did we conclude?” Refer to individual comments made during the discussion. “Paula had an interesting insight about Y. Who remembers what she said? Does it relate to this topic?” And if you really want students to listen up and take discussions seriously, use a comment made in the discussion as the frame for a short essay question on the next exam or quiz.
8. Invite students to suggest discussion topics – If the suggestion is good, reward the student with a few bonus points and ask him or her to launch the discussion by explaining why it’s a topic that merits discussion.
9. Discuss discussions – Briefly is fine. “Why do teachers use them? What keeps everyone listening? How do they help us learn?” Or do a debriefing of a discussion that just occurred. “So, the discussion we just had, say we’d like to improve it. What would you recommend?”
I welcome your suggestions for making the most of discussions. Please share in the comment box.