Read this for a 3 minute overview on how to enhance your teaching practice to engage your students and help them connect the knowledge: https://www.teachthought.com/learning/6-targets-teach-way-brain-learns/
Grades versus Growth
When I was a parent for the first time I noted every single thing the tiny human did…and drove my pediatrician nuts because the moment something seemed out of the ordinary, she would receive a phone call. And then she gave me a piece of advice that continues to resonate almost a decade later and extend to most aspects of of daily life. That sage bit of wisdom was to, “Observe over a three-day period rather than every single moment”. For example, in the case of the tiny humans and eating, her advice was, “Over the course of three days, they should have some protein, some vegetables, some fruit, some starches…” and, well, you get the idea.
I’ve extended this advice of looking over a period of time, rather than a single point in time, to teaching and assessment.
Brain Target 6: Evaluating Learning
Assessment is tough and a letter grade doesn’t always provide the full picture of a student’s knowledge. Vicky Krug, Assistant Professor at Westmoreland County Community College, featured in the documentary Grey Matters: Teaching The Way The Brain Learns aptly describes letter grades from tests as measuring “a single point in time” of the learning journey. Krug continues, “The tests are good tests, but it’s one instance”.
Jeremy Mettler, featured in the documentary Grey Matters: Teaching The Way The Brain Learns, makes the case for measuring growth as part of evaluating learning (Brain Target 6 of the Brain Targeted Teaching Model), “Growth can be many different things from speaking up in class to working through math problems and for Mettler, “It’s probably one of my favourite things to measure because it gives me a more holistic picture of a student’s progress.”
Portfolios can help.
Portfolios are a great way to capture progress over time, painting a more accurate picture of a student’s knowledge base. If you're interested in building a more complete picture of your students’ knowledge base consider these tips to get started using a portfolio:
1. Outline the goal of the portfolio.Are you using it to track short term student progress, such as a unit study, or more long-term progress?
2. Who’s the audience?
Is it for you, the teacher, to have a tangible representation of your students’ progress? Is this for parents to obtain a more detailed picture of their student’s work load? Will it go to a fellow teacher? Is this a student project? Outlining the audience will aid in how the student’s work is curated.
3. Will you grade it?
If you are grading it, who’s selecting the work to be included? Have you shown students the grading rubric? Is the rubric standardized?
For more reading on Portfolios, check out:
Purchase the film
If you would like to order Grey Matters: Teaching The Way The Brain Learns for professional development, please click here.
More about the model
For more information on the Brain Targeted Teaching Model, check out www.braintargetedteaching.org.
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If you believe the learning styles theory, you’re showing up to class with 3 different versions of your lesson plan - one for the kinesthetic learner, another for the visual, a third for the auditory, right?
No, you’re not doing that?
But…but what the different learning styles of your students??
Clearly, no one is showing up to class with three lesson plans. (Unless you are, in which case, please comment below…I’d love to talk about what you’ve found).
In 2008 four psychologists collaborated and cohesively studied the existing literature on learning styles; they concluded that there was no strong evidence to support the learning styles theory but they didn’t completely rule it out. You can read the paper by Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, here: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/pspi/PSPI_9_3.pdf
Yet we continue to talk about learning styles in education.
Veteran Baltimore City Public Schools educator, Dr. Mariale Hardiman, now Professor of Education at Johns Hopkins University, recommends teachers think big picture learning goals and let those learning goals drive the activities and assessments, “When teachers focus solely on the individual points students often miss the larger concepts or the “big picture” essential for deep understanding and memory.”
I look at it as giving the main idea rather than just the bulleted points, as in, “Here’s what you’re going to learning in this section/unit building on previous knowledge of x,y, and z.” I also like to outline the takeaways, as in, here’s what you’re really learning to do. If you’re more of a sports analogy person, think big play, instead of move by move.
But, what about my kinesthetic and auditory and visual learners, teachers will say at this point.
Vicky Krug, a college professor at Westmoreland County Community College, featured in Grey Matters, says, “I take a multi sensorial approach to what I teach and I design the learning experience using multiple senses. I know that getting students up and about in class helps their engagement and focus so I incorporate that. Some material naturally lends itself to movement and with other stuff, I find a way to work it in. I add visuals, I have students repeat things out loud”
Want to try a multi sensorial approach in your classroom? Try backwards planning. What are the key things your students need to master at the end of the unit? Then, think about the best ways to make that happen from both an activities and assessment perspective.
Invest in planning
When Jeremy Mettler planned a unit on the importance of the Suez Canal he started with an in class unit to give him an idea of the collective knowledge base of his students, incorporated flash cards with vocabulary cartoons to help students quickly grasp the basics, and then designed an experience that brought home the differences of travel pre-canal and post-canal. “The biggest thing fear for teachers is the lack of content time but when I invest in planning and using some kind of visual organizer to highlight the key concepts of the unit, it strengthens my teaching practice in class. I teach, instead of just covering content”.
Mix it up
Krug teaches college level developmental reading and writing; she often chooses different instruction materials to help her students grasp concepts simply because they’re more interesting. It’s not uncommon to hear Dr. Seuss or debates on the 14th Amendment in her classes. “I’m a big believer in fun and I give students multiple ways to experience the material so that they have multiple ways to retrieve the material”.
Incorporate Real Life
Justin Holbrook, a 4th grade STEM teacher at Roland Park Elementary, tries to show the real life applications of things, “When students see what I’m teaching them is applicable in the real world, they pay more attention. Place value translated nicely into pay cheques; calculating area was a great way to weigh in on some of the proposed changes to various spaces to our school”.
You can see Mettler, Krug, and Holbrook in the education documentary Grey Matters: Teaching The Way The Brain Learns.
Interested in purchasing for Professional Development? Click here and join teachers and school districts across the US who are using Grey Matters to engage their students and strengthen their teaching practice.
How was your year? Do you feel like you reached your students? Do they get it?
What about you? Did you branch out a little this year? Take a different approach to a subject? Take any risks?
These are questions teachers might be asking, as the 2016/17 school year winds down.
In order to help you answer those questions, it may be time to ask your students to help you create your teacher evaluation portfolio. It’s a quick and short activity, and a great way to help you grow in your teaching practice.
Take a quick poll of your students to find out what their favourite learning unit(s) were. What did they like about it? How would they change it? If they were in charge of planning the unit, what would they include?
Jeremy Mettler, featured in the film, reflects on what worked when he took his senior geography class outside to talk about geographic features, “The first time I did this, it didn’t work because we took notebooks and pens, etc and with the wind, kids were just having too much fun and all they remembered was being outside.” Mettler, thinking through the goals for the lesson and the general nature of his students, tried again, but this time he asked the students to use their phones for note-taking, “Some lesson plans work and some don’t. You have to be ok with failing and remaining flexible.”
Here’s a longer read on creating your teaching portfolio: http://www.washington.edu/teaching/teaching-resources/assessing-and-improving-teaching/self-reflection-on-teaching/
Words can break a student or build a student. What words are are you using in your classroom? Are they building words like “You’re getting better at this” or “I like your persistence” or are they breaking words like “Seriously” or “I can’t believe you don’t remember this”.
We’ve all had those moments where we mentally wonder if our students are ever going to get it. What feels like the millionth time we’ve explained a concept or helped them to sound a word out for the correct spelling; maybe it’s remembering their multiplication tables. And, without meaning to, you might say something like, “Are you kidding me?”
Now maybe you caught yourself and rephrased, in an attempt to not show just how frustrated you are.
Or maybe you didn’t even notice.
But your student did.
That singular moment for the teacher, one of a million in their average day, is now embedded in that student’s mind.
And it’ll stay there.
Nagging at them.
Feeding their insecurity.
And making them doubt their ability.
Well past their school days, they’ll most likely, recall that one moment with that one teacher, who said “Are you kidding me?”
Words are like spells. What spell are you casting in your classroom?
Testing - just what do they really know and how do they stack up?
We all want to know how our students are doing. That need to compare. Are they really getting it or am I just wasting my breath talking? Is it going in one ear and out the other? Are they making connections? So we test. And sometimes, in order to prove they know it, we teach exactly what we know is going to be tested. But there is rarely one way to do anything and assessments are no different.
While you can't escape the tests driven by policy, you can control the other assessment periods. The challenge is to balance single-answer tests with those that call for students to construct open-ended responses, solve problems, and apply knowledge. (Hardiman, 2012).
What does this look like in practice?
Portfolios or bodies of work over a term or year; projects; a student in Vicky Krug's developmental writing class illustrated her knowledge of process paragraphs by bringing in a cake and sharing the recipe (process paragraphs explains how to do something).
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