25 August 2011

Reacting to Results

On Monday I attended a lecture given by Carol Dweck of Stanford University on her theory of Mindsets, which I wrote about in an earlier post. One of the interesting aspects of this theory is the response to success or failure on tasks. 

When students receive marks back from tasks completed, Carol Dweck suggests their responses can often fall into two categories: mastery oriented versus helpless oriented responses.

Those with a mastery oriented approach see the feedback as a chance to confront and overcome obstacles and reach a higher level of performance. Their lack of success in the task is not tied to their self-worth so they don’t see the poor result (whatever that might be) as a reflection of who they are as a person. Rather, they see the result for what it is - an indicator of their learning at that time. As these students are self-monitoring, they are able to consider how they might go about improving. This could take the form of meeting with teachers, rewriting tasks for both content and stylistic improvements, conducting research into more sophisticated concepts, or peer discussions/tutoring. What stands out about these students is that they do not see themselves as failing and they do not blame anyone or anything for their result.

Students with a helpless response quickly denigrate their abilities and blame their intelligence for the poor result (failure).  A poor result (in their eyes) is seen as proof that ability is lacking, often despite recent or present successes. Students with this response find themselves with few strategies to overcome the problem and can stop applying themselves altogether. Occasionally they will call attention to other successes, but more often the perceived failure may swamp any successes they have experienced. When asked to persist, many claim that they are bored or they choose not to engage fully in the task in order to manage their stake in the situation.

What can we do about this?

We need to make students aware of some of the current brain research so they can understand that their brains are constantly in a state of flux. When one realises that change is possible, one is able to see all experiences as opportunities for learning.

We have to encourage students to see all tasks as assessments for learning. Using the language around this concept enables students to see themselves as being on a learning journey. 

We can challenge their thinking each time it is verbalised. As Carol Dweck said, every time a student says "I can't do this", we respond with, "yet". This may also mean structuring tasks so that students get the opportunity to resubmit in order to show what they have learnt from the first result.

We can reward the effective learners as well as the high achievers. This needs to be high stakes reward too, the equivalent of awards given at prize-giving days or the like. 

These are just few ideas. It would be great to have other suggestions in the comments section below. 

14 August 2011

Teacher Talk Two

In my previous post I defended teachers delivering content rather than using content from the Internet. Today I'd like to extend on the last point I made about some teachers overdoing the teacher talk.

Recently professor John Hattie told a group of teachers at a professional development seminar to "Shut up and listen". This message comes from his research into expert teachers. In his 2003 paper, Teachers Make a Difference, he identifies teacher talk as one of the factors that differentiates expert and experienced teachers.

Making time for thinking within the class environment is essential across all subjects. Teachers need time to plan not to talk in their classes so that thinking can take place.

There are a number of ways to reduce teacher talk but it may be diffiuclt to accomplish if the teacher is unaware of how much time they spend verbalising in the classroom.

A Year 10 student I know well (who attends a different school to the one at which I teach), was telling me the other day about her difficulties in improving her writing for English. She related how her teacher spends almost all lesson "talking" and the students complete written responses at home. When she submits the work, she receives a brief written comment. I think what she was trying to say is that she would like the opportunity to write in class time and receive immediate feedback as the process was occuring. To do that her teacher has to talk less.

In talking less we give students time to think, reflect and respond. The teacher in the above scenario could give students a block of time for editing and rewriting when work is returned. Perhaps the students could form editing groups and offer each other suggestions on their work prior to rewriting. Many theorists agree on the value of resubmitting work and the value of tinkering (see earlier post).

Some years ago I stumbled across a dept of Ed document for primary school teachers with a formula for helping students improve their writing. It is called the POWER method: Plan - Organise - Write - Edit - Rewrite. I have found this incredibly helpful in getting students to consider their own writing and how it can be improved.

The key, however, has been to allocate class time to the process. This gives students an opportunity to think, perhaps talk to each other about their work, and quiet time for rewriting. The teacher talk is reduced and all conversations become much more individualised.

05 August 2011

Teacher Talk

Recently I read a blog post on another teacher's website which suggested that, in this age of ubiquitous online content, teachers should refrain from content delivery via teacher talk.

Whilst I understand that some appropriate content can be accessed via the net, for a number of reasons I believe face to face teacher talk is an essential part of lessons. This is because good teachers know their students' academic, pastoral and social needs and tailor lessons accordingly.

Generally, teachers have a sense of their students' prior learning and current knowledge so that they adjust the content to begin where the students are at. No student likes to sit through material that he/she is already familiar or which is beyond their current knowledge. With prepackaged Internet content this could not be guaranteed.

Knowledge of the students' vocabulary means that many teachers choose their words so that the content is better understood. This can even occur within a lesson as a teacher may alter the linguistic complexity from student to student.

Teachers are frequently aware of the pastoral needs of their students. Depending on what is happening in the lives of students, this means that there would be times when certain material might be delivered in a sensitive way or not at all. Lectures and other Internet resources would not be tailored to students' pastoral needs.

In terms of students' social worlds, it seems increasingly important that teachers are aware of the interactions students are having in person and online. There are times, such as the day before a dance or big event, when the social world is a part of what happens in the classroom. After the release of the final Harry Potter novel I found that my students wanted to discuss our personal reactions to this text. It was essential teacher talk.

Although the occasional individual overdoes the teacher talk, and we all need to be aware of that, well-structured talk can go a long way.