Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reflection: An Essential Piece to the Learning Puzzle

As I write this blog post, I am reflecting on things that work well in my classroom...resources and strategies that give my students the best opportunity to learn in ways that are meaningful and engaging for them. In doing so, I will realize what went well, what didn’t go well, and what I can do to become a better teacher.  

Just as I use reflection to improve, students can and should be encouraged to do the same.  I should expect them to do the same.   Reflection is a very important piece to the learning puzzle and when it is left out, it seems as though something is missing and meaningful connections are not made. Reflection is such an important part of student learning.  I have just begun to explore true reflection in my classroom and my students are learning to look back and make connections each day.  

Reflection gives my students the opportunity to be an active participant in the learning (Why The Brain Benefits from Reflection in Learning, TeachThought).   We often reflect about Genius Hour, Depth and Complexity novel studies, and other classroom activities. In doing so, the learning becomes real and meaningful.  And, honestly, if it’s not real and meaningful for our students, what's the point? Reflection adds meaning which has to be there for true learning to take place.

My students reflect most of the time by blogging.  This is such a wonderful way for students to be able to share their learning and process what they have just taken in.  It serves as an outlet...a place to share their thoughts, feelings, and expertise about what they have learned.  It is in their blogs that I am able to see the learning through their eyes, experience the classroom as they do, and use that information to make my classroom a meaningful experience for each one of them.  

However, I began to notice in reading their blogs that many of them were simply telling me what they did that day in class.  According to Peter Pappas' Taxonomy of Reflection, they were simply remembering. They were not making the connections and understanding the reflection process as well as I had hoped.  They were struggling with truly understanding the benefit of reflection and seeing it as an important piece of the puzzle. I wanted them to use their higher order thinking skills to analyze, evaluate, and create.

In searching for meaningful ways to teach reflection, I recently came across Roll and Reflect cubes on Tony Vincent’s website, Learning in Hand.   These cubes use QR codes to encourage reflection in many different ways.  Students scan a code for a reflection question.  Some of the questions include, “In what ways have you gotten better?”, “What did you learn that will help you most in the future?”, “One thing I can improve upon is…”, and “What was easy for you?”.  

reflection cubes

After they read their question, students roll the cube to find out how they will respond. They may draw a picture, make a list, create a word cloud, write a quote, or even write their response in words that rhyme.  All of the response options require students to think differently about how they reflect and takes their thinking to a higher level...SCORE!  

I recently printed, created the cubes, and introduced them to the students.  They loved it! It has been a great way to reintroduce them to reflection and encourage them to think about their thinking.  

I have decided that I will also ask my students to just scan the Reflection Question card for their question and simply write their response using KidBlog.  I only have one iPad in my room but have several Chromebooks so some students can be blogging while others are responding by rolling the cube.  I actually taped the codes next to the computers at our “blogging station” so that students will have easy access and remember to scan before they write.  

My students are now understanding why we reflect and how it can help their learning “stick”.  It will be very interesting to compare student blog posts at the beginning of the year to the posts as we go through this process of taking our reflections to a higher level.

blogging station

“We do not learn from an experience.  
We learn from reflecting on experience.”  
John Dewey

Below are some amazing articles and resources on reflection that I have used to find ways to make reflection meaningful in my classroom.   Please feel free to comment and share some of the ways you use reflection to create meaningful learning for your students.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Creative Thinkers or High Test Scores: Why Can't We Have Both?

I've noticed that in a lot of the discussions that I have had with teachers, test scores always come up in the conversation.  It usually goes something like this:

"I just can't find time to do all the of the project based learning and fun activities because I am too busy getting them ready for the test in April."

"Genius Hour just won't work in my room because I teach Math/Reading which is tested in the Spring."

"I don't do all of the fun stuff in my classroom because my students need to be ready to test."

Why do so many educators think that we cannot prepare students for tests by using project based learning and innovative teaching?   I don't understand why so many teachers think that it has to be one or the other. Students can be prepared for standardized testing by activities like Genius Hour and projects that make the learning experience more meaningful and frankly, more fun for everyone involved.

In my opinion, application is a huge part of learning.  If students cannot take what they have learned and apply it in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them, then we have missed the mark.  One might even say that we haven't done our job effectively.

For example, knowing math facts is an essential foundation.  However, if students do not know how to apply those math facts in an appropriate situation, what is the point of knowing them?  Students need to know how to comprehend what they have read, but if they are simply comprehending enough to pass a test on the computer, then it is meaningless.

If a student can apply the learning, they will be much more capable of attempting the higher order thinking skills such as analyzing, evaluating, and creating.  On the other hand, if a student has simply seen the skill on a worksheet or on a board at the front of a room, how can we expect them to do any of those things?

Most math worksheets do not show whether a student can apply a skill.  They simply tell us if a student can take what they have learned and do the exact same thing over and over with different numbers.   Reading worksheets simply give students the ability to show that they can comprehend and successfully find the answers in what they read.  They do not tell us anything about the student's ability to connect and find meaning in what they have read.

I'm not saying that there is absolutely no place for worksheets in the classroom.  There may be times that a worksheet is an appropriate way to assess basic skills or simple understanding.  Worksheets might be a way to collect their thoughts or gather information but the learning must be taken a step further.  I often ask students to write their thoughts down before we discuss. But it is very rare that I assign a worksheet with right or wrong answers.

I'm simply saying that I would much rather hear students discussing, collaborating, creating, and really applying what they have learned in a way that is meaningful for them.  Because if this is happening, learning is happening. Students are making connections, understanding, and realizing that learning can be fun and engaging.

I like that one definition of "apply" is to put to practical use.  If students do not connect a way to apply the learning in a practical way, there is really no point to the learning.  It's a waste of their time and we are kidding ourselves if we don't think that they know that.

I've said it many times before but I can cover more standards in one Genius Hour project than I could with an entire stack of worksheets.  Giving students the opportunity to take the skills that they have learned and use them creatively doing something with passion will always be a better idea. Collaborative activities and innovative problem solving will bring excitement and energy into my classroom.  It is for these reasons that I choose to encourage this type of learning.

I write this post just to encourage us all to consider the fact that maybe, just maybe project based learning and innovative teaching might result in higher test scores.  It doesn't have to be one or the other.  That being said, I will always agree that my students come first.  Test scores are not my top priority and never will be.