Monday, November 22, 2010

"Homework Done Right"

Each month the staff at Manson Northwest Webster meets in Learning Team Groups to discuss educational topics, most of which go hand in hand with our professional development focus. This month our staff examined the Article Homework Done Right. A couple of questions that might be asked by my staff, other educators, or parents: Why this article and why the emphasis on “meaningful work” and “homework”?

As our professional development focus moves to learning about the Characteristics of Effective Instruction, the concept of Teaching for Understanding along with Student Centered Classrooms. When the concept of teaching for understanding is present within a classroom many of the other Characteristics of Effective Instruction fall in line. As we focus on Teaching for Understanding, taking a look at the types of homework assignments we give and the reasons behind them is also necessary. This article, in my opinion, is a nice starting place for future conversations we will have about the Iowa Core Effective Instruction characteristic, Teaching for Understanding

Teaching for Understanding is a Characteristic of Effective Instruction and is an essential component of the Iowa Core Curriculum. It shifts instruction from a paradigm of memorizing and practicing to one of understanding and applying. It is through Teaching for Understanding that students develop the ability to think and act flexibly with their deep conceptual and procedural knowledge. In Teaching for Understanding, teaching is less about what the teacher does, and more about how the teacher engages students in thinking and demonstrating understanding. This performance view focuses on the ways in which students use what they know to demonstrate their understanding and operate in the real world. In other words, we know that students understand when they can carry out a variety of “performances” concerning a topic, such as explaining, interpreting, analyzing, relating, comparing, and making analogies (Perkins, 1993, Wiske, 1998).

After reading the article Homework Done Right our staff examined the following questions. Should all educators have a clear answer to the questions below?

1. Moving from less meaningful “fact based” work to more meaningful application of knowledge seems like a simple concept but is it? Do you ask yourself the following questions when planning a unit or lesson? Talk about them as a group.
*Why am I teaching this particular concept/topic/unit the way I am?
*What is my learning goal or goals for the unit?
*How else could the learning goals be achieved?
*What assessments are in place to help students meet the learning goals?
*Are any assessments being used that don’t help students meet the learning goals?
*Why am I using these assessments?
*Why am I doing this? Do I believe its important? Can I convey that to kids? Not just because it’s the next lesson or because it comes from the textbook.

2. Using the Continuum of Meaningful Homework from the article, think back on your last unit of study and in your own mind, discuss where your assignments/assessments would fall. Discuss as a learning team.

3. Using the Continuum of Meaningful Homework from the article, think about your Trimester One exam or final project. Was it fact based memorization of information, or application of knowledge? Discuss the differences as a learning team.

Do educators think about units/lessons/concepts in this way before teaching? Is there a clear learning goal in place prior to organizing the details of the unit? How do our assessments help meet the goal? I would like to hear what others have to say.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Characteristics of Effective Instruction

What is effective instruction? How about ineffective instruction? How does effective instruction impact student learning? What about ineffective instruction? Does effective instruction increase student engagement? Does a classroom that follows the Iowa Core’s Characteristics of Effective Instruction prepare students for the 21st century work environment?

Teaching how students learn best needs to be the focus for educators. Some of the questions posed in the above section seem obvious. Are they obvious? Do all of our children consistently receive effective instruction? The Iowa Core Curriculum is three fold: content, instruction, and assessment. The professional development focus for Jr/Sr high school staff in the coming months will be on the instruction piece. The characteristics of effective instruction (CEI) are used within the Iowa Core to help school districts guide how their students learn and teachers teach. By focusing on the characteristics of effect instruction the end goal is to provide quality effective instruction for all our students. Using the Iowa Core’s characteristics of effective instruction will facilitate our journey.

There are five elements to effective instruction, the below information come from definitions produced by the Iowa Department of Education
1. Student Centered Classrooms: In Student-centered Classrooms, students are directly involved and invested in the discovery of their own knowledge. Through collaboration and cooperation with others, students engage in experiential learning which is authentic, holistic, and challenging. Students use prior knowledge to construct new learning. Through the development of the metacognitive process, students reflect on their thinking. Curriculum and assessment are centered on meaningful performances in real-world contexts. As a partner in learning, teachers intentionally create organized and cohesive experiences to assist students to make connections to key concepts.
2. Teaching for Understanding: Leading students to engage in a variety of thought-provoking activities such as explaining, finding evidence and examples, generalizing, applying, making analogies, and representing the topic in new ways. Teachers assist students in making connections between prior knowledge and new knowledge to develop understanding of a concept. Teachers who teach for understanding: 1) make learning a long-term, thinking-centered process, 2) engage students in assessment for learning processes, 3) support learning with representations conceptual models, 4) teach for learner differences 5) induct students into the discipline, and 6) teach for transfer (Perkins, 1993).
3. Assessment for Learning: Formative Assessment is a process used by teachers and students as part of instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of core content. As assessment for learning, formative assessment practices provide students with clear learning targets, examples and models of strong and weak work, regular descriptive feedback, and the ability to self-assess, track learning, and set goals. (Adapted from Council of Chief State School Officers, FAST SCASS)
4. Rigor and Relevance: A rigorous and relevant curriculum is one that contains a high cognitive demand and is challenging to the student as they apply the essential concepts and skills to real world, complex and open-ended situations.
5. Teaching for Learner Differences: Planning for and responding to variances among learners in the classroom in order to create the best learning experience possible. It also includes processes for determining the effectiveness of instruction, using data to guide instructional decision-making, and ensuring access to/success with regard to the core curriculum for all students.

How are these characteristics of effective instruction used at Manson Northwest Webster? In a nutshell teachers will be evaluated based on the characteristics of effect instruction. During the first trimester baseline walkthrough data was collected on the 7-12 staff. This data was used to determine areas of strength and weaknesses within our teaching staff. Based on the baseline data it was decided that winter and spring professional development will focus on Student Centered Classrooms and Teaching for Understanding. Professional development time will be used to learn about and implement teaching strategies that are consistent with CEI. Teacher walkthroughs will continue to be used to monitor teaching strategies.

The following links can also be found on my blog page:

For more information on the characteristics of effective instruction:

MNW 7-12 Walkthrough Form: