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The Power of Feedback: Part Two

14 Jun

ThePowerofFeedbackpartAs I promised in part 1 I am continuing to provide summaries and reactions to John Hattie’s and Helen Timperley’s “The Power of Feedback.” Some of my English colleagues and I have been focused on improving our feedback on student writing, and reading this meta-analysis (published in 2007) was our starting point this year. Of course, the more I read the more I wanted to know, so this reading led to more reading…and more reading, which I will summarize through these blog posts.

Since writing my first post, I had the chance to go to London and hear John Hattie speak at a Visible Learning conference. Hattie and team use a “Barometer of Influence” to explain research results to the masses. His main argument is this:

Almost ANYTHING teachers do helps students achieve. There is actually very little we do in the classroom that decreases achievement.

The key to truly effective learning, then, is to focus on WHAT WORKS BEST. If we want to be effective educators, Hattie tells us to focus on the actions that fall in the green or blue category (anything offering over 0.4 influence), and, very importantly, to carefully measure our actions, gauging whether or not they are actually helping students reach greater achievement.

barometer_of_influenceFeedback, by the way, has a 0.75 influence and falls within in the blue range. In other words, it is very much worth our time to get better at providing it.

Hattie’s argument makes perfect sense to me, and it is edifying to realize that teachers’ gut instincts (e.g. better feedback helps students write better) are actually supported by big data. John Hattie and the Visible Learning team are basing their results on over 1,000 meta-analyses involving 240,000,000,000 students.

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#ELMLE2015 Update: Simple Classroom Hacks

6 Feb

elmle2015The past weeks have been busy…just not with work on this blog. Writing semester one reports and preparing for the 2015 ELMLE conference in Warsaw consumed most of my time. Then the flu took me down. I’m back at the keyboard now, though, even if the hacking and sniffles aren’t quite over. Thankfully, I did not get sick until the day after I returned from another wonderful ELMLE experience.

This was my third visit to an ELMLE conference, and I always leave bursting with ideas and convinced that the teaching world is brimming with kindred spirits. As in years past, I will dedicate future blog posts to some of the ideas I took away from the conference. I will also probably make separate blog posts out of a session I presented entitled Simple Classroom Hacks.

I enjoy writing this blog, but it can be a lonely pursuit at times. The comments and growing daily hits are encouraging, but being in a roomful of educators who get excited by the ideas we are sharing is more immediately energizing. It was wonderful to make contact with so many of you at ELMLE, and I hope to get the chance to present next year in Barcelona.

For now, here are my presentation slides….stay tuned for more ELMLE-inspired posts in the near future.

Student Scribe Posts

30 Nov

carts1Go to any grocery store parking lot in Germany, and you will never…and I mean never…see any stray shopping carts rattling along in the wind or parked in the hedges. Every carriage is always tucked back in the rack, sometimes in color coded rows. In the United States I always put my cart back where it belonged, and I secretly enjoyed rounding up any strays I came across. Imposing order on this chaotic world, even in small doses, soothes my fastidious soul. My fellow countrymen, however, do not share my O.C.D. Most people leave carts wherever they damn well please.

Yet, the difference in national shopping cart parking habits does not reveal some great divide between American and German gentility. Germans do not return their carts out of an altruistic urge to avoid scratching their neighbors’ Audis. Instead, grocery stores in Germany simply engineer order into their systems. To get a cart, you have to unlock it from the rack with a coin. When you’re done, you can’t get your money back until you return the cart and secure it to its mates. It’s a simple system that works beautifully.

Medieval_writing_deskThe Student Scribe system works in much the same way; it’s a simple system, that once implemented, works with minimal effort on the teacher’s part. I first learned about the idea from Darren Kuropatwa, and I found his blog posts on student scribes very useful when setting up my scribe system for the first time.

On most days, one student takes communal notes and then posts these to a class wiki. Each post ends with the current student choosing the next scribe. Here are the directions I give my students regarding scribe posts:

 

 

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The Digital Farm

15 Nov

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 1.24.35 PMI grew up in the Midwest of the United States, so many people (not from the Midwest) assume I grew up on a farm. Far from it. We Neals are not the handiest or hardiest of folks. We didn’t fare well in the fields and quickly found white-collar work. I grew up around farmers, though, and I understand, though admittedly secondhand, the combination of intelligence, dedication, creativity, sacrifice, and hard work required of those in agriculture. I know I would be utter rubbish at it. Yet, the metaphor of a farm has helped me change the way I am teaching some of my English classes. My students and I have been using a digital farm concept to structure our study.

I first heard of the digital farm idea from Alan November. Quick plug: if you ever get the chance to attend November Learning’s Building Learning Communities Conference held each summer in Boston, go. My BLC experiences have been some of the most practical, rewarding, and provocative professional development I have ever had.

In my experiments with a digital farm, every student is given a chore (or two). Over the course of a predetermined time period (I find students need about two weeks to try out ideas and make multiple attempts), each student must make a meaningful contribution to everyone’s learning in his or her assigned role. Students may contribute in any way and at any time, too. If they are, for instance, designated a Feedback Provider they could still make a contribution as a Big Thinker. Also, depending on the size and personality of the class, I assign multiple students the same role. Students may work with partners or alone to fulfill their task. Students must also communicate with me in a timely fashion so that I can plan our lessons around their contributions.

At the end of each chore cycle, students complete a journal reflection and their work. I give one-to-one feedback, and then assign new chores for the next cycle.

Visit our Digital Farm wiki for a complete set of jobs. Some jobs are not assigned but come up in a rotating fashion. Discussion Leaders and Student Scribes work this way, and I will make a future post on the Student Scribes concept I learned from Darren Kuropatwa.

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Missing Teeth or Shade Tree Time?

22 May

The Shadow of a TreeMissing a week of posting to this blog feels like a missing tooth. During this school year I have found sporadic moments to write, but I could not seem to produce a regular run of posts. Keeping up with life and school work just becomes too much sometimes. Yet, like you, I’m my own worst critic. No other person on this big blue marble gives me one bit of grief for this gaping absence. Oh…right…these missing weeks aren’t really significant failures.

Of course, it’s more important to write meaningful posts than to meet an arbitrary once-a-week-self-imposed deadline. It’s even more important to have a life outside of work. I know this. I know this. I know this.

 

But, I am still going to try for that once-a-week posting. I have issues.

Thankfully, there’s only one part of my personality that is so hyper critical. There’s a big part of me that revels in having  a healthy offline life filled with friends, interests, and plenty of unplugged living.

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Visualizing One Million

10 May

one million bonesTo help my students care about one, I try to get them to picture one million. Big numbers are really big…too vast to properly understand without help. This activity can be used in any situation where students would benefit from grasping big numbers, but I use it as an opening exercise in our study of The Diary of Anne Frank.

In this situation, understanding the expanse of one million helps students begin to comprehend the vastness of six to 12 million, the estimated number of people killed during the Holocaust. When students have a nascent, sobering understanding of the horrific scale of this genocide, they approach our study of Anne’s diary with more care, solemnity, and empathy. I emphasize the privilege and duty we have to explore one small part of one life. In doing so we begin to understand the immeasurable loss and, hopefully, do what we can to ensure something like this never happens again.

 

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Battle of the Gods: Introduction to Mythology Lesson

9 Feb

Deus-RaFor the past few weeks, my grade 6 students and I have been sailing the Nile in a felucca, learning about powerful Egyptian pharaohs by exploring monuments of the ancient world. I cannot take credit for these excellent lessons, though. They come from the History Alive! curriculum we have adopted this year, and I am over-the-moon impressed with these engaging resources.

I teach the same students in humanities and English, so I wanted to develop lessons on Egyptian mythology that connected to our humanities work. I came up with a simple idea that worked out beautifully.

The students spent a portion of two class periods researching a couple Egyptian gods, filled out a “playing card” for each god to synthesize their learning, and then mercilessly tried to destroy their classmates with their newfound knowledge, reducing their peers to whimpering sycophants in awe of an obviously superior, juicy brain.

O.K. I may be getting a tad melodramatic there.

But, the lesson proved to be very entertaining and effective, while putting the majority of the heavy mental lifting on the students. Also, I can easily adapt this lesson for Greek and Roman mythology, which we will begin in another week or so.

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Putting It Out There: Take the Time to Publish

5 Dec

commaJust a short anecdote from an English 9 class that gives me a boost and reminds me why it is worth our time to make the extra effort to publish online. I have written before about how I use macros and AutoText to save time when giving feedback on writing. In a recent essay, one of my students was making a chronic comma error, one that I dub The Most Common Comma Error in the World. My AutoText comment to her was, “Remember our quick lesson on the most common comma error in the world? You make it time and time again, but it’s easy to fix.  Hint: the comma in that last sentence is a clue as to what mistake you’re making.” One problem. I never taught her class anything about this topic. Obviously, I thought I had.

Yet, it was not really a problem. She just Googled the phrase “The Most Common Comma Error in the World” and watched the video I had posted on this same topic years earlier. She viewed the video and made her changes.

It was a microscopic moment of flipped teaching, but it was one that reminds why I take the extra effort to share my work online: Continue reading

Meaningful, Effective Peer Revision

28 Sep

working togetherPeer revision is a gamble. At its best, students offer rich feedback and revision becomes an incredibly rich learning experience for all involved. At its worse, peer responses can be a bit like turning over the cockpit controls to a thirteen year old who is still years away from having even a driver’s permit.

I am always, then, looking for ways to make peer revision more meaningful. Here are a few ideas that have worked for me:

Three Chip Revision: Break out some poker chips. To begin, give every student three chips (or any number of chips you decide). Then, hand them a piece of writing from one of their peers and ask them to spot the mistakes. Each error they find, however, has to be checked by the teacher. If they have found a legitimate error, they get two more chips. If they are mistaken and no error exists, take a chip. The goal is to end the revision period with the most chips.

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I Hate You, IKEA: What Moving Teaches Me

3 Aug
uploaded to Flickr by yamzombie

uploaded to Flickr by yamzombie

Only after deep reflection and with considerable guilt can I write the following confession: I hate you, IKEA. Yes, you offer accessible design at incredible prices, and without you I would never be able to decorate my apartment or organize my classroom drawers. I will even confess to an unhealthy devotion to your meatballs and Prieselbeeren sauce.

But, for purely selfish reasons, I am done with you (for a week at least). I cannot stomach another turn of your fjborking screws or another frustrated thumbing-through of the pictographs you call directions. In other words, I have grown tired of the minutia connected with moving.

I am not complaining. REALLY, I am not. The upheaval associated with an Intercontinental move is a small price to pay for the wonderful opportunity my wife and I have received. In July we moved back to a small town outside Frankfurt, Germany, where we lived and taught prior to our time in Boston. It has been a homecoming in many ways. We return to incredible friends, a lovely little apartment, a lifestyle that brings a sense of adventure to even the most mundane tasks, and, yes, the beer is not bad either. We are more than a little happy.

The First BeerI begin work at my new (old) school next week, and as I put away my physical toolbox and dust off my metaphorical one, I have been thinking about how this move will influence my life as a teacher:

Remember, be patient. I like to think of myself as a pretty chilled out man, but the ongoing “to do” list connected to a big move reminds me that I make significantly more progress when I slow down and relax. Despite my best efforts, I still struggle mightily to speak German. I have great support systems here, but I try to do as much as I can on my own. In order to connect my satellite dish, figure out which section of grass is o.k. for my dog to use, buy a new car, make chit-chat with a neighbor, or do just about anything else I need to do after stepping out the front door, I have to patiently communicate using my caveman German and highly refined Charades skills. Not actually being an idiot but sounding like one for the majority of my day is incredibly frustrating, but I know I will be more empathetic to my students’ struggles throughout the school year as a result. Patience is, indeed, a virtue, in life and in the classroom.

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