Thursday, March 08, 2007

Teaching students how to learn - what a concept!

Brian Crosby notes a really important article recently published in Edutopia titled “Don’t Weigh the Elephant---Feed the Elephant.” (Download the pdf and scatter copies around your school!) The connection here for me has to do with the curriculum work that’s been done in my district over the past four years. Our curriculum consultant, Janie Pollock, came in to the district, not just talking about why we need a well-aligned curriculum but also, what we need to do instructionally to help our students really learn content. Happily, ASCD will soon be publishing a book that Janie wrote about his very thing.

The results of a study noted in this article show that, when students understand what the article calls a “growth model” of intelligence, when it was actually taught to the students, achievement improved and students were more willing to work toward improvement. Wow! What a concept…teach the kids that they really can learn and how to learn!

We’ve been learning a little bit about how a lesson might be designed to take advantage of what we know about the brain, learning and instruction. Students need to know what the goal of the instruction is, we need to help students get ready to connect new learning to what they already know, present the new learning, give them time to apply what they’ve just learned and then, summarize their learning which brings the lesson to a close. This lesson design is totally in sync with what we’ve been reading in the research about the brain and how learning takes place.

I wrote recently about pre-exposure – this is also what we might call using an advance organizer. We have many technology tools that will help students to see the learning goals as a visual representation [PageFlakes, Protopage, Google start page] therefore helping them to see their learning goals for the day/week/month/unit as well as where we’ve connected learning together. For example, we might create an Inspiration diagram showing the major topics, vocabulary and ideas to be taught within a unit of science – BUT leave out the links so that students can create their own connections during the learning. Why not present that at the beginning of a unit? As the unit goes along, the teacher could re-visit this organizer asking students to think about how the ideas, topics and vocabulary link together and create the links on their own copy of the diagram. Hmmm…then, at the end of the unit, have students pull out their Inspiration diagram with all the connections and links they’ve made and have them write about how and why the connections were made – no right answers, just a demonstration of the learning and connections that were going on in their brains during the instruction. Could there be a more powerful way of really getting an accurate and true assessment for learning as well as a look at any misunderstandings that the student may have? If we can only "feed" students with the skills that will help them improve their own achievement, we will become better educators for it.

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