Jan 29, 2015

Learnin', Bloggin' and Makin' Videos

Recently, in the discussion board of my Differentiated Instruction class, we talked about different ways to teach students and ways for students to show understanding.  Much of the class focuses on student learning styles and as we talk about our own hangups in terms of learning.  

I run participants in the class through a discussion of what learning styles mean for students.  In doing so, we talk about how not all students are alike.  You will have some who are visual learners, others auditory, and some kinesthetic.  If you follow Gardner's train of thought, it can be more complex than that, but in either case, if you focus solely on an auditory means of teaching (standard lecture), you're going to lose more than half of your audience as your visual learners can't picture what you're saying and your kinesthetic learners - well let's just say they're itching to get out of their seat and out of the room!

To get teachers in the mode of understanding the impact, I have them take a Learning Style Quiz to see where they lie on the spectrum of learning.  Try these for yourself and your class:

After they take one or more quizzes to assess their style, I ask teachers to reflect on their own learning (what life was like in high school for them) and how they feel this impacts their teaching style.  As they do so, they start to see how some kids could easily be left behind (no that was not an NCLB reference) in the process of presenting content.  This quickly gets us onto the discussion of student work.  We discuss the use of  video content to present work in new ways that allow a bit of auditory and visual content. By creating your own content on video, you can flip your classroom and save time for other tasks such as projects and labs.  Take it one step further and get your kids to create content of their own -  a kinesthetic learners paradise!

Try these free and cheap tools to start creating your own content:

In order to know that your students understand what is being taught, you need to assess them.  Now don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of a simple Multiple Choice test that can be auto-scored by a  computer, but let's face it - to gauge true understanding, kids need to show us.  So why not lend them a hand and let them collaborate!  Use the tools above to help them in creating content to show understanding.  Use a Rubric to grade the process.  

But sometimes, regardless of how content is presented, some students never understand on their own.  IF they stay within their silos, they soon become frustrated.  This is why collaboration is so important.   Collaboration is key in assisting with understanding, but also fostering creativity and generating new ideas.  By placing students into groups and stations, you can create an atmosphere that allows for true collaboration.  
  • Group work and stations - Get students to work toward assessing content, checking for mistakes, applying understanding by creating their own journals - but have them do it in groups that rotate through stations.  As students move through each station, they can work as a group to comment and correct material at each station.    When they move through stations as a group, they not only benefit from the work of their own group, but the ones who have rotated through the station before them, as they begin to dissect comments and corrections made by others.  
If you don't have the time, but you have the technology, have your students work in collaboration outside of the classroom in a Discussion Forum.  Discussion Forums are great for vetting new ideas, Q&A sessions, help with homework, or just simple project collaboration.  Here are a few resources to help you get started:

Discussion Boards:
  • Today's Meet https://todaysmeet.com/ - If you'd like a simple backchannel style discussion thread that students can interact with in realtime, Today's Meet is a great free option.  You can setup a web link for them to access, and you can choose how long you want it to stay open.  You also have the ability to download a copy of the discussion to print.  
  • Piazza - https://piazza.com/ - Great for Q&A style discussion between instructor and students.
  • Google Classroom - Must be a Google Apps for Education district to use this http://www.alicekeeler.com/teachertech/2014/09/07/20-things-you-can-do-with-google-classroom/ - Use this tool to do a whole host of things, including the ability to comment and post questions.
  • Google Docs as a Discussion Tool https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn6ZQB6fuQM - Google Drive/Docs is a free tool, so why not use a Google Doc as a discussion tool.  Watch this video to learn tips!

Finally, there is no greater way to get kids to show understanding than writing.  Blogs can help.  If you want to call it journaling, you can call it that too, but in either case, the very act of writing gets students to hash out their ideas and thoughts.  Assign students activities that they have to blog about.  One great way to do this is to have kids create technical instructions.  Give them the task of explaining a concept such as math or scientific procedure in such a way that their English teacher can understand it - and do it on a blog or discussion forum.  This idea came from a workshop on literacy integration in our school.  Wonderful idea!
What does all of this have to do with learning styles?  That's where we started, right!  Well, as a kid, one of the things I always hated was taking tests.  And creating dioramas - don't even get me started.  I was the type of kid that would blow it on a test, but I could always write a great essay (that may not always be evident here).  I hated making dioramas or cell projects in science, but I could make a mean poster!  A student's learning style has a great deal to do with their strengths.  Some kids are very musical/rhythmic, so why not allow them to show understanding by writing a poem, song, or dance.  Others are very visual, so whay not allow them to use that to create visuals that teach others through use of a cartoon.  

Allowing students to play to their strengths seems very simple, but many teachers don't want the complexity of grading  a hundred different projects.  My answer is to go back to rubrics.  Design a simple rubric around the concepts/standards you want students to focus on in the lesson.  Then use those key points to grade their project - not on creativity or pieces such as number of slides in a powerpoint, but their ability to relay content in such a way that others can understand it!  

So what if you receive a myriad of different projects, in all sorts of media formats! Allowing students to use their creativity means they will have more fun with it and possibly learn something in the process.  Think about this - what are your most memorable projects from school?  Were they the ones that allowed you more freedom to create in your own way, or were they the ones that forced you to do the same thing everyone else did?  

Now go with that thought and teach your kids!