Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Go Study! Strategies with Impact

As an administrator, teacher and parent I have caught myself preaching about the need to study.

Certainly my own children have heard me talk about the importance of preparation, being organized and work habits.

But I must confess that while preaching about the importance of studying and preparation, I probably could be a little more specific about what effective study strategies look like.

For this I turn to John Hattie - who has compiled  a list of meta cognitive study strategies that, the research shows, are most effective in preparing students.

Here are the TOP 5 study strategies (Visible Learning, John Hattie):

1. Organizing and Transforming
This is about being organized in your thinking and making it your own.   It includes such things as making an outline before you compose or mapping your thinking.

2. Self Consequences
Students need to get to a place where they prioritize what is important - preferably on their own. In my house it might look and sound like this: "I know you want play on your rainbow loom, but is there any business you need to take care of first?" This reminds me of the now famous Stanford University Marshmallow Experiment on delayed gratification where:
the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by test scores and educational attainment.....However, recent work calls into question whether self-control, as opposed to strategic reasoning, determines children's behavior
3. Self Evaluation
Creating opportunities for students to do structured self evaluations of their own work.  Peer reviews of work are also effective in this regard.

4. Self-Instruction
Verbalizing the steps and thinking involved in a task.  In other words - "talking it through"

5. Help Seeking
Find a study partner and talk it out it with each other.  Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Ask important important questions.  Receive quality feedback.

Here are the three LEAST effective study strategies (Visible Learning, Hattie):

1. Environmental Restructuring
 Selecting or arranging the physical setting to making learning easier.  This one surprises me given that I have given this bit of advice before.  I suppose this one needs to be taken in context.  If you only provide the space without the effective strategies (see above) results are limited.

2. Time Management
Scheduling daily study and homework time.  Again, one that I have recommended in the past!  Nonetheless, scheduling time without purpose is ineffective.  Reminds me of a few meetings I have attended or even facilitated!

3. Imagery
Creating or recalling vivid mental images to assist learning.

An observation
As I think about the "least effective" study strategies listed above, I can't help but wonder if they tend to prepare students for a certain type of demonstration of learning - i.e. memorizing for the test and/or recalling of information.

On the other hand, the top 5 strategies, from what I can see, lend themselves to preparing students for learning that is multifaceted - from recalling of information to project based, inquiry driven learning.

As usual, I'm still figuring it out....

Friday, February 7, 2014

When SMART Goals become Dumb

Our schools have embraced SMART Goals (Conzemius and O’Neal, 2002) as a vehicle for allowing focused conversations around school growth in the area of curriculum, instruction and learning.

SMART Goals as a definition (and an acronym) are:
Specific: focus on specific learning needs of students
Measurable: can progress be monitored and adjustments can me be made along the way
Attainable: Goals are realistic and team members are given time and resources
Results Orientated: outcomes are observable specific
Time Bound: all done within a time frame
With this in mind I would like to throw out some personal questions and concerns about SMART Goals as I have come to see them in action.

To be clear, I'm not against goal setting.  After all, if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority.

Having strategic goals, based on evidenced need, that can be monitored, is important for any school and teacher.

However, when it comes to SMART Goals in schools, I wonder if we, at times, miss the mark.

Process over results

Recently I watched a video entitled "What Drives Winning?"  The speaker, Brett Ledbetter, shares his insights on what some of the most successful coaches in college and professional basketball say about winning and goal setting.

The most telling message from all these successful and respected coaches is that they don't set goals based on results - instead they focus on "process and character".

For example, Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics is quoted as saying:
I don't even talk about goals.  As a team we never talk about it.  The only thing we talk about is process.
You can watch the video here - it is worth your 6 minutes:

Most of the SMART goals that I have encountered usually reference student achievement results based on some sort of standardized test.  One of my discomforts is that an over reliance on test results can drive pedagogy - usually at the expense of empowered, personalized learning for students.  Teach to the test anyone?

To be clear - I am not against standards nor am I against students demonstrating success in their learning through standards. As a society we need to be sure that student learning and understanding is measured against accepted and agreed upon standards.

However shouldn't the fact that we want students to learn and improve be the default position for every educator in the world?  Do we need SMART Goals to remind us that we want students to improve?

I would surmise that the basketball coaches interviewed in the video take "winning" as the default.  Coaches and players want to win.  That is a given.

Teachers want to students to learn and be successful in their learning.  Students are naturally born to learn and want to be successful in their learning.  That is a given.

What isn't a given is the process of empowering students (and teachers) in their learning.  Perhaps SMART Goals should seek to strike a better balance between pedagogy and student results.

Am I making sense?

School Wide Fake

As a high school principal I have always felt that it would be extremely difficult to have one or two school wide SMART Goals that would be valued and meaningful for an entire school community.

Instead, we developed school wide priorities, based on legitimate evidence - that specific departments and teachers could plug into - in a way that was most meaningful for them and their students.

Take for example......Literacy.  I would suspect that most schools, at one point or another, have had some sort of literacy related goal.

Rather than have one very specific SMART goal for our school, we named Literacy, across all curricular areas as an important priority.

As an offshoot of that school wide priority, different departments and teachers were empowered to make some important decisions as to how that literacy goal could have the most impact for individual students.

Science teachers, as an example, spent a lot of time working with students on how to unpack vocabulary rich scientific text.  Some Humanities teachers discovered that they needed to spend  time assisting students with the skill of summarizing text.

Over time we identified similar priorities related to Digital Citizenship, Assessment and Grading Practices and Technology Integration (to name a few).

It was important that our school wide priorities allowed for teachers to be nimble and respond to the learning needs of each student in any given class or course.

We measure that which is easy

Sometimes I worry that an over-reliance and simplistic view of measurement causes us to measure that which is easy.

In a previous post I ask: What are we measuring in education?

Like Dean Shareski writes in this post: "I'm not anti-measurement.  I'm anti-simple"

As usual, I'm figuring things out.  Any feedback is welcome....