The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Month: November 2010 (page 3 of 3)

15 things kids can do instead of homework

If you are a parent (or a teacher who wants to give a recommendation to an interested parent), and you believe the arguments against homework (see my previous post: 25 Myths of Homework) then you might be asking yourself now, okay so my kid isn’t doing homework: what else should they do instead? These are some suggestions although I highly recommend doing these activities with your child and giving them as much choice in the activity as you can. I also recommend that you approach these suggestions from a perspective of balance rather than a list of "things I must do with my child every night." Claw back the time you spend on homework so you can spend more time with your children or so that children can have more time to self-direct themselves. Obviously there are lots of other things you can do…

  1. Relax:

    Let them relax for at least 30 minutes at home. You want to do the same thing when you get home from work, whether you get the chance to do it or not, so do they. This chance just to relax will probably not look the same for all students.

  2. Play outside:

    Here’s an example of my son learning how to ride a bicycle. Tell me this isn’t more valuable than any homework assignment he could be given.

    The research is showing that our children are more obese, at least in North America, and this is at least partially due to the sedentary lifestyle we’ve begun to adopt. The added benefit of playing these games outside with your children is that you will get more exercise too!

  3. Cook together:

    Kids need to learn how to cook somehow. I’m so glad my mom taught me how to cook. I will admit that I forgot this skill when I hit adolescence because it was no longer cool, but when I became a bachelor and now that I am married, this is a very valuable skill.

    Thanasi and a friend cooking

  4. Learn about animals:

    Whether this means a local farm, a full sized zoo, or even just a walk in the right section of the woods, it is important that our kids learn about animals from first hand experience.

    Feeding a giraffe

  5. Be silly:

    Kids need play time. Nuff said.

    I am a robot

  6. Go to the beach:

    While I’ll admit this isn’t a daily or even weekly activity for us, it is an awesome opportunity for our son to see a completely different part of the world than his everyday experience.

    Go to the beach

  7. Make a fort:

    This could be something as simple as some pillows from the couch propped together, or when your kids are a bit older they can work with you and build something more permanent. If you build something outside, it’s also a great opportunity for your kid’s friends to come over and help out!

    Build a fort

  8. Learn how to make music:

    Music is enriching part of our lives and is unfortunately being cut from many schools as budgets are being slashed during the economic recession. Fortunately you can always learn how to play an instrument, and I would recommend learning an instrument at the same time as your kid.

    Playing the piano

  9. Go play at the neighbours:

    I’m lucky enough to live in a cooperative housing complex in Vancouver which according to my wife is set up much differently than a co-op in the USA. I don’t know about co-ops elsewhere in the world, but one of the huge benefits of our "community mandated time" is that we know our neighbours in the building. We have five potential babysitters in our building alone and lots of kids with whom our son can play.

    Playing at the neighbours

  10. Play with Grandma or Grandpa:

    Our own parents are an excellent source of fun and enjoyment for our kids. They can share some of their ideas, and explain how the world used to be, or they can just have fun.

    Greatgrandma and Thanasi

    Thanasis and Grandpa

  11. Read a book together:

    According to relatively recent research, less than 50% of all parents read to their children regularly before the age of 5. This hopefully has nothing to do with the amount of homework they are receiving, but does set them up for future success in literacy. It is also a fun thing to do! We find it is a great way to calm our son down for a bit and get him to sit still because he loves stories.

    Reading with my son

  12. Go for a walk together:

    Just going for a walk in the woods or around the block can be amazing.

    Walk in the woods

  13. Work in a garden:

    You may not have a backyard or a garden yourself, but most cities and towns do have community gardens. There are also opportunities to volunteer in a garden in most cities.

    Working in the garden


  14. Do an arts project:

    This one I think is obvious and the benefits of creating artwork are awesome. At the very least it can be a really welcome gift for your relatives.

    Arts project

  15. Do an experiment together:

    Science is fun! You can find lots of websites which will give you simple experiments you can do at home. Here’s part of a video I taped of my son and I learning about reasons why things float or sink. 

What is assessment for learning?

First watch this video to the very end.

Okay, so you get the idea. Assessment for learning assumes that learning is a continuous process, and that using a final average of the student’s work can interfere with the important task of understanding students. An average only shows what could be expected of typical performance of a student and doesn’t show any of the trends in student learning.

In our IB MYP school, we use assessment for learning. Each time we are asked to produce a report card, we take a snapshot of what we think the student should be capable of doing by examining their current portfolio of work, and we record that snapshot as the grade. We don’t average grades. If a student starts out the beginning of the year and does nothing, but then by the end of the year they are producing masterpieces, then we assume that they can produce masterpieces. We all know the content at the end of the year is generally more difficult than the beginning of the year, but we also know that kids change during a year.

Let’s look at a more extreme analogy. Suppose you are trying to become a famous painter. You try and create a masterpiece, but over and over again your work just isn’t there. You keep improving a little bit each time because you are practicing, but most of what you produce is really not that good. One day you have a break-through and you paint a masterpiece. Your work goes viral and you make millions of dollars in prints. Are you successful? Should we consider a kid who produces an awesome piece of work to be successful? What if it is their final exam?

Plethora of devices or mono-culture?

I was a minor part of a conversation a few weeks ago with the Couros brothers ( @couros and @acouros ) when I jumped into their conversation about whether a school should allow a variety of Internet ready devices, or if schools should become mono-cultures and try and enforce a single type of device. 

After 2 months of allowing a plethora of student Internet devices and the havoc it has wreaked on our ability to trouble shoot our wireless problems, I am beginning to wish that we had bought the devices for the students. I’d like every student to be using exactly the same hardware right now because it would mean that once we found wifi settings which worked for one student, the settings would work for all students.

One side of the argument is that it is more important to teach students about the Internet and computing itself than to let them become dependent on a single type of device. If all they see is a single device then they won’t know how to use other devices they may encounter later in life. They become experts at trouble shooting that one device, but then never learn about how to trouble shoot other devices. Technology is easy to use when it is working properly, it is when it is not working that you want students to be really comfortable working out solutions to the problems they find.

The other side of the argument is that schools have limited resources and time, and if we spend our time trying to negotiate and troubleshoot a variety of devices, we lose time students could be using learning with those devices. Instead we can use all the same device and all of our time repairing and fixing problems with the devices is reduced because very quickly we will know all of the solutions to the problems we will encounter.

What’s your opinion? Should we be rigid and use one type of device, or should we be flexible and allow any device?

If I started my own school, what would it look like?

I saw @drtimony tweet suggesting that we, and by this he meant #edchat on Twitter, should start a school. It’s a good idea, certainly among the participants of #edchat we have the expertise to pull it off.

What would I want that school look like? 

First I’d like the assessment in the school to be used to help the students’ learning, rather than on trying to identify the progress of learning for anyone else. Ideally this would mean no grades for the students; nothing numerical being used to measure their learning. Each student would have a portfolio that they would use to guide and keep track of their learning, and could be used to share what they are learning with the wider school community. Grades are demotivating for students. First, they end the learning process. Once an assignment is graded, it is no longer worth improving upon. Second, grades lead naturally to ranking of students, which leads to students self-image being hurt. Nothing is more demoralizing than recognizing that a person of authority thinks you aren’t as worthy as your peers.

Student discipline would run using something like the restitution model where students become able to manage their own behaviour. Conversations about discipline under restitution stop the focus on the student as being a bad person and start with idea that people are always in a state of improving themselves.

The building of the school would include learning spaces and be a place which is comfortable. The schools filled with hallways and classrooms are sterile and cold, and are a reminder of the factory model upon which our current model is built. Instead of students being trapped inside, my perfect school would include a blended model where students could learn from the outside world. We may not even be tied to a single building, as schools like the Think Global School have shown that what matters about a school are not its walls, but the people and experiences they encompass.

No textbooks would be found in this school. The curriculum itself would be at least 50% self-directed by the students with some essentially skills taught along side completely personalized learning. Our emphasis would be on skills, not content. We would want students who can communicate, who can think, and who know how to learn. Technology would be used to support those skills, and students would be connected to other learners from around the world. Discussions would replace lectures and students would be expected to be question-makers rather than question-consumers. 

The educators who worked at this school would be passionate learners along side their students as their role would not be to instruct, but to support. The teachers at this school would also run the school, with each of them having a leadership role in some aspect of the school. They would share the workload associated with schools and act from a student-centred perspective. They would ask "how can we help these students be successful?" and "how can we support our students?" everyday.

What would you like your ideal school to look like?

The apprenticeship model of teaching

I posted out a suggestion on Twitter which I want to write about in more detail. The basic idea is, instead of the current model of teacher education that we use now, we should look at an apprenticeship model. Each new teacher would do a year of training in their university with a small amount of classroom observation time, and then in the following year they would apprentice with an experienced teacher in their classroom for at least a year, and then with a different experienced teacher for a following year.

In their two years as an apprentice teacher they would learn how to teach. They would still attend some classes outside of teaching so they could formalize their learning but they would have an invaluable experience learning how to teach from someone who knows the trade. The classroom of students would benefit from the attention of two teachers, one of whom has been recently trained in the most current pedagogy, and other of whom would have years of experience behind them. No classroom would end up with a rookie teacher on their own and suffer the consequences of trying to learn from someone who is struggling to learn how to teach. 

I would also include some assistant teachers in this program to ensure that the busy bureaucratic work of teaching isn’t handed off to the apprentice teacher too often. It would be important for them to have the time to learn how to teach properly, rather than handle the paperwork of the classroom. 

A further benefit of this system would be that every classroom with an apprentice teacher also has someone on staff who can act as a substitute teacher. These substitute teachers would have the benefit of knowing the students, the curriculum and the learning of the students would never have to miss a beat. There would be no more "substitute’s in, let’s party!" days for the students.

You would have to start out such a program small and with a few master teachers as the initial guides. The apprentices would apply for the program with the understanding that their first couple of years of teaching would be paid less. In British Columbia, many teachers have to work for years as substitute teachers without gaining any substantive experience as a full time classroom teacher. Here in BC, they would welcome this change as it would be a marked improvement to the current system.

A definite drawback of this system is that it would likely cost more than the current system although there would be some cost-savings with the reduction of the number of substitute teachers required.  You might be able to regain some of the cost savings back if you recognized that a slightly larger class size could be managed with two (or possibly three) adults in the room since the workload for each teacher would generally be less than if they had their own full-size classroom.

Another way this would offset the cost of the program is that you would spend less time training new teachers since the attrition rate for teaching would be likely be lower. Many teachers who leave the profession cite a lack of support as their reason for quitting teaching. Teachers in the apprenticeship model of learning how to teach would have much more support and more immediate access to resources than our current model.

Does anyone know if this model exists anywhere yet? I’d love to hear from people who have actually spent significant time apprenticing to be a teacher.

16 signs teachers have professional autonomy

After a quick brainstorming session (via a Google Doc shared to Twitter), here are 16 things teachers consider to be examples of professional autonomy.

  1. Ability to write their own lessons
  2. Input into their teaching schedule
  3. Plan their own assessments
  4. Choose their own professional development opportunities and an ability to design it – personalize the experience.
  5. Evaluation moving away from “drive thru” by administrators and into collaboration about professional goals with administrators.  
  6. Ability to access resources through the school network as they see fit (ie. not filtered)
  7. Ability to purchase resources for their classroom & manage own classroom budget
  8. Input into school safety plan
  9. Encourage to experiment with new pedagogical styles
  10. Ability to arrange their classroom as desired.  (Wall displays, seating arrangement to suit the desired class-room environment)
  11. Input into (and even control over) student course selections
  12. Use any tech including cell phones and student devices
  13. Change curriculum when it does not fit student needs
  14. Choice on textbook if you use one (or choice NOT to use a textbook)
  15. Trusted to exercise professional judgement in determining what grade to give a student
  16. Ability to collaborate with other teachers

In his book "Drive" Daniel Pink describes the fundamental characteristics which motivate people and personal autonomy is high on his list. For teachers (and other professions) this translates to professional autonomy while they are at work. We will work harder and be more effective if we are given the personal authority over our own sphere of possible influence. Should there be oversight of what teachers do? Definitely. Should this oversight include micro-managing teachers to the point of turning us into mindless automatons? Definitely not.

At the school I work at, many of these things are already true. I can honestly say that this a major reason why I love working at this school. The people I work with are amazing too, but I have worked with amazing staff when we didn’t have autonomy and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. You can put the most amazing teaching staff together, but if you don’t give them some control and allow them to use their professional judgement they will be powerless to act to make your school a better place. 

Check out what Daniel Pink has to say about motivation.