Saturday, July 12, 2014

Overcoming boredom in education

Engagement is a hot topic in education these days.  While sometimes hard to quantify and oftentimes lacking consensus in definition, engagement is important to monitor and improve.  Today I started reading The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact by Michael Fullan and right there in the opening chapter he describes how both students and educators are bored in school.  Unfortunately, I agree with him.

The stats he offers are sad, disheartening....
"Two thirds of initially happy kindergartners become alienated from schooling by the time they reach grade 9. (Jenkins, 2013) Teacher satisfaction has declined 24 percent since 2008, when 62 percent reported feeling "very satisfied;" within five years only 38 percent were saying that (Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, 2013).  Meanwhile and not unrelated, 75 percent of principals  feel that their job has become too complex, half of all principals feel under great stress "several days a week," and the percentage who say they are satisfied with their work has dropped from 68 to 59 since 2008."

But it makes me wonder.... how do we address these, how do we change the stats for the better?

For today, I'm thinking about our students.  Personally, I've always believed that classrooms need to be active, engaging, fun places where students are anything but passive.  I love hands on projects, making students wonder, hooking them with a challenge or tapping into their interest areas.

Recently some new strategies have been on my mind that help address this too...things like The Maker Movement, Genius Hour, Project Based Learning, and Inquiry Based Learning.

What changes do you see that would help hook out students, engage them and make love coming to school to learn?  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Defeat stops learning

For hours today, I tried.  I really, really tried.  I just don't think my brain works the way my professor wants students in our class to think.  I'm supposed to interpret and apply the organizational theory metaphor of brain to schools.  Apparently I am far too literal to make this work!  I enjoyed the articles I had to read, but I don't really get how they apply to this metaphor.  And worse than that, I've already taken a stab to two similar organizational theory metaphors and tried to apply them to schools...but I didn't do a very good job. 

In a perfect world, I'd be able to look back at the feedback I received on my previous two, similar papers and be able to create a new response that is closer to meeting my professor's expectations.  But this world is far from perfect.  And my frustration with post graduate school continues.  

I'm not sure I've ever felt so defeated in my learning career.  Now I see just how much defeat can interfere with learning.  Maybe it's beyond interfering.  I feel like I've hit a total road block with this class and this paper.  I've found so many other things to do today even though I set the time aside for this paper.  However, every time I try to write... I realize just how unsure I am about the topic, so I type and then delete sentences. 

Beyond my personal frustration, I wonder how many students in K-12 classrooms experience this type of defeat and how they cope with it?  Is this level of frustration a reason why some students detach from the learning experience, stop trying, and simply just don't care? 

Once we recognize the impact of defeat on the learning process I think it's really important to think about how we as educators can ensure that students don't experience this level of defeat and frustration.  My suggestions:
  • Teach clearly-- know the points you are making and make them explicit
  • Monitor students' understanding through the use of formative assessments, check-ins and tasks that require the student to restate/paraphrase the main ideas so misconceptions can be fixed early in the learning process
  • Understand that students learn in different ways and at different rates.  Be prepared to explain the concept in a variety of ways to meet that learner where he/she is.
  • Provide helpful, targeted, useful feedback early and consistently
  • Encourage!  Find something positive to use to motivate the learner.
I'm sure I'll get through this.  All things said and done, maybe I'll even appreciate this experience in the long run as it is making me be much more reflective about the learning process from the perspective of a learner.  I just wish someone would tell professors in secondary settings some of the lessons I'm learning. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

When being in school sucks the life out of you....

Typically, I love being in school.  I love learning, I love reading and I love thinking about things from a new perspective.  But today I'm not feeling it.  I'm sad to admit that my doctoral program has sucked the life out of me over this winter break.  The shame of it is that I'm not even officially in class yet.  The even bigger shame of it is that these two classes are the reason why I selected this degree and they are very interesting to me.  I should LOVE being in these classes.  My 'spring' classes start on Friday.  But, just to be prepared for our first class we had to:
  • Read 3 books as well as (large) parts of other books
  • Read lots of articles
  • Write three papers (2 have to be precisely 6 pages and written to the exact specifications inside the professors head that aren't clear on paper but she's given us three pages of 'suggestions to 'help' us understand what she wants; and one that is a 5 page summary)
  • Watch a 2 hour movie, plus a clip of another movie.
We received all of this information maybe the week before Christmas.  Then we started the mad dash of ordering books and planning how to accomplish all of this while also trying to enjoy the holiday and do other household projects.  Enter the HUGE calendar and an awesome friend to support me through this.  I've been plugging away at it, but I don't feel like I've made a tremendously amount of progress.  The big set back was the revision to the paper description that came AFTER I'd written my first draft of the paper.  :-(    So last night as I was reading and reading and reading, I must admit, I started to get really bitter about all this and found myself feeling like this just isn't worth it.  And then I realized that this is a very sad statement about education.  It's not alright for being in school to suck the life out of any student.

I believe strongly that every student, no matter the age -- prek-doctoral studies-- deserves:
  • A relationship with their teacher/ least the person knows their name and shows that they care about your learning
  • A reasonable work load
  • Meaningful tasks that are engaging, memorable and assist in learning important concepts
  • Meaningful feedback to confirm and expand learning
By providing these things, not only are students more excited about learning they actually learn more.  At this point, I'm reading to complete the to-do list, but I don't have the luxury of really thinking about the material. 

I will keep plugging through and I'm sure I'll get it all done by Friday.  I hope that my impression of the professor and the course changes upon officially beginning the class because I really want to learn this content and enjoy it. 

Either way, I think it's important for all teachers to consider these notions on behalf of all students.  Let's resolve to do everything possible to keep learning as a meaningful, enjoyable process!