Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Learning, Thinking, Doing

For me, one of the best parts of summer is the time I have to read.  I know I will never get to all of the books on my "to-be-read pile", but I make an effort each summer to at least put a dent in the stack.  Of course, this is more difficult when I keep adding to the stack....

But I digress. :)

One of this year's book choices is Why Don't Students Like School by Daniel Willingham and while I'm less than halfway through the book, it already has the potential to be a game changer in my classroom.  Willingham is a cognitive psychologist and the style of the book is very similar to Make It Stick, another book that I highly recommend.  One thing I really like about WDSLS is that each chapter ends in an "Implications for the Classroom" section, which provides practical tips for the classroom.

In my post yesterday, I was processing various discussions from the AP Stat reading and how I had changed as a teacher over the years.  Part of that post was spawned by this tweet by my dear friend, Julie:

During the week, I would often start a conversation with a "Question of the Day" and one of Julie's answers was about having a more student-centered classroom.  I fully agree with a student-centered classroom but over the years, I have gotten away from it and turned to more traditional methods, much to my dismay.

But today, while reading and taking notes on Ch 3 of WDSLS, I think I have some answers...

The key question of Ch 3 is this... "What makes some things stick in memory and what is likely to slip away?"

And Willingham's answer is pretty simple.... "Memory is the residue of thought.  Whatever students think about is what they will remember."


I've heard this quote from him several times while listening to podcasts, etc, but until now, I did not have a full picture of what was meant because I hadn't read his book. :)

In Ch 3, Willingham spends some time talking about lesson planning and how we, as teachers, really need to pay attention to our lessons / assignments and use the anticipation method of planning to help us figure out what students will actually think about in our lesson vs what we hope they think about.  This is a throwback to the '5 Practices' book where we anticipate student responses to help us plan good questions.  But do I actually *do* this?  Nope.  Or at least, not often enough.

This is where I need to focus my energies.  How can I create engaging lessons that get students to think about the deeper meaning?  How can I structure my lessons so that "the person doing the most thinking is the person doing the most learning"?

In Chapter 3's Implications for Learning, Willingham does caution against a few strategies that might create a barrier to thinking & learning.  One barrier he mentions are "Attention Grabbers" because often students might focus on (and therefore start thinking about) the 'cool-ness' factor and totally miss the bigger idea that followed.

The other barrier mentioned is the one that really grabbed my attention - Discovery Learning - and this section was where I really had my a-ha moment of the chapter.  As I've already said, I love the idea of a student-centered classroom and for many years, my classroom was filled with activity upon activity, with the idea of using an activity to introduce content and formalize it later.  I gravitated toward this approach mainly because of the "sticky-ness" of activities in giving the background knowledge for the later formalization.  From Willingham:
"Discovery learning has much to recommend it, especially when it comes to the level of student engagement. If students have a strong voice in deciding which problems they want to work on, they will likely be engaged in the problems they select, and will likely think deeply about the material, with attendant benefits.  An important downside, however, is that what students will think about is less predictable.  ... If memory is the residue of thought, then students will remember incorrect "discoveries" as much as they will remember the correct ones."
And this is my a-ha moment.  This is really the crux of the reason why I have changed over the years.  While activities and discovery definitely created the "sticky-ness" I desired, the resultant outcomes were less predictable and students did not always catch the nuances of the material that I wanted them to get out of the lesson.

Added to this problem is the core question from Ch 2 - "Do students have the necessary background knowledge  to carry out a critical thinking task?"

Too often, I would throw out a task, without making sure that students had the necessary background knowledge nor adequately preparing my lessons to ensure that students would actually be thinking about what I wanted them to think about.  Without these two elements in place, I set myself up to fail, which resulted in a regression toward a teacher-centered classroom.

I don't have all of the answers, or even most of the answers.  But at least I now know what I need to watch for while planning my lessons this year.  I want to get back to that student-centered classroom, but with an intentional focus on background knowledge and deep thinking.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Raw Emotions

I'm a day late for #MTBoSBlog18, but considering that yesterday was the AP Reading Travel Day and I struggled to keep my eyes open, I am still counting this :)

I am feeling raw today. I don't know how else to explain it. I just spent a week with some of my dearest AP Stat friends, reflecting on the year, thinking of new strategies to use, and learning from each other, and to be honest, it made me wonder what has happened to me over the years.

This year's AP Stat test was a "math-y" test and I really didn't know what to expect going into the Reading. I know that in general, my students are not "math-y" students and over the years, I have de-emphasized a lot of the computations in favor of more conceptual understandings and this year that might come back to bite me. And then I started thinking back over the years...

Eighteen years ago, in the summer of 2000, I received a phone call the week before school started asking me if I would be willing to teach AP Stat. I had taught for 2 years, but nothing higher than Geometry and while I had taken a couple of stat classes in college, I wasn't sure about teaching the class. What a whirlwind of emotions I had that year! The AP Stat program was in its infancy and there was only one textbook out there at the time. I was clueless and lost. I stumbled my way through the year, many nights falling asleep with the textbook on my lap and gave "free days" more often than I'd like to admit because I did not know the material well enough to teach it. I diligently took notes on a legal pad, then transcribed them each day on an overhead projector for my students. I remember attending a 2 day training in early November 2000 and one of the sessions was on Type I/II Errors & Power and cried most of the way through the session because I was so lost. I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and had no idea what I was doing.

Somehow I made it through the year and even had some kids pass the exam! I spent the summer diving into every resource I could find, scouring used book stores for Statistics books, printing off idea after idea from the internet, and determined that year 2 would be better.

And it was. I fell in love with the course and attended every workshop I could find in order to deepen my own knowledge of the material.

Over the next few years, I focused more and more on having a student-centered classroom. I believed in the "sticky-ness" of activities, I used online applications to integrate technology, and the program continued to grow and thrive.

But this week, as I listened to the amazing teachers around me, I realized how much I had changed. I don't know exactly when this change occurred, but it did. I realized that while I still believe in the student-centered classroom, I don't know that my daily classroom practice illustrates that belief. I have regressed back to more lecture and more handouts and less activities. It's easy to find reasons excuses why this change has happened - larger class sizes, larger program, new preps, student changes - but ultimately, the responsibility lands on my shoulders. I allowed it to happen.

This realization about how much I have changed really bothers me. I was the young whipper-snapper, eager to change the world. I was the one that ran several teacher resource websites to share teaching ideas with the community. I was the progressive, student-centered, engaging teacher. But today, I just feel old and tired.

I'm not quite sure (yet) how to deal with this. I know that a good chunk of it is in my head. I know that I am a MUCH better teacher than I was at the beginning. I know that I have (way too many) resources at my fingertips. I know that I have some amazing pedagogical tools in my teacher tool-belt.

This year, we are adopting new textbooks. This change is somewhat scary because I have used my current textbook / author for at least 14 years, but I'm hoping the change will be the shock to the system that I need.

I still love teaching the course, but this summer I need to focus on how to channel that "inner me" that I know is still there.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Summertime Fun with Books :)

One of my favorite things about summer is that it is a time of professional growth for me.  Most days, you will find me on the back patio with a book in hand and cold lemonade nearby. :)

Here's what is on my summer book list:

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by [Gladwell, Malcolm]

I started the summer by reading Tracy Zagar's book based on several recommendations from the #MTBoS and quickly fell in love. However, as I read more of the book, I realized that I really needed the support of a book chat to help me process some of the ideas floating in my head. I put out the all-call on Twitter and starting on June 21st at 8pm Central, we will be chatting this book on Twitter if you want to join in. Until then, I've put this book on hold :)

After putting #BecomingMath on hold, I picked up Daniel Willingham's book, which has been on my "to-be-read" pile for awhile. Recently, this book has been referenced a lot in various blog posts, podcasts, etc and as I've been reading it, I know WHY people keep referencing it - this book is a game changer in the same way as "Make It Stick" was a few years ago. I have been on a cognitive psychology kick for a while and I love that each chapter ends with an "Implications for the Classroom" section.

My dear friend and fellow bookaholic, Pam, suggested Tipping Point as a summer read. I've read several of Malcolm Gladwell's books and had this one sitting in my Kindle library for a few years. Gladwell is another author that writes in a very conversational style but with a huge impact. If you've never read his work, I highly recommend it! :)

Finally, I checked out John Hattie's Visible Learning from our school professional center, so I'm hoping to get to this one soon too :)

In addition to these books, I plan to spend part of my summer with my new textbooks in preparation for the new year. :) It's going to be a busy summer but definitely a good year of learning!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Summer has (finally) arrived!

It's the first day of summer break after the longest school year in history.  Seriously.  In my 20 years of teaching and 17 years of being a student, I never recall going to school in June until this year.  But it's over, grades are submitted, my room is packed up, and Year 20 is done.

For some reason, I get really sad about saying goodbye to my room over the summer.  I mean, we are pretty lucky that we can leave stuff hanging up and in our cabinets, but it's like the building knows it is empty and lifeless, that laughter will not be heard in the hallways, and a sterile feeling that takes over the classrooms.

All in all, it was a year of ups and downs.  In a big school, you expect some of that, but we had a year with a lot of loss from accidents, the retirement of our beloved football coach, and a 2-week walkout.  No matter what happened though, our community rallied around us and together, we strove onward.

This summer will be a time of rest and rejuvenation, a time to spend with loved ones, a time to reflect and grow, and next year we will be stronger.