July 10, 2018

New Learning Course Update #3

Update 3: “Did That Take?” Education

As a teacher, among my peers, I am usually one of the first to adopt new technologies and find ways to integrate them into my teaching. In 2008, when Google Drive was still just called Google Docs, and it was still in it’s beta phase, I started using a version of Google Apps in my tech class. It was still very rudimentary, but it worked for what I was trying to accomplish in my class. I was running my tech class like it was a small business. So, I gave each of my students their own e-mail account under the domain that I had purchased, in order to use the Google Apps suite. At that same school, I worked with the administration in 2009, to introduce Google Apps to the rest of the high school, and enabled e-mail and other online functions for the remainder of the students.



Since then, we have seen the introduction of Google Apps for Education developed, specifically for the classroom. In December of 2010, I was one of the Cr-48 test pilots. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromebook#Cr-48) I received one of the first chromebooks, before they were for sale. Of course, they weren’t originally called Chromebooks, but I immediately brought it into my classroom, and attempted to use it for all of my educational needs.  In 2012, I worked with another school to incorporate the Google Apps for Education suite of products. At that school, I was the a Google Apps administrator, and worked with several other teachers to help them bring these technological benefits to their classroom. Along with another teacher, we worked at getting a few sets of chromebooks purchased for use in the classroom as well.

I am now level 2 certified in Google for education, and I am working on becoming a certified Google trainer. I’ve continued to use multiple products, though I have focused on Google’s, to bring other learning opportunities to my students. I’ve maintained a teacher website for several years (http://mr.harmlessonline.net), continuing to use that domain that I purchased in 2008. I post tutorial videos, videos from other services, like Khan Academy, online quizzes, which are self-grading, links to useful and interactive math sites, and so on… I am always attempting to bring in new ideas, sharing them with other teachers, and picking up ideas from others.

But in the middle of all of that, I have noticed that a large portion of my students will say things like, “I just really like it when you just teach us.” or “I always understand so much better when you demonstrate the problems.” I also get former students who will come back to me during after school opportunities, wanting me to “just show them” how to do something. Many of my students will embrace those class days where I have them lined up facing the board and give actual instruction. And … oh so many … will go through all of the other exercises and experiments and projects, and will still say, “... could you please just show me?”

Adding to this, I have also noticed that I personally enjoy listening to a “master” on a topic. I like hearing them speak. I like listening to their ideas. Though I am very A.D.D., and have been diagnosed as such,  I still love the entire sit and learn approach. I crave having an instructor tell me what they have learned and what they believe is best. I always maintain my own identity during the process, but a passionate speaker is enlightening and it makes the synapses of my brain start to fire in unexpected ways. I also find that when I attend conferences, especially educational conferences, I always shut down mentally when they jump to group activity. And this may sound horrible to my educational peers, but what I really want to hear is the expert on the topic… not a bunch of people that are in the same boat with me. (Please don’t take that the wrong way. I also love talking with and listening to my peers, but I enjoy that best over a cup of coffee or during our PLC times at school.)

All of this has left me wondering whether or not many of our techniques are actually all that beneficial. But then again, I didn’t want to make any mental decisions based on just my experiences. This led me to a study performed by the Sutton Trust and Durham University. If I understand the basis of the study, it was attempting to answer the question as to which teaching methods were actually producing the best results. (Which, even according to the study, is a difficult reality to measure.)

In this study, which I will share all of the links at the bottom of my update, I found some interesting results. In an article by The Guardian, covering this study, we find the core idea behind their findings:
The study suggests that some schools and teachers continue using methods that cause little or no improvement in student progress, and instead rely on anecdotal evidence to back fashionable techniques such as “discovery learning,” where pupils are meant to uncover key ideas for themselves, or “learning styles,” which claims children can be divided into those who learn best through sight, sound or movement. 
Instead, more traditional styles that reward effort, use class time efficiently and insist on clear rules to manage pupil behaviour, are more likely to succeed, according to the report – touching on a raw nerve within the British teaching profession, which has seen vigorous debates between “progressive” and “traditional” best practice.
From the Sutton Trust website, here are a few of the key findings from this research:

The two factors with the strongest evidence of improving pupil attainment are:
  • teachers’ content knowledge, including their ability to understand how students think about a subject and identify common misconceptions 
  • quality of instruction, which includes using strategies like effective questioning and the use of assessment
Specific practices which have good evidence of improving attainment include:

  • challenging students to identify the reason why an activity is taking place in the lesson 
  • asking a large number of questions and checking the responses of all students 
  • spacing-out study or practice on a given topic, with gaps in between for forgetting 
  • making students take tests or generate answers, even before they have been taught the material
Common practices which are not supported by evidence include:

  • using praise lavishly 
  • allowing learners to discover key ideas by themselves 
  • grouping students by ability 
  • presenting information to students based on their “preferred learning style”

You can read the full study here.

I believe that we (all of the students currently taking this class) have agreed that a key phrase to understand the best approach is that we “need a good blend.” In many of the updates already posted and from our instructors in this course, we have seen the importance of balance. But I do get nervous... while the teaching profession is adopting new techniques, styles, and technologies... sometimes I wonder whether or not that … that special relationship between a teacher/mentor and their students might get lost in the mix, and I think that this, quite possibly, is exactly what many children are desperately in need of.

https://teachercenter.withgoogle.com/

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/oct/31/education-traditional-teaching-versus-progressive

https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/oct/31/great-teaching-expert-opinions

https://www.suttontrust.com/newsarchive/education-study-finds-in-favour-of-traditional-teaching-styles/

https://www.suttontrust.com/research-paper/great-teaching/