Sunday, September 27, 2015

4 Questions My Students Can Answer

What's more important? That the teacher does everything "right," or that the students master the curriculum goals?

We're past the getting-to-know-you stage of the school year, and teachers are already writing their evaluation goals and self assessments. That's why I think it's time for me to be very clear about what I expect from myself professionally. 

Although I'm in a new school, in a new state, I won't let go of what I learned working in Denton, Texas. The most important of which was that it's about what the students are learning. Sure, the teacher's tasks play a crucial role, but it only matters if the students understand the expectations and are motivated to learn.

What Motivates?

We are often trying to figure out new ways to motivate students, and Dan Pink's autonomy, mastery, and purpose are widely accepted as the defining conditions. But the question still remains: How can we measure motivation?

I don't propose that the following questions measure motivation, but I think that they can measure our progress toward setting up the conditions for students to be motivated.   

Furthermore, students need to become self motivated. For this, a thinking routine is necessary to establish a culture of learning that allows students to develop intrinsic motivation. 

Here are four questions that I have restated from my experience collecting data on what students are learning. They were originally designed by Look2Learning and rephrased from the student's point of view. 

1. What am I doing?

No matter how many times we explain the expectations, there's always a student who needs clarification. Imagine a classroom in which the expectation is for students to be able to communicate what they are doing.

Make it routine that they come in and spend time observing and thinking about what it will take to complete a learning task before they ask clarifying questions. Another expectation that can support this one is to have students state one part that they understand about the task before asking a clarifying question. 

2. What am I learning by doing it?

It's too much to ask learners to complete tasks if they don't know what knowledge they should take from the experiences. Again, like all of these questions, teachers are doing their jobs when students can respond confidently and accurately to these questions.

If the teacher is sitting behind his desk, all of the students can answer these questions, and there's a way to collect evidence of learning, the teacher, in my opinion, is doing his job. Whoever said that teachers need to be up and moving all the time was pushing what works for them on the profession – not exactly differentiation, huh? 

3. How will I know when I'm successful?

This is often what kids are wondering when they ask about what they got on a test, right? Okay, probably a little too idealistic for most students. It's possible, however, that a classroom culture can value specific feedback in lieu of a number or letter that will point to nothing but perhaps a fleeting elation or a detrimental deflation of confidence.

Aside from training students to be able to reflect on this question, rubrics and clear expectations are a great place to start. The goal is to be able to answer this question before the work is turned in. 

4. How can I apply what I am learning?

Once students know what they are doing, understand the purpose, and feel confident that they can succeed, it's time for a life lesson. It may seem like there isn't enough time to take curriculum to the world beyond a math textbook, for example, but it's in the transfer of a concept from one context to another that the true value of education is realized. 

I will work hard to ensure my students can answer these four questions. I will also reflect on the results to make adjustments in instruction to increase achievement. I hope my daughter's teachers do the same.