Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to Improve Teaching Performance

      In a recent TedTalk, Bill Gates described many ways to improve teacher performances.  He talked about how things like union rules were designed to protect weak and poor-performing teachers.  These however are the same rules that protect good teachers too from bad management and parents using inapproprate means to solve problems their children have with schools (please note the careful wording on that one; I am a parent too).

     Bill Gates put a lot of emphasis on saying successful teachers can be measured by the test scores their kids get, and their methods should be applauded and studied by other teachers.  He suggested that digital video cameras be set up in classrooms so that they can see study with colleagues different successes and failures, and discuss with open honesty and with no fear of reprisal ways to improve teaching performance.

     I don't think that you could mandate cameras in teacher's classrooms, as I think there is a great potential for misuse, such as fact finding missions against teachers that administrators just don't get along with.

      The single greatest thing you could do to improve teaching performance is to remove everything from a teacher's workload that isn't related to teaching and allocate that to someone else.  Then have the teachers just focus on those teachable moments in class.  This is where teachers are most aware of who is "getting it" in class and who is not.  If we are in a rush to get the next assignment out, so we can get it back and put it on the pile of marking that we already have (ensuring we have lots of data to back up what we as professionals KNOW about our students), then we often miss the students who are merely nodding along and then slip through the cracks.  We assign a lot to cover our butts!

      I think we should focus on marking fewer (but more multidisciplinary) assignments so you can turn work around faster in class.  Kids should learn to meet deadlines, and with fewer assignments there is a greater chance they will learn the lessons intended.

     That's it.  

     Don't ask teachers to do inventory, clean the school, repair things, or sit on too many committees.  Some of this is necessary, but some of it is not.  This is particularly true at the elementary school level, where there are fewer staff members, but still lots of duties to do.  Often these non-teaching related duties fall on the teachers because there is not a lot of money for extra staffing.

    If all teachers thought about was "what do I need to get across to these students" and then ask themselves  "do my students have it now?" then I could improve school performance across our country.  

Monday, June 15, 2009

Student Created Content - Better and Cheaper

One of my students has created a video. It is modelled after the educational video website, brainpop.com. This student has used some pretty basic animation skills I taught using pivot (a free stick figure animation program).

Unfortunately I have temporarily removed this video from my site as I think some of the music used was copyrighted. I will post it as soon as I am able. But I think it this student project represents a valuable idea: A subscription to brainpop.com can be costly, but possibly worth it. But, what if we gave our kids the ability to create content that was very exciting to watch and informative too? Then our students would be showing what they know in an authentic way, it would be engaging more areas of their thinking, and we as teacher might be able to use this kind of multimedia work year after year. Multimedia reaches more kinds of learners, and I have always found that kids really do a good job communicating their ideas to other kids.

Next September - Multimedia projects for global causes.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Why My Lab Doesn't Work

If you teach a student a skill in a computer lab setting, they will learn that skill for a while, but they will not retain that skill or the attitude that they should use that skill / program to show what they have learned in school.

If you can find a way to teach regular school topics to students using a number of different computer skills and programs, they will remember those skills for a longer period of time - I would guess for the length of time they are in that school perhaps.

When you can find a cause that is bigger than the student, one that has deep personal meaning for them, then give them a computer program to create the solution to that problem, the students will learn the intricacies of that program the way an artist learns to use his tools.  It becomes less tool use and more "craft".

To create powerful 21st century learners the solution lies not in getting computers in every kids hands.  That is inevitable.  It is about making deeper connections between your students and the curriculum, now.