Friday, February 19, 2010

What Kids Think about Sharing their Writing

This week I had my students share their writing assignments with each other over the Internet. Our purpose was to improve the quality of our writing through peer editing. I created a document library on our SharePoint website for the class, and taught the kids how to check documents in and out of the website. This is not unlike what the teachers at our school do for our report cards. Here is the result of a survey I asked the kids to take. It was an anonymous survey, and 39 of 57 students answered:

The results may be a bit hard to see, but if you enlarge the image you can read the results of the 3 questions I asked the kids.

97% of the students in my class who responded to a short survey feel that using a SharePoint document library to share their work for peer editing improved the quality of their own written work.

About half of them feel it improved the length of their written work.

97% of them feel that they had something to offer their peers in the form of editing advice that would make a measureable improvement in their work “some of the time” to “almost all of the time.”

I also felt that interest was high during the days we were editing each others' work, and that behaviour problems were virtually non-existent. I feel that the students were interested and engaged in their work.

When I showed these results to one class' homeroom teacher, she said "Ok, but now where do we get a class set of computers for my class?" While I admit we don't have the class of computers on wheels, I think we know that kids enjoy and benefit from peer editing, and that perhaps other classes will book our second computer lab 1 period a day, for a week. Perhaps a teacher will assign it as a homework project. Like that old baseball movie says "If you build it, they will come."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Paying Kids to Think Makes them Dumber!

Do you pay your kids to go to school? Of course you do! We pay our kids in grades. This I think creates a problem though. According to Dan Pink's presentation at TED on motivation, a number of universities (London School of Economics for one) a "Pay for Performance Plan" actually decreases performance on tasks that involve creative problem solving. The only time the "carrot and stick" model of motivation increases student performance is when a person is only given very simple tasks where very little creative thinking is involved. I guess in this case it is only a matter of a person deciding how much effort to put in, as effort is the only ingredient required for success.

But is effort the be all end all for improving student performance? No. Instead I think we need to focus on improving student performance with more intrinsic rewards when teaching upper level thinking.

1.) Autononmy - the feeling that "I am in charge of my learning". But, our job as teachers might then be to find a way to prove that kids need to look after their own education.

2.) Mastery - self esteem doesn't come from people patting you on the back. It comes from applying yourself to a difficult task and being successful. Mastery is a form of reward.

3.) Purpose - the ultimate job of the 21st century teacher. My latest focus - connecting what students are learning to their lives in such a way that the student uses the knowledge TODAY. And, to use this knowledge for something that serves a higher purpose than ourselves.

Keep talking about the intrinsic rewards of learning to your students. It's a tough sell at first, but its the only currency worth paying them.