Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Progress Principle

Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. 

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Learning What Works Through Failure

Misconceptions are a natural phase in the learning process.  Here's  a great quote from Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning about the benefits of failure and problem solving.

It's not the failure, that's desirable, it's the dauntless effort despite the risks, the discovery of what works and what doesn't that sometimes only failure can reveal.  It's trusting that trying to solve a puzzle serves us better than being spoon-fed the solution, even if we fall short in our first attempts at an answer.

Research shows that effort is required for learning to be lasting and durable.  Sweat equity must be paid and the task for teachers is to design learning experiences that allow for productive struggle and determination without leading to frustration and burnout.

Every Child

“I have never encountered any children in any group who are not geniuses. There is no mystery on how to teach them. The first thing you do is treat them like human beings and the second thing you do is love them.”

 Dr. Asa Hilliard

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

It's Always About the Learning

Camarena Elementary is considered a technology school.  Some days I feel like that is unfortunate, because I don't want the perception to be that our focus is primarly on technology.  As the two posts below show, the focus needs to be first, last, and always about  learning.

Words Matter: Let’s Talk About Learning, Not Technology

This summary of phrasing sums up this point of view well.

Technology is a Tool, Not a Learning Outcome

Bill Ferriter's summary helps put learning and technology in their proper place.

2 Class Dojo Points for Bill!!!

At the end of the day, my hope is that our work with students moves the needle forward on learning and we will use any and every technology tool that helps us accomplish that goal.  

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Everything Bad is Good For You

That's the title of an intriguing book by Steven Johnson and appears to be the theme of the science of learning form the authors of Make it Stick.  In my first summay, I described the testing effect and how it is superior to rereading.

The next section of their book describes the antitode to massed practice or blocked practice, the idea of practicing one skill until it is burned into memory - think math homework over the past 50 years.  It turns out that this type of focused and repetitive practice is not as beneficial as we would believe.

The antitode to massed practice  is spaced, interleaved, and varied practice.  It turns out that the goal is to make the practice a little harder to encourage retrieval in a manner that leads to improved descrimination skills.

Spaced Practice - Leaving a little time (at least a day) between practice sessions allows the learner to forget just enough so that it requires effort to retrieve the content.  It is this act of retrieval after a little forgetting that actually impedes the forgetting process.  Daniel Willingham summarizes the studies about massed practice and shares suggested implications here.

Interleaved Practice -  Learning several new and related concepts at the same time is actually slower and feels less productive. Intuitively we all want to practice one thing at a time until it is mastered.  It turns out that for long term benefit, even though we feels like we are not, we are actually benefitting from a less uniform approach to learning new concent.  Instead of learning the formula for area of one shape at a time, it will be better for long term memory to learn the area formula of several different shapes interleaving them together thus solidifying our ability to choose the  right formula when needed.

Varied Pracitce - The authors cited another study that showed two groups who were practicing tossing a beanbag.  One group practiced consistently at three feet. The other group practiced at two and four feet.  They were both tested on a three foot toss and the group that had NEVER practiced on three feet performed better than the group that ONLY practiced on three feet.

My biggest takeaway is that we need to develop practice routines that allow the learner to rehearse the decision making that they will face in an authentic setting.   In closing, the authors spoke about the need to add reflection to all learning expereinces. Asking questions such as What happened?, What did I do?, How did it work out? are invaluable tools to cement learning in every experience.  Finally, we should ask, What should I do next time?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Maybe Weighing Pigs Does Make them Fatter?

Photo Credit: Ethan Block on Flickr

A good friend of mine likes to remind me that simply testing kids doesn't increase their learning, thus the title of this post derives from her catchy phrase that, "weighing pigs doesn't make them fatter".  The authors of Make it Stick (Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel) might disagree with that statement.  The subtitle of the book is The Science of Successful Learning and their aim is to review the research on what practices help us learning.    You can get a summary of their work on the American RadioWorks podcast here and a related podcast here.

The first strategy that they discuss is the benefit of retrieval to aid memory, especially when compared to simply rereading content.  Retrieval is described as self testing, using flash cards to practice the content, summarizing after reading short chunks, writing key ideas after reading, and low stakes quizzing.  Study after study compares the benefits to learning that accrue when one retrieves the information periodically during a course of study instead of simply reading and rereading the material and notes.   Students who stop to recite what they are learning or are asked to answer short quizzes learn more both in the short term - and here's the big bonus - in the long term.  This is called The Testing Effect.  For those of you who are still bent on cramming, you will see some immediate benefit from that frenzied approach, but the gains quickly disappear in to the black hole of long term forgetting.  You will get more benefit from studying and testing yourself AND you will remember more of what you have learned a month later.

Their research about this topic also found that learners benefited from questions and testing that were spaced out to allow some forgetting to occur such that the act of retrieval was accompanied by cognitive effort.  The greater the effort (so long as there was ultimate success) the more that the learner remembered.   Other benefits of frequent quizzing (effortful retrieval) included students understanding the content that they knew and didn't know in order to study more effectively, lower test anxiety because frequent quizzes helped students gain confidence, and slight improvement in attendance in higher education courses.

I see several implications for schools.

1.  Teach students how to study.  Explain to students the benefits of summarizing what they are learning through taking notes about the content they are grasping.

2.  Embrace low stakes quizzing throughout all units of study.  While we are in an environment of high stakes testing and there are plenty of reasons to eschew more testing.  Research has shown that low stakes questioning will enhance learning of all content and allow students to perform higher order thinking because of the rich content that is solidifying into their long term memory.

3. Implement this research today.  Too often educators have sneered at research that seems counter intuitive and the big losers are our students.  Check out the research yourself and you will see that this practice consistently allows students to learn material at a much higher rate than merely rereading.

Let's try this out!