Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Teachers Should Use #stuvoice for Professional Improvement

This morning Alfie Kohn  posted this Tweet:

It made me think about how some teachers put real effort into revising their lessons year to year, while others might pull out the same readings and questions no matter whether they really helped students learn or not.  Do I revise and improve my class activities enough each year?  My 10th grade Civil War infographics lesson is one example.  Last year I wrote a how-to guide for helping students create infographics as proof if their learning.  I was lucky enough that it was noticed and picked up by EdSurge as part of their Fifty States Project.  Now that I've gone through the process again this year with my students and I've improved the experience a bit, there are some important lessons learned.

1. Clarify the Goal

Last year my students' biggest complaint was that they weren't sure what an infographic was.  This year I was armed with lots of great samples of my former students' work right from the beginning. Before I even gave the students the data they would analyze or set them to work tinkering with the infographics tools they might use, I showed them examples.  While I'm a believer that process is more important than product, product is a very close second.  Process is where the learning happens, but the final product is what makes the learner feel that all-important sense of accomplishment.

2. Struggles With Analysis

Another common concern students expressed during the infographics process last spring was difficulty determining which data to include in the final product.  I provided them with more data than they would need.  Knowing this was a struggle for many of them last spring, we worked toward preparing them throughout the year this time around.  Most of our learning activities this year have involved essential questions that leave room for students' opinions.  They developed their own answers to these questions by analyzing multiple sources and determining which information they believed was most reliable and important.  Since they had more practice with this analysis skill this year, tackling a lot of statistical information in preparation for designing their infographic seemed a lot less daunting.

3. Time to Tinker 

Last year my students made it clear that they needed more time in school to tinker with the infographic creation tool.  I only showed my students infogr.am last year, but one student found Piktochart on her own and thought it worked better for her.  I learned from this that I need to give students options when it comes to tools, not just options when it comes to content.  From my PLN on Twitter I also learned about another up and coming design tool called Canva.  Students had a whole 30 minutes set aside just to explore tutorials on each of the tools and play around with them.  They talked with one another about what they liked and about the drawbacks of each option. In the end students chose the one that worked for them. Here are some student samples:

Room for More Improvement

As I was reading through my students final infographic projects and the accompanying reflections I came across one titled Technology Overload = Infogr.am by Alex.  As I looked through her infographic and read her reflection, she never really discussed the frustration expressed in the title.  So, of course, I asked her in class.  She said that she felt overwhelmed at having to learn the content and the technology at the same time.  There were moments, she said, when she felt like she was learning more about the tech than about the Civil War.  We teachers who are passionate about both our subject area and the way technology helps students collaborate and share their learning are often walking a fine line.  While I thought I was being clear about the essential questions and learning goals, perhaps students felt that I was expressing more enthusiasm for the technology than for the history.  Pedagogy should always come first.  Next year I need to work on crafting the way I present the project to communicate that better.

As educators we need to be sure to read about the latest research and curriculum available from experts, but before we look outside the walls of our classrooms we need to listen to our students.  They are the reason we are teachers and they are the experts on their own learning.  They can tell us what they need from us if we ask the right questions and take the time to listen.