Why don’t more teachers share their learning targets with students?

This is a question that I have been asking myself lately.

I have had the opportunity to visit many classrooms over the past few months. Perhaps one thing that has surprised me the most is that far too many teachers are not sharing their learning targets with their students.

How can we encourage student responsibility for their learning if we are not sharing what we want them to accomplish in our classes?

5 Ways to put students in the driver’s seat suggests that sharing our learning targets with our students is one simple way to promote student-centered learning in the classroom. This will help clarify what we want students to learn and what this learning could look like. I am certain that, at a minimum, this will also help foster some student motivation for learning. It could add necessary purposefulness for being together in the classroom.

 

 

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Helping Students Motivate Themselves

I have a great interest in understanding student motivation for learning. What motivates students to learn? How can I help students motivate themselves? What are some implications for classroom instruction?

I came across this article – Strategies for helping students motivate themselves – and was struck how 3 out of the 4 qualities mentioned match Daniel Pink’s work on The Puzzle of Motivation (a TED Talk worth watching; or if you prefer, here is a link to an RSA Animate version on the same talk).

Essentially the insight that I had confirmed again is that tokens and rewards work well as motivators for simple tasks. However, they don’t work the way we think they should when it involves the conceptual and creative thinking that takes place in cognitively challenging tasks.

In their place, a teacher has a greater chance in motivating and engaging students in their learning by thinking about the “Motivation MAP” – an acronym I use to focus on the three essential qualities of motivation and engagement.

Motivation MAP = Mastery, Autonomy, Purposefulness

M = Mastery

Are students working to demonstrate their developing competency and mastery in learning? Are students reflecting on how to improve their learning? Does teacher feedback focus on student effort for their learning rather than an innate ability? (Check out this website to learn more growth mindsets; or if you prefer, here is a link to a video about fostering a growth mindset.) Encouraging student mastery in learning feeds their desire to get better in what they do and, as a result, is a powerful motivator.

A = Autonomy

What choices are offered to students that allow them to be active participants in their own learning? Does this extend beyond simply letting student choose who they will work with on a project or in what format they can complete an assignment, whether poster, essay or presentation? Are there opportunities for “cognitive choice” so that students can determine how they will learn something new? Are they asked to self-assess and reflect on their learning? Offering this type of choice in our lessons helps foster student autonomy and their desire to be more self-directed. This also leads to better engagement.

P = Purposefulness

Of what value are the learning activities in the classroom? Do the students sense that they are simply completing “busy work” or do they find the learning activities meaningful and relevant?  Is there purposefulness in what we do together? When students sense a value in their learning, they will be more motivated and engaged to proceed further, if not deeper, into their learning.

Thinking about the “Motivation MAP” is a simple reminder to helping students motivate themselves: mastery, autonomy, and purposefulness.

Added value in helping kids learn how to code

As I consider general K-12 curricula across schools and districts, I have been advocating for the inclusion of a class in financial literacy for all students. For example, you can read about my thinking here, or here, and click here for links to some classroom resources. I believe it represents essential, daily skills that students will need later in life. Students should know, understand and apply the math behind balancing a checkbook or confirming the accuracy of a credit card statement. They should have a grasp of essential ideas behind supply and demand as it applies to the cost of goods and services, and be able to use this information when comparison shopping. They should have a grasp of the concept of principal and interest when they are ready to make a significant purchase, such as their first car.

I was reminded the other day of another key skill/class that should be included in the general K-12 curriculum: learning how to code. My experience has taught me that kids want to learn how to code. They want to know how to develop games, websites, or fun apps and then challenge their friends play them.

I discovered this when I had the opportunity to teach a technology class to a group of grade 7 and 8 students last year. In addition to the required content that we needed to cover in the class, I wanted to get a sense of the topics and skills that they desired to learn so as to tailor the course as much as possible to their self-identified interests. One topic that became overwhelmingly clear was the students’ desire to learn how to code and even develop some simple games.

Now, I have a minimal background in computer science and programming languages, but I knew that this would be a topic that would engage the students in the class and equip them with some initial skills that they could develop further. I wanted to empower them to create new games or unique programs. For these reasons alone, I was up to the challenge to learn how to teach some basic coding to my class!

Fortunately, I had learned about the Hour of Code movement earlier in the year and tried the teacher tutorial myself.

It was so simple.

I was guided each step of the way through the self-directed tutorial. If I made a mistake (and I did), then I could retry the stage and learn from my error.

I knew that my students would be able to learn from the experience, too. There were plenty of teacher notes to help me plan my lessons. These notes were developed to assist those teachers who don’t have a background in coding. This was definitely helpful so that I could be more confident in guiding the students. I also came across the school district notes to bring coding to an entire school system!

What surprised me the most was how deeply engaged the students were when I introduced the hour of code to them. They were excited to actually code and see the result of their thinking! Upon completion of the beginner tutorial, they started to explore the more intermediate options.

Even President Obama became the first President to write a line of code during the Hour of Code!

It is now a year later and I am teaching some of the same students in a different class this semester. The surprise that pleased me the most was noticing the extent that they have developed in their programming – on their own, outside of class! These students showed me the games they have developed over the year. As group, they are out to challenge each other with games that are more complex and difficult. When there is a free moment between classes, I often find them taking out their laptops to extend their thinking and practice their coding even more.

So why am I thinking about coding today?

This article on requiring computer science in schools and this article on adding coding to the elementary curriculum got me thinking again on the value of engaging students by exposing them to basic computer science. We don’t need to relegate coding as a senior elective in high school, but, rather, take advantage of student interest to learn and understanding better the tablets and phones that they are carrying around with them on a daily basis.

There is a growing research base documenting the benefits of teaching coding to children of all ages. This includes:

  • Developing logical thinking skills
  • Developing problem solving skills
  • Fostering persistence on a task
  • Communicating and collaborating for task accomplishment

These are important outcomes that will help students learn how to learn.

As such, I have modified my thinking a bit – I now believe that all students need to be taught some financial literacy as well as coding during their stay in our schools.

There are some great resources to help us get started, including those found at Code.org. Here is a thought-provoking series of blog posts on coding in the classroom from Edutopia. For example, consider this article on coding for kindergarteners. What if we helped students develop their coding abilities from a very early age, like we work to help them become proficient readers and skilled mathematicians? How might this help us better prepare students for THEIR future?

Besides – it is just plain fun to help the Angry Bird catch the pig. (You’ll have to try it here to see what I mean!)

Learning from a question week: Wrap-up

This week has come to an end, and I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on the “Learning from a question week” that I had in class. With approximately 60% of the students gone on a school trip, I wanted to engage the students in an activity that challenged them to learn something new, yet also allow them to follow their interests. I specifically wanted to encourage the students to follow a question in search for an answer.

All in all, I was happily surprised with the level of confidence the students displayed to carry out their research. They were excited to learn more about a topic that interested them and they initiated their research very quickly. Perhaps they were equally eager to open their own blog sites as part of their other coursework. There was a sense of excitement when the students were able to take some time to read and comment on each other’s questions for yesterday’s final class together.

I feel that the week was a success! It included a number of opportunities to talk about digital citizenship and digital footprints. I hadn’t necessarily planned to include those, but when the right opportunity presented itself, it was a good learning moment and it helped make what we were doing more sense, too. I was once again reminded on the value of offering choice to students. They had choice in the question, choice in the research, choice in developing their blog sites. I know that this led to greater motivation for learning. In fact, there were numerous signs of engagement all week, too. Finally, I felt that the “Learning from a question week” was a success in that it helped the students develop some their 21st century fluencies, which are so critical for classroom and future success, including the opportunity to develop their information fluency, media fluency, as well as practice some good global digital citizenship.

Here is a sample of the variety of questions that drove individual student learning this week:

Learning from a question week: Day 5 – Learning, reading & commenting

The students were excited to return to the lab today, and they were eager to read what everyone learned this week. Before doing that, we first walked through how to comment effectively on a blog and talked a bit more about extending a conversation through the commenting process. This included a few comments and discussion on leaving a positive digital footprint, especially on a school blog site.

Once in the lab, it was so quiet as students went from site to site commenting and sharing their thinking. I was happy to hear some conversations take place, too, on the topics they were reading. The time went by so quickly for the students – another sign of engagement in the learning.

Learning from a question week: Day 4 – In the lab (again)

The focus for today’s class-time was to continue our research and attempt to answer our questions in the lab. I reminded the students that our goal is to share our findings publicly through our newly-opened blog sites. Then, following a good question on using an image in a post, I led a brief discussion on the importance of citing other people’s work. I knew that they were used to this step in their language arts class research, but the reminder served as a good prompt that much of what we learn in one class applies to other classes, too. This included also included a quick lesson on linking websites within a blog post. We then went to work.

As we focused our efforts in the computer lab, I heard a number of comments that were signs of student engagement in the entire process:

This is awesome!

I like how this looks online.

How can I change the size of this image?

How do I change …., because it doesn’t look good enough for others to see?

I was even more interested in those comments that hinted at the thinking behind the student questions:

I never knew that the deep ocean was so interesting.

I was glad to learn more about NASA’s plans for sending astronauts in space.

Until now, I only thought that dogs could see in black and white. It was interesting to learn that they can actually see in some, but not all, colors.

Learning from a question week: Day 3 – In the lab

Today is our third day in answering our questions and we returned to the computer lab to carry on with our research. I noticed that the students were generally choosing the first Google result of their query and accepting that as ‘the’ answer. This promoted a discussion on the value of multiple resources and viewpoints, especially in response to an ‘open’ question. This also necessitated a quick review on gathering and writing notes, as well as citing sources.

The students were focused on their work and wanted to share what they were learning with me. It was great to learn more from each question, and they started to see the value of sharing this with the larger world once we post our learning on our blogs.