Thursday, November 29, 2012

Should Students Evaluate Their Teachers

“I don’t like history. I never will. But I liked this class.”

“You’re loud (in a good way).”

“Too much lecturing.”

“The homework was too hard. Took too much time.”

The above comments came from the student evaluations from my last year of teaching.

As I poured over the results and comments, I felt a sense of satisfaction. The complements reaffirmed why I entered teaching. 

Their criticisms made me think. How could I improve my teaching? How can I become a better teacher? Not only did I find their criticisms legitimate, they indeed were areas of weakness. Most importantly their opinions shaped how I planned for the future (less lecturing, better homework assignments, relate the class to their lives).

On Monday’s #vachat, the question was asked, “Should students be involved in the evaluation of teachers?”

Unanimously respondents agreed that students should evaluate teachers.

Joe Posick @posickj
Students are in front of teacher more than we are so they see them at their best and worst.

Michael Craddock @mpcraddock
Why wouldn’t you ask students? Besides, the teacher, how many other people really know what goes on in the classroom day to day?

Jessica Cromer@BuffVeeP
Student voice should be heard; it’s all about the way it is presented and worded.

Rob Donatelli @NL_MrD
Absolutely. They are our clients. Don’t we in bus. ask our customers to rate/review us?

Brian Kayser @bkayser11
Students definitely need to be involved, any teacher that says no already knows what their students will say, and it’s probably bad.

Of course, student evaluations should only be part of the whole picture. Critics of student evaluations claim that anonymous student evaluations enable students to settle personal grievances against teachers. While this indeed may be the case, the best teachers usually don’t make enemies. Most students respect their teachers and appreciate their efforts and commitment.

Critics also believe that knowing students will be evaluating them, teachers would inflate grades. From my own teaching experiences—I was known for being relatively difficult—I consistently earned excellent marks on classroom environment and personality. Even when asked, “Does the teacher grades fairly?”  students responded favorably (although not as high as other questions). 

The benefits of student evaluations of teachers far outweigh any potential problems. So much so, that teachers should constantly be seeking student input, not just at the end of the year. The best teachers constantly reflect on their performance. Student evaluations facilitate reflection by soliciting feedback. Feedback need not be formal, but can instead be done informally at the end of every class or every unit.
  • How could I have done a better job?
  • What did you find most difficult?
  • What are you most confused about?
  • As a teacher, what could I have done better today?

Seeking constant feedback sends a message to  students that teachers value their opinions; that we are not above them. Seeking input opens teachers' eyes to strategies for improvement. Imagine how students would respond when they see their teachers making adjustments based on their feedback! Imagine how this would improve teaching and learning! 

I've shared a couple of my year-end evaluations through google drive. 

Monday's #vachat 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Creativity Matters and What We Can Do About It

Yesterday, Eric Sheninger posted a blog entitled Creativity and Why it Matters. The Adobe Education study suggests creative thinking should be made a higher priority  in education. Based on a survey of 1,000 college-educated adults, 85% agree creative thinking is critical for problem solving in their careers.

Some other survey findings:
  • 82% wish they had more exposure to creative thinking as students
  • 91% agree that there is more to success in school than focusing on course material
  • 71% say creative thinking should be taught as a stand-alone class

In my 20 years as an educator, I can honestly say I’ve seen a deterioration of higher-level skills or creative thinking. While standardized tests don’t deserve all of the blame, it’s not purely coincidental that the increase in standardization correlates with decreased creativity.

I know standardized tests are here to stay—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing—so what can be done to expose more students to creative thinking?
  • We must recognize that standards are just a framework and we must not limit our teachings because of them.
  • Creativity should be taught in all classes
  • When possible adopt project-based learning
  • Limit lectures and talking to the students
  • Increase student accessibility to fine art and career-technical education classes
  • Ask questions that don’t have answers 
  • Embrace 21st-century skills

What should we do to increase creative thinking? 

In addition to the study's press release Adobe released an infographic summarizing the study's findings.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

My 2012 Edublog Nominations

After much deliberation here are my edublog nominations. My professional life has been greatly influenced by all of these amazing teachers, administrators, and bloggers. 

Best Individual Blog: Learning in Burlington by Patrick Larkin  

Best Group Blog: Connected Principals
Best Ed Tech/Resource Sharing Blog: Richard Byrne's Free Technology for Teachers
Best Administrator Blog: George Couros' The Principal of Change
Most Influential Blog Post:  

Best Individual Tweeter: @ShellTerrell
Best Twitter Hashtag: #ptchat 
Best Free Web Tool: Evernote
Best Educational Use of Audio/Video/Visual/Podcast: Teachercast 
Best Open PD/Unconference/Webinar: Edcamp
Best Mobile App: Remind101 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Making Homework Purposeful

Homework’s value and purpose has spawned several personal conversations/debates in the last couple of months—too many to count. Some of the notable ones: #vachat conversation, a great post by Patrick Larkin (there are several articles in links to hw in his must-read blog), and my own conversations with staff, parents, and students. My first blog post was even about the issue. But, the issue of homework is worth revisiting as my opinions have been shaped by these recent conversations.

First, let me get my get this out of the way. In high school, homework can serve a valuable academic purpose. Homework should never be assigned just for the sake of assigning something, and I’m not even sure it’s effective to assign homework to teach responsibility, self-discipline, and time management. 

So how can teachers make homework purposeful?
1.     Homework should be started in class. This ensures that the students are capable of completing it successfully. Additionally, beginning the assignment in class enables the teacher to explain the purpose of the assignment to the students.
2.     Students must understand the value of the homework. Homework can serve different purposes: pre-assessing, checking for understanding, or practicing. Regardless of the purpose, students must see the value in it.
3.     If homework is assigned as practice, it’s important that students practice correctly.
As a basketball coach, I know the most difficult coaching task was to re-teach/correct a player whose shooting form was incorrect. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it can make permanent. The same applies with homework. This is especially important in math classes, so why not provide the students with the answers—even the steps—for each question (not just the odd-numbered). By providing the students with answers, feedback is instantaneous and learning is reinforced.  
4.     Returning to the basketball analogy; one of the reasons so many players developed bad shooting techniques was because as youngsters they were forced to heave the ball at a ten-foot rim. A task too hard for little kids. I’m sure many children, like my daughter, became frustrated with their inability to get the ball to the rim and simply give up, while those who experienced initial success continued playing. Quality homework assignments must be doable so students can feel positive about their learning and themselves.
5.     Students should be held accountable for homework. If it’s worth assigning, it should be worth doing. If the student has already mastered the concept, why give them an assignment that will be seen—rightfully so—as busy work? In cases like this, we have an opportunity to differentiate our assignments. Failing students for not completing homework, despite their mastery of the material, is unfair. 
      Accountability doesn’t necessarily mean attaching a grade to the assignment, and it doesn’t mean that late work shouldn’t be accepted.
How can students be held accountable without coercing them with grades?
·      Provide students choices
·      Require students to self-assess and check for their own understanding
·      Check instead of grade.
·      Use homework for formative assessment purposes.
·      Ensure students see the value of the homework to their learning success.

 We've been fortunate to have conversations at our school about our homework policies. I look forward to hearing your opinions.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Edcamp Baltimore: A Great Day of Sharing and Learning

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending my 3rd edcamp; this one in Baltimore. Approximately, 70 educators from as far south as Virginia and as far north as New York (maybe even New Hampshire) attended the unconference at Digital Harbor High School. As with all edcamps, the passion and energy were high—as one would expected when 70 committed educators come together on a Saturday.

Of the attendees, several I regularly communicate with on twitter. Despite being limited to 140 characters, I felt as if I knew these people already, but I relished the opportunity to have in-person conversations with them.

Conversation and ideas flowed from the initial gathering through the morning sessions, through lunch and until I left for the trip back to Virginia. I attended 4 great sessions.
1.     Flipped classrooms. Flipping is about much more than just providing direct instruction through video. For a flipped classroom to be effective, what occurs in class is even more important.
2.     The power of collaboration. Most educators that attend edcamps are pretty connected and see the value of twitter and other means of being connected. We must do more to bring more teachers onboard to increase their PLNs.
3.     Social media in the classroom. As teachers, we have a responsibility to model safe use of social media to our students. Doing so, however, requires that students, parents, administrators, trust teachers to do what’s right.
4.     PD and meet. Seeing the power of edcamps, each participant in this session agreed that we must continue our learning and participation by involving more teachers and administrators in the edcamp philosophy.

Despite the nearly 2:30 hour trip home (Washington even has rush hour on Saturday afternoons), I returned home energized and wanting more. The committed and passionate professionals I met today inspired me and represent some of the best-and-brightest in education.

A special shout out to the great organizers and sponsors of Edcamp Baltimore.