Guest Post: Beyond Rote Learning

rotelearningHere is another example proving the work we are doing in 27J around instruction and student thinking will lead the way.

A blog post by @HeatherHiles, titled Moving Beyond Rote Learning appeared in the “Twitterverse” that seems to describe a vision very similar to our own work on Thinking Classrooms. Here’s a few excerpts:

…a national consensus is forming around the idea that in order to fix education in America, we’ve got to move beyond the bubble test. Learning by rote must be replaced by something more effective. Memorization must be thrown out in favor of deeper learning – cognition and metacognition.

Such changes begin when teachers are allowed to move beyond teaching to the test and toward more effective learn-by-doing methods. Change is also possible when we start to understand that each child is unique and learns in his or her own way and time.

She references an example public school system from Union City, New Jersey. Her additional comment rings true:

Helping students to not only hear and memorize concepts, but to actually apply them in the real world—that’s where the magic happens. When students bring the evidence of having applied what they learn into the classroom, something deeper than memorization has occurred. Knowledge has been acquired.

NOTE: She does use the blog post to promote her company, and just for clarification, we are not endorsing the product or company in any way. Simply liked her words and viewpoint on classroom work and wanted to share!

At a Student Achievement meeting today, there were lots of celebrations around the room of great work and transformations happening in classrooms in our district, from Preschool all the way to high school. We feel humbled and honored to be part of such a great movement and wave of meaningful change. It is happening every day because the work YOU DO to make our kids think and grow.

Carry on!!


Is Your Question Google-Proof?

googleproofAn important part of learning and the “student experience” is answering questions (and better yet, asking good questions). In the age of information abundance, and with more and more of our students having access to the repository of global knowledge in their pocket, how do we ask questions that are meaningful? How do we ask questions that stretch our students to think, and not just regurgitate facts?

Part of the planning process involves identifying the big idea, or the “so what?” in the learning you want to design for your students. When you ask your students a big idea question, whether it’s within a classroom discussion, a research project, a PowerPoint presentation, or a written paper, try the Google-Proof test. Are you asking a fact-reciting question or are you asking students to analyze, support an opinion, interpret or investigate? What is your ratio of Googleable to Non-Googleable questions in a week? (try saying Non-Googleable 10 times fast!)

Here are a few more education posts about Google-Proofing your next big question or project.

Google-Proof Questioning: A New Use for Bloom’s Taxonomy

Teaching Critical Thinking Skills around a non-Googleable Driving Question

An example of students classifying their own questions


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More Wisdom from Grant Wiggins

In a post from last March, Grant Wiggins published a blog post titled “Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong. Really.” It seems here is another connection to our philosophy of Thinking Classrooms. We’ve added an excerpt of his post here, but be sure to check out the full post. Grant Wiggins is the co-author of Understanding By Design, along with many other books, articles and other published works.

So, suppose knowledge is not the goal of education. Rather, suppose today’s content knowledge is an offshoot of successful ongoing learning in a changing world – in which ‘learning’ means ‘learning to perform in the world.’

As odd as that might sound for academics, it makes perfect sense in our everyday lives. The point of child-rearing, cooking, teaching, soccer, music, business, or architecture is not ‘knowledge’; rather, knowledge is the growing (and ever-changing) residue of the main activity of trying to perform well for real.

In athletics this is very clear: the game is the curriculum; the game is the teacher. And each game is different (even as helpful patterns emerge). Knowledge about the game is secondary, an offshoot of learning to play the game well. As I learn to play, knowledge – about rules, strategy, and technique – accrues, but it is not the point.

So, it would be very foolish to learn soccer (or child-rearing or music or how to cook) in lectures. This reverses cause and effect, and loses sight of purpose. Could it be the same for history, math, and science learning? Only blind habit keeps us from exploring this obvious logic. The point is to do new things with content, not simply know what others know – in any field.

Video games are especially startling from the perspective of conventional views of curriculum and instruction. According to the standard view, I should never be able to learn and greatly improve at the games since there is no formal and explicit curriculum framed by knowledge, and – even more puzzling – no one teaches me anything! I shouldn’t learn but I do. In games (and in life), I begin with performance challenges, not technical knowledge. I receive no upfront teaching (or even manuals any more in games and other software!) but I learn based on the attempts to perform and feedback from trying – just as I did when learning to walk or hold a spoon. How is that possible? Conventional views of curriculum and instruction have no good explanation for it.

  • If curriculum is a tour through what is known, how is knowledge ever advanced?
  • If learning requires a didactic march through content, why are movies and stories so memorable – often, more memorable than classes we once took?
  • If a primary goal of education is high-level performance in the world going forward, how can marching through old knowledge out of context optimally prepare us to perform?
  • If education is about having core knowledge, and we are more and more teaching and testing all this knowledge, why are results on tests like NAEP so universally poor, showing that over decades American students have not progressed much beyond basic “plug and chug”?

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The Lecture…Version 2.0

medium_3228729514Why does the lecture persist? Should it?

As teachers, we sure love to talk at our students! The most intense form of this “teacher-talk” is delivered every day in classrooms across the world, from middle schools through universities, as the age old LECTURE.

For decades, perhaps centuries, it has been argued that lectures are not the most effective form of teaching. Indeed the ideas of a Thinking Classroom itself leads us to less teacher talking and more student thinking. But yet lectures remain a common occurrence in many classrooms. Like all instruction, lecture is not necessarily bad in itself, but it can be done badly.

We believe the use of lecture, when used effectively, can be helpful when used with a variety of other learning modes. BUT — It definitely needs a re-vamp, an update, an overhaul. In fact, people have been trying to get it re-vamped for…well, let’s just say awhile…

Some thoughts from others on lecturing

From 2000:     Hativa, N. “Lecturing and Explaining.” Chapter in Teaching for effective learning in higher education. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

“The success and effectiveness of the lecture depends upon its quality–there are good lectures and bad lectures…effective lecturing is much more than just communicating knowledge. It arouses interest and motivation…”

From 1981:    G.Gibbs Twenty terrible reasons for lecturing, SCED Occasional Paper No. 8, Birmingham.

“I would not like to leave the impression that I feel that there is no justification for ever lecturing. I lecture myself (though seldom for more than fifteen minutes at a stretch and then seldom when written substitutes are available). I believe there are circumstances when a well structured, well paced, varied, lively lecture can be the most efficient teaching method. But I do believe there is far more lecturing going on than can reasonably be justified by the evidence concerning the efficiency of lectures, especially bearing in mind the nature of the educational goals we claim to be striving for.”

From 1968: The Modified Lecture: A Useful Technique for the Teacher, Charles K. West, The Clearing House, Vol. 43, No. 3

“The chief disadvantage of the traditional lecture is the total lack of involvement, the passivity, of the student in the situation. It is true that some types of learnings take place when a students is passive. For most complex types of human learnings, however, involvement is a necessary correlate of learning. Typically, the only person involved in the traditional lecture situation is the lecturer. It can be said that at least one person learned, in any case.

Investigators of interaction analysis have begin to attack teacher talk in terms of the amount occurring in the classroom. Analyses indicate that less learning occurs in the classroom in which “teacher-talk” proceeds in an uninterrupted sequence.”

Upgrading the Lecture to Version 2.0

Lecture As Content Delivery is Dead
Jeff Utecht, a former teacher and blogger, shares the idea that lecturing for content delivery is no longer relevant with the explosion and abundance of free and open content through the internet. He proposes that “Lectures should be used to inspire, tell stories, and push ideas”.

Don’t Lecture Me: Rethinking How College Students Learn
Here’s a post from the Mind/Shift blog, written by Emily Hanford, describing a strategy of peer instruction, in place of the lecture, as used by Eric Mazur.  “….[he] now teaches all of his classes using a “peer-instruction” approach. Rather than teaching by telling, he teaches by questioning.”

TED Talks: Ideas worth spreading
If you haven’t watched or heard of TED Talks, it is popular website that houses a collection of lectures. The only limit? The talk must be 18 minutes or less. Here’s their description: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”

Some Ideas to help Start Your Upgrade

Need some ideas on how to use technology to make your next planned lecture more interactive? Jeff extends the discussion in his post on “The Evolution of Lecture”

An collection of resources/ideas (some good, maybe some not so good) on designing Interactive Lectures, part of the SERC Pedagogic Service. The authors suggest the use of “engagement triggers” and “interactive activities”.

Like the TED Talks? There is now a new site created just for educators, TED ED – Lessons worth Sharing. Lessons build from TED-like videos are available on a variety of topics. The lesson includes three pices: Watch (the video), Think (questions to explore) and Dig Deeper (additional resources). Perhaps the most powerful feature, you can upload any video from YouTube and turn it into a TED-ED lesson!!

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The Voice of the Active Learner


Are you ready to educate this Active, Connected Learner? Our students are growing up in an ever changing, increasingly digital society. Will your current instructional strategies and “keep up” with her? What one small step could you take tomorrow to better serve her needs? What changes have you already made?

The video below has some interesting statistics on the use of technology by young people. Be sure to check it out! Disclaimer: This video was produced by Blackboard, however, this is not an endorsement of the company. We just liked the video!

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What Kids Want from Their Teachers

This week we decided to share another view from a student’s perspective. The following is a link to Angela Maier’s post, “12 Things Kids Want from Their Teachers”.


It is a good reminder of remembering what kids will remember of us long after they leave our classroom. Can you guess what’s NOT on the list?



A Day with Planning, Standards and Thinking Classrooms

This week the Student Achievement team met with a cohort of district teachers, literacy coaches and administrators to continue the work they started last year. The work centered around the three “stages” of backward unit planning–The Big Idea, Assessment Evidence, and Daily Instruction–based on the Understanding By Design principles.

The question of the day was “Why the Thinking Classroom?” Attendees had several opportunities to answer this question within the frame of one of the three stages. Here are some of the responses and comments –

“…to teach the skills and processes to access the content”

“…to instill inquisitiveness in our students”

“…It hurts to think, especially when you are asked to do things you haven’t been asked before”

“…innovation needs space to breathe”

“…why wouldn’t we want thinking classrooms?”

To facilitate our work and our thinking about this question, we used several videos as “thought jump-starts”. Check them out and then share your answer to the question.

Above and Beyond
Above & Beyond is a story about what is possible when communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity take center stage in schools and transform learning opportunities for all kids.

Tedx Talk: How to Learn from Mistakes
Diana Laufenberg, a teacher in Philadelphia, shares surprising things she has learned about teaching — including a key insight about learning from mistakes and the history around where knowledge is stored.

The Formative Principles of the Common Core Standards
Phil Daro, a mathematics expert who helped author the national Common Core Standards, talks about what the new standards are, and what they are not. Our work is starting with instruction in the classroom, and we will be spending more time in the upcoming year delving more into standards, including Common Core, Colorado Academic, WIDA and others.

Seinfeld Teaches History
In this classic Saturday Night Live skit, Jerry Seinfeld plays a teacher trying to get his students to “Think History”. It is an entertaining reminder that the mindshift of teaching in a Thinking Classroom is not only hard for teachers, but hard for students as well.

Add you Comments and share your answer to the question: “Why the Thinking Classroom?”
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Taft Elementary in Wisconsin Shares Thinking Strategies

So you want to make your classroom a “Thinking Classroom”, but need ideas to find a place to start? Here’s a video posted by Taft Elementary School in Neenan, WI about how they identified Thinking Strategies and incorporated them across their school. Their thinking strategies are:

  • Monitoring
  • Using Schema
  • Making Connections
  • Visualizing
  • Predicting
  • Questioning
  • Inferring
  • Determining Importance
  • Summarizing

Do you use any of these strategies? What did that look like? What strategies would you add to this list? What do you think shouldn’t make the list? What is your school doing or working on?

See the Video Here

How Do You Get ME to Learn?

As an extension to our first post, some educators suggested that we consider our question of “How Do We Get Kids to Learn?” from a possible student perspective. So without further explanation:

How do you get ME to learn when…

  • I don’t want to or have a reason to care about what is being taught?
  • You never stop telling us the answers, and sometimes we can’t hear them all as fast as you are talking?
  • I know that if I struggle, you will help me finish my paper correctly?
  • all you expect me to do is sit there and be quiet?
  • I can simply “Google It” or “Ask Siri” to find the facts you are asking me to memorize?
  • school is so boring?
  • I have already learned half of what you are teaching me, but I won’t say anything because I would rather not stretch myself anyway?
  • cooperative work really means chill with my friends, and copy each other?
  • your feedback just gives me the right answers?
  • you won’t call on me anyway because I didn’t raise my hand?
  • you are so busy talking that you won’t notice if I take a brief nap, send a text, write a note, do my homework for other classes, or talk quietly with my friends?
  • learning in school is really just an exercise in following directions?
  • I am already so far behind that I am completely lost?
  • I don’t know what you want from me?
  • your teaching doesn’t make me think, be responsible, or own anything?

But please don’t change anything. I am a kid, and I like the idea of just having to show up for school, do what you tell me to, and hang around for 13 years and you will let me out. I don’t want the responsibility of learning and would prefer you to shoulder the burden because you are accountable for this stuff, not me.

Ok, Ok. This isn’t a real student, but it is a real message. How will we change our own behaviors to change this perspective? How will we help each other commit to change?

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Advice from a Blog about a Book

We often find inspiration and words of wisdom from unexpected places. The following statements were found in a blog…that was written about a book. The book is about social media. None of which is connected to anything about education or Thinking Classrooms.

HOWEVER, the beauty is—in the statements from the book’s author about lessons learned and shared by the blog’s author. And WOW…we were struck by the relevance and inspiration in these statements to our work towards Thinking Classrooms.

Take a minute to read the statements below! If you want to see the full article, you can find it here.

Where passion, skill, and purpose collide, bliss resides.

Beware of the shiny object syndrome (SOS). It’s important to know the difference between an opportunity and a distraction.

You can color outside the lines without crossing the line. Disruption and destruction have two different outcomes.

Learn how to push your own buttons. It’s important to motivate and inspire yourself. Everyone else is busy.

A five-degree shift changes your entire trajectory.

Your hustle factor is often your differentiating factor. Work hard.

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