Today I realized an incredibly simple and efficient way to reflect on a lesson: the comment feature in Microsoft Word.
I’ve been meaning to do something like this for years. Capturing a lesson immediately after teaching it is so useful – and blogging about it isn’t always feasible or necessary. Sometimes a few lines about how things went can help immensely when looking at the lesson in a year. I’ve tried using Evernote, but I always need to go back to Evernote to read my reflection the next year…this is totally inconvenient and I always forget.
By using comments, I can seamlessly integrate my reflection into the lesson/handout. On the front end, it’s not quite as convenient as Evernote since Evernote can be accessed basically anywhere, but it’s much more efficient on the back end since all my notes are waiting for me when I open up the lesson the following year.
I grouped students in twos and threes and gave each group one problem on a full sheet of paper. They struggled on a few concepts that we recently tested on, so the problem stemmed from those concepts. Each group completed the first step in their problem. That’s it. After, they crumpled the paper into a ball. After all the groups crumpled, I had them throw the ball at/to another group in the room. The receiving group would uncrumple the paper, check the work that’s already been done (correct it if necessary), and complete the next step in the problem. They then crumpled and tossed the paper to another group. This process continued until every problem was completed.
I like this activity for several reasons:
Firstly, students must put focused effort into starting a problem. Teachers, and math teachers specifically, know that the first step of a problem can often make or break a student.
Secondly, the bite-size chunks that they work on after each throw make long, multi-step problems easily digestible and accessible. They’re not stuck, sometimes haphazardly, on a single problem for extended periods of time. The students, without even knowing it, scaffold one another.
From a problem solving perspective, the idea of emphasizing the completion of one step at a time could be useful. The students themselves must decipher the procedural “steps” of a problem and also relate them to a peer’s work. This may help to develop the skill of breaking down a large problem into a series of smaller ones. I’m not completely sold on my reasoning here, but I feel there’s something meaningful on this front.
This activity affords kids the time to analyze and challenge each other’s work. It’s weird, but I’ve noticed, even with other activities, that students are highly engaged when analyzing a peer’s work. Maybe this is because teenagers are so judgemental of each other already, who knows.
On the teacher side of things, it’s never a bad thing when an activity gives you the opportunity to walk around and assess all period. It was so helpful to provide loads of individualized feedback to them on concepts they previously struggled with.
Lastly: who doesn’t like to throw things?! This was by far the best aspect of the lesson.
I’m still wondering about how things ended. The exit slip did show improved understanding of the concepts, which was good, but the conclusion of the activity could have been stronger. I posted the solutions for each question (they were numbered) and groups checked to see if the problem they ended with arrived at the correct answer. Most did. I also opened up a class discussion about common mistakes that were found as they checked work. That said, there still may be something better I could have done to wrap it up. Hmm.
What impact does posting the aim, or central question of a lesson, have on teaching and learning? What purpose does it serve?
I’ve heard throughout my career that “you need to have your aim posted” at the start of every lesson. @stoodle got at this idea recently and made me realize that I myself have been pondering this for quite some time.
A year ago someone at a PD mentioned that they never post the day’s aim. Nor do they “announce” it at the beginning of class. Instead, the aim is elicited from students during the learning process. The essential question is built upon their prerequisite knowledge and pulled from their comprehension of what they learn from the lesson. It is never given, but rather discovered by the students.
When I heard this, I had an ah-ha moment. It made complete sense. Other than in the classroom, how often are we informed of what we’re going to learn before we actually learn it? Sure, you may have a goal you want to accomplish (e.g. complete yard work before 1 pm), but what you actually learn in the process (e.g. how to mow my lawn as efficiently as possible) is often unknown at the onset. We notice, strategize, experiment, learn, and then realize what we’ve learned.
Recently, I didn’t post the aim of a lesson on arithmetic sequences. I required my students, as part of their exit slip, to write what they thought the aim was for the lesson. Not only did 90% of the kids nail it, but one was even better, and more creative, than what I originally intended for the lesson.
(This is directly related to the overarching problem from the lesson)
This made me think. Whatever a student feels the aim is (during or at the end of a lesson), provides remarkable feedback as to the effectiveness of the lesson.
Another thing. I’m a firm believer that lessons should be based purely on questions. One question should lead to another, and then another, and then another. Ultimately, the central question – the heart of any lesson – should eventually be provoked. Because of this, I want my students to need the central question of a lesson to accomplish a task or goal. They can’t need it if I openly post it.
I’m left with many questions about this widely-adopted practice of aim-posting. What are the consequences of openly telling students the aim of a lesson? Conversely, what are the consequences of structured learning that promotes the discovery of the aim? If I don’t tell my students the aim, how do I frame a lesson from the onset? Does explicitly stating the aim perpetuate a top-down approach to learning? How can we use student-generated aims to inform our teaching?