Yesterday, I was lucky enough to attend a teachers’ conference. I attended three workshops each of which addressed a certain aspect of engagement.
Here is a very simplified summary:
The first was a terrific review/assessment activity which was basically a scavenger hunt where the students (in this case workshop participants) were divided into groups of three.
We were then given a team colour and a clue. The answer to our first clue took us out into the hall where we found the letter that had been assigned to our first answer and our colour coded second clue. In order to find each subsequent clue, we had to answer questions correctly to move on. As we went, we had to write down the letter for each answer. Each group answered their questions in a different order so we were not just following each other from clue to clue. The final question for each team lead us back to the workshop classroom where the instructor evaluated our list of letters to know that we had answered our questions correctly.
This is a great assessment tool. It is fun and interactive for the students while at the same time evaluates learning. Not everything has to be a test!
The second workshop I attended addressed the subject of critical thinking. This could have easily been a full day workshop as we were only really able to touch on the concepts.
In one part of the workshop, we were asked to determine if certain questions or statements posed a critical challenge or if they were simply asking for information or preference. Sometimes the difference is not obvious and what’s more difficult is changing a question or statement to reflect a critical challenge.
Here is a simple example:
Information – How many calories are there in a litre of ice cream?
Preference – What is your favourite flavor of ice cream?
Critical Challenge – Should ice cream be part of a family’s diet?
The definition we were given of a critical challenge is as follows:
“A critical challenge requires a person to assess or judge the merits of possible options in light of relevant factors or criteria.” – Critical Thinking Consortium
The third addressed project based learning.
The presenting teacher had many wonderful ideas. We had the opportunity to attend the workshop in her own classroom so she was able to show us many excellent examples as a way of answering our questions. Her classroom was plastered with student work which she said they were very proud to have displayed and often brought their peers in to see. There were 3D models, posters, headstones, mobiles, and board games. She said she never assigns the same project twice over the years and often lets students choose from 4 or 5 options for presentation. She also ensures that clear guidelines exist in order to fulfill learning outcomes and often student work exceeds learning outcomes. She also lets them have input into the evaluation process and how heavily certain aspects of a project should be weighted.
What I noticed in all of the workshops I attended was that some people picked up on the concept right away while others had a hard time getting their heads around it.
I have a theory and I’m wondering what you think? My theory is that teachers with different learning styles react differently to the information. I would wager that the teachers who had the hardest time getting their heads around these concepts were the “good” students in school who had no trouble sitting still and reading from a textbook or taking notes off the board and assimilating the information. The ones who are already putting some of these techniques into practice are the ones who didn’t get much out of school through reading a textbook or taking notes or the ones who were lucky enough to experience some of these techniques when they themselves were students and know first-hand how much more engaging this type of learning can be. It can be much less intuitive to know how to teach to a learning style different from your own. Fortunately these types of approaches allow for differentiated instruction and assessment. Here’s a link that supports my theory.
I was happy to see a number of the workshops available were addressing many of the themes that seemed to come up in the visioning process that we have been working through in Delta School District.