Education Evolutions #93

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

It seems as though the email version of this newsletter got held up last week and many may have missed it. Apologies. I am not sure the exact reason for it, something to do with the service that I use to distribute it. Anyone can easily subscribe through this site by filling out the field on the right.

This week is a mix of short reads that keys more specifically on students. From complications in learning to strategies to building stronger relationships, there is a little something for everyone. Each is interesting in its own way and sharpens the focus on students and their experiences. They are good reminders of not just things that might work but remembering a student’s point of view in the process too.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. Even if you do not fancy yourself a writing teacher, writing is the coin of the academic realm. More than that, it is a highly underrated means of connecting with students that probably is not leveraged enough outside of the English classroom. My advice is to try some of these ideas out when you can, no matter what you teach.

I thought spring was here and then awoke to the thinnest blanket of snow one day this weekend. It may have been wishful thinking but I think we can will it so.

Here are three curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

You probably won’t remember this, but the “forgetting curve” theory explains why learning is hard – Quartz – Nikhil Sonnad (4-minute read)

I am kind of surprised that I had never come across the idea of the forgetting curve before. While Ebbinghaus used himself as the subject of his own experiments, chastens the validity of the work a little, it is no less fascinating. Of all the discoveries he made, the forgetting curve seems to be one of the most important and relevant. There is no question memory certainly plays a major role in learning, one that sometimes gets too easily dismissed in the always-connected-online-world that we now find ourselves living. It is awfully hard to make meaningful connections without strengthening the memory, although that is a different kind of memory altogether.

I have been hoovering up quite of bit of material linked to memory of late, so there must be something in the ether. Either that or it may just be symptomatic of the algorithmic contagion of my web reading. Still, the idea of how to better leverage spaced repetition or distributed practice has been on my mind a lot recently. I have been reconsidering how to weave that into my classes with greater regularity for certain material that seems to cause students greater consternation.

On another note, Ebbinghaus seems to be responsible for the notion of the “learning curve” too, making this discovery a little more novel. Plus, the Star Wars references were far from lost on me, as I appreciated their humor quite a bit.

Brain – Book – Buddy: A Strategy for Assessment – The Effortful Educator blog – Blake Harvard (4-minute read)

As I mentioned, there might be something algorithmically sending memory my way. This post presents a clever strategy for anyone that makes use of a lot of multiple choice item tests or exams. It is definitely memory related in its approach too. Broken into three stages, as the name suggests, students answer the same set of if items by themselves, using a book or notes, and then discuss with a peer. While this seems like it might take three times as long, it is hard not to see how there might be some value.

This approach looks like a great formative assessment technique or preparatory one for major summative assessment. As long as students take each step seriously, which may not always be true, this could be really helpful as a means of self-assessing content knowledge. Given that this comes from an AP teacher, I can absolutely see this as being a pretty effective technique for preparing for that kind of test.

Interestingly, I like this approach and see a second beneficial element, which is the need to generate a series of items about the same content, which has other advantages too. I must admit that I am not a major fan of multiple choice items, which this seems completely tailored for, and I don’t use them a whole lot. My reasoning for that is that they rarely show what a student knows but more acutely identifies what they do not know. This technique undermines that criticism a bit since it is focused on helping students identify where they are the fuzziest for themselves with some greater validity. I could see this being useful for anyone that regularly uses multiple choice.

Four Quick and Easy Ways to Build Relationships with Students Through Their Writing – Matthew M. Johnson blog – Matthew M. Johnson (6-minute read)

In spite of the almost immediate use of John Hattie as a warrant for the main idea here, I really like what is on offer here. The handful of techniques are all good suggestions about ways to easily build up relationships with students. Best of all, as Johnson explains, they are little opportunities that do not take a lot of time but can have strong impacts. I can even see how used strategically to strengthen the connection, some of these ideas could work on a whole array of levels for any teacher in any subject area.

One of the benefits of being an English teacher is that students often feel a stronger connection, particularly so if they are asked to do any kind of personal writing as part of your class. I am not always sure if that is the most valid claim, but it certainly is a common one. On some level, simply asking a student to write something personal or even just responding to them in a personal way can strengthen or deepen a relationship between student and teacher. This is one of the inherent benefits of asking students to write, especially in low-stakes or non-assessment contexts, that rarely gets enough recognition.

Of the suggestions, make genuine connections is the one that I find routinely the most valuable. Simply responding to work like a reader, not a grader, is one of the most powerful moves that can be made with a young writer. It is something that any teacher can do, no matter their comfort level in teaching writing, by the way. I quite like the wisdom of letting students speak first in conferencing too. I am not a big smile person, at least as it is posed in this piece, but I know colleagues who regularly employ that technique. I am not sure about the results but they have been doing it for a while.

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