Monday, October 26, 2009

Tip #295: Lifelong Learning: Starting at the Beginning

When I first thought about lifelong learning, I planned to focus on learning that continues after high school and/or higher education is completed. But a recent experience made me realize that an interest in lifelong learning can be nurtured or destroyed at a very early age.

So, I'm going to begin this series by talking about the impact that teachers can have on young minds. As educators, we know how important it is to create a positive learning environment that sets learners up for success. I recently audited twenty-eight classes at elementary, middle and high schools in a rural South Carolina school district. What I saw occasionally gave me hope and more frequently filled me with absolute horror.

The audits were intended to answer three questions:

1. Does the teacher know how to write an effective lesson plan?
2. Does the lesson result in specific, observable and measurable learning?
3. Does the teacher create and maintain an effective learning environment?

Teaching Decisions

According to Dr. Madeline Hunter, teachers continually make decisions about what will be taught and how it will be taught. It is possible to determine the probability of learning in the classroom by evaluating these decisions, which fall into three discrete categories. The first two categories help to answer the first two questions that relate to specific, observable and measurable learning. The last category helps to answer the last question that relates to an effective learning environment.

1. Learning Content: What content to cover in the class.

2. Student Activities: What the student will do to learn and to demonstrate that learning has occurred.

3. Learning Facilitation: What the teacher will do to facilitate the acquisition of that learning through stand up presentation, group facilitation, and classroom management.

The audits assessed teacher performance based on four categories of teaching best practices that fell within these three decision-making categories.

Application of Teaching Best Practices: Learning Content

1. Content Decisions

a. Focuses in on the key content.
b. Defines key terms and key concepts.
c. Provides an organizing principle.
d. Has an obvious and logical flow to the lesson components.
e. Uses relevant examples to explain and model key concepts and behaviors.
f. Teaches one concept at a time using at least three examples.
g. Shows connections between current, prior and future learning.
h. Keeps interesting but unimportant content to a minimum.

Application of Teaching Best Practices: Student Activities

2. Student Centered

a. Draws input from the students whenever possible and appropriate.
b. Focuses on the students rather than the teacher.
c. Relates to the students' prior learning or experience.
d. Uses variety, novelty and creativity to stimulate student interest.
e. Meets the needs of different learning styles.
f. Provides opportunity for individual, small group and large group activities.
g. Builds on the students' strengths.
h. Enjoys and appreciates the students.

Application of Teaching Best Practices: Student Activities

3. Participatory Activities

a. Actively engages the students in discovering answers.
b. Sets the students up for successful learning.
c. Has a hands-on activity to check learning and comprehension.
d. Checks for comprehension before leaving a key topic area.
e. Allows students to practice what they've learned as they learn it.
f. Builds student confidence in their own competence.
g. Ensures student mastery of the content before independent practice given.
h. Re-teaches content when necessary.

Application of Teaching Best Practices: Learning Facilitation

4. Facilitation

a. Maintains a positive, warm and respectful relationship with students.
b. Uses a calm and supportive tone of voice.
c. Encourages and validates students' involvement and responses.
d. Coaches students to discover the correct answer.
e. Provides an effective and emotionally safe learning environment.
f. Refocuses inappropriate behavior in a clear, constructive and firm manner.
g. Ensures that all students can see and hear.
h. Makes transitional statements between sections.

In next week's Tip, I will share my audit observations of two different third grade classes in the same elementary school. These two classes exhibit opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of teaching practices.

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