26 September, 2009

A Three Point Strategy for Greatness & Glory!

The purpose of this note is to share with you a few ideas from my experience that will help ensure that you finish this year with a bang.

You see, for most of my life, I've pursued what I consider to be the organizing principles of lasting change, and in here I want to share two things with you:
1. A three-point plan that you can use immediately to change and improve your life.
2. Offer you a unique opportunity to get on the fast track toward results. More on that later!

I do believe that the best things in life are free, and that the best strategies in life are simple. By that I mean, simple to understand, apply, teach and share with others.

The following three strategies are simple, and they are also extremely powerful. However, they require consistent and skillful application in order for your personal strategic plan to become reality.

These are the exact same changes that an individual must make in order to create personal change, that a company must make in order to create a lasting competitive advantage, and that a community must make in order to best serve its citizens.

Step One—Raise Your Standards
Any time you sincerely want to make a change, the first thing you must do is to raise your standards.

Simply put, you MUST expect and demand more from yourself and from those around you. That means having zero tolerance for mediocrity, procrastination, and any behavior that robs you of potential and increased performance.

Step Two—Change Your Limiting Beliefs
If you raise your standards but don't really believe you can meet them, then you've already sabotaged yourself. This is one of the biggest challenges people face when constructing their personal plan.

Why? Because you won't even try; you'll be lacking that sense of certainty that allows you to tap the deepest capacity that's within you even as you read these words.

Our beliefs are like unquestioned commands; telling us how things are, what's possible and what's impossible, what we can and cannot do. They shape every action, every thought, and every feeling that we experience.

As a result, changing our belief system is central to making any real and lasting change in our lives.

Step Three—Change Your Strategy
In order to keep your commitment, you need the best strategies for achieving results. One of my core beliefs is that if you set a higher standard, and you can get yourself to believe, then you certainly can figure out the strategies. You simply will find a way.

I can tell you with confidence that the absolute best strategy in almost any case is to find a role-model, someone who's already getting the results you want, and then tap into their knowledge.

Are You Ready to Create a Break-through?
You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough—as you must take action, honor your commitments and enforce strict discipline.

Say YES, and finish the year with a bang!

To your Glory & Greatness,

23 September, 2009

Emotionally Literate Staffrooms

Have a quiet, critical look around your staffroom. Don’t just focus on who is in there, but spend some time looking at the details of the environment, and how it makes you feel. A depressing, unkempt and disorganised environment will certainly have a detrimental effect on your own emotions. Whilst a staffroom that is well laid out with appropriate seating and resources can be a stimulating environment, one that sets you in a positive frame of mind.

Remembering the key domains of Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning:
• Self Awareness
• Managing Feelings
• Motivation
• Empathy
• Social Skills

How effective is your staffroom environment in promoting a positive ethos towards Emotional Literacy?

The emotionally literate staffroom might be described as:• Welcoming, sharing and understanding
• Clean and fit for use (seating, work areas, internet access, relaxation areas, refreshments available)
• Calm
• Well used
• Informative (appropriate displays and notices)

In complete contrast the emotionally illiterate staffroom may well include:• Cliques
• Empty
• Overused
• Chaotic/noisy
• Dated furniture
• Lack of storage, work areas
• Out of date notices/displays

For many staff, the staffroom is the first point of contact with school on arrival in the morning, a place for relaxation/discussion and preparation during the day and also quite possibly the last point of contact with school at the end of the day. Creating a staffroom environment that is both fit for purpose and emotionally positive is an essential element of the teaching and learning environment. All adults working in the school need the boost of having a place that both demonstrates their value to the school and meets their emotional needs.

If possible work with a colleague and determine your observations of the staffroom under the headings of:• Tone
• Culture
• Climate
You may also want to qualify your observations by using direct references to issues such as, quality of furniture and general d├ęcor, availability of usable resources such as access to internet, appropriate working areas (including desks clear of books, paper and general clutter), quality of lighting and privacy where required (including privacy from outside observers at windows!).

Check out the notice boards. Are they full of unnecessary things (out of date) and colleagues hand written notes?

Have a look also at the hardware available, lockers or equivalent, tea and coffee making facilities (permanent hot water boilers), dishwasher, photocopier, printer, laminator etc etc.
Hopefully there are no longer staff rooms that still have the unwritten rules of:
“Don’t sit there, that’s Mr………chair!”

Oh you’re a visitor! Coffee and tea is 50p and all these cups belong to permanent staff!”

Speaking of visitors, it is also useful to speak to anyone who has visited the staff room as a non-member of the staff and get their opinion of the “Tone, culture and climate.” A second pair of eyes can be very revealing when trying to assess environments with which you are very familiar.

It is not the intention to make the staff room an area that is overly comfortable and removed from the every day issues of the school. It is more to ensure that all users of the area feel that it is a well-equipped working part of the school. It should be accessible to all members of staff, both teaching, non-teaching and senior leadership team members. The environment should be stimulating and yet restful in which users can feel confident to discuss both work related and personal issues.

It is vitally important that we consider the well being of all our students in schools, however don’t forget to include the well being of the staff of the school, ensuring that that feel supported, valued and prepared. Managing the behaviour of all the youngsters in the school can be a challenging role, an emotionally stable staff will go a long way in succeeding with this task. A well organised and “fit for purpose” staff room should not be discounted.

Dealing With Overwhelm

By Brian Tracy (Excerpt From: Time Management Success)

Too Much to Do, Too Little Time
The most common form of stress that managers experience is the feeling of being overwhelmed with far too much to do and having too little time to do it in. In fact, "time poverty" is the biggest single problem facing most managers in America today. We simply do not have enough time to fulfill all our responsibilities. Because of budget limitations, staff cutbacks, downsizing, and competitive pressures, individual managers are forced to take on more and more work, all of which appears to be indispensable to the smooth functioning of our company or department.

Become An Expert
The solution to this problem of work overload is for you to become an expert on time management. There is probably no other skill that you can learn that will give you a "bigger bang for the buck" than to become extremely knowledgeable and experienced in using time management practices.

Be Open to New Ideas
The most foolish manager of all is either the manager who feels that he has no time to learn about time management or, even worse, the manager who, while being overwhelmed with work, feels that he already knows all that he needs to know about the subject.

Never Stop Learning
The fact is that you can study time management and take time management courses for your entire business life and you will still never learn everything you need to know to get the most out of yourself while doing your job in the most efficient way.

The Keys to Time Management
The two indispensable keys to time management are: 1) the ability to set priorities; and 2) the ability to concentrate single-mindedly on one thing at a time.
Since there is never enough time to do everything that needs to be done, you must be continually setting priorities on your activities. Perhaps the very best question that you can memorize and repeat, over and over, is, "what is the most valuable use of my time right now?"

The Best Question of All
This question, "what is the most valuable use of my time right now?" will do more to keep you on track, hour by hour, than any other single question in the list of time management strategies.

Start With Your Top Tasks
The natural tendency for all of us is to major in minors and to give in to the temptation to clear up small things first. After all, small things are easier and they are often more fun than the big, important things that represent the most valuable use of your time.

However, the self-discipline of organizing your work and focusing on your highest value tasks is the starting point of getting your time under control and lowering your stress levels.

Action Exercises
Here are two things you can do immediately to get your time under control.

First, make a decision today to become an expert on time management. Read the books, listen to the audio programs, and take a time management course. Then, practice, practice, practice every day until you master time management skills.

Second, set clear priorities on your work each day, before you begin. Then, discipline yourself to start on your most important task and stay at that until it is complete. This will relieve much of your stress immediately.

Setting Your Goals

By Brian Tracy (Excerpt From: Sales Success)

In my conversations with hundreds of top salespeople over the years, I have found that they all have one thing in common. They have taken the time to sit down and create a clear blueprint for themselves and their future lives. Even if they started the process of goal setting and personal strategic planning with a little skepticism, every one of them has become a true believer.

Becoming a True Believer
Every one of them has been amazed at the incredible power of goal setting and strategic planning. Every one of them has accomplished far more than they ever believed possible in selling and they ascribe their success to the deliberate process of thinking through every aspect of their work and their lives, and then developing a detailed, written road map to get them to where they wanted to go.

The Definition of Happiness
Happiness has been defined as, "The progressive achievement of a worthy ideal, or goal." When you are working progressively, step-by-step toward something that is important to you, you generate within yourself a continuous feeling of success and achievement.

You feel more positive and motivated. You feel more in control of your own life. You feel happier and more fulfilled. You feel like a winner, and you soon develop the psychological momentum that enables you to overcome obstacles and plough through adversity as you move toward achieving the goals that are most important to you.

Determine Your Values
Personal strategic planning begins with your determining what it is you believe in and stand for-your values. Your values lie at the very core of everything you are as a human being. Your values are the unifying principles and core beliefs of your personality and your character. The virtues and qualities that you stand for are what constitute the person you have become from the beginning of your life to this moment.

Your values, virtues and inner beliefs are the axle around which the wheel of your life turns. All improvement in your life begins with you clarifying your true values and then committing yourself to live consistent with them.

Fuzzy or Clear?
Successful people are successful because they are very clear about their values. Unsuccessful people are fuzzy or unsure. Complete failures have no real values at all.

Build Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem
Values clarification is the beginning exercise in building self-confidence, self-esteem and personal character. When you take the time to think through your fundamental values, and then commit yourself to living your life consistent with them, you feel a surge of mental strength and well-being. You feel stronger and more capable. You feel more centered in the universe and more competent of accomplishing the goals you set for yourself.

Action Exercises
Here are two things you can do immediately to put these ideas into action.

First, decide for yourself what makes you truly happy and then organize your life around it. Write down your goals and make plans to achieve them.

Second, begin with your values by deciding what it is you stand for and believe in. Commit yourself to live consistent with your inner most convictions - and you'll never make another mistake.

16 September, 2009

I think critically, therefore I am

By Linda Elder

“Teaching students to read and understand a text properly is essential to their intellectual survival in a complex world.” Linda Elder

About 15 years ago, while teaching psychology, I happened upon an article on critical thinking. I had long been interested in the workings of the human mind, but I lacked the broader perspective on the mind that a rich conception of critical thinking can offer. What I knew for certain was that I was dissatisfied with my teaching. I felt I had a reasonably sound grasp of psychology, but no clear path for reaching my students. I knew that the art of questioning was an important instructional approach, and that written assignments should be an integral part of teaching. I just didn’t have the tools to serve the purpose.

Once introduced to critical thinking, my perspective broadened dramatically, as tools for developing the mind became much more vivid, accessible and concrete. By studying the theory of critical thinking and tenaciously applying it to classroom practice, I began to see more clearly how to approach content as a mode of thought, rather than as fragmented bits of information. I began to see the intimate connection between thinking and learning, to see how to intervene in thinking deliberately and constructively to deepen one’s understanding, and to interface the content of my subject with the values and motivations of students.

I also began to appreciate the difficulties in cultivating the intellect – both my own and that of students. When deeply understood, critical thinking offers a network of concepts and principles for developing the mind. There are copious effective strategies for fostering critical thinking, but developing the human intellect is a messy process. It is often confusing, both for teacher and student. It isn’t procedural. It can’t be taught through formulas. It isn’t neat and tidy. But it is deeply rewarding when we grasp its significance and begin to work it out for ourselves.

In 1980, Richard Paul, a pre-eminent authority on critical thinking, established the Center for Critical Thinking, and the same year it hosted its first international conference. Since then, the centre has worked towards the cultivation of critical societies through the reform of education. In 1990, in an open letter to educators, Paul summed up the problem that a robust conception of critical thinking addresses.

“Many college and university professors say they have little time to focus on the students’ thinking because of the need to cover content. These professors fail to see that thinking is the only means by which the mind digests content. They fail to see that undigested content is content unlearnt or mislearnt. They fail to see that all content is embedded in ideas, that ideas have logical connections that logical connections must be thought through to be grasped… Furthermore, though this problem is ancient, the negative consequences are daily becoming more and more significant. The nature of professional and everyday life increasingly demands critical thinking. Indeed the cost of generating a growing mass of uncritical thinkers as workers and citizens is staggering… Intellectually undisciplined, narrow-minded thinking will not solve increasingly complex, multidimensional problems, let alone provide the basis for democratic decision-making.”
Critical thinking forms the heart and soul of every subject because its concepts and principles are presupposed in, and give rise to, the logic of every subject. Accordingly, teachers use critical thinking concepts in approaching their disciplines (albeit often implicitly and subconsciously). If we are to effectively address the challenges facing us as a species, and if we are ever to create truly critical societies, we need to take thinking more seriously in every part of human life, and certainly in teaching. When all is said and done, however highly we may rate our educational programmes, schools, colleges, universities and, yes, even our own classes, students are not developing the intellectual skills and character traits they need to survive in an increasingly complex world.

Thankfully, critical thinking is accessible, to some degree, to all who would enter its doors. From the beginning, the most basic principles are fairly easy to grasp. What is more, the process of translating principles into strategies is reasonably accessible. At the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking we have developed many resources for incorporating critical thinking into instruction, tested over many years with students and faculty. Of course, teaching for critical thinking is an art, not a science; there are an unlimited number of ways to cultivate the intellect.

Let me offer, by way of example, one set of instructional activities I have found to be highly effective in fostering critical thinking. These activities are most powerful when repeatedly used within a term, focusing on the core content of the course. Collectively, these structures develop students’ abilities to read closely, write substantively and reason analytically. They enable students to empathise with a broad range of views, even (perhaps most importantly) with those views contrary to their own. These activities illuminate for students the fact that articles, chapters, essays and other written works should be viewed as products of reasoning that, in most cases, can be intellectually analysed and assessed.

There are four parts to this instructional process. As you read through this series of activities, remember that any of the details can and should be contextualised to fit the situation, student group, and so forth.

Part one: reading closely
Students are often asked to read, but they generally do not understand what it means to read closely. They do not understand that to do so presupposes disciplined reasoning. Students seldom use reading to improve their thinking or thinking to improve their reading. They don’t see the connection between thoughtful reading and living the life of a reasonable person. I introduce close reading to students by first explaining that to read for deep understanding, they must learn to actively engage in a silent dialogue with the author. I emphasise that, if they are to become educated people, it is essential that they develop their ability to read for deep understanding and that they consistently do so throughout the course of their lives.

In this activity, then, the purpose is to teach students how to read a text closely. The basic design entails students working together in groups, focusing on an assigned text. Students take turns reading the text aloud, interpreting it, and then getting feedback from the other group members on their interpretation. Here is the structure I suggest:

Students working in groups of three are assigned a text to read together. Student A reads one paragraph aloud, periodically stopping and stating in her own words what she understands each sentence to be saying. After each act of interpretation, students B and C either agree with the interpretation or offer a different one. Then student B takes the next paragraph, and the same process continues (with A and C giving feedback on each interpretation). Student C takes the next paragraph, and on it goes with one student reading, interpreting and receiving feedback from the other two students on the original interpretation until you (the teacher) end the activity or the reading is completed.

Before beginning this assignment, I remind students that the process should entail mutual participation and support, rather than passivity or conflict. The idea is to work together toward the most reasonable interpretation of the text. I may, as I often do, model the kind of feedback I am looking for from students. For instance, I may say something like “I am interpreting this a little differently than you seem to be doing. I agree with this part of your interpretation, but in this sentence, I think the author means X rather than Y. Do you agree, or are you still seeing it another way?”

Part two: analysing the text
Once students are able to carefully read a text, they are in a position to analyse it. It is important for them to understand that any essay, article or chapter in a text can be explicitly analysed as a product of reasoning. Here are the primary questions I ask students to answer in analysing the text (in a written assignment):
• What is the author’s fundamental purpose?
• What is the author’s point of view with respect to the issue?
• What assumptions is the author making in his or her reasoning?
• What are the implications of the author’s reasoning?
• What information does the author use in reasoning through this issue?
• What are the most fundamental inferences or conclusions in the article?
• What are the most basic concepts used by the author?
• What is the key question the author is trying to answer?

Part three: sharing papers and giving feedback to one another
After students have completed part two as an out-of-class assignment, they are ready to give and receive feedback on their papers. Working in groups of three, students take turns reading their papers aloud, periodically stopping to allow other students to give feedback. It is essential that, in giving feedback, students use intellectual standards – for example, clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth and breadth. In this activity, the students are focused on helping one another become clearer in their writing, more accurately represent what the author is saying, more deeply understand the author’s argument, more logically present the author’s reasoning, and so forth.

When students are working in groups, I monitor and encourage the accurate assessment of thought. Thus, I will periodically stop the feedback process and again model the thinking I would like to see. I may say, for example: “Nina commented on the lack of clarity in Josh’s purpose. This is what I am looking for – the explicit use of intellectual standards.” Or, “Seth pointed out that some of the information mentioned by Susan wasn’t actually in the text. This was a good intellectual move. I suggest that the group now look at the original text for information that Susan can include.”

Part four: speaking in the voice of the author
Having closely read and analysed the text and compared written analyses with those of other students, students are now in a position to role-play the thinking of the author. Role-playing an author is, in one way, the ultimate test of understanding, by saying in essence:

“I will enter the mind of the author and speak as if I were the author. I will try to answer any questions you may have about the text by adopting the voice of the author and will answer your questions as I think the author would. I will speak in the first person singular. I will try to be the author fully and truly for the purpose of this exercise, even if, and most especially if, I disagree with the author.”

To role-play an author, students need a partner who has read the text and is willing to ask important questions about it. Responding to questions forces students to think within the author’s logic. Practising speaking within the voice of an author is a good way to get a sense of whether students have absorbed the core meanings of a text.

In this activity, one student takes the role of the author, speaking in the first person. The other student asks probing questions, using the questions in part two as guidelines. The student who is questioning will lead the discussion, perhaps beginning with the first question, “What was your purpose in writing this article about people who live in absolute poverty?” This question might be followed up by any of the following questions: “What were you assuming about this issue when you wrote this article?”, “What information did you use in coming to your main conclusions?”, “Was there any essential information relevant to the issue that you might have excluded, either intentionally or not?”, “What are some important implications of people taking your line of reasoning seriously?”, “What are some important implications of people failing to take your line of reasoning seriously?”

When we approach teaching with activities like these, using critical-thinking principles to process academic content, we honour and develop the intellects of students. We engage them in the thinking we want them to do. We help them recognise that the only way to learn any important set of ideas is to think those ideas into their thinking using their thinking, and to do so critically. With such an approach, we do a lot of modelling; but we place the responsibility for learning on students’ shoulders. Most importantly, we help them develop the intellectual skills, ability and character they need to reason through virtually any problem or issue, in any subject or discipline. We help them gain the intellectual tools they need to survive successfully and fair-mindedly in the complex and unpredictable world they face.

About the Author
Linda Elder is an educational psychologist, and president and fellow of the Foundation for Critical Thinking, a non-profit organization that seeks to foster critical societies through education and social reform.

15 September, 2009

How to best prepare for exams?

Exams can be a dreaded word, especially if you’re teaching to high school students. Students’ notion of exam is memorization, comprehension and pressure. So this time around, aside from teaching them lessons that they will be quizzed on, why not impart several nuggets of wisdom on how to prepare for exams? After all, exams do not end in high school. And the better adjusted they are to the concept of exams, the better the grades they’ll get.

Set realistic expectations and goals
Not everyone is an honor student, so expecting to jump a year level or two overnight is just a road to disappointment. Improving grades by doing well on exams should be set over a realistic time period. This way, the student is in control and is motivated.

Goals can be set with to-do lists, priority lists, notes on monthly calendars. But the fact that students have goals will not be worth anything if they are not achieved. Try to get them to write their goals in these broad categories: career, family, health, finances, intellectual, and hobbies, among others. This way, all the things they do can fall into one big picture.

Take a break
In Stephen Covey's book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, he wrote that people should sharpen their saws. It refers to a story of someone meeting a guy in the woods trying to cut down a tree with a saw. The guy asked the woodcutter to take a break and sharpen the saw so it would go faster, but the woodcutter replied that he had been cutting for five hours. He didn’t have time to sharpen his saw!

Stress gets relieved with exercise, when the body gets an influx of endorphins. In order to stay motivated and alert, students should do enjoyable exercises, get proper rest and eat properly. This could also serve as the much-needed break of the mind and body from stressful situations (like cramming for exams). Taking time to recharge physically and emotionally increases productivity.

Prepare in advance
Cramming is not the answer to most exams, and so does the myth that facts stick easier to the brain if studying is done on the day of the exam. Preparing in advance is much more effective, and makes the student more confident in taking the exam. This is because there was time allotted for background research, perusal the school’s exam databases for past exams on the subject, and total comprehension of the issues raised in the lessons.

Get rid of barriers
The biggest barrier is procrastination, and the best way to overcome it is the “Swiss Cheese Method.” It means dividing things to do into smaller chunks (ex. 15 minute tasks) with rewards at the end of the task. This helps students and even you to focus on one issue at a time.

The next biggest barrier is interruptions. If there are phone calls, visits and other problems to deal with, just leave the premises, and fit them into another schedule. Lastly, the third barrier is stress. Did you know that 75% of all worries never happen, but stressing over them can waste so many hours?

The best way to get rid of these barriers is to manage time properly. Make it into a habit, and see the concrete improvements in the students’ academic and overall performance.

Nurture yourself
Nurture the greatest asset your students have—themselves. To be an effective student, an effective time manager, they should enhance not just the physical and mental dimensions of their lives, but also the social/emotional and the spiritual.

Light reading is better than watching television, as it integrates academic issues into real life situations. Develop good communication with friends and family. Engage into activities and pursuits that can make students find out more about themselves. Discover spirituality so there will be a core in their lives.

These things, if taken seriously, can be beneficial to students in the long run. Achievement does not come with just a snap of the fingers. So never give up!

Fighting Students’ Boredom through Effective Teaching Style

By Alexandra Simultog-Fagkang Sabangan

As teachers, we should always help our students focus and maintain their interest in their lessons. We must help them enjoy learning and not bore them with our lectures. Students are more receptive and productive when they are not bored. When students are bored, their learning is disrupted.

There may be several factors why students lose their enthusiasm to participate in class, but most of the time, it all boils down to the teacher not being able to effectively deliver and communicate the lesson.

Teachers must be effective communicators to connect with students and get their attention. When asked what gets them bored during their classes, most students say that their teachers have:

 a monotone voice
 no enthusiasm
 poor physical appearance
 no eye contact
 no motion
 no visual aids (illustrations, animation, etc)
 predictable or routine teaching methods

How can we avoid losing our students’ interest? We must change our teaching style

Voice: We must improve our speech and manner of speaking. The voice we use during informal conversations must differ from the voice we use during a lecture. We must use the proper intonation, modulation, and emphasis so that our students will hear the lessons clearly. A serious tone will tell your students that the information being discussed is important, while an animated voice induces creativity.

Eye contact: To make ourselves understood by our students, we must first speak to their eyes. We must focus our eyes on our students so that they will know that we are interested in what we are discussing and that we want to communicate with them.

Facial Expression: Our message can be read through our facial expression and body language. It is important to smile so that our students will be comfortable listening to us.

Gesture and movement: We should not limit our teaching space to the back of the desk. We must reach out to our students perhaps by walking around the classroom. We can also change the students’ seating arrangement from time to time. Teachers can also change venues. You may conduct your lecture in a place related to the topic.

Posture and physical appearance: Our body also does some talking .Have the normal posture while teaching .Standing straight behind a lectern /table communicates a serious intent .Sitting down on a student’s desk indicates a closer relation to the students and to come down to their level and staring at them would mean ” I need a moment of your attention “ especially if the child has a disruptive behavior .When we are always in the proper posture while standing and sitting normally , we will find that the pupils do the same and it is one way also of calling their attention to be in their normal posture too. At the same time, clothes do not make a man but it can send the message better. We must wear proper attire and always look our best when facing our students.

It is not enough that we have an interesting topic or fully-loaded lesson plan. Sometimes we forget that it is the teacher whom our students will hear, see, and connect with first.

Activities for the Google-savvy Teacher

Blogs, podcasts, live streaming videos, tools and web applications can be useful tools in education and teaching. How can you utilize these tools for use in the classroom? Here are some examples of what the Internet can do for your students and how it can liven up lessons.

Cyber Talk
With chat rooms and chat boxes come discussion forums for the scholarly minds. But it need not be boring and staid of course. Encourage students to debate their points of view on the latest government news or scientific breakthrough! Ask them to post links to news articles or blogs or wikis that can substantiate their claims! Make discussion forums fun, and they will learn all the more.

Discussion forums benefit both students and teachers. First, there’s the presence of a moderator (the teacher) who can push the discussion along. Next, there are instructions and assignments on a regular basis so there will always be activity in your forum.
Students cannot drift off to other subjects or topics too, as most of the topics discussed will be very much linked to their class lessons.

Fourth, there can be student-teacher interaction even outside the classroom, when they’re absent, when you’re away on a conference, or both are on a holiday break.
Fifth, whatever students post as their comments can serve as your written log of their scholastic comprehension of your lessons. You can even identify weak points and re-teach a certain topic or two.

The important thing though is that you, the teacher and moderator, should be a regular presence in the forum. Students participate better if they know they’re watched. Keep logging in; pay attention so you can identify important postings and point them out. Discussion forums can become an important part of your course if it’s mandatory.

Scientific Collaboration
Scientific collaborations are challenging and interesting, especially if they have something to do with extended field trips or outdoor exotic education science trips. But these can cost some money and a lot of effort, especially where safety is concerned.
So in this Internet age, try scientific collaborations the online way! Start with Google Earth. When on an occasional check of the school garden or the city zoo, ask students to take pictures. They can also research online facts about these wonders of nature, be it a plant or an animal. These they can upload to Google Earth as part of their field study.

Start by creating a folder in the Google Earth My Places. Click on Add folder and name it “Field Study.” Choose the Placemark tool and anchor the location of the places your class visited in the Earth file.

Source:
Davis, Cheryl. “From There to Here with Google Tools.” Retrieved September 15, 2009 from
http://bbweb.acalanes.k12.ca.us/bbcswebdav/institution/MHSwebsite/google/gFromThereToHere.pdf
“Moderation Guidelines for Discussion Forums.” Retrieved September 15, 2009 from
http://www.edutech.ch/vista/docs/HOWTOs/VIS058E_ForumGuidesProf.php

13 September, 2009

MOTIVATING STUDENTS

By Barbara Gross Davis, University of California, Berkeley.
From Tools for Teaching

Some students seem naturally enthusiastic about learning, but many need-or expect-their instructors to inspire, challenge, and stimulate them: "Effective learning in the classroom depends on the teacher's ability ... to maintain the interest that brought students to the course in the first place" (Ericksen, 1978, p. 3). Whatever level of motivation your students bring to the classroom will be transformed, for better or worse, by what happens in that classroom.

Unfortunately, there is no single magical formula for motivating students. Many factors affect a given student's motivation to work and to learn (Bligh, 1971; Sass, 1989): interest in the subject matter, perception of its usefulness, general desire to achieve, self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as patience and persistence. And, of course, not all students are motivated by the same values, needs, desires, or wants. Some of your students will be motivated by the approval of others, some by overcoming challenges.

Researchers have begun to identify those aspects of the teaching situation that enhance students' self-motivation (Lowman, 1984; Lucas, 1990; Weinert and Kluwe, 1987; Bligh, 1971). To encourage students to become self-motivated independent learners, instructors can do the following:
• Give frequent, early, positive feedback that supports students' beliefs that they can do well.
• Ensure opportunities for students' success by assigning tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult.
• Help students find personal meaning and value in the material.
• Create an atmosphere that is open and positive.
• Help students feel that they are valued members of a learning community.

Research has also shown that good everyday teaching practices can do more to counter student apathy than special efforts to attack motivation directly (Ericksen, 1978). Most students respond positively to a well-organized course taught by an enthusiastic instructor who has a genuine interest in students and what they learn. Thus activities you undertake to promote learning will also enhance students' motivation.

General Strategies

Capitalize on students' existing needs. Students learn best when incentives for learning in a classroom satisfy their own motives for enrolling in the course. Some of the needs your students may bring to the classroom are the need to learn something in order to complete a particular task or activity, the need to seek new experiences, the need to perfect skills, the need to overcome challenges, the need to become competent, the need to succeed and do well, the need to feel involved and to interact with other people. Satisfying such needs is rewarding in itself, and such rewards sustain learning more effectively than do grades. Design assignments, in-class activities, and discussion questions to address these kinds of needs. (Source: McMillan and Forsyth, 1991)

Make students active participants in learning. Students learn by doing, making, writing, designing, creating, solving. Passivity dampens students' motivation and curiosity. Pose questions. Don't tell students something when you can ask them. Encourage students to suggest approaches to a problem or to guess the results of an experiment. Use small group work. See "Leading a Discussion," "Supplements and Alternatives to Lecturing," and "Collaborative Learning" for methods that stress active participation. (Source: Lucas, 1990)

Ask students to analyze what makes their classes more or less "motivating." Sass (1989) asks his classes to recall two recent class periods, one in which they were highly motivated and one in which their motivation was low. Each student makes a list of specific aspects of the two classes that influenced his or her level of motivation, and students then meet in small groups to reach consensus on characteristics that contribute to high and low motivation. In over twenty courses, Sass reports, the same eight characteristics emerge as major contributors to student motivation:
• Instructor's enthusiasm
• Relevance of the material
• Organization of the course
• Appropriate difficulty level of the material
• Active involvement of students
• Variety
• Rapport between teacher and students
• Use of appropriate, concrete, and understandable examples

Incorporating Instructional Behaviours That Motivate Students

Hold high but realistic expectations for your students. Research has shown that a teacher's expectations have a powerful effect on a student's performance. If you act as though you expect your students to be motivated, hardworking, and interested in the course, they are more likely to be so. Set realistic expectations for students when you make assignments, give presentations, conduct discussions, and grade examinations. "Realistic" in this context means that your standards are high enough to motivate students to do their best work but not so high that students will inevitably be frustrated in trying to meet those expectations. To develop the drive to achieve, students need to believe that achievement is possible -which means that you need to provide early opportunities for success. (Sources: American Psychological Association, 1992; Bligh, 1971; Forsyth and McMillan, 1991 -1 Lowman, 1984)

Help students set achievable goals for themselves. Failure to attain unrealistic goals can disappoint and frustrate students. Encourage students to focus on their continued improvement, not just on their grade on any one test or assignment. Help students evaluate their progress by encouraging them to critique their own work, analyze their strengths, and work on their weaknesses. For example, consider asking students to submit self-evaluation forms with one or two assignments. (Sources: Cashin, 1979; Forsyth and McMillan, 1991)

Tell students what they need to do to succeed in your course. Don't let your students struggle to figure out what is expected of them. Reassure students that they can do well in your course, and tell them exactly what they must do to succeed. Say something to the effect that "If you can handle the examples on these problem sheets, you can pass the exam. People who have trouble with these examples can ask me for extra help." Or instead of saying, "You're way behind," tell the student, "Here is one way you could go about learning the material. How can I help you?" (Sources: Cashin, 1979; Tiberius, 1990)

Strengthen students' self-motivation. Avoid messages that reinforce your power as an instructor or that emphasize extrinsic rewards. Instead of saying, "I require," "you must," or "you should," stress "I think you will find. . . “Or "I will be interested in your reaction." (Source: Lowman, 1990)

Avoid creating intense competition among students. Competition produces anxiety, which can interfere with learning. Reduce students' tendencies to compare themselves to one another. Bligh (1971) reports that students are more attentive, display better comprehension, produce more work, and are more favourable to the teaching method when they work cooperatively in groups rather than compete as individuals. Refrain from public criticisms of students' performance and from comments or activities that pit students against each other. (Sources: Eble, 1988; Forsyth and McMillan, 1991)

Be enthusiastic about your subject. An instructor's enthusiasm is a crucial factor in student motivation. If you become bored or apathetic, students will too. Typically, an instructor's enthusiasm comes from confidence, excitement about the content, and genuine pleasure in teaching. If you find yourself uninterested in the material, think back to what attracted you to the field and bring those aspects of the subject matter to life for your students. Or challenge yourself to devise the most exciting way topresent the material, however dull the material itself may seem to you.

Structuring the Course to Motivate Students
Work from students' strengths and interests. Find out why students are enrolled in your course, how they feel about the subject matter, and what their expectations are. Then try to devise examples, case studies, or assignments that relate the course content to students' interests and experiences. For instance, a chemistry professor might devote some lecture time to examining the contributions of chemistry to resolving environmental problems. Explain how the content and objectives of your course will help students achieve their educational, professional, or personal goals. (Sources: Brock, 1976; Cashin, 1979; Lucas, 1990)

When possible, let students have some say in choosing what will be studied. Give students options on term papers or other assignments (but not on tests). Let students decide between two locations for the field trip, or have them select which topics to explore in greater depth. If possible, include optional or alternative units in the course. (Sources: Ames and Ames, 1990; Cashin, 1979; Forsyth and McMillan, 1991; Lowman, 1984)

Increase the difficulty of the material as the semester progresses. Give students opportunities to succeed at the beginning of the semester. Once students feel they can succeed, you can gradually increase the difficulty level. If assignments and exams include easier and harder questions, every student will have a chance to experience success as well as challenge. (Source: Cashin, 1979)

Vary your teaching methods. Variety reawakens students' involvement in the course and their motivation. Break the routine by incorporating a variety of teaching activities and methods in your course: role playing, debates, brainstorming, discussion, demonstrations, case studies, audiovisual presentations, guest speakers, or small group work. (Source: Forsyth and McMillan, 1991)

De-emphasizing Grades

Emphasize mastery and learning rather than grades. Ames and Ames (1990) report on two secondary school math teachers. One teacher graded every homework assignment and counted homework as 30 percent of a student's final grade. The second teacher told students to spend a fixed amount of time on their homework (thirty minutes a night) and to bring questions to class about problems they could not complete. This teacher graded homework as satisfactory or unsatisfactory, gave students the opportunity to redo their assignments, and counted homework as 10 percent of the final grade. Although homework was a smaller part of the course grade, this second teacher was more successful in motivating students to turn in their homework. In the first class, some students gave up rather than risk low evaluations of their abilities. In the second class, students were not risking their self-worth each time they did their homework but rather were attempting to learn. Mistakes were viewed as acceptable and something to learn from.

Researchers recommend de-emphasizing grading by eliminating complex systems of credit points; they also advise against trying to use grades to control non-academic behavior (for example, lowering grades for missed classes) (Forsyth and McMillan, 1991; Lowman 1990). Instead, assign ungraded written work, stress the personal satisfaction of doing assignments, and help students measure their progress.

Design tests that encourage the kind of learning you want students to achieve. Many students will learn whatever is necessary to get the grades they desire. If you base your tests on memorizing details, students will focus on memorizing facts. If your tests stress the synthesis and evaluation of information, students will be motivated to practice those skills when they study. (Source: McKeachie, 1986)

Avoid using grades as threats. As McKeachie (1986) points out, the threat of low grades may prompt some students to work hard, but other students may resort to academic dishonesty, excuses for late work, and other counterproductive behavior.

Motivating Students by Responding to Their Work
Give students feedback as quickly as possible. Return tests and papers promptly, and reward success publicly and immediately. Give students some indication of how well they have done and how to improve. Rewards can be as simple as saying a student's response was good, with an indication of why it was good, or mentioning the names of contributors: "Cherry's point about pollution really synthesized the ideas we had been discussing." (Source: Cashin, 1979)

Reward success. Both positive and negative comments influence motivation, but research consistently indicates that students are more affected by positive feedback and success. Praise builds students' self-confidence, competence, and self-esteem. Recognize sincere efforts even if the product is less than stellar. If a student's performance is weak, let the student know that you believe he or she can improve and succeed over time. (Sources: Cashin, 1979; Lucas, 1990)

Introduce students to the good work done by their peers. Share the ideas, knowledge, and accomplishments of individual students with the class as a whole:
• Pass out a list of research topics chosen by students so they will know whether others are writing papers of interest to them.
• Make available copies of the best papers and essay exams.
• Provide class time for students to read papers or assignments submitted by classmates.
• Have students write a brief critique of a classmate's paper.
• Schedule a brief talk by a student who has experience or who is doing a research paper on a topic relevant to your lecture.

Be specific when giving negative feedback. Negative feedback is very powerful and can lead to a negative class atmosphere. Whenever you identify a student's weakness, make it clear that your comments relate to a particular task or performance, not to the student as a person. Try to cushion negative comments with a compliment about aspects of the task in which the student succeeded. (Source: Cashin, 1979)

Avoid demeaning comments. Many students in your class may be anxious about their performance and abilities. Be sensitive to how you phrase your comments and avoid offhand remarks that might prick their feelings of inadequacy.

Avoid giving in to students' pleas for "the answer" to homework problems. When you simply give struggling students the solution, you rob them of the chance to think for themselves. Use a more productive approach (adapted from Fiore, 1985):
• Ask the students for one possible approach to the problem.
• Gently brush aside students’ anxiety about not getting the answer by refocusing their attention on the problem at hand.
• Ask the students to build on what they do know about the problem.
• Resist answering the question "is this right?" Suggest to the students a way to check the answer for themselves.
• Praise the students for small, independent steps.

If you follow these steps, your students will learn that it is all right not to have an instant answer. They will also learn to develop greater patience and to work at their own pace. And by working through the problem, students will experience a sense of achievement and confidence that will increase their motivation to learn.

Motivating Students to Do the Reading
Assign the reading at least two sessions before it will be discussed. Give students ample time to prepare and try to pique their curiosity about the reading: "This article is one of my favourites, and I'll be interested to see what you think about it." (Sources: Lowman, 1984; "When They Don't Do the Reading," 1989)

Assign study questions. Hand out study questions that alert students to the key points of the reading assignment. To provide extra incentive for students, tell them you will base exam questions on the study questions. (Source: "When They Don't Do the Reading," 1989)

If your class is small, have students turn in brief notes on the day's reading that they can use during exams. At the start of each class, a professor in the physical sciences asks students to submit a 3" x 5" card with an outline, definitions, key ideas, or other material from the day's assigned reading. After class, he checks the cards and stamps them with his name. He returns the cards to students at a class session prior to the midterm. Students can then add any material they would like to the cards but cannot submit additional cards. The cards are again returned to the faculty member who distributes them to students during the test. This faculty member reports that the number of students completing the reading jumped from 10 percent to 90 percent and that students especially valued these "survival cards." Source: Daniel, 1988)

Ask students to write a one-word journal or one-word sentence. Angelo (1991) describes the one-word journal as follows: students are asked to choose a single word that best summarizes the reading and then write a page or less explaining or justifying their word choice. This assignment can then be used as a basis for class discussion. A variation reported by Erickson and Strommer (199 1) is to ask students to write one complex sentence in answer to a question you pose about the readings and provide three sources of supporting evidence: "In one sentence, identify the type of ethical reasoning Singer uses in his article 'Famine, Affluence, and Morality.' Quote three passages that reveal this type of ethical reasoning" (p. 125).

Ask nonthreatening questions about the reading. Initially pose general questions that do not create tension or feelings of resistance: "Can you give me one or two items from the chapter that seem important?" "What section of the reading do you think we should review?" "What item in the reading surprised you?" "What topics in the chapter can you apply to your own experience?" (Source: "When They Don't Do the Reading," 1989)

Use class time as a reading period. If you are trying to lead a discussion and find that few students have completed the reading assignment, consider asking students to read the material for the remainder of class time. Have them read silently or call on students to read aloud and discuss the key points. Make it clear to students that you are reluctantly taking this unusual step because they have not completed the assignment.

Prepare an exam question on un-discussed readings. One faculty member asks her class whether they have done the reading. If the answer is no, she says, "You'll have to read the material on your own. Expect a question on the next exam covering the reading." The next time she assigns reading, she reminds the class of what happened the last time, and the students come to class prepared. (Source: "When They Don't Do the Reading," 1989)

Give a written assignment to those students who have not done the reading. Some faculty ask at the beginning of the class who has completed the reading. Students who have not read the material are given a written assignment and dismissed. Those who have read the material stay and participate in class discussion. The written assignment is not graded but merely acknowledged. This technique should not be used more than once a term. (Source: "When They Don't Do the Reading," 1989)

ENHANCING YOUR TEACHING EFFECTIVENESS

Accurately assessing your students' developmental state can direct your planning and impel your teaching. For instance, recognizing a 16-year-old's concern about his appearance and his standing among his peers may promote your rapport with him and eliminate learning barriers.

Keep in mind that chronologic age and developmental stage are not always related. Throughout life, people move sequentially through developmental stages, but most people also fluctuate somewhat among stages, often in response to outside stressors. These stressors can cause a person to regress temporarily to an earlier stage. Sometimes a person may not achieve the task expected of his chronologic age. So you will need to address your students at their current developmental stages, not at the stages at which you would expect them to be because of their chronological ages.

In some situations, hopefully most, you will have time to sit down and develop a formal teaching plan. In others, you will be confronted with a "teachable moment" when the student is ready to learn and is asking pointed questions. Invariably, these moments seem to come at the most inopportune times. At times like these, you face the dilemma: to teach or not to teach. Having knowledge of basic learning principles will help you take best advantage of these moments. Here are some principles proven to enhance teaching and learning.

Seize the moment
Teaching is most effective when it occurs in quick response to a need the learner feels. So even though you are elbow deep in something else, you should make every effort to teach the student when he or she asks. The student is ready to learn. Satisfy that immediate need for information now, and augment your teaching with more information later.

Involve the student in planning
Just presenting information to the student does not ensure learning. For learning to occur, you will need to get the student involved in identifying his learning needs and outcomes. Help him to develop attainable objectives. As the teaching process continues, you can further engage him or her by selecting teaching strategies and materials that require the student's direct involvement, such as role playing and return demonstration. Regardless of the teaching strategy you choose, giving the student the chance to test his or her ideas, to take risks, and to be creative will promote learning.

Begin with what the student knows
You will find that learning moves faster when it builds on what the student already knows. Teaching that begins by comparing the old, known information or process and the new, unknown one allows the student to grasp new information more quickly.

Move from simple to complex
The student will find learning more rewarding if he has the opportunity to master simple concepts first and then apply these concepts to more complex ones. Remember, however, that what one student finds simple, another may find complex. A careful assessment takes these differences into account and helps you plan the teaching starting point.

Accommodate the student's preferred learning style
How quickly and well a student learns depends not only on his or her intelligence and prior education, but also on the student's learning style preference. Visual learners gain knowledge best by seeing or reading what you are trying to teach; auditory learners, by listening; and tactile or psychomotor learners, by doing.

You can improve your chances for teaching success if you assess your patient's preferred learning style, then plan teaching activities and use teaching tools appropriate to that style. To assess a student's learning style, observe the student, administer a learning style inventory, or simply ask the student how he or she learns best.

You can also experiment with different teaching tools, such as printed material, illustrations, videotapes, and actual equipment, to assess learning style. Never assume, though, that your student can read well -- or even read at all.

Sort goals by learning domain
You can combine your knowledge of the student's preferred learning style with your knowledge of learning domains. Categorizing what the students need to learn into proper domains helps identify and evaluate the behaviours you expect them to show.

Learning behaviours fall in three domains: cognitive, psychomotor, and affective. The cognitive domain deals with intellectual abilities. The psychomotor domain includes physical or motor skills. The affective domain involves expression of feeling about attitudes, interests, and values. Most learning involves all three domains.

Make material meaningful
Another way to facilitate learning is to relate material to the student's lifestyle -- and to recognize incompatibilities. The more meaningful material is to a student, the quicker and easier it will be learned.

Allow immediate application of knowledge
Giving the student the opportunity to apply his or her new knowledge and skills reinforces learning and builds confidence. This immediate application translates learning to the "real world" and provides an opportunity for problem solving, feedback, and emotional support.

Plan for periodic rests
While you may want the students to push ahead until they have learned everything on the teaching plan, remember that periodic plateaus occur normally in learning. When your instructions are especially complex or lengthy, your students may feel overwhelmed and appear unreceptive to your teaching. Be sure to recognize these signs of mental fatigue and let the students relax. (You too can use these periods - to review your teaching plan and make any necessary adjustments.)

Tell your students how they are progressing
Learning is made easier when the students are aware of their progress. Positive feedback can motivate them to greater effort because it makes their goal seem attainable. Also, ask your students how they feel they are doing. They probably want to take part in assessing their own progress toward learning goals, and their input can guide your feedback. You will find their reactions are usually based on what "feels right."

Reward desired learning with praise
Praising desired learning outcomes or behaviour improves the chances that the students will retain the material or repeat the behaviour. Praising your students' successes associates the desired learning goal with a sense of growing and accepted competence. Reassuring them that they have learned the desired material or technique can help them retain and refine it.

GOOD TEACHING

By Theodore R. Sizer, Former Dean, Harvard University College of Education.
Reprinted with permission

I'd like to talk briefly about good teaching. I fear doing this, knowing well how fine teachers differ as their characters and styles differ. Idiosyncrasy is a virtue to the extent that successful teaching rests on character - and I believe it heavily rests there. By describing a generalized view of good teaching, I may unintentionally signal to you an intolerance of idiosyncrasy. I do not wish to do so.

I am also concerned that I may give the impression that I think teaching per se is important. Of course, it isn't; what is only important is what the students learn. By speaking of teaching, I hope I won't muddy the truism that our actions as instructors are a means to an end -- a pupil's knowledge -- rather than an end in them.

However, with these reservations expressed, let me proceed. Brilliant teaching, in my view, at its heart reflects scholarship, personal integrity and the ability to communicate with the young.

Scholarship is both the grasp of a realm of knowledge and a habit of mind. An effective teacher provokes both from his students. But particularly the latter, as it is a habit of mind, rather than facts, which endure in a person over a lifetime. Scholarship is not only an affair of the classroom, but, at its best, is a way of life, one which is marked by respect for evidence and for logic, by inquisitiveness and the genius to find new meaning in familiar data, and by the ability to see things in context, to relate specificities to generalities, facts to theories, and theories to facts.

The second characteristic of great teaching is integrity, in at least two of its separate meanings. First there is probity: characteristics of honesty, principle and decent candor. These qualities are fundamental, of course, to the good life for anyone, but they play a special role in the behaviour of those of us who inevitably, as we live together with them, influence younger people by our example.

Another, but equally important, kind of integrity is completeness or unity of character, the sense of self-confidence and personal identity a fine teacher exhibits. There is much pop jargon around to describe this, some of it useful: "knowing who you are," "getting it together," "not losing one's cool." Because they are teenagers, most of our students' most painful trials are in finding their own selves, in gaining proper self-confidence, and they look to us as people who have learned to control the ambiguities, pressures and restrictions of life rather than having them control us. A fine teacher is not particularly one who exudes self-confidence from every pore -- a super person (more likely, a hypocrite!). Far from it. A fine teacher does have confidence, but the honest confidence that flows from a fair recognition of one's own frailties as well as talents and which accommodates both joyfully. The lack of assurance that typically marks adolescence and that takes observable form in pettiness, distortion, scapegoating, over-reacting, or withdrawal ideally is balanced in a school by the presence of adults who have grown to channel and control these sturdily persistent human traits. A teenager leans little from older folk, of whatever scholarly brilliance, who as people are themselves yet teenagers.

The ability to communicate with the young is the third basic characteristic of good teaching. It means, obviously, liking young people, enjoying their noisy exuberance and intense questioning, which is their process of growing up. It means the ability to empathize, to see a situation as the student sees it. A good teacher must be, obviously, a compulsive listener. It means the skill of provoking more out of a student than he believed possible, of knowing the tests to which to put a young scholar in order that he be convinced of his own learning and to lure him into further learning. It means a belief in the dignity of young people and in the stage of life at which they now find themselves. Great teachers neither mock nor underestimate the young.

I am intensely aware that the foregoing description sounds pretentious and begs specificity. I won't apologize for the pretension. I believe these goals are both achievable and proper for each of us as professional teachers to hold. Lesser goals, or more pragmatic goals demean us, I believe, and would suggest that the teacher's craft is less human and more mechanical than it properly should be. But I do recognize that lack of specificity, and respond to it by recounting some little incidents and practices I've observed among members of this assembled company. Acts which may appear trivial in themselves, but which, when added to the hundreds of similar acts, create a standard and a style from which young people can learn.

For example, here are some apparent minutiae:
• knowing student's names, and calling them by name
• greeting students and colleagues pleasantly
• going to see student friends on varied occasions (i.e., the House Counsellor or teacher, attending a game or play because of a youngster who's playing)
• Remembering something that had earlier worried a student, and asking about it ("Is your mother recovering from her operation?")
• resisting the sarcastic, if funny, bon mot that could be an amusing but hurtful rejoinder to a foolish comment a student has just made in class
• never tolerating ad hominem remarks among students and colleagues, such as apparently benign but really insulting jokes arising from one's sex or ethnic origin
• Scrupulously following the dictum which all our parents taught us: "If you can't say anything good about someone, don't say anything at all."
• Telling a student the unvarnished truth, privately (i.e., "Susan, I honestly suspect you...", "George, you're not working hard enough.", "Sam, you are an insult to the olfactory nerves; go take a shower.", "Joan, you're a bully.")

I could go on, but I trust the point is clear; such actions signal the importance a teacher feels for an individual, for his dignity and for his growth.

Some others; details, of a different sort:
• Always insisting on the reasons for things -- in class and out -- and always taking time, one's self, to give reasons. This takes patience, indeed stretches it often to Biblical extremes
• knowing the difference between asking students to listen to you and to hear you - and acting upon it
• "hearing" students, and questioning them thoroughly enough to know just how they see or are confused by an issue
• showing that you can change your mind, when evidence and logic suggest it
• being on the edge of your subject and interests; exhibiting the same questing in your field that you would have your students feel

The point here is obvious, the need to help students develop rational habits of mind and a sense of the joy of inquiry.

Some others, apparent trivia:
• never being late to class or cutting it for some personal convenience
• returning papers to students within twenty-four hours
• insisting on neat written work, delivered on schedule
• insisting on a formality of conduct in a classroom comparable to the formality of thought implicit in the subject being studied
• clearly signalling the imperative of scrupulous intellectual honesty
• insisting on clear thinking and fair-mindedness in the dormitory, on the playing field and elsewhere, as expected in the classroom
• perceiving the results of a class as "My students know XYZ," rather than "I covered XYZ in class" - and knowing the difference between the two

The message here unequivocally is the deep seriousness we have for intellectual values and for learning.

Some other minutiae; ones that help students to grow:
• always expect a bit more of a student than he expects of himself
• Accentuate the positive; be careful always to praise good work. No one learns anything faster than when he feels he is successful
• exhibit the greatest possible friendliness that one can honestly exhibit to a student one doesn't like, and try to repress personal annoyances
• be friends with students, but not buddies; the obligations of the latter relationship limit one's freedom to teach well
• never give up on a student, or categorize or 'brand' him permanently

One can go on, and we should go on among ourselves all year. I admit that this definition of teaching -- a mix of scholarship, integrity and the gift of communicating with the young -- is in its generality often as difficult to categorize as it is to describe. It turns on a person's style, character. We mustn't be afraid to confront this fact, and deal with it.

I take heart in this situation by recalling the consternation of some university colleagues of mine when they discovered a persistently inconsistent hiccup in their masses of research data on students' school performance, a hiccup of excellence that could be explained by the fact that the teachers in a particular school gave a damn. The students in my colleagues' study shouldn't have performed well in this -- but they did. It's so much easier for social scientists to explain realities in terms of income level, or ethnic origin, or average ages. But "giving a damn"? Caring about kids? It made a difference, they -- but they were embarrassed to admit it. We shouldn't be embarrassed!

07 September, 2009

CBSE’s New Grading System for Class X

HOW CBSE’S GRADING SYSTEM WILL WORK?

THE NEW ORDER
With Board exams being made optional from the academic year 2010-11, a new system of evaluation – Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) – based on grades has been approved. It comprises formative and summative assessment of the student to be done over two terms – first and second -during the year-long academic calendar.

Summative Assessment Based on the term-end examination
1) There will be two evaluations each in the first and second terms.
2) Each evaluation will carry 10 marks apiece.

Formative Assessment To evaluate and grade class work, homework, assignment and project work
1) There will be one term-end exam for each term.
2) The first term-end exam will carry 20 marks.
3) The second term-end exam will carry 40 marks.

EVALUATIONStudents of class IX and X will be evaluated on a 9-point grading system. Each grade, given on the basis of both formative and summative assessments, will correspond to a range of marks as indicated below:
A1 95 and above
A2 90 to 94
A3 85 to 89
B1 80 to 84
B2 70 to 79
C1 60 to 69
C2 50 to 59
C3 33 to 49
D Less than 33

Points to Remember:
(i) Assessment of theory/practical papers in external subjects shall be in numerical scores.In addition to numerical scores, the Board shall indicate grades in the marks sheets issued to the candidates in case of subjects of external examinations. In case of internal assessment subjects, only grades shall be shown.

(ii) Subjects of internal examination in Class X the assessment shall be made on a five point scale I.e. A,B,C,D & E.

(iii) The grades shall be derived from scores in case of subjects of external examination. In case of subjects of internal assessment, they shall be awarded by the schools.

(iv) The qualifying marks in each subject of external examination shall be 33% . However at Senior School Certificate Examination, in a subject involving practical work, a candidate must obtain 33% marks in the theory and 33% marks in the practical separately in addition to 33% marks in aggregate, in order to qualify in that subject.

(v) For awarding the grades, the Board shall put all the passed students in a rank order and will award grades as follows:

• A1 : Top 1/8th of the passed candidates
• A2 : Next 1/8th of the passed candidates
• B1 : Next 1/8th of the passed candidates
• B2 : Next 1/8th of the passed candidates
• C1 : Next 1/8th of the passed candidates
• C2 : Next 1/8th of the passed candidates
• D1 : Next 1/8th of the passed candidates
• D2 : Next 1/8th of the passed candidates
• E : Failed candidates

Important:
(a) In case of a tie, all the students getting the same score, will get the same grade. If the number of students at a score point needs to be divided into two segments, the smaller segment will go with the larger.

(b) Method of grading will be used in subjects where the number of candidates who have passed is more than 500.

(c) In respect of subjects where total number of candidates passing in a subject is less than 500, the grading would be adopted on the pattern of grading and distribution in other similar subjects.

06 September, 2009

Collaborative Learning and It's Benefits

By C. Radhakrishnan

What is Collaborative Learning?
Collaborative learning is a common term for a variety of educational approaches involving joint intellectual effort by students, or students and teachers together. Usually, students are working in groups of two or more, mutually searching for understanding, solutions, or meanings, or creating a product. Collaborative learning activities vary widely, but most centre on students’ exploration or application of the study material, not simply the teacher’s presentation or explanation of it.

Collaborative learning represents a significant shift away from the typical teacher centred or lecture-centred setting in school/college classrooms. In collaborative classrooms, the lecturing/ listening/note-taking process may not disappear entirely, but it lives alongside other processes that are based in students’ discussion and active work with the topic. Teachers who use collaborative learning approaches tend to think of themselves less as expert transmitters of knowledge to students, and more as expert designers of intellectual experiences for students.

Benefits of Collaborative Learning:
CL benefits the learner in many ways. Some of them are listed below. These benefits reinforce the need to use this technique in our day-to-day teaching-learning process.

1. Develops higher level thinking skills
2. Promotes student-teacher interaction and familiarity
3. Increases student retention
4. Builds self esteem in students
5. Enhances student satisfaction with the learning experience
6. Promotes a positive attitude toward the subject matter
7. Develops oral communication skills
8. Develops social interaction skills
9. Promotes positive race relations
10. Creates an environment of active, involved, exploratory learning
11. Uses a team approach to problem solving while maintaining individual accountability
12. Encourages diversity understanding
13. Encourages student responsibility for learning
14. Involves students in developing curriculum and class procedures
15. Students explore alternate problem solutions in a safe environment
16. Stimulates critical thinking and helps students clarify ideas through discussion and debate
17. Enhances self management skills
18. Fits in well with the constructivist approach
19. Establishes an atmosphere of cooperation and helping school wide
20. Students develop responsibility for each other
21. Builds more positive heterogeneous relationships
22. Encourages alternate student assessment techniques
23. Fosters and develops interpersonal relationships
24. Modelling problem solving techniques by students' peers
25. Students are taught how to criticise ideas, not people
26. Sets high expectations for students and teachers
27. Promotes higher achievement and class attendance.
28. Students stay on task more and are less disruptive
29. Greater ability of students to view situations from others' perspectives (development of empathy)
30. Creates a stronger social support system
31. Creates a more positive attitude toward teachers, principals and other school personnel by students and creates a more positive attitude by teachers toward their students
32. Addresses learning style differences among students
33. Promotes innovation in teaching and classroom techniques
34. Classroom anxiety is significantly reduced
35. Test anxiety is significantly reduced
36. Classroom resembles real life social and employment situations
37. Students practice modelling social and work related roles
38. CL is synergistic with writing across the curriculum
39. CL activities can be used to personalise large lecture classes
40. Skill building and practice can be enhanced and made less boring through CL activities in and out of class.
41. CL activities promote social and academic relationships well beyond the classroom and individual course
42. CL processes create environments where students can practice building leadership skills.
43. CL increases leadership skills of female students
44. In schools/colleges where students commute to school and do not remain on campus to participate in campus life activities, CL creates a community environment within the classroom.

Benefits of Cooperative Learning In Relation to Student Motivation

Dr.Theodore Panitz

Cooperative Learning (CL) is an instructional strategy that employs a variety of motivational techniques to make instruction more relevant and students more responsible. This chapter outlines the benefits of CL in terms of its motivational impact.

Introduction
General guidelines for classroom motivation (for example, Forsyth and McMillan, 1994) suggest emphasis on challenging, engaging, informative activities and the building of enthusiasm and a sense of responsibility in learners. Well-developed instructional strategies such as Cooperative Learning (CL) offer many potential benefits to learners (Panitz, 1998).

The definition of CL as a motivational strategy includes all learning situations where students work in groups to accomplish particular learning objectives and are interdependent for successful completion of the objective. Forsyth and McMillan (1994) emphasize intrinsic motivation as a key element in teaching and learning, as does Wlodkowski (see Chapter 1 of this issue), noting that successful intrinsic motivation develops attitude, establishes inclusion, engenders competence, and enhances meaning within diverse students. How can CL be a positive motivator for a diverse student population? This chapter attempts to answer that question.

Developing attitude: creating a favorable disposition toward thelearning experience through personal relevance and choice
A primary benefit of CL is that it enhances students' self esteem which in turn motivates students to participate in the learning process (Johnson & Johnson 1989). Cooperative efforts among students result in a higher degree of accomplishment by all participants (Slavin 1987). Students help each other and in doing so build a supportive community which raises the performance level of each member (Kagan 1986). This in turn leads to higher self esteem in all students (Webb 1982)

Cooperation enhances student satisfaction with the learning experience by actively involving students in designing and completing class procedures and course content (Johnson and Johnson 1990). Effective teams or groups assume ownership of a process and its results when individuals are encouraged to work together toward a common goal, often defined by the group. This aspect is especially helpful for individuals who have a history or failure (Turnure & Zigler 1958).

CL promotes mastery while passive acceptance of information from an outside expert often promotes a sense of helplessness and reliance upon others to attain concepts. In a typical college classroom emphasizing lecturing, there is little time for reflection and discussion of students' errors or misconceptions. With the CL paradigm students are continuously discussing, debating and clarifying their understanding of the concepts.

CL reduces classroom anxiety created by new and unfamiliar situations faced by students (Kessler, Price & Wortman 1985). In a traditional classroom when a teacher calls upon a student, he/she becomes the focus of attention of the entire class. Any mistakes or incorrect answers become subject to scrutiny by the whole class. In contrast, in a CL situation, when students work in a group, the focus of attention is diffused among the group. In addition, the group produces a product which its members can review prior to presenting it to the whole class, thus diminishing prospects that mistakes will occur at all (Slavin & Karweit 1981). When a mistake is made, it becomes a teaching tool instead of a public criticism of an individual student.

Test anxiety is significantly reduced (Johnson and Johnson 1989). CL provides many opportunities for alternate forms of student assessment (Panitz and Panitz, 1996). This situation leads to a reduction in test anxiety because the students see that the teacher is able to evaluate how they think as well as what they know. Through the interactions with students during each class, the teacher gains a better understanding of each student's learning style and how he/she performs and an opportunity is created whereby the teacher may provide extra guidance and counseling for the students.

CL develops positive student-teacher attitudes (Johnson & Johnson 1989). The level of involvement of all the participants in a cooperative system is very intense and personal. Teachers learn about student behaviors because students have many opportunities to explain their actions and thoughts to the teacher. Lines of communication are opened and actively encouraged. Teachers have more opportunities to explain why policies are established and the system allows students to have more input into establishing policies and class procedures. The empowerment created by the many interpersonal interactions leads to a very positive attitude by all parties involved.

CL sets high expectations for students and teachers (Panitz and Panitz 1998). Being made responsible for one's learning and for one's peers presumes that one has that capability. By setting obtainable goals for groups and by facilitating group interaction, teachers establish high expectations which become self fulfilling as the students master the cooperative approach, learn how to work well together in teams, and demonstrate their abilities through a variety of assessment methods.

CL Establishes inclusion, creating a learning atmosphere in which learners feel respected and connected to one another. CL creates a strong social support system (Cohen & Willis 1985). CL techniques use students' social experiences such as warm-up exercises and group building activities to encourage their involvement in the learning process. The teacher plays a very active role in facilitating the process and interacting with each student while moving around the class and observing students interacting (Cooper et. al. 1985). Teachers may raise questions with individuals or small groups to help advise students or explain concepts. In addition, a natural tendency to socialize with the students on a professional level is created by CL. Students often mention offhandedly that they are having difficulties outside of class related to work, family, friends, etc. Openings like this can lead to a discussion of those problems by the teacher and student in a non-threatening way due to the informality of the situation, and additional support from other student services units in such areas can be a beneficial by-product (Kessler & McCleod, 1985).

CL develops students' social interaction skills.

A major component of learning elaborated by Johnson, Johnson and Holubec (1984) includes training students in the social skills needed to work cooperatively. In our society and current educational framework, competition is valued over cooperation. By asking group members to identify what behaviors help them work together and by asking individuals to reflect on their contribution to the group's success or failure, students are made aware of the need for healthy, positive, helping interactions (Panitz 1996; Cohen & Cohen 1991).

According to Kessler and MaCleod (1985 page 219) "CL promotes positive societal responses .... reduces violence in any setting .... eliminates fear and blame, and increases honor, friendliness, and consensus. Process is as important as content and goal. CL takes time to master, and facilitators who have done the personal work that allows sharing of power, service to the learners, and natural learning, find CL a joy."

Sherman (1991) makes the observation, "Most social psychology text books contain considerable discussions about conflict and its resolution and/or reduction. Almost all introductory educational psychology text books now contain extended discussions of effective pedagogies for improving racial relations, self-esteem, internal locus of control and academic achievement (Messick & Mackie, 1989).

Cooperative learning fosters student interaction at all levels (Webb 1982). Research has shown that when students of high ability work with students of lower ability, the former benefit by explaining or demonstrating and the latter benefit by seeing an approach to problem solving modeled by a peer (Johnson & Johnson 1985, Swing, Peterson 1982; Hooper & Hannafin, 1988). Warm-up and group building activities help students to understand their differences and to learn how to capitalize on them rather than use them as a basis for antagonism.

CL helps majority and minority populations in a class learn to work with each other (Felder 1997, Johnson & Johnson 1972, Slavin 1980). Because students are actively involved in exploring issues and interacting with each other on a regular basis in a guided fashion, they are able to understand their differences and learn how to resolve social problems which may arise (Johnson & Johnson 1985). Training students in conflict resolution is a major component of learning training (Aronson 1978; Slavin 1987).

CL establishes an atmosphere of cooperation and helping school-wide (Deutsch 1975). CL focuses attention on the accomplishments of the group as well as the individual. Teamwork is the modus operandi and inter-group cooperation is encouraged. Even when group competitions are used (Slavin 1987), the intent is to create a positive helping environment for all participants. In CL environments, students are taught how to criticize ideas, not people (Johnson, Johnson & Holubec 1984). A function of cooperative learning is to help students resolve differences amicably. They need to be taught how to challenge ideas and advocate for their positions without personalizing their statements. In cooperative classes, students may be assigned roles in order to build interdependence within the groups. These roles often model societal and work related roles which students will encounter in real life. Adult motivational theory has shown that the direct applicability of classroom small group problem-solving to students' lives will enhance motivation to learn (Wlodowski 1985).

Cooperative learning is particularly effective at increasing the leadership skills of female students and for getting male students used to turning to women for help in pressure situations (Bean 1996). This benefit is especially important in mathematics classes where men generally dominate class discussions and presentations. The Johnsons (1990, p121) point out that, "Students tend to like and enjoy math more and be more intrinsically motivated to learn more about it continually." CL also helps to develop learning communities within classes and institutions (Tinto 1997). Community colleges and many four-year colleges are primarily commuter schools. Students do not remain on campus for extracurricular or social activities. Many students have jobs and/or family pressures which also limit their ability to participate in campus life. Thus it falls to the classroom teacher to create an atmosphere of community within the college. The previous discussion of the social benefits of CL make it clear that creating a community of learners is easily accomplished using CL techniques. There is a significant benefit to CL which is not always apparent because it takes place outside of the classroom. If groups operate long enough during a course, the people in them will get to know each other and extend their activities outside of class. Students will exchange phone numbers and contact each other to get help with questions or problems they are having, and they will often sign up together for classes in later terms and seek out teachers who use CL methods (Bean, 1996;Felder, 1997).

Engendering competence: creating an understanding that learners are effective in learning something they value
CL develops higher level thinking skills (Webb 1982). Students are engaged in the learning process instead of passively listening to the teacher. Pairs of students (followed by threesomes and larger groups) working together represent the most effective form of interaction (Schwartz, Black, Strange 1991). When students work in pairs one person is listening while the other partner is discussing the question under investigation. Both are developing valuable problem solving skills by formulating their ideas, discussing them, receiving immediate feedback and responding to questions and comments (Johnson, D.W. 1971; Peterson & Swing 1985). This aspect of cooperative learning does not preclude whole class discussion. In fact whole class discussion is enhanced by having students think out and discuss ideas thoroughly before the entire class discusses an idea or concept. In addition, the teacher may temporarily join a group's discussion to question ideas or statements made by group members or to clarify concepts or questions raised by students.

Cooperative learning fosters higher levels of performance (Bligh 1972). Critical thinking skills increase and retention of information and interest in the subject matter improve (Kulik & Kulick 1979). This creates a positive cycle of good performance building higher self esteem which in turn leads to more interest in the subject and better performance (Keller, 1983). Students share their success with their groups, thus enhancing both the individual's and the group's self esteem.

Skill building and practice can be enhanced and made less tedious through CL activities used both in and out of class (Tannenberg 1995). In order to develop critical thinking skills, students need a base of information to work from. Acquiring this base often requires some degree of repetition and memory work. When this is accomplished individually the process can be tedious, boring or overwhelming. When students work together the learning process becomes interesting and fun despite the repetitive nature of the learning process. Male (1990) for example, has documented the positive impact of CL in drill-and-practice computer use.

CL Develops students' oral communication skills (Yager, Johnson and Johnson 1985). When students are working in pairs one partner verbalizes his/her idea while the other listens, asks questions or comments upon what she/he has heard. Clarification and explanation of one's ideas is a very important part of the cooperative process and requires higher order thinking skills (Johnson, Johnson, Roy, Zaidman 1985). Students who tutor each other must develop a clear idea of the concept they are presenting and orally communicate it to their partners (Neer 1987).

Enhancing meaning: creating challenging, thoughtful learning experiences that include learner's values and perspectives and contribute to an equitable society.
The focus of cooperative learning is to actively involve students in the learning process (Slavin 1980). Whenever two or more students attempt to solve a problem or answer a question they become involved in the process of exploratory learning. Promotive interaction, a basic principle of CL, builds students' sense of responsibility to themselves and their group members through reliance upon each other's talents, and CL assessment processes reward both individuals and groups thus reinforcing this interdependence (Baird & White 1984).

During the cooperative process, students can become involved in developing curriculum and class procedures (Kort 1992). They are often asked to assess themselves, their groups, and class procedures (Meier & Panitz 1996). Teachers can take advantage of this immediate formative input without having to wait for the results of exams or course evaluations. Students who participate in structuring the class assume ownership of the process and their opinions and observations are given credibility. CL helps students wean themselves away from considering teachers as the sole sources of knowledge and understanding (Felder 1997)

The primary foci in CL are the process of learning and the means by which individuals function independently and within groups. The high level of interaction and interdependence among group members leads to "deep" rather than "surface" learning (Entwistle and Tait, 1994), and to more emphasis on higher order learning (see Donald in this issue). CL is student centered, leading to an emphasis on learning as well as teaching and to more student ownership of responsibility for that learning. In contrast, other teaching paradigms consist of individual student effort, competitive testing to assess competence and an evaluation hierarchy based upon "grade orientation" rather than "learning orientation" (Lowman, 1987).

Students who develop personal professional relations with teachers by getting to know them, and who work on projects outside of class, achieve better results and tend to stay in school (Cooper 1994, Hagman & Hayes 1986). Teachers who get to know their students and to understand their learning styles and problems, and can often find ways of dealing with those problems and inspiring students (Janke 1980). According to (Felder, 1997) additional benefits accrue to students in areas of grade improvement, retention of information, information transfer to other courses and disciplines, and improved class attendance. There is a strong positive correlation between class attendance and success in courses (Johnson and Johnson 1989) which may help account for the improved performance.

Students who are actively involved in the learning process are much more likely to become interested in learning and make more of an effort to attend school (Astin 1977). A class where students interact fosters an environment conducive to high student motivation and participation and student attendance(Treisman 1983, 1992).

Cooperative learning inherently calls for self-management by students (Resnick 1987). In order to function within their groups students are trained to come prepared with assignments completed and they must understand the material which they are going to contribute to their group. They are also given time to process group behaviors such as checking with each other to make sure homework assignments are not only completed but understood. These promotive interactions help students learn self-management techniques.

CL increases students' persistence and the likelihood of successful completion of assignments (Felder 1997). When individuals get stuck they are more likely to give up, but groups are much more likely to find ways to keep going. This concept is reinforced by the Johnsons (1990 p121) who state, "In a learning situation, student goal achievements are positively correlated; students perceive that they can reach learning goals if and only if the other students in the learning group also reach their goals. Thus, students seek outcomes that are beneficial to all those with whom they are cooperatively linked."

Conclusion
CL provides many advantages to teachers and learners. Many of these advantages arise from the intrinsic motivational strengths of CL and the extent to which CL fosters student interest, behavioral and attitudinal change, and opportunities for success. As Keller demonstrates (1983) this set of outcomes results from the successful incorporation of motivational issues into instruction.