May 12th Reflections
How have you become a better teacher since the beginning of the year?
All of us feel that we have tried to make significant changes in our curriculum and assessment practices, especially formative assessments. The most recent PD has been the most helpful (see question #2) but we don't feel that the work we did earlier in the year had a significant effect on our teaching.

What would like to keep from PD this year?
The work we have been doing over the last month has been the most useful. We appreciate being allowed to choose the focus of our discussion, and to be able to share and discuss teaching strategies with our colleagues. We feel that this is allowing us to create something that is useful in our classrooms.

On the other hand, we don't feel that the work earlier in the year was as helpful. We felt constricted, and did not have enough training to understand how identifying
and following 3 levels of students could be useful.

What would you like to see next year from PD?
More choice of collaborative groups and of the focus of the work. Teacher groups can set goals and update them on the wiki each week or two. We do like working in collaborative groups, but want more flexibility. Our science dept. is working to make a more coherent 9-12 program, so having some time to work on this would also be helpful.

What questions do you have for QILT and/or what resources you need from QILT.

Beth Brenneman, Aileen Sullivan, Alan Junck, Mike Lazere

We have chosen to focus on Class Discussion

We spent time today talking about our challenges and successes related to facilitating class discussion.

How do we define a good discussion? (whole class, small group, length of time, topic of discussion)
How do teachers facilitate discussion?
How do we get all students involved in discussions?
How do we teach students how to engage in discussions independently? (Rather than the teacher being the leader)
What do we do help kids respond constructively? (Accountable Talk)
How do help students to understand the value of discussion in their learning?
*When is the best time to use discussion, vs. other learning strategies?

*It is important to "front-load" discussions to give the students an opportunity to think about the question before sharing. This might involve student writing, white-boarding, think-pair-share, or simply Wait-Time I

Assignment for Next Week: Each of us will focus on 1 or 2 class discussions over the next week. (1) How did you set up the discussion? (2) What did you expect of your students? (3) How did your students respond? (4) What would you do differently next time?

Elizabeth Brenneman: I did not facilitate any major discussions in my classes this week; it did not seem to fit into the flow of the lessons. There were interesting topics and short questions that allowed for student response with multiple answers and students sharing. I think I have improved my responses to students in that I am trying not to give too much away. If a student's response is way off base, they don't shut down based on my responses, and then other students can voice their opinion about those "wrong" ideas. That helps with discussion and the general environment of sharing ideas without fear of being shut-down.

Aileen Sullivan: Spoke about leading a discussion based on questioning-techniques that lead the students versus a "discussion". Her students did an indicator pH lab over two days. Then as a follow-up, these techniques were applied to determine the pH or a pH of 5 substances. Students worked in groups and then put results on the board. Some questions were how could we make these pHs ranges smaller, we all did the same thing why are the results different?, how did chemists in the past deal with these issues? Students discussed in pods and then the whole group discussed.
Aileen was happy with her wait time II which allowed for two extra students to chime in. There were also students who added on to the end of their own response. About 13 minutes of discussion. Answers flowed into other answers. Asked students to sit quietly when they are done discussing in small groups.
In another class period, Aileen assigned the student who would represent the pod. This makes for more prep-time of the pod getting that person ready to present. In one class, the results on the board were very similar, so Aileen asked, "What would it mean if we had a result of (very different number)?" In another class, she asked, "What if we only used this indicator (which had a certain range)?" Some students brought up multiple trials. Aileen was surprised that students did not bring up pH probes, since they've used them in chemistry.

Alan Junck didn't have any large class discussions except in AP in which the students discussed strategies for the AP exam. Students realized that they don't have to answer all the questions (and maybe shouldn't) since they are penalized for wrong answers. "What did you learn from taking practice exam? What will you change for next time?"

Mike Lazere had a couple of interesting things. He had an observer from the ESL department and thought her feedback was really helpful. She told him to make sure information is in multiple modes -- say it, write it, show it... To help the students catch back on with the flow if they spaced out for a moment. Japanese teachers plan their whiteboards to show the flow of the lesson as opposed to a random-pattern on the teacher's board. Mike handed back an assignment and a really nice example of that assignment. Students were asked to look through the good example and compare to their assignment. Mike felt frustrated with the students' responses. His observer suggested that more concrete instruction about how to analyze a good example. The biggest lesson for him is that good discussions require good planning - with good questions and clear expectations - and that not everything requires discussion.

He also feels like a weakness in leading discussions is getting students to respond to/follow up comments from other students. He doesn't feel like he has done a good job of setting that expectation.

Homework for next week: When are student-centered discussions most appropriate vs more teacher-led discussion?
We're also going to look at the provided resources and be ready to share next week.

Mike Lazere is going to read Asking Questions and Engaging Students in Thinking (Parts I and II)
Beth will read Creativity and the Value of Questions, Wait-Time
Alan wants to read Interaction Fingerprint.
Aileen will read Interaction Pattern and Goals for Students and possibly Recitation as Interaction.

Wednesday, April 21 - Our reports on what we read:

Mike Lazere read the QILT articles about asking questions. The focus was on asking well-crafted questions that engage student thinking instead of relying on a "right-answer" to substitute for understanding. The essential core of effective teaching involves human interaction: questions, non-verbal cues, and wait time (among others) are important to engage students and develop learning. Mike spoke about how hard teaching really is.....a difficulty being crafting meaningful interactions and engaging students.

Aileen Sullivan read the short page on recitation. Very striking as recitation does not engage the students as doing any thinking, only that they know enough to agree with the teacher and respond as such. It seemed to our group that this would show itself in our rooms when we try to interpret and repeat our students' answers instead of asking and expecting them to explain what they mean. We can stifle student understanding by constantly interpreting what we think they mean through our eyes instead of finding out what they really know and working from their understanding.

Alan Junck read the articles about SATIC coding. He reported on how and why data would be collected and how it would be coded according to your interaction patterns. But the real value of SATIC is when you analyze your own patterns of interaction with students. Discussion followed where we talked about the recommendation in the article to create your own categories to fit what you actually do. And that wait time indeed plays a role in interaction (not a surprise to us!)

Elizabeth Brenneman reported on wait time. She was pleased to have NUMBERS identified with wait time - normally teachers wait 1 second or less after asking a question before giving and answer. The norm should be closer to 3 seconds (2.7). Positive effects of increasing wait time: students give more logical answers, students feel like the teacher cares about their answer, more students have a chance to develop an answer, and the number of answers increased. Beth also read an article on creativity and the value of questions. The article reports the ability to ask questions is the most important creative skill.

Assignment for Next Week
We have chosen class discussions including questioning as our focus. We will organize videotaping and/or class observation of each other to help evaluate interaction patterns, discussion, and questioning habits.

May 5!

We did not organize any videotaping since last time, so our discussion started down the path of "What should we do now?"

We discussed how we might start early on in our classes fostering an environment for fruitful discussion. Mike Lazere shared some information about how students approach learning differently and how that relates to intellectual development.

How we would like our students to respond when a quality question or scenario is posed to them:
  • Students respond to one another.
  • Students add their answer or input without prompting.
  • Students don't need to be prompted to be part of the discussion.
  • Students take responsibility to be part of the conversation; if they do not understand they ask questions or direct the conversation to them to help them understand.
  • Students are attentive to one another.

We discussed that we think there are around three types of student engagement patterns:
  1. Students who are engaged because they really like chemistry/physics and science.
  2. Students who are engaged because they really like being involved in discussion and answering questions.
  3. Students who are engaged because there is relevance in what they are learning toward their daily life.

We think that the above #1 is really easy - students come to us that way. We think that #2 above is where discussion and expectations of discussions really come into play. We think that #3 is the most difficult since science is traditionally not taught (we were not taught) this way. This population of students (#3) of students might not be served at all.

Assignment for next week: Bring back material on how to start the year to create a classroom environment that values discussion and engagement.

From Elizabeth Brenneman:
The website was created by Claire Bove with the CASTL program. I think it is interesting and relevant even though she teaches middle school. The website has several sections including:
  1. Community (in which she outlines ways to connect with her students including letters to them and lunch together)
  2. Experimentation (about inquiry)
  3. Arguing and discussing in science (which included information about her undergraduate experience with research and her research/discussion team)
  4. Student Explanations (about journaling and how to clarify and deepen explanations with feedback and additional instruction).

Another interesting website is simply a pdf document with a table of kinds of participation structures and when to use them.