Clip this onto educlipper

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What did you do in class? Nothing, we just took notes

One of my biggest pet peeves about much of professional development in our profession is that instructors talk about best practices and then lecture the whole time and go through a bunch of bullet points. The classic do as I say not as I do. I have considered this in my own teaching. I have realized at times I can launch into lecturer mode and students become passive learners who just write down everything on the screen or board. They are dispassionate hearers trying to determine what to write down as I move from point to point. A while back I overheard students in the hall ask what we were doing and one said, "Nothing really, we just took notes." I thought about this again and again and realized there had to be a better way. I began to consider this a put down, it became a battle cry for me to find a better way. Over the past few years in my attempt to hit at higher levels of thinking I have changed the way I do notes in my class.

I think back to when I took notes as a student and spent time writing away and not listening to what the teacher had to say. I mean who cares what is being said when there are notes to be taken? All that mattered to me then was making sure I wrote down every important thing that the teacher had put up on the board. I became a great note taker as a student, I figured out what was important, used my own system for shorthand, highlighted important details, and then forgot everything as soon as I wrote it down. It is this last thought that is the most troubling to me. As a student I took organized and well composed notes and then did little else with them. Before exams I looked through them with varying degrees of success trying to decipher why I thought these notes were so important that I had highlighted them. I had notebooks full of notes that ultimately did little more than give me reference for what I was supposed to be learning. A bunch of facts is really all notes were to me. Some useless some more important but basically just a bunch of facts that I tried to regurgitate and then forgot as quickly as I had written them down.

I don't want my students to be fact reciters that forget as soon as they recite. I want them to be critical thinkers. I changed the way I did things and have never looked back. It has made me a better instructor and my students active and critical learners. Here is the basis of what I have done:

First off I don't have my students take notes. Groundbreaking right, I will explain what they do instead.

Second I layer my lesson out and consider where to add different levels of critical thinking. There is starting point with everything where lower levels of critical thinking are essential. We can't talk about the Arab/Israeli conflict without some basic understanding of the background. Each lesson is designed to go from lower levels like knowledge and comprehension, then go to application and analysis, and then finally synthesis and evaluation. Recently there has been a shift to add creation as the top layer. This is definitely a place a try to get to with each lesson.

Third after explaining a topic I have them do something with the information. I might have them list items, draw a diagram, rank, or predict something with the information. The important thing is they don't just take notes and not use the information. They have to make sense of what we are discussing and then do something with the information. This is where you find out if they get it. If you are just having them take notes you usually accept the blank stares as understanding and move on. By having them do something you find out real quick if they got it or not.

Fourth I don't ask questions in the traditional sense. For instance there is no who, what, when, where, why, and how. I have them describe, compare, explain, categorize, defend, rank, predict, etc...

Fifth I have them share. This is where you really find out if they get it.

Finally I have them create. It might be a persuasive essay, it could be website, a video, a presentation. It can be whatever you conceive is the best way to show your mastery of the subject.

Here are some examples of going from lower level to higher level thinking and how I would design a lesson.

(We are currently studying Korea so I will use some of the material)

On your map label North and South Korea, the 38th parallel, Pyongyang, Seoul, etc...

Explain why the Korean War is considered part of the Cold War

Support or argue against the US involvement of maintaining the DMZ

Explain the hero worship of the Kim family and the effect this has on the citizens

Evaluate the effect of not having freedoms such as religion, press, and speech and how this can keep governments in power.

Compare Korea's situation to that of the US after the Civil War how are they alike/different?

Finally the build up is to have students work together and create an action plan for five scenarios(coup d'etat, mass defection, natural disaster, foreigners held hostage, and weapons of mass destruction) that the US and ROK have planned for. (PS these are actually real scenarios that have been planned for) They will need to show how to best handle each of the situations.

In the end I don't believe my students need to take notes in the traditional sense. They have already proven they understand the material as we go through the lesson. They have a firm understanding of the material. It has been a mind shift for me, but I can tell you it has made me much better at what I do, and more importantly it has made class more engaged, and hit at all levels of critical thinking. No one ever leaves class anymore and says we just took notes. No one ever says we do we have to learn this. They are all engaged learners critically thinking about the material, how it applies to them.

No comments:

Post a Comment