Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Learning Diagnosis: Teaching Better

Lately the class has been working towards completion of an explicit learning objective. The objective is well defined, easy to access at home or at school, and relevant to our standards-based curriculum. Some children achieved the objective quickly gaining valuable information. Others completed the objective quickly, but didn't seem to hold on to the learning (I'm wondering why the learning didn't "stick" for those learners.). And still more, are trying to meet the objective.

Yesterday I was working with young students on this objective. I noticed that the students were quite distracted and did not have a solid grasp of the content involved, content that had been taught earlier in the year. I tried to instill a pattern of thought and stories to help the children gain the knowledge and skill, and it worked in part. I also got a white board and pens to aid the children's work, and that helped too. Yet the distraction continued partly because we were in seats next to the window next to the playground which offered too much of a distraction for the young students who enjoy recess. Plus there were many more distractions too including side talk by nearby students and the typical hustle and bustle of an elementary classroom.

As I think about these students, I'm wondering about what seems to work best.
  • In hindsight, I wish I had more time at the start of the year with the students' loving families to talk specifically about the children's goals and efforts. I think I could have enlisted more family support had I been more explicit about objectives and expectations. Next year I want to bring more explicit objectives and understanding of the program elements and expectations to all parents at the start of the year.
  • I also wish I had set up more explicit check-ins with this children. I know that if I had set up a more specific check-ins, the children would have been more successful at meeting the goals.
  • Further, the children had the opportunity for significant extra support away from distractions, and I hope to continue this as the year progresses. Some children learn better in places without too many distractions.
  • Teachers have worked with the children with lots of positivity, so there have been few to no issues of frustration or struggle in this arena.
  • The children demonstrate keen interest in learning, and we have a number of great projects coming up so those will be high interest events for the children. 
  • Seating for whole class lessons and efforts have been good, but whole class lessons are not the children's best ways of learning. 
  • Good pacing, classroom structure, and use of optimal supports help the children. 
No two learners need the same teaching/learning attributes for success. Every child's ideal learning situation is a bit different from their classmates' perfect learning environment.

Teachers spend lots of time thinking carefully about each learner, and as we diagnose what each child needs, we think carefully about the following attributes:
  • available supports
  • positive environment conducive to learning
  • pacing
  • scaffolding assignments
  • student-advocacy, voice and choice
  • responsive, inspiring programs that are high interest for students
  • needed progression of essential skills, concepts, and knowledge
  • opportunities to shine--demonstrating strength, mastery, and inspiration to others
Next year I want to think about how I can build my ability to make goals and expectations explicit to learners and their families. I also want to think carefully about the early year in-take with regard to "diagnosing" what a child needs. How do I use early year parent surveys, student assessments, student surveys, observation, and class events to know my learners as well as I can as soon as I can? Also, how can I readily assess and begin to utilize the many supports available, both supports in the way of staff and supports in the way of helpful materials, spaces, schedules, and pacing? 

Good teachers carefully diagnose what their learners need, and then work to provide those elements to the learners to gain as much and as positive learning/teaching success as possible.