One of my other hats has me thinking about the professional development of all of our teachers 7-12. This is a really fascinating job that is challenging in so many ways I cannot begin to describe it. As a part of that I am part of a group exploring how to better teach writing at the secondary level in a technology rich environment. Once a month this year I am learning about Writers Workshop with a group of volunteers from our faculty.In the workshop model students are expressing themselves within a context that the teacher provides but in their own words and their own context as well. To translate to the physics audience they create their own data from their own questions and then apply general techniques to analyze that data. It is really cool. So one of the coolest parts is all the research that teachers of writing have done on giving feedback and actually getting kids to learn from that feedback. Some highlights:
- limit the negative (Seriously, many recommend stopping after finding two problems. If you find more and even point them out the students wont bother to even fix two. So if you go on and highlight more they will not learn anything, but if you do less and stop highlighting they will at least learn the two things you point out. I cannot tell you how powerful this insight is.)
- be specific with the positive (good verb, not good job)
- talk to students rather than write
- give as much feedback as possible before the final product
- spend very little time on the final product (once you grade it the process is done therefore the learning is done)
So here is how all this work with writing has changed my physics class. Every inquiry unit ends with a presentation of the research the students have done. I have put very limited requirements on these presentations, but I do provide an increasing long list of guidelines. I thought to myself, these presentations have not been changing much over the years in spite of me providing this list. So this past unit instead of just spending time going through the list again and giving some time in class to work together on their presentations I picked the two that annoyed me most. Bad procedures and bad graphs. I made a mini lesson about procedure (no more than 7 minutes) and then set them to applying what they learned to their data. Next day same thing with graphs.
Results: actual improvement in the quality of presentations. Students even pointed out the improvements in other students work. So here is my question to you: what makes you groan during lab presentations and how can we work together to make a list and improve them, one skill at a time?