The post-survey was interesting! It showed that I improved upon my previous results in the area of ‘clarify.’
Comparing this to my previous result, this is certainly an improvement.
Just gave my students the post-survey. A few thoughts on this. …
- The survey can now be translated in to Chinese! Fab, I hope. I didn’t check the translations with a Chinese teacher as I didn’t realise it would have that option. Here’s hoping it made sense and nothing got lost.
- Students STILL rushed. Once finished within two minutes. I hovered at the door way, spying on them.
- About 6-7 students needed clarification from my TA about questions. I am not sure which ones as she was unable to remember.
- After the survey I asked the students, out of interest, how many pressed on ‘sometimes.’ A LOT of head nods. It is always easier to click on sometimes, isn’t it!
Tomorrow my class will complete their post-survey. I took some time today to prepare them for the questions and explain once again, why this is an important thing to do.
I began by reminding the class that teachers always want to improve and that we have goals, just like students. A couple of children remembered that my goal was to check for understanding but most had forgotten. Perhaps next time I will display my goal in the classroom, as the kids do!
I related tomorrow’s post-survey to the post on-demand writing that the students do.
“So this is like a test about you?” One asked.
“Sort of,” I replied, going on to explain that I would be looking really carefully at the results to see if I had achieved my goal or not. I stressed that students needed to be honest in their answers, but also took time to discuss what ‘most of the time’ ‘maybe’ and ‘not at all ‘ meant when it comes to situational questions.
We shall see!
On Monday, after this weekend, I plan to deliver my post survey to the class.
I realized that I never wrote about the question I posed to students after the first survey. Given that one of the questions students are asked is “Does Your Teacher Explain Things?” I asked my students:
How do you like teachers to explain things?
Their responses were varied and interesting. 9/10 times I would explain using images and translations (thanks to my TA or savvy emerges bilingual students) and certainly repeat important words or phrases. I think I tend to go a little too long, in fear that my EAL population haven’t grasped something.
I took a risk at the end and asked students which of those ways I explain things. They answered, “All of them!” Brown nosers! 😀
Up until recently, the extent of my questioning when checking for understanding within a lesson consisted of common ones such as “Are there any questions?”, “Got it?” “Do you know what I mean by ….?”, or “Does that make sense?”
Rather than respond, I have realized that most students will sit quietly or subtlety bob their heads and as a result I never really know whether they do understand, they think they get it (but actually don’t), are too embarrassed to admit they don’t know in front of others or don’t even understand what I asked. It became apparent, upon reflection, that these super general questions are nowhere near sufficient in determining whether or not students understand at all. Over the course of my years as a teacher I have improved in making such judgements but I am willing to admit that every year there continue to be students who surprise me when I discover at the end of a lesson or a succession of lessons that they don’t have a clue. My nightmare, like all teachers I would assume, would be if we didn’t realise this until the summative assessment after weeks of teaching.
This brought me to a text titled: Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom, by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. Fisher and Frey explain that students aren’t always self-regulated learners and they may not be aware of what they do or do not understand. They sometimes think they get it, when they really don’t. This got me thinking about why COLOs are incredibly important because they clarify exactly what the learner, at a minimum, will hope to achieve. Their learning should never be a secret.
Fisher and Frey go on to stress that checking for understanding needs to be incredibly thought out, as far as thinking about what misconceptions or assumptions students might make. In a class of twenty learners of varying needs can be easy to mismanage and so it is important to have a myriad of tools to draw upon. Some that I have used recently include:
- Exit Tickets
- Getting students to put an idea on a post it on the board
- Getting EAL kiddos to draw what they undertsand
- Ask kids to share, “what do you think someone who was confused might think about this?”
I need to purposefully think about doing these things, and not assuming a thumbs up or a bob of the head will be reflective of the actual truth.
The art of clarifying is summed up by Tripod through the practice of explaining clearly.
- The teacher effectively explains key concepts and offers multiple explanations for those that frequently cause confusion.
- The teacher models success by providing examples and rubrics that establish expectations.
- The teacher breaks down complex tasks and provides instructional supports for new skills and concepts as need
This got me thinking about how I can use thoughtful and planned comprehensible input instead of just talking away as I would to native speakers. I first heard the term during my SIOP training with Dr. Jose Medina. I recently did further research on how I can use CI to ensure my EAL students are receiving effective explanations.
Dr Stephen Krashen states that the acquisition of second languages follow a similar process that children follow when acquiring their first language. In order to succeed, speakers need meaningful interaction- and natural communication- in the target language. Comprehensible Input offers teachers the chance to stay in the target language, e.g English for me, even at lower levels- because you are taking care to ensure the words used will be understood. Doing things such as repeating words, giving synonyms, using visuals, giving hand gestures etc is a way of ensuring the learner understands the message.
All the experts agree that comprehensible input is the “meaningful interaction in the TL” (Krashen)– is the key to acquisition. It’s the way language gets language into our students’ heads.”
A major takeaway for me is that talking is only helpful if it is understood or else students are simply hearing noises. I can’t assume that simply being immersed in English, will produce successful English speakers.
Krashen, S. D. (1982). “Principles and practice in second language acquisition.” Oxford, UK: Pergamon.
Krashen, S. D., Terrell, Tracy D. (1983). “The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom.”
Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction (2012)
Barak Rosenshine’s article may be the most useful thing ever published on teaching and learning. It takes research from cognitive science in how people learn and from looking at highly effective teachers in the classroom. He suggests that excellent teaching contains ten key characteristics. The one that connects closely to my goal – clarify, is number 6: Check for student understanding.
Rosenshine explains that the most effective teachers are always checking for student understanding whereas the less effective would ask “any questions?” before moving on. When we are building knowledge we take new information and link it to other things that we know. In the classroom, I try to check for understanding by asking pupils to apply what they have previously learnt to a new situation. How is this like…? How does that connect to …? What does this remind you of? Remember when we did that… this is similar…!
I have found it more purposeful to check for understanding during the lesson rather than close to the end, as by that stage, it’s too late to properly correct any misconceptions.
By asking my students this instead of “do you gave any questions?” I have found that SO many hands have shot up, with questions I would usually have to field in the middle of the independent work. By adding the caveat that we wouldn’t start work until I had two questions, it’s reduced the potential stigma that may go hand in hand with asking a question.