Category Archives: Teachers

Teach don’t preach pt 2: Confirmation Bias & the unintented teacher preacher

Teachers, does your Confirmation Bias shut down student learning?

Having scolded teachers who politicize their classrooms in my post, “Teach Don’t Preach: politicizing the classroom is not just wrong, it’s bad teaching,” it begs the question of what to do with teachers who don’t know that they’re preaching not teaching and not just with politics.

As I noted,

Of course, curricular decisions are bound to teacher perspective. As History teacher, I value certain periods and concepts that other teachers may not care about. 

As lessons are inherently bound to the teacher’s knowledge and interests, the challenge for an effective teacher is how to make that limited perspective beneficial for students — and, most importantly, without limiting them to it.

Confirmation Bias and the Teacher Preacher

As they say, to a hammer everything is a nail.  Academics call it “Confirmation Bias,” a descriptor for the tendency of humans to see only what they’re looking for.

We all engage in Confirmation Bias on a regular if not daily basis. It often comes in the little things like searching for lost keys and finding something else you were looking for the week before. In this case, your “bias” to find the keys causes you to search out places or spaces that you didn’t think to look for when searching for that other object. You can also see how it works in this now-classic  “Awareness Test” video.

In the hard sciences, Confirmation Bias manifests as experiments or observations that limit or ignore contradictory evidence or results. In the social sciences, Confirmation Bias occurs when an observer ignores or dismisses evidence or logic that contradicts an existing belief.

In the courtroom, trial attorneys regularly manipulate witness testimony and jury decisions by developing in them a Confirmation Bias towards the desired verdict, with the classic leading question being ,”Did you see the broken glass” as opposed to “Did you see any broken glass?” Asking if there was “any broken glass” is a neutral question, whereas “the broken glass” implies that there was broken glass which may trick the witness into “remembering” what was possibly not there.  (Effective opposing counsel will object to such “leading questions.”)

A most prevalent form of Confirmation Bias comes, of course, in politics. Self-identity can be so wrapped around a political perspective or affiliation that simple facts become lies when they oppose our point of view. Even when we admit an inconvenient political truth, we easily get around it by diminishing it and convincing ourselves that it doesn’t matter for our guy because the other guy is worse, and so on.

If that makes any sense to you, please read my post  “Teach Don’t Preach: politicizing the classroom is not just wrong, it’s bad teaching,”

For today’s post, however, the point is that Confirmation Bias operates with equal power, if quietly, in other aspects of teaching than straight out imposing a political opinion upon students.

Missing the Dancing Bear & Other Opportunities

Confirmation bias is not inherently wrong, as insight can result from ignoring the “noise” that others, if weighing all evidence equally, may not be able to filter, seeing the forest and not the trees, as it were.  If you were too busy counting the number of basketball passes by the white team to see the dancing bear in the “Awareness Test” video, you may have missed out on bad moon walking technique while instead learning some cool passing moves. Your gain.

Because a narrow or overly broad perspective can be revealing in unique ways, I believe that one of the great benefits of Attention Deficit (ADD/ADHD) is precisely the lack of filters that can yield creativity and insight others may miss. The danger in only seeing things differently is that it becomes its own Confirmation Bias. Because my attention quickly goes to something else doesn’t excuse that I left the kitchen faucet on, it just means that my focus went elsewhere, for better or worse, and  sometimes that “better” means an insight others could never conceive.

The Power of Perspectives

If the point of classroom diversity is to bring in additional perspectives for common learning, then confirmation bias contradicts the very purpose of diversity. A homogenous classroom yields great focus on its common purpose or point of view. It does not, however, challenge that point of view and at the expense of learning.

In his 1644 in Areopagitica, the poet and philosopher John Milton defended freedom of expression under the theory that since the absolute truth is unobtainable, only by allowing competing, if incorrect, perspectives, can mankind approach the truth. Should wrong expressions be suppressed, truth is obscured.

Back to the Classroom

I place the teacher that demands one conclusion or perspective among the tyrants that Milton rejected. My concern is that these teachers don’t realize what they’re doing.

Whereas the Socratic Method itself requires confirmation bias in the teacher whose job it is to direct the student to a conclusion, at least the Method allows for student exploration of ideas. Teaching that places the conclusion first not only denies students a path towards comprehension, it short circuits student thought.

I’m not a math teacher, but I know from working with students in our A+ Club academic support service that while there may be a single answer to a math problem, there are multiple paths to it, and by insisting upon that single path the learning of both the conclusion and the desired path are lost. So when I hear a student complain that a math or science teacher “doesn’t explain it in a way I can understand it,” I’m not necessarily hearing that the student isn’t learning, I may be hearing that the teacher is not offering an additional perspective or method that the student can better comprehend.

If Confirmation Bias is at work in math and science, then we have serious trouble in the humanities where it can take hold of an entire curriculum. The worst of it comes in politicization of the classroom, but it can infect a classroom even if the disease is more subtle, such as from a teacher’s limited points of view or content knowledge.

Let’s say that an English teacher wants students to identify with a certain character in a Shakespeare play. A flat-out requirement that students focus on that sole character will destroy the learning for all but the most compliant of students. The ban on other characters destroys student exploration and development of the conclusions the teacher wants students to adopt. Learning opportunities are lost in such an imposition.

The emotional bond to a learning outcome can be overpowering to a teacher, blinding that teacher to the Confirmation Bias that drives the learning expectation. At that point, we are not teaching, we are preaching.

Expanding our Confirmation Biases

We cannot escape our Confirmation Biases. We act on and develop perspective on what we already know and the experiences that have created our self-conception. Additionally, we often face institutional restraints, such as a school-wide ban on certain behaviors or outcomes.  (I would suggest allowing classroom debate on such topics with the clear caveat that the school policy will not change regardless of student perspectives.) Still, we become better teachers, better mentors and guides for students when we can see past ourselves.

First, we have to listen. Next, we must never deliver conclusion before process.

We get there through active pursuit of new information, and when we as teachers can engage in a lively personal debate then we will become far more powerful teachers.

One of the worst kinds of Confirmation Bias comes from stagnation. When we stop learning we end up teaching the same thing over and over again and all we teach is only what we already know, which is inherently limited (see Milton). Worse, schools so often focus on pedagogy at the expense of content enrichment that teachers lose sight of developments in their own content areas that could otherwise expand and enrich their classrooms.

The solution is to place ourselves in a state of constant learning. If our consumption of information merely reinforces our existing Confirmation Biases, then we are learning — and teaching — nothing. It’s okay to read something you don’t agree with, and it will most likely affirm your own reasoned conclusions. But if we don’t expose ourselves to opposing or new ideas, we have no opportunity to grow intellectually and as teachers.

A Few Suggestions for Getting Past Preaching Not Teaching

  1. Consume the news not the headlines.
  2. Study your content not just its pedagogy.
  3. Avoid politics in your lessons and classroom (that does not mean that students should avoid politics, as that’s part of their growth which your job is to guide).
  4. Subscribe to content-oriented academic journals.
  5. Subscribe to general-interest journals
  6. Listen to podcasts on your way to and from work.
  7. Listen to your students.

My personal strategies include daily consumption of a printed newspaper, podcasts, and as many books as I can juggle at a time. Of course my choice of sources is biased according to my preferences, but I never stop consideration simply because I disagree.

This is all very time consuming. I had to drop my newspaper consumption from two papers plus a weekend third to a single daily and weekend paper, but even so every day I learn something new from that one newspaper that I can apply to my work with students and in my life in general. We must compromise for what’s possible, but we mustn’t ever let the undesirable guide the possible instead.

By becoming constant learners ourselves we will help our students to become owls not sheep — if only we ourselves are not the wolf in the sheep’s skin.

– Michael

Is your student an extrinsic or intrinsic learner? And how to bring out the best in each to overcome the other

So how can we bridge the gap between students who only do as they’re told and those who learn only what they find interesting?

As students rise through secondary schools, teacher expectations and demands can either tax or reward student learning and behavioral types, in this case, the extrinsically versus intrinsically motivated student:

Extrinsic learners strive to meet teacher expectations as explicitly as possible while intrinsic learners engage learning for its own sake. Continue reading

Teach don’t preach: politicizing the classroom is not just wrong, it’s bad teaching

Is it the role of a teacher to impart information or to empower students with the skills needed to find information on their own?

When a teacher professes a political position in a classroom, student learning suffers a short-circuit. Teachers have strong rights of expression, although courts will uphold teacher dismissal for indoctrination (see this pdf from Pearson: Teacher Freedom of Expression).

From my view, indoctrination isn’t the only problem, it’s the teaching itself that has gone wrong. With properly aligned teaching that aims to develop both core knowledge and independent student thought, there will be no indoctrination.

Education theory: content or skills?

Pedagogy can get all twisted around the seemingly opposite goals of developing student content knowledge or thinking skills. In their extremes, the one is pure fact-based learning and the other is all process without destination. Continue reading

Common Core Crazy? Making sense of the viral common core math rounding problem

Perhaps you have seen the Facebook post by an angry mother who  is upset about her daughter’s Common Core-based math problem. There’s a larger lesson here, but it’s not about the Common Core.

Click here for the Facebook post by Larisa Yaghoobov Settembro

The problem asked was,
Carole read 28 pages of a book on Monday and 103 pages on Tuesday. Is 75 pages a reasonable answer for how many more pages Carole read on Tuesday than Monday?
And the student responded,
Yes, 75 is a reasonable answer because 103-28 = 75
for which she was deducted a point for not estimating the answer of 70, since that appears to be the lesson about what is a “reasonable” answer. The teacher marked:
-1 [pt] Estimate 100-30 = 70
For background on Common Core math methodologies, see Key Shifts in Mathematics

Right math lesson, wrong question

Other blog and news sites have taken this on, for and against the question. I think this is a horrible question, but not because the exercise of rounding is worthless. It’s a poor assessment question because, Continue reading

Sleepers Awake: a celebration of J. Reilly Lewis, master organist, conductor & educator

J. Reilly Lewis, world-renowned conductor, organist, and expert on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and our dear friend, died unexpectedly last week.

A Friend to All

We called him our friend because, for Reilly, if you were a friend of Bach, you were a friend of Reilly’s — and if you were a friend of Reilly’s you could not help but be a friend of Johann Sebastian Bach.

We were both. We were both because Reilly was a true teacher who was passionate about his craft, welcoming and enthusiastic for his learners, and compassionate and patient for those who didn’t know it — like the best teacher, a friend to all.

Reilly welcomed his friends several Sundays each year at the National Presbyterian Church, whose organ he called one of the best in the world, and on occasional Tuesdays at the Church of Epiphany on 13th Street, for “Noontime Cantatas.” Reilly’s Washington Bach Consort is a premier musical organization in Washington DC whose performances are part of the permanent collection at the Library of Congress.

Reluctant Learners

A few years ago, the musical director at my high school and I brought a rather unwilling group of about a dozen or her Music Theory 9th graders  to a “Noontime Cantata.” Reilly loved nothing more than for students to attend his concerts.

The value in it for the kids was the trip itself, hanging out with their friends and missing their other classes. The cost in it was to have to sit through a classical music concert. These were Catholic school students, so they knew how to endure a mass. Still, classical music? Yikes!

I sat behind them in the upper level pews and shared a box of Altoids to help them stay awake. There weren’t enough Altoids in the world to hold up their nodding heads. If the violins didn’t push their eyes to the back of their heads, the chorus closed the gap between their chins and chests. Most of them were fast asleep by the end.

They were good sports, they were brave, and they had behaved.

We awaited for the audience to depart, then relocated to the main pews while the school bus returned. I did my best to give them a little history lesson of the church, why the stained glass, why the design, how this church held community in DC during times of distress such as the Civil War.  Poor kids, they bravely sat through my attempts to engage them in some learning while we were sitting there waiting for the bus.

A Private Lesson from Reilly

Then a little man in a tuxedo walked up to the group, and with the brightest, happiest voice, loudly welcomed them and thanked them for coming to see his concert. The kids turned to him and smiled back gently, reluctant to engage, but curious.

Reilly asked them a few questions about their school, if they’d seen a concert like this before, and one or two bravely, if quietly, answered.

Then, with that wisp of mischievousness that made him so compelling as a person, performer, and teacher, Reilly said, “Do you want to see the organ?”

Again, the kids were hesitant but polite. Reilly said, “Come on!” and led them up the isle and onto the alter, where a beautiful organ sat with all it’s confusing keys, knobs and pedals. Reilly sat at the bench and ushered us to come around him.  The kids were now well past curiosity and jostled for the best view. My father and I stood back and smiled at each other, not fully aware yet of the magnificent treat before us.

Reilly turned to the kids,  “Do you want to see how it works?” He had them by now, of course, deliberately teasing them with a couple keys and different sounds from the pipes.

Suddenly, he launched into a full blown performance, with his hands and feet racing about the keys, magical, like nothing they had seen before, not CGI from the movies, not beats and rhymes from their friends and music videos. This was special, and their eyes lit ablaze.

I looked over at my father who had seen countless performances – but never from just over the master’s shoulder! He was as mesmerized as the kids, and more for knowing for what a special moment it was.

After a bit of pure showmanship, Reilly wrapped up, not having shown off, but having shared the fun.

We thanked the maestro who with genuine enthusiasm thanked the students for being there. The kids returned the thanks with equal enthusiasm.

The bus had arrived, and these 9th graders climbed into it not with the shared pain of sleeping through a classical concert but with the joy of a unique and wonderful experience that they talked about the ride back to school.

RIP J. Reilly Lewis

We will miss you, J Reilly Lewis, and we will think of you often as we aspire to love our work as you did yours and, more importantly, love sharing it with all — all of whom we will call our friends.

– Michael

 

Tips for Teachers: a quick & easy voice narrator for reading digital text out load

One of my classroom management tricks was to keep a set of audio files in my computer task bar to express some emotion or reaction to by or for the students.

The kids loved these, and it always drove engagement in whatever the topic. A couple sound clip examples I used are:

A quick link to the source file made for a one-click launch of the file, and they can also be linked to or embedded in a PowerPoint file for use at a particular spot in your lesson.

Microsoft used to include libraries full of these little sound clips as part of the Office Suite, but they’ve removed them and the old clip art files. So we have to find them somewhere else. There’s plenty of open-source sound clips out there, just be careful with copyright.

Or, you can create your own sound clips.

Watch here how it works:

I love being able to drop any text into the file, or even allowing students to type in their own answers to questions, etc. to be read aloud to the whole class.

Lots of possibilities here to enliven and enlighten your students. Have fun with it!

– Michael

Here’s the code for these Narrator files.
1. open Notepad
2. copy the code from below
3. use “save as” extension:.vbs (instead of .txt)
4. click on the .vbs file to launch

1. Input Box code:

message=InputBox(“Type in the box to say it!”)
set sapi = CreateObject(“sapi.spvoice”)
sapi.Speak message

2. Simple text narrator:

Dim message, sapi
Set sapi=CreateObject(“sapi.spvoice”)
sapi.Speak “woof”

Procrastinating in class: is classroom behavior a form of procrastination?

dreamstime_l_41815547_1150pxParents and teachers usually conceive of student procrastination as putting off homework or projects until the last minute.

It is.

We also tend to think of disruptive classroom behavior as “disobedience” or “acting out” over some issue, from disconnection or boredom to serious underlying troubles.  Which it is.

But those same processes of delay and avoidance over aversive tasks that are procrastination are also at work during class.

Student disruption as procrastination?

We have discussed on the Student Success Podcast and Blog how procrastination is an emotional response to task aversion.

When faced with an unpleasant task, the procrastinator chooses to defer that task for later in order to feel better now (relieve the stress of the aversive task).

Continue reading

Tips for Teachers: How to use OneNote for total organization and teacher efficiency

Even if you’ve never heard of OneNote, you probably already own it. And if you do, you already own one of the best organizational tools out there.

Today’s Tip for Teachers is how to use OneNote, a free program from Microsoft that is a potential game-changer for teachers.

What One Note Solves for Teachers

  • Paperwork
  • Managing Files
  • Storing and Finding Information
  • Meetings Notes
  • Efficiency
  • Anywhere Whiteboard

What is OneNote?

  • Digital Notebook
    • free
    • part of MS Office
    • use on any device
  • No files!! (database)
  • Syncs across all devices
  • Powerful search

Some uses for OneNote

  • Checklists & Brainstorms
  • Integration w/ Office & the web
    • phone app gives full access to OneNote
    • post websites to OneNote
    • post emails to OneNote
    • track meeting notes via Outlook or Skype
    • add or link files, spreadsheets
    • Cut/Paste
  • Whiteboard
  • Sharing
  • Other features
    • Password Protection
    • Voice note

Resources:

 

Introducing “Tips for Teachers”: building efficiencies to free you to teach (and not waste so much time doing everything else)

The number one teacher complaint is time.

Introducing “Tips for Teachers,” a series of blog posts, videos, lessons, and ideas from School4Schools.com LLC on helping teachers get through their routines and days more efficiently – so they can focus on what they love and what they’re there for: teaching kids.

Tips for Teachers will focus on teacher processes and the use of technology to build efficiencies in every day tasks.

Some coming posts include:

  • Using Outlook to get in control communication, tasks, calendars, and email management.
  • Using OneNote for organization, brainstorming, and task management, as well as some of its other cool features such as email integration and whiteboard.
  • Power of a WordPress teacher or class website.
  • Using an SMS system for student reminders and increased workflow.
  • Grading by voice recording and sharing feedback with students and parents by voicemail propagated through email.
  • How to make a simple, quick voice to text reader to use in the classroom or to help kids read texts you assign.
  • Outsourcing your grading.

Teachers, get your time back!

Check back for these and more coming Tips for Teachers, and follow us on Twitter, Vimeo, or Facebook.

Or subscribe to Tips for Teachers here:

 


Some background thoughts on why I’m so concerned about teacher efficiencies

by Michael Bromley, founder and president of School4Schools.com LLC & the A+ Club

Schools throw huge resources at teachers: Learning Management Systems (LMS) , smartboards, software, copy machines, computers… but how many PD days were ever spent learning how to use them, and if there were any, what follow-up support was there?

My ten years of classroom teaching was always tainted by administrative disdain for my time. We were given tools and expected to use them – without real ongoing support on how to actually use them.

For example, if your school provided you with the Microsoft Office Suite, I’m guessing there was never any PD attached to it, much less any serious guidance on how to use it effectively. Just look at how much a business will spend on teaching its professionals how to use Microsoft Office. A quick Bing search yields $2400 a day for training of 12 employees, or a four-day intensive course for $480 per student. Or, what about a $20 per month subscription to Lynda.com? Nope, not for schools. They’ve got too much money to spend on other things and none for your personal efficiencies and time.

Sure, at my school we had a couple demonstrations on a new system (never anything on MS Office, which most teachers thought consists of Word and PowerPoint.)  I was even asked to show other teachers some of my use of technology during a staff meeting or a PD or two.  But there was never any follow-through and no ongoing individual attention to helping teachers use these tools or build efficiencies. (Some of these same administrators even asked me privately to show them some of my tricks.)

Our tech guy knew hardware but wasn’t much help on how to actually use the things as a teacher. The best support we got was from the students helpers who could actually make a sound system or video work. Meanwhile, every time I dropped through the teacher lounge, I’d be asked to show another teacher how to do this or that on the school LMS or some other computer thing.

It’s something about education that its resources are seen through the lens of budgets and allocations, but not actual use.

Here are two stories to demonstrate it

1. When my daughter started attending my school, I was suddenly not just a colleague but a parent.  Now I saw my colleagues” grading habits, their assignment postings, and I heard the good and the bad from my daughter every day on the way home from school.

One of the most shocking things I discovered was how little her teachers used the very basic LMS program, Edline. It was a total waste (such as the teacher who put up assignments but had them repeated every day of the year, including weekends).  Assignments and grades were posted randomly if at all, and so many answers to my questions as a parent that could have been answered through Edline turned into email and hallway chases. And I was in the same building with them every day, so what about the frustrated parents who couldn’t get the answers I could only get through a personal shakedown?

I told our principal and facilities vice principal about my observations and how I personally had to spend minutes  every day that turned into hours every week helping my colleagues do simple things on Edline that nobody had bothered to show them before and how the school should really help its teachers learn how to use the system. The two of them laughed at me. Literally. They laughed, and I walked away.

So it was back to helping my colleagues one at a time and day to day figure out how to easily and meaningfully put up their assignments and grades for students and parents.

2. When my school replaced blackboards with whiteboards,  I purchased my own projector to take advantage of the ready-screen whiteboards represented. The school had one or two projectors that we were always taken, so I got my own. Now my kids had the benefit of my desktop in every class, and I had the benefit of prepping to it rather than hoping I could get one of the other projectors.

A couple years later the school got a donation for smartboard systems that used ceiling-installed projector that interacted with a device attached to the whiteboard.  Cool stuff. They put it in my classroom — yep, and left it at that.

The audio wires weren’t installed properly, and the tech guy couldn’t figure them out. So I bought my own little amplifier and set it up myself. The VCR system just didn’t work right, so I bought all my videos on Amazon and ran them straight from my computer. And so on.

The smartboard system had a magic wand that worked by interacting with a static electric field that was projected across the white board projector area by the attached device. However, the two 8-foot whiteboards were connected by a metal band that ran down the middle of that projector placement. Static-electricity field + metal band = I could only use half the smartboard screen at a time. The kids and I laughed it off every day, but it was a true annoyance that was daily wasting my time and impacting my lessons.

Moving the projector was an option, but I knew that would be difficult as it was a permanent installation in the ceiling. Why not, then, just cut one of the 8-foot whiteboards in half, move the other one to the middle and the two 4-foot pieces to the side? I asked the vice principal of facilities (the one who laughed at my idea for a PD to instruct teachers on how to use Edline) for help. He was furious. How dare I question what the donors had given me! Alright,  whatever.

See horse. See cart. The wrong one is in front.

Here’s the problem: administrators perceive teachers as service providers for the wrong set of clients. Students and families are not their clients, policy, pedagogy and the Department of Education are. If focus were upon students and parents as the real clients, schools would be very, very concerned about every aspect of a teacher’s day, especially how their teachers use their precious time to support their clients. Instead teachers are providers of pedagogy, test results and public policy.

What would I do as an administrator?

Good teachers know who their real clients are.  Everything else is backup and resource for the core aim of teaching.

My dream school is one in which kids truly are first, and in which teachers drive their teaching and not the school. The school’s job would be to support, guide, and help execute what the teachers themselves decided they can do best. Just dreaming here, but isn’t that what we believe we’re supposed to do with kids — and if so why, then, don’t schools approach teachers the same way?

Anything we can do to make a teachers’ day go a little quicker, a classroom a little more productive and effective, and to help along a teaching process or to lessen a frustration, I figure there is at least one kid who learned just a little more that day and one parent who felt good about it.

Yes, it is “all about the kids,” but it’s helping teachers help kids that concerns us. In our A+ Club student support program, we help kids help themselves. Through Tips for Teachers we hope to help teachers help themselves help kids, one efficiency at a time.

– Michael

How teachers can use WordPress blogging to enhance student engagement

Every teacher’s goal is student engagement, both in and out of class

Strong Stuff

Strong Stuff

The more our students act on our lessons and expectations outside of class, the better they function in class. Nothing new there.

And the difficulty to achieve it in part explains the annual Professional Development (PD) flogging with the latest, greatest solution to student engagement: “Differentiated Learning,” “Flipped Classrooms,” “Student-Centered Learning,” “Cooperative Learning,” and so on, that attempt to trick students into suddenly caring about our lessons and classrooms.

I’ve tried them all, and I know you have, too. Continue reading