Tag 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

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

Megan Rocks! How the A+ Club assignments and grades updates help students and parents find academic success: Student Success Podcast no. 25

Megan Rocks! Megan and Michael discuss how the A+ Club helps students, parents and teachers.

Featuring Megan Schneider, Office Manager at School4Schools.com LLC

Megan manages the A+ Club service that provides assignment, grades and missing work updates and notifications, essay review and all-round student help with homework, due dates, studying, grades to build academic awareness and relevancy.

Student Success Podcast No. 25, Jan. 22, 2016

See also Megan’s interview clip

Continue reading

Mentoring students is an all-time thing: mentoring is not just an occasional conversation with a guidance counselor or mentor

Student MentoringAt the A+ Club, we make strong claims for the power of mentoring. We believe that consistent, positive feedback from caring, experienced, and non-judgmental educators empowers students by building lifetime skills and habits of reflection, goal setting, and general self-betterment.

A Gallup-Purdue study of the impact of mentoring on college students in post-graduate job success and all-round well-being already proves our theory (see Mentoring Students for a Lifetime of Success). What the Gallup-Purdue study doesn’t say but is implicit to the results is that mentoring is neither casual nor predetermined.

Note that the study did not point to “advisors” or “guidance counselors” for impact on students. In fact, the absence of those terms in the study is significant. Mentoring relationships are not appointed, they are not pre-selected or administered from above. They develop organically through sharing, trust, care, expertise, authenticity, and constancy.

Mentoring is…

  • Sharing: effective mentoring is empathetic.

  • Trust: mentoring without trust is just more random advice.

  • Care: the effective mentor is selfless, non-judgmental, patient, and caring.

  • Expert: the effective mentor delivers something of value.

  • Authentic: effective mentors don’t condescend or merely guide from above; their mentoring comes from the heart.

  • Constant: effective mentoring is regular, not occasional or random.

Why Guidance Counselors Aren’t Mentors

Imagine that a high level executive at a major company mentors up-and-coming professionals. Imagine that some of these protégés ultimately report to that executive, if not directly, then through other chains of command. If so, there is with great difficulty any mentoring, as it’s just another power-relationship, however well-intentioned.

Now, imagine that a high school student receives mentoring from an educator at the school. We call those “Guidance Counselors,” and they have no less administrative weight than does our executive. They are both firmly a part of an institutional power structure and are therefore inherently judgmental and authoritative.

This doesn’t mean an executive or a guidance counselor can ‘t be an effective mentor — it does mean that each has the burden of authority to overcome in order to deliver mentoring that is authentic and trustworthy.

So, yes, we can imagine that executives or guidance counselors can make effective mentors. Absolutely. But it is harder to imagine that they can be effective mentors to more than a few protégés or students with whom they can create authentic relationships.

They not only have to overcome the burden of authority (which severely challenges authenticity), they have to overcome the burden of a strained caseload. Thus the largest reason that guidance counselors don’t make good mentors is that, according to Time,

A public school counselor in the U.S. now has an average caseload of 471 students….

(from The High School Guidance Counselor Shortage,

Try being caring, empathic, authentic — and constant — with 471 students! Not possible. A guidance counselor can mentor some of the students some of the time but none or a very few of them all of the time.

A+ Club Student Mentoring

Our view is that effective mentoring starts with the student, not the mentor.

When we take on a student, it is by student choice. We cannot mentor a student who is not interested in self-improvement, and we don’t. We don’t get past a first conversation with such a student (and I’ve only run into 2 or 3 over my three years in this business).

The only way we can start with a student is if that student sincerely wants academic improvement. And we never define it for our students: it’s up to them what that means. Once we have established goals, then we can work on deliberate, realistic steps towards them with confidence, trust, and care.

Our authenticity comes of the concern we show and the expertise we bring. Our teachers — whom we call “Student Supporters” — are experienced, active educators, and they only do this work because they care, because they enjoy establishing a relationship with a student whom they do not grade, whom they do not judge. Freed authority, they are free to care without judgment.

Once our teachers have established that trust, once they have established their care and expertise, then they have an authentic relationship. Then the only missing ingredient for effective, powerful mentoring is constancy, which they bring through scheduled, weekly or more reflection, goal setting and problem-solving conversations .

Our teachers love this work. And they also know how emotionally taxing it is, for they care so much for each child. They only take on a few, some choosing to work with only one student, and the rest taking on no more than a few to work with, guide, counsel, and help along towards a brighter future  each and every week.

We know it works, and not just because our kids do better in school. We know it works because our students are ready and eager to take that mentoring call every week.

– 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”

What do grades measure, anyway? How to make sense of grades and student learning

Student-Performance_Process-flow-chart_noheaderParents! If schools were meant for learning, why do we have grades?

In other words, if learning were the goal, wouldn’t every student have to get an A+ before moving on to the next level?

If, when a student gets a D, and it indicates the student met 64% of expectations, is there learning going on at that school? Wouldn’t a 100% grade represent true learning?

As long as there are grades less than an A, the point of schools, then, is not learning.

Worse, not all grades are equal. Does an A in PE represent learning as much as an A in math? They both count the same towards your GPA and both are required. Clearly, learning is not the only thing being measured here. 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