The subject of assessment is something I'm still processing.  I'm not sure I (or probably anyone else) knows the right answer to the best way to deal with assessment in the classroom.  I like a tweet I saw a couple of weeks ago.  I apologize that I can't seem to find the tweet itself to share the direct quote or the author.  If you are the tweeter and you read this, please feel free to let me know and I'll edit this to give proper credit.  The tweet basically said that assessment is something you do with students, not to students.  I understood this to mean that assessment needs to be an ongoing process by which you work with students to help them grow to better understanding, strategies, and artifacts.

I think I would love to run a classroom that did not rely on tests, quizzes, etc in order to assess student understanding.  I would rather rely on authentic assessments.  These include, but are not limited to, items created by students (papers, power-points, drawings, songs, poems, etc), observations of interactions of students with each other, with resources, and with the teacher, relevant comments by students, etc.  I like these types of assessments and methods of assessing, because I feel that they more accurately present what the student has learned, is learning, and is still grappling with.  I believe that standardized tests, quizzes, classroom tests, etc tend to lead to a "memorize and dump" response.  There have been innumerable occasions when I have found that students, even those who had done really well on a recent test, no longer knew the material that the test had covered.

I think a portfolio approach would be possible, whereby each student would have a portfolio of completed artifacts that showed their level of understanding of the material being studied.  I believe this would also allow the students to demonstrate integrated knowledge of the material being covered and the forum with which they choose to cover it.  I also believe that this more closely mimics the way students will be asked to prepare items in most careers they will go into. 

One big question I have if there is no testing is what happens when it comes time for College admission.  Would this make it more difficult for a student to get into college, or a particular college?  It probably would, at least to begin with.  However, if we can work up the line to begin having conversations with colleges, I believe a workable solution could be found.  I would love to have a conversation about this issue and encourage you to leave comments to help me have that conversation.  Thanks for reading.
 
 
One of the criticisms I have heard about constructivism is that students are allowed to much freedom and discipline is impossible to maintain.  I would argue that, while students are given more freedom, discipline is easier to maintain once the classroom is fully functioning.  As I said in an earlier blog, the teacher must be patient, especially at the beginning of the process, as students are not used to this type of classroom.  In addition to teaching students how to behave in a constructivist classroom, the teacher needs to help students unlearn classroom behaviors taught in past years of schooling.  The key to being successful is to develop relationships with students and to help them develop relationships with each other.

I believe that classroom management is much easier if you are connected to your students regardless of the type of classroom you are in.  I remember having to step in front of a high school student who was bigger than I am in order to prevent a fight from starting.  He stopped immediately and stepped outside of the room we were in.  Later he told me that the only reason he stopped was because of the respect he had for me.  If I hadn't built that relationship, violence between students would have occurred.  I'm in my sixth year as the night school teacher at my program and I have never had an incidence of violence in the night program.  I attribute this to the relationships I have been able to build.

In order to build relationships with my students, I make an effort to get to know them as real people.  I ask them about what is going on in their lives.  We talk about music, movies, books, etc.  We talk about what they did on the weekend.  I also let them see me as a real person.  I talk with them about what is going on in my life.  I share my excitement and frustrations about what is going on with my family with them.  I talk about the music, movies, books, etc. that I like.  Once these connections are built, it is much easier to help students stay on task.  They respond much better to me when I speak to them.

There are several specific processes for building group dynamics mentioned in the books listed in my second post.  I especially recommend the book by Richard and Patricia Schmuck for how to build the dynamics of a constructivist classroom.  I won't go through all of these here, but I do want to share a few general highlights:
  • start by working on creating those relationships; content is secondary in the early days
  • develop specific group roles and procedures and consciously teach those to your students
  • assign specific roles within those groups
  • develop class rules with your students instead of for them
  • provide them procecures and opportunities for working through their own problems

 

Given time to learn how things work in a constructivist classroom, students will, I believe, thrive.  They will actively manage more of their own discipline with continued instructor guidance.  They will, I believe, accept the new freedom by actively taking on the increased responsibility which must come with it
 
 
In my first post, I mentioned that I consider myself a constructivist as an educator, and it has occurred to me that not everyone knows what that means.  Some may also have a misguided understanding of constructivism.  I was at a conference recently where I overhead another educator say the word as if it left a bad taste in her mouth.  I hope to be able to clearly share my views of constructivism and why I believe in constructivism as a teaching method.

I remember being involved in a class discussion in an education class early in my undergrad program.  The professor was sharing with us a variety of different educational philosophies.  Of these, two really stuck out to me.  The first of these is behaviorism and the second is constructivism.  Behaviorism centers around the belief that it is the teachers job to fill the students with knowledge.  Students are essentially viewed as empty vessels which need to be filled with everything the state decides is important.  This is essentially how much of education has been done in past century or so and most often how it continues to be done in today's classroom.  Students come in, are asked to intake (learn) all the knowledge the teacher has to give them, and then regurgitate it for the test.

Constructivism starts from a different place.  To a constructivist, a student already comes to the classroom with a quantity of knowledge, often on the material to be learned in class.  The instructors role is then to help the student find that knowledge, bring it to the surface, connect with it and build on it.  Much of constructivist theory comes from the work of psychologists Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky.  From them comes the concepts of surfacing prior knowledge, which is this tapping into what students already know, the zone of proximal development, which is the range of activities that a child can complete independently, and scaffolding, which refers to working with individual students to help build up from where they are to where they need to be.  Some modern educators who have helped me greatly in understanding what is important in the classroom include Richard and Patricia Schmuck with their book Group Processes in the Classroom and Nancy Atwell with her book In the Middle.

Here are some other random thoughts about constructivism and what it means:
  • a constructivist teacher is more facilitator and collaborator than authoritarian and lecturer
  • a constructivist classroom looks very different from a traditional classroom
  • a constructivist classroom is more student driven and less teacher driven
  • a constructivist classroom provides opportunities and resources, not facts and knowledge
  • assessment looks very different in a constructivist classroom
  • you need patience to build a constructivist classroom, because you have to unteach traditional methods before you can have full student buy-in into constructivist methods
  • classroom management is based on building relationships, mutual trust, and respect with your students instead of on authoritarian power
  • in my experience, learners retain better what they learn, when they learn in a constructivist manner
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  I encourage you to comment, share, question, and engage with me on this issue, whether you agree or not.  More will be coming soon on some concrete ideas of what an ideal classroom lo
 
 
Last night, in between helping students with their independent, online curriculum, (always my first priority) I was able to read a few and write a few tweets to contribute to an #edchat.  One of the issues we discussed was how to continue to collaborating and sharing in our awesome #edchat group and beyond.  One of the ideas discussed was to blog about ideas, struggles, innovations, best practices, etc.  Since I was one of those tweeting this as a good idea, I figure that I better be blogging myself.  So here is my first education blog.  I'm pretty new to this, so I think I'll give try to give some brief insight into who I am and what I do, as well as a few random educational thoughts.

To begin with, my name is Rick Jackson.  I teach at an evening program at an Alternative High School in Michigan.  I am currently the only teacher in the program.  The students use a web-based online curriculum program to learn and complete classes.  I am there to maintain order and to help on a one on one basis.  I graduated with a major in US HIstory and a minors in Sociology and Education from a small liberal arts college near St. Louis, MO.  I went back a couple of years later to finish the requirements to be a certified teacher after I was sure that's what I wanted to do.  I'm currently in a Master's of Teaching Mathematics at an online university.  In addition to the part time evening position, I substitute teach nearly every day.  

I consider myself a constructivist at heart and always seek to meet the needs of my students.  I think we should begin with where our students are.  I hear a lot of lip service about putting the student first, but I'm not convinced that everybody means it.  I believe in building a collaborative relationship with your students and then helping them become passionate, lifelong learners.  I was inspired by EdCamp Grand Rapids a week or so ago and hope to have an opportunity to really put some of what I learned into practice.  My situation is such that I am not in a classroom where I can do too much.  I'm pretty locked into the format we have, because of the nature of my program.  That said, I am playing around with small things and trying to keep myself growing, so that I can hit the ground running when I'm given the opportunity.  I hope to continue collaborating with fellow educators for the betterment of our students and educational system.  Feel free to let me know what you think.  Thanks.