Teaching Students About Learning


“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Chinese Proverb

For me, school was always about the teacher serving as the deliverer of knowledge and content, and my responsibility was to memorize it for a test and sometimes maybe a project such as a written report. I don’t believe reflection was ever part of my school experience; the teachers performed all the reflection for me by leaving me out of the assessment process. Today I’m thinking about Hack #8 in Starr Sackstein’s book titled Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless and this one gets me pretty fired up!

I am very intrigued by the concept of metacognition (learning about learning) and the positive impact it could have for both students and teachers. The more a student can understand about how they are approaching their learning, the better insights they’ll have about how to get unstuck when they are having difficulties learning something new. Having students prepare reflections holds the potential to help teachers identify problematic areas where a new learning strategy may be in order, or even possible adjustments to instructional strategies.

I briefly researched metacognition, and there is a ton of research over many years that clearly indicates metacognitive practices allow students to apply their learning to new tasks, subjects and environments. I guess we should be weaving this stuff into all of our classrooms!

Starr again emphasizes that students need to understand the standards they are aiming to master so that they can reflect on their progress towards mastery. Clearly it is important to ensure standards for each assignment or project are crystal clear to students before employing this. One of the biggest takeaways from this book for me is transparency; we need to be very open and explicit with students about what they need to be accomplishing and why. If we can’t be clear about what it is they’re learning and why it matters, we have a major problem, making reflection difficult if not impossible.

Today a co-worker shared with me a course that’s available on Coursera called “Learning How To Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects.” I’ve only watched the intro video, and so far it seems like an excellent course, so I can’t wait to take it. Cheers to metacognition!

The Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum

The 2015 Local Government Innovation Award: Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum

If you haven’t heard of the Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum (MPCC), I recommend you take a look, even if you’re not from the Land of 10,000 Lakes! There are several reasons why this grassroots effort is so important for educators across the globe. First and foremost, as we shift towards increased digital delivery, our ability to sustain expensive curriculum adoptions alongside 1:1 device adoptions doesn’t seem feasible. We have to begin curating an open curriculum that we as educators can tweak to meet our unique needs, which is a daunting task without a partnership.

Several years ago, before the MPCC got its legs, school district leaders examining their capacity to write their digital curriculum quickly found they had insufficient skill and personnel to address the content, technology and training issues related to constructing and successfully implementing digital curriculum. And vendor provided materials were expensive and unresponsive to local needs. With multiple districts moving to be a part of a post-textbook world, a radically different approach was needed. There was talk about the need to collaborate on digital curriculum but no clear vision of how to make a practical and well-managed start.

The breakthrough came when several early adopters proposed an organizational structure that provided sufficient seed money and project oversight. With confidence in this structure, district leaders were open to joining a collaborative rather than attempt this work alone; this was the birth of the Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum (MPCC). The MPCC consortium was formed as a grassroots effort to provide all Minnesota teachers with access to high quality, easily adaptable digital materials aligned to standards.

The MPCC is nearing the completion of its first wave of 40 courses in the core subject areas in grades 3 through 12. What’s even more exciting is our new partnership with Cultural Jambalaya, a 501(c)(3) Minnesota-based nonprofit. Cultural Jambalaya is a volunteer-run organization that uses international cultural photography and video to promote understanding and respect for all people. In today’s classrooms, we are seeing a continued increase in student diversity, yet an overwhelming majority of our teachers are white. Providing more reliable cultural perspectives in our curriculum is of the utmost importance.

Please check out the MPCC if you haven’t already, and feel free to let me know if you have any questions. I may not have the answer, but I promise I’ll get it for you!

Unconscious Bias: Do You Really Know What You’re Saying?

On Friday of last week, I attended MinnSPRA’s (Minnesota School Public Relations Association) Spring Conference, and the entire event centered around equity and diversity in school communications. There were a lot of leaders in the field of communications and equity in attendance. James C. Burroughs II presented a session on unconscious bias and its effect on the work environment.

Unconscious bias is a prejudice we have about something or someone, and we don’t even realize it. Our minds work so fast that we don’t even know we’re doing something prejudice; likely because it is consistent with social norms. Make no mistake about it, we all have unconscious biases, and becoming aware of them is critical. You can’t change what you’re not aware of.

If we are going to do the hard work of removing systemic inequities, we need to be continually checking ourselves by reflecting on the words we use and how we conduct ourselves in the workplace, because even the best of intentions can be detrimental to the overall goal of equity.

As far as what can be done to raise awareness in our organizations, we can offer training to increase employee understanding of unconscious bias and its different forms, and we can create structures at all layers of the organization to ensure we’ve minimized bias. Structures such as shared decision-making and interview questions free from bias can go a long way.

Google has some great training about unconscious bias that you can view here. The training video is over an hour long, and it is a great resource to offer employees.