Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Art and Science of Teaching, Pt. 1

I'm working my way through The Art and Science of Teaching by Marzano, and want to review some of the most useful bits of the first half. The book is highly usable. It's maybe a bit dense to wade through the first time, like everything with a healthy dose of research and statistical analysis, but it's set up such that a reader looking for something can find it very easily, and I haven't even looked at the index yet. As my exposure to books on education practice increases, I'm finding that that's important: if you're going to tell me to do something, tell me what it is you want me to do. Don't hide it in the middle of a bunch of soft squishy feelings about how you love being a teacher. I love being a teacher, too, and if I didn't, reading your book probably wouldn't make me love it. But this book is set up, as the subtitle of the book says, as "a comprehensive framework for effective instruction." Each chapter title is a question about an element of instruction, and is set up to provide a definition of the issue, an example of that element in a classroom, research to explain why the element is important, and specific steps that a teacher can take to implement that element into his classroom.

Chapters 1-5 deal with issues in instruction--respectively, using learning goals, acquiring new knowledge, practicing and deepening understanding of new knowledge, generating and testing hypotheses of new knowledge, and engaging students. The later chapters deal with issues of classroom management and community-building, and more about these when I've read them.

Having read some other of Marzano's work and derivatives of it, I'm a little surprised to see so little talk about building background knowledge and vocabulary. This is disappointing, because of all the in-class strategies I've read, the work with vocabulary was the most immediately applicable th the language classroom. I'll have to sit down and think a little more about language learning and how it's different from learning, for example, science.

Some of the suggestions I intend to implement follow.

Have students identify their own learning goals: Upon introducing a new chapter / unit / some other division of learning, students will write down what they hope to be able to understand (language-wise), recognize, and be able to communicate about by the time they finish. Throughout the unit, students will revisit that goal to see how well they're progressing, and whether the course and I are addressing their objective. Part of the final assessment will be a a self-assessment on their learning objective.

Identify critical-input experiences: The word "input" has a special meaning in language acquisition, but the two meanings run parallel. Of course, ALL classroom time is an input experience, especially in courses conducted entirely in Spanish like I strive to conduct. But some moments are more important than others, require greater coordination of forces, and really are (or should be) the anchors of a unit. I can do a better job of separating these experiences from the textbook, and then bringing the necessary resources to bear on them.

Homework: I don't give anywhere near enough homework. As someone who was never very good at getting it done myself, I've always questioned the wisdom of it. But it's important, and there's a right way of doing it. And when college happened right in my face, and I had no idea how to deal with the work load, I recognized what I'd missed. So, vocab practice, reading comprehension practice, drawing--more of it.

These are obviously not all of the things I should be doing or could be doing better, but it's a place to start. And, as I'm learning, a small number of effective goals you can work towards is better than a lot of goals that you'll work on once and then forget about.

1 comment:

Ray said...

Bully for you. I thought this book was excellent and have contemplated with the idea of using it for a book study with the secondary teaching staff (5th-12th grades). I would want to make a volunteer basis. How might we go about doing this? What are your thoughts?

Be careful with homework. Use it for the correct reasons and not for busy work. Keep in mind that learning must take place for it to be valuable. Also, remember a middle school or high school student may have up to six class periods and that may mean six homework assignments.

I also see an importance of including formative assessment with feedback as an important aspect of learning. I might suggest you look deep in to ensuring you are using some time of formative assessment to check for learning.