All entries for February 2018
February 26, 2018
My students learnt how to critically review two articles from the library database; this combined practical how-to skills with deeper critical thinking skills both of which would stand them in good stead for completing their assignments.
Whilst this is a relatively easy task to undertake in a face to face classroom it is a bit more difficult in an online one – my students were located all around the world. The first hurdle was making sure that all of them could access the library database and then making the instructions very clear so that they all downloaded the correct articles. I was surprised at how much support they needed to get them to this point but once everything was in place they were then given some question prompts to get them started.
I asked each of the students to think of two reasons why they believed that one of the articles was more reliable than the other. I explained that there was no real right or wrong answer to the task and that I had my own views on which one I thought was the most reliable but I did not share these with them until I gave them their feedback. They were expected to think critically and to explain their views in an online discussion forum – commenting on what their peers contributed as well as posting their own thoughts.
I was concerned that I had given the students too much information and that they would just end up regurgitating the prompt questions but I needn’t have worried; the students really embraced the work and produced a comprehensive list of points which included some things that I really did not think they would consider. I think they benefitted from not knowing my thoughts at the start and also from the safe environment that encouraged discussion and questioning. This was one of the benefits of using a closed online forum and in making sure that they all started from the same point. I was also encouraged to see how much discussion and critical questioning emerged during the time allocated for the task. I know there are many concerns around group work with the term ‘lurkers’ being bandied about (particularly in an online context) but this really did not happen; everyone contributed and added new and appropriate content to the discussion.
On reflection some of the reasons this activity succeeded included:
- Relevance – the students recognised that they needed to learn these skills for subsequent tasks and assignments
- Scaffolding – the students were facilitated through a range of different activities which gradually became harder and less supported; this allowed those students who were less familiar with online studying and/or academic articles to pace themselves
- Safe environment – the students were in a closed discussion forum where they could undertake divergent thinking without fear of failure
- Co-creation – the students worked on the activity together building the ‘answer’ between them; this gave them the opportunity to bond as a group which again contributed to future activities and tasks
February 14, 2018
As a newly qualified teacher, research has been key in helping me to develop my practice. I have found that research can be particularly useful when trying to resolve issues that arise in the classroom.
For example, as we progressed towards October half-term, I found that behaviour in my classes started to slip. Students would enter the classroom in drips and drabs and were slow to settle. Often, a quarter of the lesson would go by and only the register had been completed. I was giving out over 10 warnings every lesson, and adding time to each lesson for all students. It was clear that my students were not motivated and I was concerned that the students were not progressing as they should.
Although I had asked for advice from members of staff at the school, the various strategies that I had tried were not effective in the long-term. At this point, I decided to turn to research to help me. As teachers, we often focus on the behavioural problems in front of us, not the cause. I needed to find a way to improve behaviour, by tackling the motivational issues that were causing them in the first place.
Research showed me that too often, there is a focus on what not to do in class, as opposed to what to do (Becker, Madsen, Arnold and Thomas, 1967). This is reinforced by more recent evidence, showing that when we punish a person for behaving badly, we leave it up to them to discover how to behave well (Maag, 2001). According to Kaplan, Gheen and Midgley (2002), emphasising mastery goals in class reduces the likelihood of students disrupting lessons. Positive reinforcement can be used to manage classes and enhance skill performance (McLeod, 2015). Students take rules and responsibilities more seriously when there is a common approach, from which they benefit.
I introduced a reward based system called Class Dojo with my groups. Students can be awarded for positive actions, but points can also be deducted for negative behaviour. I believed that this system would have three main outcomes. Firstly, I hoped it would motivate students. The incentive of parental contact for students with the most points led to healthy competition within my classes. As well as this, my expectations would be reinforced every lesson, as Kaplan et al. (2002) had suggested. Each time a point was given out, students would know what it had been given for and why. Finally, I wanted there to be an attention on positive behaviours, as opposed to negative.
Very quickly I found that this system was having a positive impact on my lessons. The number of warnings that I gave out each lesson was reduced, as was the number of detentions. I rarely added minutes to the end of the lesson. Students were more enthusiastic and willing to contribute their ideas. In terms of data, most students reached or exceeded their end of year targets. This demonstrates that the use of a rewards based system can be a success. I ran a survey to see what impact using Class Dojo had on my students. It was clear that they valued receiving positive points, and felt more motivated in class based on its use.
To conclude, this is an example of how research can be used effectively in the classroom to resolve a problem. By researching an issue and trialling different strategies, teachers can become reflective practitioners that use evidence-informed ideas to develop their classroom practice. Teachers need to constantly evolve to meet their pupils needs, and research is fundamental in achieving this.
Becker, W.C., Madsen, C.H., Arnold, C.R. and Thomas, D.R. (1967) The Contingent Use of Teacher Attention and Praise in Reducing Classroom Behaviour Problems. The Journal of Special Education 1(3): pp 287-307.
Kaplan, A., Gheen, M. and Midgley, C. (2002) Classroom goals structure and student disruptive behaviour. British Journal of Educational Psychology 72(2): pp 191-211.
Maag, J.W. (2001) Rewarded by Punishment: Reflections on the Disuse of Positive Reinforcement in Schools. Exceptional Children 67(2): pp 173-186.
McLeod, S. (2015) Skinner – Operant Conditioning [online]. Available at: http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html