It was definitely much easier to teach in the ‘olden days’. Everyone read the same text, researched the same topic, wrote the same text type, answered the same question. The students worked hard, studied and took and passed ( apparently everyone did if you listen to the nostalgic educators and parents of times gone by) the same test.
Then along came this pesky new age world of personalising and differentiating teaching and learning with its notion of student choice and planning for a wide range of student interests and abilities. Along with it came a whole lot of challenges for teachers as they passed topic selection into the hands of the children.
No longer does the teacher have access to all knowledge being learned during the unit of work. No longer does the teacher have complete mastery over the content of the class novel. In a single Inquiry Unit, there may be 15 different topics being explored by your class. If your class runs Literature Circles or Book Clubs, there may be 5 or more novels being read concurrently. In these instances, how much is expected of the class teacher to be on top of all the content involved in the individual student’s choice?
At first glance, teachers may point to the fact that today’s curriculum is not about content knowledge any more. It’s about skill development, creativity, collaboration and communication. At a simplistic level, that may be partly true. We can’t escape the fact, though, that accuracy and understanding is still paramount. While an 8 year old will survive making the odd misinterpretation or copying the wrong information down, a 20 year old medical student can’t be confusing a pharynx with a larynx or thinking a 3:4 ratio means 3/4 and 1/4. So the question needs to be asked – How well are we dealing with Quality Control and Fact Checking in the Differentiated, Personalised Classroom? This one question brings up a whole lot more questions that every teacher needs t0 consider.
Are we expecting students to provide evidence for every fact they state in a report (and are we checking them)? In the days of one topic/one book, the teacher had the source of the information and could quickly determine the accuracy of the student’s statements. We knew everything we needed to know about the plot, characters and themes of the class novel. We taught them how to write a bibliography and footnotes whether they really needed to or not. A bibliography is not enough today. We need to expect digital literacy skills like hyperlinking and bookmarking to be part of a digital report so that as teachers we can check not only that the information is accurate as we read it but also that it hasn’t just been rewritten or copied.
Are we putting more emphasis on the presentation and not enough on the content? In the name of engagement, teachers ( with me leading the charge!) are exposing students to a myriad of great web tools for presenting their work. Do we sometimes get seduced by the magic of a Prezi, Glog or Voki and reward the students for how their presentation looked rather than the quality/depth of the information presented?
Do our assessment rubrics give enough credit for the accuracy, depth and understanding of the information or are these factors downplayed at the expense of grammar, text structure, presentation and checklist of what requirements were met?
During the research phase, do we spend enough time checking that the information collected by students is relevant and accurate or do we spend all our time giving feedback on the quality of questions, time management and selection of ICT tools for presentation?
Do we check for understanding of the references they use to research their topic? We need to expect more than just copying notes. The students should be summarising the notes, writing questions about the information they have found, listing what addtional information is still required from other sources. This takes time to develop in students but it’s important for developing real critical thinking. Just rewriting notes in a different sentence doesnt show enough understanding.
Do we feedback about the quality of the references, the relevance of the information?
How much attention do we pay to the student’s ability to record notes that support the investigation?
Do we spend time checking that they are identifying enough details from a text? Too often students will highlight random sections of text to show they have found some key words but ignore major details within the same paragraph. Utilising a web tool like the social bookmarking site Diigo, we as teachers can collaboratively support students in highlighting key ideas. The tool supports sharing an online text AND annotations, highlighting and comments in real time. This is an improvement on waiting until the end of the week to hand up work to the teacher for checking. In the digital literacy environment, we can be more timely and strategic in our feedback while also checking the references being used.
Are we expecting our students to prove they have fact checked their own research by referring to several sources for each key idea or fact? We often criticise the use of Wikipedia because of its crowdsourced information but don’t question other references’ validity. We need to ensure that we have taught our students to check for the credentials of the source, ( .org/.edu/gov vs .com, blog vs scholarly), how up to date the information is, how to cross reference multiple sources. Again, digital literacy skills like hyperlinking to the source within their text for instant verification puts the onus on the student to prove their information is correct.
Do we encourage collaboration as a way to check for quality and accuracy? We need to consider the role of wikis, social networking sites like Edmodo and Twitter and blogs in crowdsourcing support in checking each other’s work. Maybe we need to rethink the idea that we only go public with finished products/published work. Why can’t we post drafts and brainstorms on our blogs and put it out there for others to critique, check, support, add to, fact check? Why not tweet out ideas to a worldwide audience to get feedback or answers. Following experts on Twitter could get you the support you need. One example I’ve seen is Dr Karl Kruszelnicki from Australia, a media savvy scientist who often answers tweets sent to him. I’ve read teacher blogs mentioning how they have organised other teachers via Twitter to mentor students in their grade.
There is no going back to the old way of teaching. Differentiation and Personalised Learning is here to stay. And so it should be. However, we do need to make sure we have measures in place to ensure we are monitoring the quality and accuracy of the information our students present in their projects. Many teachers can find this a challenge.
It’s probably more of a challenge in Primary schools where teachers tend to be generalists who teach every subject. It’s a lot to expect them to be on top of the information in Science, History, Health, Economics, Geography, Technology and Environmental Studies on top of every novel the students are reading. So we have to efficient in checking in on students at all stages of their research, not just at the presentation stage.
What challenges do you have in monitoring your students’ personalised learning? What processes do you have in place to manage? I am interested in your experiences. Join the conversation.