Wednesday, March 9, 2016

There is NO CRYING in Kahoot!

 "Are you CRYING? There is NO CRYING IN KAHOOT!!" This thought echoed in my mind as I watched a student break down sobbing in class.  How do you make an 8th grade boy cry in a room full of his peers?  From my recent experience, the answer to this question could be, “Use technology.”  In February, I was conducting a learning walk in an 8th grade classroom.   It was near the end of class and the teacher was closing the lesson with the platform known as Kahoot! For those of you who are unfamiliar with Kahoot!, the quote below is how its developers describe it.  

So how does a gaming experience that promises to “make it fun to learn” turn into an activity that tears are shed over?  As I reflected over what I saw, I believe these factors sent this well-intentioned lesson element into a downward spiral.

The class was an advanced-standing class (Pre AP) with students that are grade-motivated. Earlier, it was communicated to the class that this activity would be for a grade. Unfortunately, many of our high achieving students define themselves by the grades they make rather than the learning they engage in.  They have been celebrated all their lives for being ‘smart’ and things have come easily for them historically.  When these fixed mindset students struggle in an academic setting, it sets their world on edge.  Some devalue and disengage from the activity itself.  You can hear them processing this when they say things like, “This is so stupid.”  In this case, the young man took his failure personally and it impacted his self-esteem.  If one could hear the self-talk from students in this state it would sound like, “I am so stupid.”

The Kahoot that was used was created by a different teacher.  This became an issue during the game because one of the questions referred to a specific acronym. That acronym was not taught in the way the question was phrased.   It was a classic example of a misalignment between instruction and assessment.  

Students only had 15 seconds to answer before the game moved on to the next question.  For certain questioning, this amount of think time is more than adequate.  In this case it was not.  One could hear the audible expressions of frustration as the game moved forward prior to students inputting their answers.  

So what do we do to avoid situations like this?  

Let’s be cautious about assigning grades to certain assignments.  If a game show atmosphere is something a teacher wants to capitalize upon to create engagement, a grade might not be appropriate.  We need to remember that the purpose of a grade is to reflect and communicate mastery.  If factors are involved that impact a true representation of mastery, let’s not assign a grade.  Develop practices that deemphasize the grade and focus on giving your students feedback.  Celebrate mistakes, hard work, and the process.  These things support a growth mindset and set our kids up to persevere through the struggles they will inevitably need to conquer on their life’s journey.  Quit telling your students that they are “smart.”  Feel free to acknowledge achievement but remember to celebrate the effort.  Make this statement part of your vernacular, “Wow, you demonstrated your complete understanding of this by making a 100.  You must have really worked hard!”

Let’s remember that technology is meant to be a tool for instruction.  Often times we become enamored with hardware, software, or web tools and bring them into a lesson without a clear instructional purpose.  This is akin to purchasing a drill and hunting around your house for a hole to make.

Extend the processing time you allow students to have when assessing what they know.  We need to move away from celebrating a quick response toward recognition of deeper answers that show complex thinking.  Let’s be purposeful in allowing our kids the think time they need.  A quiz show simulation may engage students in the moment, but we do not want to reinforce the misperception that learning is all about answering quickly.  

I want to end this post by celebrating the teacher in this story.  After the lesson, I scheduled a coaching conversation with her to give her feedback.  My goal was to coach her up on the use of Kahoot! and some of the issues I raised here.  Once we sat together, she had already taken steps to improve her use of this technology as a tool.  She researched how to extend the time students have to answer.  She shared with me the struggles of the emotional 8th grader who was crying.  It is clear that she knows and cares about her kids.  I was very proud of the fact that she was reflective about the lesson and had already taken steps to improve it next time around.  This is just what I want from my staff as we move from congeniality to collegiality.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Few Choice Words

     I can’t begin to count the number of times I have said to others, “It is not so much what you say, but how you say it!”  We know this to be true.  From personal experience and research we know our nonverbals and voice tone play the largest part in how others “hear” us. Despite this, word choice is critical.  Recently, I was reading a blog post from one of my favorite Twitter influencers @mssackstein.  Starr has great insight on shifting the focus from grades to learning.  I couldn’t agree more with the quote to the right.  From the questions that we ask, to the statements that we make, we often predispose others in ways that are unintended or even negative.  Let’s look at a few examples and see if we can shift our word choice to set others up for success.

From “wait time” to “think time” – Too often our classroom questioning seems to be more reflective of a game show that values quick response rather than a learning environment that celebrates depth of thinking.  In an effort to address this at my campus, we have been working purposefully to allow students time to process.  Research tends to support a range from 3 to 15 seconds depending on a variety of factors including question complexity and other learner-centered variables.  By discussing this period of processing as “think time” we are giving it a true descriptor.  We want our students to contribute thoughtful answers rather than quick answers that may be accurate but have no depth. 

From “respond in complete sentences” to “respond in complete thoughts” – How do we move others to understand that writing IS A SKILL and NOT a class?  One powerful way to support this critical life skill is to expect our students to respond in complete sentences.  What better way to develop language and writing skills than practice?  When all content areas demand and support students in this, true progress can be made.  When sharing this expectation with students, I prefer the expectation stated as, “Respond in a complete thought.” This captures the essence of what we want our students to be doing… thinking!  Often students view the expectation of responding in “complete sentences” as a waste of time and little more than a handwriting exercise.   

From “use these vocabulary words in your answer” to “speak like a biologist” – One of our great challenges in education is to support the development of academic vocabulary in our students.  My favorite analogy is the description of building a strong foundation of academic language with the use of brick and mortar words.  Brick words are those that are specific to a discipline. Examples of this jargon for biology would be mitochondria, carnivore, or ecosystem.  The mortar words are those that link these words.  Our classrooms are filled with Word Walls that have the potential to support academic language. All too often these Word Walls are little more than decoration.  Master teachers set the expectation that students respond using the words that are posted.  By stating the expectation to include a profession or career choice we help our kids see the value of this type of language.  Who do you ask your students to speak like… an engineer, a writer, a musician or a historian? 

From “let’s get started so we can get through this” to “I promise to value your time” – For most of us, time is one of our most precious resources.  Despite this, we do need people’s time to hear their voice and involve them in problem solving processes.  By focusing the value you put on their time, you will bring the group into focus without demeaning or undermining the work that you need to accomplish.

From “Wow, you made a 100, you must be so smart!” to “Wow, you learned this completely, you must have worked so hard!” – The first statement communicates to the child, the GRADE is the most important thing. You achieved it because you have a natural intelligence for the topic.  This is a classic mistake that we make when trying to positively reinforce kids.  This type of praise reinforces the fixed mindset and celebrates the wrong thing.  The second statement communicates that the LEARNING is the most important thing and hard work is more important than IQ.  This reinforces a growth mindset.  A critical take away here is that we acknowledge achievement but celebrate work ethic.

From “I love the way you extended your questioning” to “The extensions to questions that you used provided an opportunity for students to think at high levels” – Growth happens best when we receive feedback.  The word choice in the feedback that we give our colleagues needs to be specific and focused on the goal… student learning.  When we give feedback that starts with “I love” or “I like it when” it puts the focus on pleasing us.  While most of our staff enjoys pleasing us with their work, the celebration should lie elsewhere.  Let’s focus on what we saw that was best practice or effective.   

From “I have to” to “I get to” – This shift is not only important in how we communicate to others, it impacts our own thinking about our work.  So often we can get swept up in what could be described as the culture of complaint.  Our interactions with others can start with a litany of frustrating things we are encountering and HAVE to deal with.  How do we shift this to a culture of opportunity?  If we can shift our lens to see challenges as opportunities to sharpen our skills or form a new relationship, our attitude improves.  Next time you have a meeting with a challenging parent, can you shift your self-talk to see it as an opportunity to make a connection and strengthen your partnership for the student’s benefit?

      Some might think that attention to these seemingly slight shifts in word choice are not worth the effort.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  As leaders in the classroom and out, communication is central to our work.  Let’s become masters at the craft of wordsmithing.  What are some of your most impactful shifts in word choice?