Saturday, March 11, 2017

3 Ways To Combat Recipe Learning

When I was a middle school science teacher I regularly assigned projects. At the time I thought that the projects would be a great way for me to understand what my students understood about particular concepts and topics. I had them make visual representations of atoms of the periodic table, reports outlining the effects of global warming on our community, and several others. We would regularly complete labs in class and then I would have them report their findings to present, just as scientists do.

The way I learned how to assign these projects what was from my teacher preparation program. Through trial and error I learned how to give these projects and grade them effectively for understanding. Rubrics were all the rage so I thought that by giving all the same project and using the rubric I was differentiating for my students because they got to decide where they fit on the rubric. What I didn’t know at the time was I was expecting all the same level of work.

I hadn’t designed an effective summative assessment.

I had assigned a recipe.

I enjoy to cook and spend a lot of time doing it when I’m not traveling. Recipes help me complete complex tasks that, I hope, in the end help my dishes look as great as the pictures on the recipe card. If you’ve ever watched a competition cooking show they give the contestants recipes to follow and then judge them how well they match up against their expectations.

Isn’t that what I was doing in my classroom?

Sure. I was giving them a project, telling them all my expectations for what to produce, and of course every kid needed to produce the same thing because that made it easier for me to grade. And, I thought it would easily show me what they had learned. In the end I got 30 of the same element, 30 of the same reports and 30 of the same presentations. What I thought was good for my students actually wasn’t. I had given them a recipe and they had followed but were they really able to tell me what they’d learned? Was I letting them be creative in the process, thereby giving them a reason to invest in their learning?

Certainly not.

We’ve all been guilty of the recipe approach. Either as an unwilling participant or a willing assigner of these types of assignments and projects. The push back I get is, yeah but kids want recipes. They want to be told the expectations. They want to have the guidelines. That may be only slightly true. If I were to sit down with a group of students and give them 2 options, one to produce a highly scripted, outlined project, or one where the expectations are set out but they get to decide what they want to produce, I’d be willing to bet they’d pick the freedom to create whatever they want every time. All they know in school is the scripted approach. So they’ve come to rely on it. We have to help break free of that mantra and allow creativity and innovation into the work students do.

3 Ways To Combat Recipes Learning

Choice In Content, Process and/or Product- Allowing students to discover their own paths to content and process and products helps invest them in their learning. While content may be set by standards or expected outcomes, students can get creative in how they learn that content, the methods by which they connect that content to already known knowledge and especially in how they demonstrate their understanding.

Choice can also come from the types of technologies student use. There are all sorts of ways from students using tablets to create videos and audio podcasts, to building or replicating historical events in Minecraft, to using drawing and spreadsheet tools to create infographics. Any of these can be choices that students make to discover content in a new way, tools that they use to make a better understanding of their learning or how they can produce a result to demonstrate their learning.

There are all sorts of ways for students to show off their creativity by fostering choice with content, process and product.

Move To Problem Based Learning- You are a member of a team tasked with investigating the impact of the removal of a local park in favor of building a new high school football stadium. The high school has never had a stadium and really wants one. But the neighborhood uses the park daily and it would be a great loss to the community. There is also a stream that runs through the park that would be impacted. The task is to present a recommendation to the Mayor as to what should be done.

To move past the boring recipe type projects and expected outcomes, look to Problem Based Learning. PBL gives real-world problems for students to solve. The example above is one from a school in my district that was an actual problem faced by the students and the surrounding community. For the entire school year the school worked on the problem in all the classes, tied to curriculum and standards. At the end of the year many student teams presented their findings to the Mayor. The solutions they came up with were vast, but none the same. Each team was able to show off their creativity and innovative ideas to solve the problem.

As we know many problems have multiple solutions. So the scripted approach to what students will produce won’t really work here. Students, utilizing choice, can investigate, research, hypothesize, test and report on how they would solve the problem. The Buck Institute for Education is the go-to for anything PBL. Check out their resource section for example problems, assessment ideas and project guides.

Embrace Formative Assessment- Formative assessments are short and quick assessments that are given at the moment of learning. They can be a simple temperature check, having students explain their learning in their own words, or something more detailed, such as having them answer a few math problems or complete a task related to learning. The key is they are done at the moment of learning. They don’t wait for all the learning to be complete and then are given. Summative assessments, like the test at the end of the chapter or the recipe final project given at the end of the year, do serve their purpose if used effectively but formative assessments can help drive teaching and learning.

If the end goal of the recipe project is to see what students have learned and for them to demonstrate that learning, why wait until the end of the learning? By asking pointed and simple questions throughout the learning process teachers and students have a greater understanding of both how effective the teaching is and how the learning is progressing. Then there is little need for that scripted, recipe project and more time can be taken for deeper understanding and differentiation. Formative assessments come in all forms. Check out this post I wrote recently about them and how they can be used and different ways technology can help.

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