My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Constructing and Demonstrating Knowledge.

The generic context of this post is derived from an understanding of what Hattie means by Direct Instruction. So please forgive the long quote from Hattie.

"Direct Instruction involves seven major steps:
1. Before the lesson is prepared, the teacher should have a clear idea of what the learning intentions are. What, specifically, should the student be able to do, understand, care about as a result of the teaching?
2. The teacher needs to know what success criteria of performance are to be expected and when and what students will be held accountable for from the lesson/activity. The students need to be informed about the standards of performance.
3. There is a need to build commitment and engagement in the learning task. In the terminology of Direct Instruction, this is sometimes called a “hook” to grab the student’s attention. The aim is to put students into a receptive frame of mind; to focus student attention on the lesson; to share the learning intentions.
4. There are guides to how the teacher should present the lesson-including notions such as input, modeling, and checking for understanding. Input refers to providing information needed for students to gain the knowledge or skill through lecture, film, tape, video, pictures, and so on. Modeling is where the teacher shows students examples of what is expected as an end product of their work. The critical aspects are explained through labeling, categorizing, and comparing to exemplars of what is desired. Checking for understanding involves monitoring whether students practice doing it right, so the teacher must know that students understand before they start to practice. If there is any doubt that the class has not understood, the concept or skill should be re-taught before practice begins.
5. There is the notion of guided practice. This involves an opportunity for each student to demonstrate his or her grasp of new learning by working through an activity or exercise under the teacher’s direct supervision. The teacher moves around the room to determine the level of mastery and to provide feedback and individual remediation as needed.
6. There is the closure part of the lesson. Closure involves those actions or statements by a teacher that are designed to bring a lesson presentation to an appropriate conclusion; the part wherein students are helped to bring things together in their own minds, to make sense out of what has just been taught. “Any questions? No. OK, let’s move on” is not closure. Closure is used to cue students to the fact that they have arrived at an important point in the lesson or the end of a lesson, to help organize student learning, to help form a coherent picture, to consolidate, eliminate confusion and frustration, and so on, and to reinforce the major points to be learned. Thus closure involves reviewing and clarifying the key points of a lesson, trying them together indo a coherent whole, and ensuring they will be applied by the student by ensuring they have become part of the student’s conceptual network.
7. There is independent practice. Once students have mastered the content or skill, it is time to provide for reinforcement practice. It is provided on a repeating schedule so that learning is not forgotten. It may be homework or group or individual work in class. It is important to note that this practice can provide for decontextualization: enough different contexts so that the skill or concept may be applied to any relevant situation and not only the context in which it was originally learned. For example, if the lesson is about inference from reading a passage about dinosaurs, the practice should be about inference from reading about another topic such as whales. The advocates of Direct Instruction argue that the failure to do this seventh step is responsible for most student failure to be able to apply something learned."

To summarise this quote Direct instruction involves
1. a teacher determining the Learning outcomes and sharing them with the learners.
2. a hook or and engaging mechanism to the learning about to take place.
3. an input of new infromation from or at least organised by the teacher.
4. a formative assessment of the undertsanding of this knowledge and reteaching where necessary. 5. Learners have an oportunity to demonstrate new learning.
6. A pleanary or review of the new infromation.
7. Another opportunity to practice this infromation is given.

In this post I would like to clarify between what I believe to be effective use of direct instruction. Firstly as I believe the learning taking place will probably have not manifested itself by section 5, as Nuthalls research on three (or four) exposures to the same knowledge has not yet been met. Secondly the vital application element to step 7 actually defines "learned" in many ways. It should also be pointed out that what is being described here by Hattie is an Accelerated Learning Cycle.

Two distinct sections.
The sections that are being considered here are the Construct and Demonstration sections. So how can we effectively use a construct and demonstrate part to lessons?

These two neighbouring sections of the Cramlinton learning cycle (and TEEP) can at times be confused as some activities could be used for both. In simple terms what we mean by the “activity section” is time within a lesson to help students make sense of new learning. While the Demonstrate part of the cycle is there to allow students to show and provide evidence that they have learned something new. Learning requires time, so that thinking about, questioning and connecting of ideas can take place. Imagine attending a lecture on a new educational directive. You have sat, listened carefully and occasionally made notes and as soon as it finished you were asked to give a presentation to the whole staff on what implications this will have for your school. Many of us would simply feel stressed, go blank, maybe bumble through and when we had finished remember several important ideas that we had not included. Everyone would find this task much easier if they had time to prepare and think about what was important.

 In essence this is the Activity  part of the lesson, a chnace to construct your own meaning. The teachers role during the construct part of the lesson would involve circulating the classroom supporting the students as they learn by providing alternative explanations, asking lots of leading questions and highlighting key bits of information. The information I get from my students during this section would not be used in planning my next lesson with them,but to inform our route through the remainder of the lesson. I expect mistakes to be made here as that is a sure sign that students are interacting with and thinking about the topic being studied.

In contrast the Demonstrate section I would plan my next lesson on the information I received from my students. Do they understand? Yes, so we can move on or No, lets review this aspect before we tackle the next step. This section should be highlighted to students so that they know they now have an opportunity to show they have learned something new. This is an important motivator for students as it allows them to prove not only to you but themselves that progress is being made. It is therefore essential that the activity used for this section matches exactly the outcomes shared at the beginning of the lesson, so that students don’t feel like they are being tested on something that they have not had time to think about, and you can measure the efficacy of the learning. (Has the plan worked?)  During this part of the lesson I would again circulate, but this time I would be prompting, guiding the students to parts of their notes and encouraging them to think convergently before applying this knowledge. The main reason being that this is the section I would mark from that lesson, if I provided the answers to this section all I would effectively be closing the formative assessment loop. It is also important to note that these tasks need not involve a written response, as a variety of activities including group tasks are valid.

Lesson examples.
It is sometimes easier to plan two separate activities. For example in French when teaching the structure of questions, the construct part of the lesson could involve students using colour coded cards that indicate the type of word it is, for example a noun or a verb. The students firstly build sentences that are provided in English, with the colour code helping they begin to see the structure of the sentence. They then construct questions to each scenario prompt. The students work in groups so that they can discuss their understanding. To support the students the teacher helps them distil the structure with questions like “Where is the verb in the sentence? Does it move?” and “What element of the sentence does not move in a question?” To demonstrate that the students understand the students are then asked to create their own questions. The teacher provides some words to use that which are not colour coded so that the students must apply their understanding. The students are in fact creating something new using a newly learned skill. The teacher supports the students while they do this by leading them through the sentence structure, something that they are familiar with, however how to a question is different. Contrast this with a teacher giving readymade meaning by saying things like “this word would be first”.

In A-level P.E. the students must understand three different energy systems in the body, and in which situations they are used. The teacher supports the learning , using a role-play so that the students gain understanding of how they work and what they do. To apply their new learning, the students work in pairs to integrate the three energy systems to different sporting activities showing how energy is produced at the various intensity and duration of exercise. Their knowledge is being applied to new situations and is not merely a regurgitation of facts. The students are supported with a list of the key terminology they must use, but not explanations of specific sporting situations.

A good example of a construct activity is the “artist easel”, a chunk of written information that the student has to interpret into a series of images. These images only have to mean something to the student and no one else, not even the teacher. The teacher will spend their time helping the learners understand the information, and student thinking and constructing meaning. The information that the students use as their “muse” can be easily differentiated for students of differing abilities so that access to relevant information is gained. This activity can then be turned into a resource for a student to refer to in the “demonstrate” section. The teacher can circulate the class asking questions to test understanding whilst covering up the writing, The type of question asked will determine whether the quality of the understanding is tested. A simple question like “what do you pictures mean?” will encourage regurgitation of the facts that you provided, where as a questions like “How does the plants trap the sunlight?”, ” What is the name of the reaction?” and “Why would two plants growing in the same field where one was shaded and the other grow different amounts of biomass?” These are questions that extend students thinking so that they have to apply their knowledge to a new situation to show that they understand. Again, these activities can be differentiated for students.

An exciting example from food technology involves the students constructing their understanding and applying their understanding in different lessons. In the first lesson the students make scones by differing recipes and methods for example more liquid or a lower cooking temperature. They then analyse these scones for appearance, texture, smell and taste, enabling them to understand the impact different cooking factors will have.In the next lesson the students apply this knowledge to design their own scones. This example clearly illustrates the difference between the two parts of Direct Instruction, firstly an opportunity to explore and develop new understanding and then a chance to apply this in a different situation not just regurgitating information, but application to create a real and tasty outcome!

To summarise it would be unreasonable to ask our students to show that they had learned something before they had a chance to think about it. The time to construct and organise knowledge is vital. If the teacher moves off to quickly all could be lost with no learning taking place. The demonstrate section, should be seen as fiercely independent and unlikely to repeat back what you tell it. It will however tell you when learning has happened or if it hasn't providing feedback that a teacher can use.