Creating a Culture of Collaborative Discourse

After watching Lucy West’s speech on creating a culture of collaboration,  I have decided to try these three things the next time I facilitate a lesson:

1. Don’t be satisfied with an answer just because it is correct. Always ask why and how they got to their answer. This may require a slow-down in the pacing of a discussion, which may be difficult for educators who feel pressed for time. Asking students to show their thinking provides the teacher with valuable insight. It also encourages the speaker to utilize metacognition to communicate understanding.

2. Students will often listen to the teacher and may not give credence to their peers. Facilitate rather than direct discussions where students will discuss the points that their peers make. Initially, this may require you as a teacher to repeat the comments of students due to the fact that peers may still be letting the teacher dominate the discussion out of habit. However, repeating what students say shows that their opinions matter. Over time, students will start to value the opinions of their peers and be compelled to directly respond to each other immediately rather than by mediation.

3. Be aware of group dynamics. Some students may dominate the discussion, while others may be deferential to others in order to avoid conflict. People who are used to individualistic work environments may not know how to work towards a common goal and may view school as a competition. Rather than refereeing a competitive arena where people may compromise just to appease the big players, work towards designing a collaborative environment where productive dissent is encouraged.

These are just a few ways to promote meaningful discussion, consolidation of ideas and critical thinking. What ways do you create a culture of collaboration in your classroom?

Assigning Homework that Builds on Ownership and Competence

In 2010, Cathy Vatterott identified five fundamental characteristics of good homework:

  • purpose
  • efficiency
  • ownership
  • competence
  • aesthetic appeal

I believe that Ownership and Competence are the two most important aspects of Vatterott’s fundamentals. With these fundamentals in mind, teachers should structure homework so that students can complete it with relatively high success rates (Protheroe, 2009).

Involving Students

In order to ensure that homework is interesting and not frustrating, teachers should avoid assigning it just for homework’s sake. Students should be involved in the process of deciding whether or not something is best done in or outside of class. This builds on their ownership of the homework.

Senior learners in particular can be released from class to complete homework in the library or other preferred learning environment. Providing this flexibility may increase the chance that students will appreciate the value of “homework” and associate it with a feeling of independent competence.

Parental Roles

Senior learners typically are trying to assert their independence at home. It would probably embarrass them to promote too much parental involvement in homework, but teachers can still cultivate a positive relationship between students and parents by keeping parents informed of their teen’s work habits. Teachers can also provide outlines of what is happening in class so that parents know what their students are learning.

For advanced mathematics courses, parents may not feel comfortable assisting their teen. Ensuring that the students are competent in their work prevents students from having to rely on parents for help. This level of competence keeps students interested in ownership of their work.

Selling the Benefits of Homework

This seems difficult in a time where high-achieving students are over-scheduled outside of school and under-achieving students often lack access to adequate resources or a stable learning environment outside of class. I believe that if teachers wish to get students to buy-in to homework, they have to keep these factors in mind.

Creating homework that requires little time to complete may be a good start. Asking students to observe and reflect on the happenings outside of school may increase the appeal of the homework. Effective homework does not always require the creation of a product. Perhaps daily discussions can incorporate observations from the previous day.

If homework can be done in class, students may resent it. However, if the “work” is created to promote learning in everyday life, students may view the homework as interesting and relevant.

What do you do to increase the effectiveness of homework? Please feel free to share your experiences.


Requirements for an Effective Flipped Classroom

When I was in teacher’s college, we were required to take a graduate level course called Action Research I during a four-month, full time teaching placement. It was an example of a Flipped Classroom; most of the time was spent outside of the classroom, but we still met on a regular basis.

The course required us to create a research proposal, but we were also teaching in a school at the time. Most of the course was done online but we were required to meet once per month on a weekend to discuss our work.

I liked the course design because it allowed us to focus on incorporating research into our practice.

For high school students, a flipped classroom could work but a few conditions would have to be met:

  1. All students would have to have access to internet-based technology away from school
  2. The students would have a consistent record of self-directed learning behaviour
  3. Attendance in the classroom would be essential for success in the course (participation grade)
  4. Office hours would be available for students who have questions
  5. The majority of students prefer this format over the traditional setup

If these conditions are met, then the flipped classroom is equitable and beneficial.

The best things to have students learn outside of the classroom are:

  • Observations from the home/community
  • Viewing/listening/reading supplementary materials
  • Online Discussions with peers
  • Online Quizzes
  • Document creation

What to include when students come to class:

  • Collaborative projects
  • Debates/discussions
  • Shared experiences
  • Performance tasks
  • Workshops/demonstrations
  • Peer Tutoring

I could imagine that senior students may feel relieved if their class time was cut in half or less. However, students would have to remain highly disciplined with their assignments, attendance and participation for the model to be effective.

Have you ever participated or facilitated a flipped classroom? Please let me know how it went.