Best Teaching Practices Transform Blake Classrooms
New teaching methods, driven by a deeper understanding of learning and advancements in learning technologies, continue to transform our classrooms at all grade levels. Here is a sampling of some new methods currently being used in Blake classrooms:
Upper and Middle School faculty continue to create what are known as “blended courses.” Blended courses contain significant online components that allow for asynchronous learning in which students engage with the course material and their peers outside of class. Teachers use these online learning experiences primarily to replace or supplement more traditional (and sometimes less effective) homework assignments. Physics teachers, including Karen Phillips, Steve Kaback and Jeff Trinh, require students to complete their homework using MasteringPhysics, a learning analytics web-based software that can deliver, assess and provide intelligent, real-time feedback to students as they practice solving problems. Research has shown this type of real-time feedback is critical for learning. This method also frees up valuable class time for work that can only be completed in the classroom.
Another new approach, “flip teaching,” involves students watching video lectures as homework and then working on solving problems during class with support and coaching from their teachers. In some of our AP courses, students watch a lecture from open course materials available on the web from MIT or Stanford. They then use class time to discuss more difficult concepts or to work in groups to solve complex problems or perform experiments. Several Blake teachers have incorporated this type of teaching into several aspects of their courses.
Research has consistently shown that large gains in learning can occur if teachers implement effective formative assessments. AP statistics teacher Jonathan Osters employs this method to track what students do or do not understand while they are learning. Students use a tool called Jing to record how they solve a statistics problem using a piece of software called Fathom. While they construct a solution, the computer records their work and sends it electronically to Mr. Osters. Instead of seeing only the final solution, Mr. Osters can see how students obtained their answers and can create future lesson plans based on what he learns from this data.
Similar to formative assessments, teachers in the humanities use technology to help make student thinking more visible and give students a broader audience for their work. Examples include creating short films using iMovie to reinterpret a scene from Shakespeare's “Macbeth” or using a podcast to share a personal essay. Teachers and students are also more engaged in collaborative writing using Google Docs, which can accommodate simultaneous multiple editors.
As both teachers and students become more fluent with the laptop as a learning tool, we continue to see advances in learning across all disciplines. I recently watched as some of our Middle School physical education teachers showed students YouTube videos on a smart phone to illustrate, in slow motion, the specific skill they were teaching. Students in our language programs use their laptops to listen to correct pronunciations and share recordings of their own voices for feedback from the teacher. Our music teachers make use of software such as Finale Notepad and Audacity to create and share musical scores through the Blake’s course management system, Moodle.
Some of the most forward-thinking work going on at Blake this year is not directly tied to any particular technology or teaching method. Lower School Director Barry Wadsworth has teachers from each grade level jointly examining best practice research, planning a lesson, implementing the lesson, observing the lesson in each other’s classes, and then reflecting on the lesson and making modifications for the following year (before the details of implementation are lost). The entire process derives from a methodology called “lesson studies,” popular in Japanese schools. On the surface this method seems simple and obvious, but in our busy teaching lives, this type of careful, collaborative planning with time for reflective discussions is a rarity.
Teachers Make the Difference
There continues to be a central (although shifting) role for the teacher in transformed classrooms. Deep learning requires constant diagnosis and repeated interventions from those experienced enough to recognize where less experienced students’ thinking can go awry. Effective education is not simply about access to information, but requires expert teachers to frame questions and then help students to use information to successfully argue for or against differing ideas. In addition, with new tools students are becoming more and more engaged in framing their own questions with teachers serving as instructional provocateurs, prodding students into higher levels of thinking and pressing for more cogent and compelling arguments.
As both teachers and students become more facile with these new technologies, I have no doubt that new and creative teaching methods will continue to emerge each year. Although the ecosystem of education is changing, our core values — courage, respect, integrity, commitment to pluralism and love of learning — will continue to drive our decisions.