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Teaching Strategy: Start Strong! Captivate Students on Day One

Imagine you are a high school junior the morning of your first day at your new career tech center. Maybe you’ve enrolled in a half-day automotive, culinary, computer programming or health careers program. What do you envision? How do you hope the day will go? Do you hope to learn differently than you did in your traditional high school?

If you’re like many students, the answer is a resounding “YES!” You anticipate getting your hands on tools, moving among peers in a lab, and listening to an instructor’s experiences from the field. You are ready to have a new instructor who will fuel your excitement to begin a career and technical education (CTE) experience.

However, a basic principle of psychology could disrupt your plans. All human beings assess and understand new people and new situations by fitting them into mental schemas — existing frameworks created by past experiences with similar people and situations. And the schemas in our brains play a role in releasing dopamine. Novelty brings a dopamine reward to the brain.

Imagine you’re that student, walking into your new classroom, excited for a change, only to discover it fits your existing schema for traditional classroom learning. Your brain misses out on dopamine, and your anticipation quickly dissipates. It’s your first day in what you expected to be a brand new kind of school, yet already there is more of the same.

A First Day Re-imagined

Our staff decided last year that we would all design a day one that would not disappoint these energized students.

No classroom had columns and rows. No students were immediately given rules and procedures. What they were given was a challenge! Not all teachers gave the same challenge — but they all led some cooperative and competitive challenge that demonstrated a new type of expectations. The intended message to students was, they would be asked to process together, to make decisions, practice leadership, and frequently provide feedback to one another.

A student walked into a computer repair classroom to begin her IT pathway. The classroom featured tables in a U shape in the center of the room. Across each of the tables was an organized computer repair station with broken computers and numerous parts spread about. The student and her classmates were greeted by the teacher and were told to have a seat at any station with a partner. They were presented with a simple assignment: “Using any resources at your disposal and one student partner, reassemble the computer in under 40 minutes. Go!”

On the other side of campus, construction students walked in to find piles of newspapers and duct tape. Their task was to build the tallest freestanding tower in 30 minutes, using nothing but those two supplies.

In the cosmetology and culinary classes, however, the excitement rose to a whole new level. Students in these classrooms found stations of stacked solo cups with a strange looking tool attached. The tool was made of a standard rubber band with four, two-feet long pieces of yarn attached. The challenge here was to build a tower where six cups made the base, followed by a row of five, four, three, two and one on top. The catch was that they could ONLY touch the yarn.

The Strategy in Action: Build a cup tower!

How it Works

  1. Set out a stack of 21 plastic cups on each table designed to fit four students. A rubber band should be secured to the bottom of the top cup. Attach four, two-feet lengths of yarn to the rubber band spaced equally apart.
  2. Clear the table of anything except the cups.
  3. Explain to the teams that the objective is to build a tower where the base is six cups long, and continue to build until they place one cup at the top of the tower. Students are not to touch anything but the yarn. Even if the cups fall to the floor — which can easily happen! The objective is of course to be the first team to complete their tower successfully.
  4. Let the games begin! Facilitate the room, making your observations and enjoy learning about your new students and how they interact with one another.

Final Thoughts

This “start strong” approach stretches students’ imaginations and expectations. It brings the lab’s free movement, shared processing, student agency and relevance right into the classroom and helps students practice the kinds of collaborative skills they’ll be honing all year. The challenge involves critical thinking, adaptability, innovation, even literacy, all without seeming like “school work.”

The real beauty to this is also what it affords teachers. Within the very first hour of the new school year, teachers can observe students in a charged environment. They can quickly assess who are the natural leaders, who are the loquacious kids, who are quiet, who frustrates easily, and who loves a good challenge. Teachers can move right into conversations about learning in a CTE environment versus traditional schools. Teachers can also segue right into their expectations for collaborating, critical thinking, oral communication, and learning to adapt to new situations.

Sandra Adams is a teacher and instructional coach with the Career Academy, Fort Wayne Community Schools. She co-wrote the ACTE-supported book But I’m NOT a Reading Teacher!: Literacy Strategies for Career and Technical Educators with Gwendolyn Leininger. Contact her to learn how you can implement theses certification test prep and other innovative teaching strategies in your CTE classroom.

The Peer Video Critique strategy engages students in active learning and metacognition.

Teaching Strategy: Peer Video Critique

“I wish students would give each other valuable feedback about what they are learning.”

If that sounds familiar, you might want to try this strategy.

The gap in reading skill levels is an issue nearly every CTE teacher faces. Walk into any given classroom, in any given program area, and it is likely you will find students whose ability levels vary between the seventh and 12th grade. CTE teachers must structure learning so that all students can learn equally, despite these differences. Fortunately, technical vocabulary presents a viable solution. When low-level readers and struggling learners focus on building expertise with technical vocabulary, they are able to close achievement gaps and pass certification exams.

The Catch

There’s a catch, and one in complete sync with the popular learning retention theory. Technical vocabulary terms are likely to be forgotten when the information is received via auditory and passive means (A. Raymond, personal communication, Oct. 4, 2012). In contrast, when students are actively saying the terms in context repeatedly, they are deepening the neural connections and vastly increasing the chances that the terms will be retained.

A solution: Leverage peer feedback & embrace technology.

The Peer Video Critique strategy is leveraged to foster peer feedback between students while embracing their love of technology. When students create short video segments and critique them with a “critical friend,” they learn the art of descriptive and directive feedback. In most learning situations, students are given evaluative and corrective feedback. Both methods are end result-oriented. In contrast, however, descriptive and directive feedback teach students to be actionable. They learn to ask questions and discover the worker’s thought process rather than focusing on the work produced (William, 2011).

The Strategy in Action

How long will it take?

20–40 minutes, depending on the number of students and how many practice video sessions students need before mastering.

When should I use the Peer Video Critique teaching strategy?

  • During a unit of study, to reinforce technical vocabulary usage
  • When you need students to demonstrate a deeper understanding of processes and how concepts relate to one another

As demonstrated in the video above, the Peer Video Critique strategy provides an excellent platform for students to think critically. Encourage them to use if-then statements as they describe a process.

What’s the gist?

It’s an active learning strategy that allows Gen Z students to collaborate via video on iPads and/or iPhones.

How It Works

  1. Partner students and provide a device for each group.
  2. Provide students with simple written directions.
  3. Allow teams space in the lab to practice the process and revisit their notes as needed until they feel comfortable to begin recording. Some students will go through several practice rounds, and that’s okay! This allows the teacher to pause and work directly with struggling students to clarify misunderstandings.
  4. With two videos created per team, one per person, encourage them to watch, compare against the directions and critique each other. As students finish at different times, you can have completed teams work to provide feedback to other teams. In some cases, students will want to view one another’s videos — which can be a great way to facilitate class discussions.
  5. Once students each have developed a strong critique, videos are submitted to the teacher via email or uploading to a private classroom YouTube channel.

Example: Peer — Video Observations

Task: You will be working with a partner to explain the four furnace operations that we have learned. Each person will create one BEST video explanation with performance. Here is your list of objectives:

  1. You need to sound like a professional plumber/HVAC installer — not a DIYer.
  2. Name the four key parts of the furnace as you run through the process.
  3. Explain how each of the parts operates.
  4. When you talk about the process, use at least two if-then statements.
  5. Discuss why the order of operations is important.
  6. Follow and discuss PPE and safety practices.

Choose who goes first. Practice, and then create your video. Watch the video together to check-off the six points above. Redo the video until it is perfect. Switch roles… Repeat.

Final Thoughts

A few days following the activity shown, students were assessed on the content with an exit slip. Raymond (2012) would not be surprised to find that students had retained the information quite well. All students scored above 75 percent on this particular assessment. By incorporating video and descriptive feedback, the teacher was able to create a sense of urgency often missing in the classroom. The teacher created a learning environment where students engaged in both active learning and metacognition. As they perfected their videos, they reflected on what they did and did not know. The power of this lesson lies in the reflective, focused and shared thinking.

Sandra Adams is a teacher and instructional coach with the Career Academy, Fort Wayne Community Schools. She co-wrote the ACTE-supported book But I’m NOT a Reading Teacher!: Literacy Strategies for Career and Technical Educators with Gwendolyn Leininger. Contact her to learn how you can implement the Peer Video Critique and other innovative teaching strategies in your CTE classroom.

REFERENCES
William, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Teaching Strategy: The Carousel

“I wish all students would participate in the discussion.”

If that sounds familiar, you might want to try this strategy.

The ability to engage students with hands-on learning activities has long been a strong advantage for career and technical educators. However, the excitement that students experience in the lab often does not follow into classroom learning. When an instructor announces, “Let’s head back to the classroom.,” the response is an audible groan from students. Their bodies slump. The students find lab activities more engaging than classroom instruction.

To fix this problem, leverage lab attributes that create engagement to design classroom lesson plans. Consider how:

  • Labs allow every student to be actively engaged (equity)
  • Labs allow for students to openly discuss ideas as needed
  • Labs allow for freedom of movement
  • The teacher serves the role of facilitator
  • There is a de-emphasis on grades (learning for the sake of learning)

Equity, Engagement and Productive Talk

Emphasize the power of speaking and listening between students — what is known as productive talk. Productive talk is speaking that leads to learning. It happens during conversations in which students do most of the talking, while teachers guide them to listen to each other, explain their thinking, question and challenge each other’s ideas, and revise their own opinions based on input from others.

Productive Talk Improves Literacy

When people participate actively in conversation, their brains sync, mirroring and anticipating the neural activity of the others in the conversation (Stephens, Silbert and Hasson, 2010). Engaging in conversation as we learn, rather than simply listening to new information, helps make this neural activity more likely. As we learn, our brains forge and strengthen new pathways through which information can travel.

The Strategy in Action

How long will it take?

20-30 minutes, depending upon how long you want to debrief students.

When should I use the Carousel teaching strategy?

As a pre-assessment or a review game of a broad, multifaceted topic. When you need to get everyone involved, instead of hearing from the same few students each time.

What’s the gist?

An extended, active version of Think-Pair-Share, the Carousel gets everyone moving around the room to write and discuss various topics.

How It Works

  1. Post 4–5 large sheets of paper around the room, with plenty of space between them. On each paper, write a different question or statement that can elicit a broad range of responses.
  2. Divide your students into 4–5 teams, and give each team a different colored marker. Each group begins at one of the posted questions.
  3. Set a timer for two minutes (or another amount of time). Instruct students as follows: “When I say go, you will have two minutes as a group to write as many intelligent points as you can on your board. When I call time, every group will take their marker and rotate to the left, just like a carousel.”
  4. When groups rotate, instruct students to read through what the other group(s) wrote. If a student or group disagrees with something written previously, they are encouraged to draw a line through the statement and respond. After that, students begin to post their own additional thoughts.
  5. Continue rotating until all groups have responded to every question. Then facilitate a class discussion. All it takes to get great conversation going is a couple of lines drawn through comments of another color.

Students encouraged to respond and defend their own words are more invested than if they were just listening to the arguments of others. By responding first in a group with short, written statements, students feel safe to critique and defend their own ideas and are more likely to discuss their ideas aloud afterward.

Example Prompts from an Automotive Classroom

  1. List everything you can think of that relates to Geometry (This is to connect to prior knowledge and emphasize the role of geometry involved with upcoming content on suspension and brake systems.)
  2. List everything you can connect to the concept: alignment.
  3. List every detail you know about wheel bearings. (This serves as an excellent pre-assessment tool, to gauge student knowledge on this topic.)
  4. How many ways can we connect tires to brakes? (This serves to launch the new learning and gives the instructor time to use what students already have told him to lead the discussion.)

Final Thoughts

Productive talk will flourish when your classroom culture promotes learning for its own sake. Decades of research, from 1933 onward, have made it clear that grades are often problematic (Kohn, 2011). Reliance on grades reduces students’ interest in the material, the quality of their thinking, and their intrinsic drive to take intellectual risks (Kohn, 2011). Risk-averse learners “downshift” their brains into a kind of survival mode, looking for the right answer instead of seeking understanding.

People do better creative work and engage more readily in learning when they know that what they’re doing is relevant beyond a quantitative assessment. When we use external rewards to motivate others, we may unintentionally undermine their intrinsic motivation (Pink, 2011) and risk extinguishing their love of learning. Especially in career pathways work, it is important for students to internalize and embrace the intrinsic value of the learning that could become their lives’ work. A class discussion will be more dynamic and productive when students, freed from a preoccupation with their own achievement, can take interest in the topic itself.

Sandra Adams is a teacher and instructional coach with the Career Academy, Fort Wayne Community Schools. She co-wrote the ACTE-supported book But I’m NOT a Reading Teacher!: Literacy Strategies for Career and Technical Educators with Gwendolyn Leininger. Contact her to learn how you can implement the Carousel and other innovative teaching strategies in your CTE classroom.

For more from Adams, find her at ACTE’s CareerTech VISION next week where she will be on site to sign her book, But I’m NOT a Reading Teacher! Adams will also deliver two educational program sessions: “The Technology Integrated CTE Classroom: Embedding 7 Future Survival Skills” on Friday, Nov. 30 and “Creating Equitable Access to IT Courses” on Saturday, Dec. 1 during the STEM is CTE Symposium.

REFERENCES
Kohn, A. (2011). The case against grades. Retrieved from http://alfiekohn.org/article/case-grades/.
Pink, D.H. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
Stephens, G.J., Silber, L.J. & Hasson, U. (2010). Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pcm/articles/PMC2922522/.