Schooling Magazine

Make Them Make Their Own Meaning

By Mrsebiology @mrsebiology
I wrote a post awhile back that urged teachers to make their students fix their broken knowledge after students have been made aware of what's broken (via feedback). But that comes after students have tried to make their own meaning.
But what does making meaning look like?
Most of my students think it means repeating back someone else's or my own words to me.  Unfortunately, that's what they've been taught learning is.  
It's time to teach them differently.  Why?  So they can do real learning instead of the fake stuff they've been practicing for about 9 years before they get to me.
I teach my students that learning can only take place when three things happen: writing, talking, and drawing.  While they certainly can write, talk, and draw by using someone else's words, I teach them to use their own words when we do these three things.  I've really been hitting these three things hard during our current Biology unit on DNA & protein synthesis, especially since this is typically a tougher unit for students, what with all of the biological goodness that is packed into the 
I can statements.  There are a LOT of processes that students have to know about (replication, transcription, translation), so I always start with a reading or a video about the process we are studying - and, while students are watching said video or reading said reading, they fill out a four-step summary sheet.
But just filling it out isn't good enough.  Just handing it in to me for me to score doesn't do any good.  This is their first attempt at making meaning, and it wouldn't be fair for me to give them a score on it.  What they have to do now is look at their initial attempt and try and make corrections....try and improve.  This runs counter to what students are taught - they are taught to complete tasks for the teacher, and once is good enough, reinforcing the "one and done" mentality I often see out of students.  But true learning doesn't happen like that - it's always a work in progress.  So we progress from filling out the summary sheet to talking with a partner.  Students talk to their partner about what they filled out, making any corrections that they and their partner deem necessary.  
And then, because I want them to get a good visualization of what happens in the process, I have them draw it.  They must draw it without the use of any notes, book, or internet.  

Picture Picture

Students then talk to each other about their drawings, with me roaming about the classroom listening, looking....and writing.  I'm using this opportunity as a formative assessment experience, where I can see what concepts students aren't getting (they still don't understand the role of tRNA in transcription, or what all those sites on the ribosome are for) and figure out how I can support them so they can understand that (making a manipulative model for them to do after doing some online interactives).  
Throwing students into the learning pool without a safety net (or even floaties!) is very uncomfortable for some of them.  They are used to being able to copy and revel in the comfort that they got the "right" answer from some outside source. But, in my classroom, the only "right" answer is the answer they came up with from their own brains, putting together all of the information they've seen and read about in order to articulate their own understandings.  
And, in order to get students to their own "right" answers, they have to stop copying and make their own meaning.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog