Schooling Magazine

No Shortcuts to Learning

By Mrsebiology @mrsebiology
On the list of classroom expectations hanging in the front of my room, this phrase appears:
"No shortcuts to learning."
What does that mean?  It means no copying from my mouth, the book, or the internet.  It means students must make their own meaning.  It means it will take multiple steps to actually master material.  
But above all it means that the process of learning takes more time and effort than students have been led to believe.  Rarely, in my opinion, does real learning come in blank-sized answers or a bubble on a multiple choice question.  It comes from analyzing where a student's learning is at and recognizing what steps need to come next in order to get to mastery.
And it comes from messing up, trying again, analyzing where the learning is at, and trying again.  That's the main thing I've been trying to get my Biology classes to see all year long.  And that's what we've been doing for the past two days.
We just started a unit on genetics, and we are currently working on the first group of objectives.  These objectives all deal with basic vocabulary and concepts that will keep coming back to haunt them throughout the entire unit, so it is imperative that students have a good grip on these objectives before proceeding with the goodness that is Punnet squares and pedigrees.  So here's how we proceeded with the learning:
1) Students were given a copy of the objectives and we reviewed what they could possibly look like at a level 9 (knowing it and owning it) on my scoring scale.  No instruction was given, just guesses from students were taken.  (Frankly, I am baffled by teachers who tell me they would never give their students the objectives ahead of time, insisting that giving them what they are supposed to learn is "going too easy" on the students.  How are they supposed to hit the target unless they know what the target is?)
2) Students did a vocabulary activityto get them acquainted with the tier 3 vocabulary words they would need to know.  Students looked up the words, copied definitions to get the copying out of their system, and then summarized them to convert them into their own understandings.  I also had them make some connections with other words on the list. 3. I reviewed the words with students using my individual whiteboards.  I asked them to draw pairs of words (rather than write the definitions) so I could see what understanding they had formed.  In the list presented above, the words naturally fall into pairs of related words.  After they showed me their whiteboards for each term, I reviewed those terms (along with sneakily answering some of the I can statements/objectives).  Students took notes while I was reviewing 
in a note sheet I made for them in Google Docs and pushed out to them in Google Classroom. 4. Using their notes, students were then given time to "congeal" all of the ideas and concepts reviewed into coherent answers to the I can statements.  They were instructed to answer them at a level 9 (showing me they knew and owned the information by creating their own understandings).  
5. They turned this note sheet in at the end of the period in Google Classroom, and I reviewed their answers to the I can statements.  I looked for what I call "common points of wrongness" so we could address these the next day.  I compiled the common points of wrongness into the activity below.  I wrote what they gave me as level 9 answers in the I can statement answer boxes, using those common points of wrongness to guide me. 6. I broke students up into groups and had them rate, fix, and share their fixes with the class.  We pointed out which fixes were truly a level 9 - and discussed why the answers in the activity above were most definitely NOT level 9 answers.  Students then fixed their understanding in their own note sheets (the same ones they filled out yesterday), which they turned again for me to review.
Sure, I could have just told them the answers to all those objectives and had students copy my words down in the boxes to memorize and repeat back to me on a test, but, to me, that's a shortcut to learning.  Real learning takes longer than that - longer than most curriculum maps and pacing guides allow for during a school year, unfortunately.
But we have to teach students what real learning looks like--and that they can't take shortcuts to get there.

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