Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What works in schools: Best Evidence Synthesis

Published waaaay back in 2003, the BES on Quality Teaching for Diverse Students remains a go-to document for effective pedagogy in the mixed-level classroom. Adrienne Alton-Lee and her team conducted a meta-study of research into what works in schools and their findings can be reduced down to: quality teaching makes the difference. Defining what constitutes 'quality teaching' takes up the remainder of the study. Read the 15 page executive summary for a cheat sheet on how super teachers are created.

These are her findings, in order of effect size:

1. Quality teaching is focused on raising student achievement (including social outcomes), and facilitates high standards of student outcomes for diverse learnersTeaching should be about learning and achievement. Set and maintain high expectations of what students are capable of.
2. Pedagogical practices enable classes and other learning groupings to work as caring, inclusive, and cohesive learning communitiesLearning is a social activity and we learn best when in a caring community. Communities give care and support to learners.
3. Effective links are created between school cultural contexts and other cultural contexts in which students are socialised to facilitate learningAcknowledge who students are and let them bring this to the classroom. Use it for learning.
4. Quality teaching is responsive to student learning processesKnow how learning occurs in the brain, but also know that every brain is different. Account for this.
5. Opportunity to learn is effective and sufficientGive learning time to occur. Use the students' timeframe, not yours.
6. Multiple task contexts support learning cyclesUse a range of different approaches and arrangements: theory & practical; abstract & real world; individual, group and whole class. 
7. Curriculum goals, resources including ICT usage, task design and teaching are effectively aligned Everything in the organisation should be geared towards giving teachers and students what they need to learn.
8. Pedagogy scaffolds and provides appropriate feedback on students' task engagementGive specific, effective, appropriate feedback that helps students to learn better.
9. Pedagogy promotes learning orientations, student self-regulation, metacognitive strategies and thoughtful student discourseTeaching should encourage students not only to learn, but to become better learners.
10. Teachers and students engage constructively in goal-oriented assessmentTeachers and students should all what is being assessed and how it will be assessed. Assessment should impact positively on student motivation.

The other fascinating (and scary) piece of information in the executive summary is this:
"Quality teaching is identified as a key influence on high quality outcomes for diverse students. The evidence reveals that up to 59% of variance in student performance is attributable to differences between teachers and classes, while up to almost 21%, but generally less, is attributable to school level variables."
In short, the difference between the most and least effective teacher in a school is far greater than the most and least effective schools. I say this is scary because it means that schools leaders are far, far more important than a Ministry of Education in having an impact on student achievement.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What works in schools: Classroom Instruction That Works

While this is not related to software specifically, I'm going to begin a series of blogs about effective pedagogy in schools.
I've revisited this book recently and it's still as good as I remember. Robert Marzano's meta-study of effective pedagogy pulls together research from over 100 studies and looks at the most effective way to raise understanding with students. If you've never read it, here's the spoiler. The most effective classroom strategies are (in order):

For those who need a little interpretation here. If you had two classes and continued as normal with one class (let's call it the 'control' class) and were to explicitly focus on teaching and reinforcing the skill of identifying similarities and differences with the other class, the second class would achieve at a level 1.61 standard deviations (or an average of 45%) above the control class. In short, if you're looking for a silver bullet and a magic wand rolled up in one, here it is. Add to that the compound effect of using more than one strategy at once and you've got a pretty effective intervention.
Dust off the Venn diagrams, the double bubble maps, the classification charts and get busy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Open Source Video Editing

This year promises to be a big year for open source video editors. For a long time open source video editing has been the poor cousin to graphic design's Gimp, Scribus and Inkscape, but that's about to change. Firstly Lightworks is currently available in beta for Windows with OSX and Linux versions coming soon:
"Lightworks is the fastest, most accessible and focused NLE in the industry, because it is based on the simple idea that the editor, not the computer industry, knows what’s best. The latest release of Lightworks is based on the cumulative knowledge from twenty years of top-flight editing.

At the same time,, the Ubuntu version of Novacut has just been released. The quantum leap that Novacut makes is that it offers realtime collaboration. This feature alone has the potential to completely change the way we think about editing. As Christie Strong says on the Novacut blog:
"Novacut is not just a video editor, it's a revolution. An open source, collaborative, cloud-enabled platform that is created by artists for artists. The ambitiousness of the project, the passion of it's team and their commitment to the filmmaking community inspires me. They are thinking about the entire pre- to post-production pipeline and designing tools that empower storytellers and support the creative process from the ground up. If this is the future of filmmaking, sign me up!"

In addition to these heavyweights, there are always the old faithfuls: Openshotvideo and PiTiVi

Sunday, June 10, 2012

OER: from left field to mainstream

I really enjoyed catching up with Derek Wenmoth over the weekend to work with some schools in Wellington, and while we sparked off each other in a number of areas, one of the threads we kept coming back to in our discussions was the potential of OERs: Open Education Resources. We use OERs a lot, mostly through Wikieducator, but we're always looking for ways to grow the community and expand the work we are doing. We have a Creative Commons policy at our school which means that every policy and teaching and learning resource our teachers produce is made available under a CC licence by default. Our staff and students build collaborative teaching and learning tutorials and resources online which can be used reciprocally by other students, classes and schools all over the world. When Derek blogged recently about OERs, he neatly captured some of the things I've been mulling over for a while:

"This is indeed the challenge – how we move from the peripheral interest in OERs, driven mostly by individual practitioners at the edges of their 'day jobs', to where there is wider acceptance and adoption of OERs as a core part of an institutional approach to the organisation and management of resources to support learning"

Open software behind open science

This article on Tech dirt (via Glyn Moody) has a good exploration of the importance of open source software to the open science movement:

"Although the traditional image of a science laboratory typically consists of a room full of test tubes or microscopes, the reality is that computers now play a central role there, just as they do for business and life in general.

Computers need software, and some of that software will be specially written or adapted from existing code to meet the particular needs of the scientists' work. This makes computer software a vital component of the scientific process. It also means that being able to check that code for errors is as important as being able to check the rest of the experiment's methodology. And yet very rarely can other scientists do that, because the code employed is not made available."