Three questions that can make a difference in learning and understanding: What? Why? How?
To model, I will be using the questions to illustrate how they can be helpful not only in the classroom, but during PLC’s and other environments where we are seeking to learn or understand.
What: Name and describe strategy, content and/or focus for understanding
How: Clear and observable directions as to how the group will come to the understanding of “the what.” Preferably these directions are given verbally and also provided visually.
Without diving deep in the research in the interest of brevity, I will just list a few points that my own reading/research and experience has led me to believe..
- Having a clear target or a focus for learning increases the likelihood that learning occurs.
- Believing that the target or focus of learning is valuable increases motivation to learn, thus increases actual learning.
- Having a purposeful structure clearly outlined increases likelihood of learning.
In this section I would like to describe a few scenarios educators may use this structure to increase learning/understanding.
1.When teaching content
2. When introducing a learning Strategy
3. During a PLC
When teaching content to students we have all heard about the importance of writing our learning objective on the board which I write about in much more detail here: https://pcinstructionalcoach.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/learning-goals-are-foundation-for-success/. However, simply writing the objective on the board is not enough. We must get into the habit of referring to those objectives to make them meaningful. By answering What? Why? and How? and monitoring students to make sure they understand the answers to each question, we will increase the likelihood of students learning. It may look something like this:
What: “Today we are going to learn how to write a clear and concise thesis statements”
Why: “Writing great thesis statements will help in multiple subject areas for the rest of your academic life. Writing can be used as a tool in school, the workplace or life to share ideas, persuade others, share something you learned, entertain, report something that has happened. An effective thesis statement is crucial when communicating any important idea to any audience.”
How: “You will be given several short paragraphs to read where you will be asked to identify the thesis statement in each. When finished you will debrief with a partner and check your answers. Then from the list of 10 topics, choose 5 and draft your own thesis statements. Finally, write a short paragraph describing what the function of a thesis statement is.”
When using learning strategies as a means of teaching content, we can follow the same process. For example, our objective might be for them to practice a skill they have just learned about. Rather than giving them a worksheet and telling them to “work together if you want” you decide to use a strategy called Pair Coaching. Before explaining the directions you want the students to feel that the strategy is worth their time, so you explain why you are using that strategy. It may sound something like this.
What: “Today we are going to practice ______ by using a strategy called Coaching Pairs”
Why: “We are going to do it this way because by coaching each other you will not only practice the skill, but you will also be on the lookout for errors and misconceptions. You will also have opportunities to hear how your partner understands the concepts which may increase your own learning.
How: “Partner A will be the coach for all even problems/questions wile Partner B will coach for each odd question. When coaching you cannot write only talk your partner through the problem. Partner that is being coached you are only allowed to ask questions – not give answers.”
The three questions can also help to focus a PLC meeting. Sometime we may arrive at the meeting with the “What” in mind and nothing seems to get accomplished. So prior to meeting it would be beneficial to determine some potential areas to focus on (test results, pacing, teaching strategies, curriculum decisions,…) Then spending some time talking about why that topic is important. this one would be easy to skip, but if you really take the time to explore why these issues are important than the rest of the meeting has a chance of being more productive and rewarding. Finally, outlining a purposeful structure of how you are going to proceed to either learn/understand something or make a decision. Below I will outline a possible example.
What: Compare Item Analysis Report of a common assessment
Why: By comparing an item analysis report with members of your PLC you may find patterns that will help you identify misconceptions of students, determine which teaching strategies were effective or not effective, provide a more focused direction when determining the best remediation methods.
How: Each member of the PLC brings their own individual Item analysis report to the meeting. Prior to the meeting, each member studies their report and uses the data to attempt to determine any patterns, obvious misconceptions, their own strengths and weaknesses, and any other bit of information that may be useful. From their each group member takes turns sharing their notes with no interruptions from other group members. When finished one group member summarizes any common patterns found that need to be addressed. From that point once a shared understanding of the data has been established the group can enter into a discussion in order to decide what to do based on that shared understanding.
Please comment and share your thoughts below. If you have examples of how you already do this in your classroom, PLC, with athletic team or other organization please share!