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“RISKY BUSINESS”

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I have been reading the 2013 “Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument” from the Danielson Project lately. Full of “education-ImageOUSDTeacherEvaluation-copyeze”, it is not easy stuff, in many ways. The Danielson Project upgrades and revises this 85-page publication periodically so that administrators and teachers clearly understand the changes and trends in evaluating teacher and student performance.

There are several key points in the latest revision:

1. Teachers must acquire new skills in order to teach deep conceptual understanding, argumentation, and logical reasoning.

2. Teachers must create a learning environment that builds a community of learners in which students assume greater responsibility for the success of the lesson.

3. Teachers must engage students, not with “busy work,” not with “being on task,” but through intellectual activity.

4. Teachers must locate instructional materials to support “new learning”, i.e. analysis, synthesis, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, and communication skills.

My argument is now, and has been for over 10 years that employing artifacts in your classroom ACCOMPLISHES ALL OF THESE requirements.

Presenting your students with an artifact and asking, “What is this and how is it important to us right here, right now?” immediately engages students in analysis, critical thinking and problem-solving. Students begin this kind of  lesson using higher-order thinkingguess the artifact objects 022
skills and move up the ladder of Bloom’s taxonomy in order to answer your question. When you place students in groups of two or more, both listening skills and positive argumentation are reinforced as students must persuade their peers that their analysis and decision-making has provided the best answer to your question.

Engaging students with artifacts is not “busy work,” it is intellectual exercise. If, however, you intervene in their process of analysis, synthesis and decision-making, it can become no more than “filling in the worksheet and handing it in.” Teachers must allow right wrongstudents to think through the problem and attempt to come up with the answer by applying proper analysis, logical thinking, and decision-making. What if they come up with the “wrong” answer? — Not really possible —. Their process can fail, and you can point out where they made a “left turn” in their analysis and decision-making, but an answer can’t be “wrong.” The last part of the question, “…how is it important to us right here, right now?” is an open-ended question. There are no “wrong” answers to open-ended questions. Engaging students with artifacts is intellectual exercise. Not engaging students intellectually is “risky business.”

Employing artifacts in your classroom helps you accomplish the first requirement – the acquisition of new skills to teach deep conceptual understanding, argumentation and logical thinking. As we have continually demonstrated, artifacts teach these skills naturally. Teaching with artifacts requires does require some adjustment in your teaching practice.  Firstly, you must ask the right questions and, then,  you must allow your students to discover the answers through hands-on analysis. This might be hard. Immediately, most teachers respond with, “I don’t want to turn control of my classroom over to my students.” The answer is that youconceptual understanding are not relinquishing control. I assure you that is truly “risky business.” It will surely get you fired. What you are doing is relinquishing the full responsibility for the learning incorporated into the lesson, and charging your students with that task. In order to accomplish that, you had better have the classroom management skills of a true professional. You will need to insure that procedures are followed, that  the opinions of others are respected, and that all voices are heard in the process. I really doubt that any of these are “new skills.” I would suggest that we remember the lessons of our student teaching experiences, and make better use of “proper questioning,” “wait time,” “discussion techniques,” and listening attentively. These are hardly “new skills,” but we might be rather rusty in their utilization. The time is now to make that change. Choosing not to change is “risky business.”

Lastly, teachers should locate instructional materials to support new learning. Most of us have not used artifacts in the classroom because it was risky. They were not available, they were too costly, or they were too fragile to last long in the hands of inquisitive students. Each of those problems has been solved in a new web-tool, Artifactsteach.com. At this site, you will find 3D images of artifacts that can be manipulated in a 360 degree plane. Further, the site gets you started with a set of standardized analysis ATquestions, provides suggestions for use in the classroom, and allows you to assign specific lessons to specific classes. You can create a lesson in less than 5 minutes that includes not only the artifact, but also context support documents consisting of background essays, and primary sources that demonstrate the use of the artifact or help explain its significance. Locating instructional materials for “new learning” has been made easy and comfortable. Teaching with artifacts is no longer “risky business.”

With new evaluation systems emerging that are based on a teacher’s ability to provide 21st century instruction that teaches students to think, solve problems, and communicate results, you are at great risk if you continue to be the “sage on the stage” while your students participate in passive learning. It is not teaching WITH artifacts that is risky;  it is teaching without artifacts that risks your future and that of your students. Teaching with artifacts is no longer “risky business.”

 

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