Thursday, July 19, 2012

Total Participation Techniques

I once gave a workshop on checking for understanding where I asked, "What is the least effective way to check for understanding?" All the participants were able to answer with some version of, "Do you have any questions?" We have all asked this question even though we know it is ineffective and misleading. From there I proceeded to detail a couple of ways to check for understanding in a classroom, letting my participants practice as I went. Do they do it? Well, there was no administrative mandate to actually make any change to the way my staff operated, I was the only one on staff to have a variety of strategies and teacher were very stuck in their ways. You know the answer. I get to keep trying and promoting ideas.

Total Participation Techniques by Persida Himmele and William Himmele details all sorts of those methods for checking for understanding and maintaining engagement. In their easy to read book, they present the ideas with instructions for implementation. They highlight many examples of total participation techniques (TPT) from elementary, middle and college levels. Interestingly, there are no examples from high school, so I will not recommend this text to the teachers I work with. I will have to pull the examples out and present them independently.

One of the things that they suggest for all levels are tool kits of materials, including glue sticks, scissors, and markers.  Yes, high school kids like to do "crafty" things. In my room we often cut and paste as a matter of expediency. I would rather they spend time writing a response than rewriting a quote. I use lots of color. Kelly Gallagher, a high school English teacher and promoter of the Article of the Week idea, has his students use high lighters all the time. If tool kits are available, it is not an issue of do I have the supplies. It is a matter of can I think of a way to meaningfully increase engagement. One history teacher I have worked with is all about art projects. Often however they do not involve higher level thinking or even mass engagement since one member of a group can and often will do it all.

Hold ups of many varieties have been used for a long time. Holding up a card that has a True or False is easy. Cards with either pictures, words or initial letters could be used across all subject areas. In Social studies you could use executive, legislative or judicial branch; North or South; or Egyptian, Babylonian, or Sumerian Empires. In math you could use law of detachment, law of syllogism, De Morgan's law or the law of contrapositive as what goes next or formulas that could be used to solve a problem. In art you could have Monet or Degas examples. Science could have numbers 1-5 to use in balancing chemical equations or intrusive or extrusive rocks. English could use cards with figures of speech to identify elements in a poem or character names to illustrate who is being described. The possibilities are endless.

The other important aspect that the authors address is accountability. Students will bow out if given the chance. The teacher must wait until all students have weighed in. The teacher must circulate and provide reinforcement and encouragement as needed. Wrong answers must be treated as an important part of the journey of learning. Explaining the reasoning behind answers allows for access to a window of student thinking. Errors in logic or information can be addressed while learning and  creativity can be celebrated.

Research tells us that frequent checking for understanding significantly improves learning. We need to step up to the plate, utilize TPT's that increase our ability to check for understanding and implement programs of action for students who struggle. Without using some sort of check, our students will continue to fall through the cracks, fail to learn and not benefit from the education we are there to provide.

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