You gave me a tremendous amount to think about and
I am so excited

Partnering Tips

Here, for your information and use, are all the 50+ “Partnering Tips” from my book Teaching Digital Natives–Partnering for Real Learning For more context on each, see the book.

Also see:
Practical Suggestions
High Leverage Activities
Ways to Use Technology Powerfully

 

Partnering Tip:

How to eliminate telling, or direct instruction, (and what to replace it with) is a great topic for you to discuss with your class, in a specific time that you set aside. Ask your class if they think you talk too much, or more than you need to. Then ask them for suggestions on how you could reduce the amount of time you tell. You will likely be surprised by their answers

Partnering Tip:

If the concept of a less-tightly-controlled class is a tough one for you, you might try it first with a single partnering project, first talking with your students to mutually set rules and parameters, and afterward assessing the results. You can then expand from there as you and the students become more comfortable with the process. As a group, you might decide, for example, that no permission from you is needed for students to use technology in the classroom or talk to each other when working in groups, but that non-work-related comments or disturbing the work of others is inappropriate and will cause a student to lose group or technology privileges.

Reserve some class time, such as a full day at the start of the semester or one period a month, for class discussions on pedagogy and methodology. Ask your students questions such as these: “What could we do to make your learning more challenging and interesting?” “What things relating to learning do you do well that you would like to do more of?” “What are some good experiences that you have had in other classes or with other teachers that you think we could use here?”

You may have to do this more than once (and actually put some of their suggestions into practice to let them know you are listening) before the ideas really start flowing. Making your students partners in the learning design process will pay off many times throughout the year.

Partnering Tip:

Reflect on the classes you taught recently. How much telling did you do? What percentage of the students do you think you reached? Could you have done less and still helped those students (or even more students) understand the material? How?

Partnering Tip:

Most teachers would be surprised if they found out how much telling they actually do. Ways to check this include videotaping your classes (on a regular basis so that you forget the camera is there and don’t “perform” for it) and having a student make an audio recording with an MP3 player or computer. As a follow-up, you and the students can analyze the recording to see how much telling is being done (including giving directions). Doing this over time will allow you and your students chart and follow your progress in doing less telling. Be sure to celebrate good results, particularly as test scores improve.

Partnering Tip:
To avoid losing time, have your class practice changing furniture configurations rapidly. Time the changes, and have students get it down to seconds, as racing crews do in pit stops.

Partnering Tip:

The best response from a teacher to a student who says, “I don’t know what to do,” is “I don’t either—check the . . . .” Students will soon learn to stop asking and find out for themselves.

Partnering Tip:

Sometimes, for certain topics, it makes sense to elicit some (or all) of the guiding questions from the students. You might ask them, for example, “What would the guiding questions be for studying someone’s life or for a historical issue such as women’s suffrage or civil rights?” Formulating the questions can sometimes be as valuable to students as answering them.

Partnering Tip:

The so-called “elevator presentation” (i.e., If you happen to find yourself in an elevator with an important person whom you want to influence or persuade, what would you say during the one-minute trip?) has become an important tool in business. It is worth limiting your student presentations to one minute (or two at most), which forces them to be concise, to the point, and persuasive. Presentations can be student- and teacher-rated for their effectiveness in meeting these criteria. In partnering, all student presentations should be recorded by students either in audio or preferably video, critiqued by students and the teacher, and saved for portfolios and evaluation.

Partnering Tip:

Some districts and organizations, as well a few states, have created elaborate partnering examples tied directly to state curricula. Ask your administrators if this is the case in your location.

Partnering Tip:

Check your state’s web site for partnering resources, such as pre-designed PBL examples tied to state standards. Contribute to these lists if you can.

Partnering Tip:

Discuss with your students the concept of verbs and nous. Be sure they understand the difference and where to put their focus (i.e., on the verbs).

Begin each year or semester by having students take an inventory of all the nouns that are available for their use (including hardware, software, Internet) in the classroom and in labs. You or they should then post that list (say, on a wall chart) for easy reference, adding more tools to the list as they become available. You and they can then list and discuss the various verbs for which each of the tools is helpful.

As students partner to answer your guiding questions, they should choose tools from the list to use, depending on the verb they are doing. Ensure that over the course of the semester or year, all students get to try all the tools.

Partnering Tip:

Take some class time to review with your students their roles and yours in this process. It will pay off in terms of clarity of purpose and, therefore, results.

Partnering Tip:

On the first day of class, when you introduce yourself to your class(es) and ask each student his or her name, also ask, individually, what each student is interested in and/or passionate about. Write this down, and take it seriously. It will enable you to design ways to reach each of these students through his or her passion and to cluster your students, at certain times, by their common interests. You can encourage those students who are not able to identify a passion to try out the different clusters as they seek their own interests.

Partnering Tip:

Keep a log (online or off) of student passions that you have come across and ideas for reaching students through those passions. Share these logs with your colleagues (e.g., through a wiki). Search the Internet for suggestions from others on how they have used student passions. Even a small group of teachers ought to be able to build up a pretty extensive list over time, but using the experience of the world is much better. Twitter is one good tool for this (see Chapter 7), and you should be on the lookout for others.

Partnering Tip:

Do you teach more than one section of a particular course? If so, make it a personal policy to never do the same thing in both and to ask students at the end of each class how you can improve it for the next group.

Make at least part of every class an experiment in teaching. Announce to your students that this is an experiment and you want their reactions to it. Afterward ask for honest feedback from your students about how the experiment went. Hearing “I hated it” should be just as valuable to you as hearing “I really liked it.” In the video game business, when play testers give feedback that something “sucked” (that’s a technical term in the game business), it is removed from the game immediately and for all time.

Partnering Tip:

Be sure to set up a way to receive direct feedback from students in the classroom. It can come via “temperature checks,” e-mail, texting, in-class polling, or even surveys if they are relatively frequent. Or you can leave a prepaid cell phone on your desk with this instruction: “Any thoughts you have on how we teach and learn in this topic/project/semester, just text them to this number.”

Do not wait until the end of the semester or year to solicit feedback. That will be useless for the students who are giving it. As a partnering teacher you need to continuously iterate and improve what you do, and real-time feedback is required for that.

Partnering Tip:

If you are particularly sensitive about student criticism, one good way to get constructive feedback is to say to your students, “I am going to teach this same thing to another group of students again (tomorrow, next semester, or next year). What would you recommend I do differently to make the lesson (or class, or unit) better for them?”

Partnering Tip:

If the coaching role—or any of the roles of the partnering teacher—is new to you, or is one in which you are not totally comfortable, you can first try on the role.

Begin by discussing specifically with your students what you are planning to do. Ask them if they will see you differently in the new role, and how you and they should partner. Ask what other coaching or guiding experiences they have they had, and what made those positive or negative? Ask how they can give you feedback and make the role work for them and for you. Then set up some specific times, days, or units to try it out. Be sure to debrief how it went, and do not get discouraged if it is not everything you hoped for, because you will iterate and make it better next time.

Partnering Tip:

Try to ask as many questions as possible where the response is not an immediate answer, but rather “That’s a good question!” (We often say that to students—think about what makes it true.)

Partnering Tip:

Reflect on the different roles for the teacher in partnering and how they interact. Do they ever conflict? Which role is most important to students’ success? Is there a different answer in the short term and the long term? How much of each role can be shared with students?

Partnering Tip:

Many students may not know, for example, that researcher is a real, professional job in the world. Bringing in a professional researcher, in person or online, to discuss his or her work would be really helpful to all partnering students. There are many professional researchers, from librarians, to journalists, to fact checkers, who can be brought in to talk to students. As you go through your teaching, collect questions that students might want to ask such a person.

Partnering Tip:

If there are particular types or pieces of technology that your students don’t know, or don’t understand at the level you think they should, consider having short class sessions during which those students who do know show those who don’t. Give these student teachers the responsibility to follow up until they can certify that every student is proficient.

Partnering Tip:

Consider having a class discussion, structured for whatever level you teach, on what constitutes good thinking. It can include questions like these: What makes some questions better than others? What is critical thinking? What is logic? What are inductive and deductive reasoning? Be sure to show students multiple examples of the type of thinking you expect from them, and then let them go out and find additional examples on their own.

Together you and your students can review a large number of examples, including both good and bad ones, and then students can decide which are the good ones and why. This can be followed up by students looking for and posting examples of both good and bad thinking on a regular basis.

Partnering Tip:

At the start of the year, discuss all these teacher and student roles with your students. See what they think of them. Ask them to reflect, as you did on your roles, on how their roles interact. Do they ever conflict? Which role or roles are most important to the students’ success? Does it depend on the student? On anything else? Is there a different answer in the short term and the long term? What suggestions do they have for doing this successfully?

Partnering Tip:

When you assign your students to do group or team work, have the groups or teams include members from outside your classroom, such as professionals, older people, even parents and grandparents. Making the outside person a team member sends a different signal to students than saying, “Go interview someone” (although interviewing real people can be useful as well). Encourage classroom team members to be creative about how the outside members are found and about their participation. Use whatever technology is available (e.g., Skype can be used on individual computers to talk to the outside team member, an electronic whiteboard or projector with Skype can be used to bring someone from the outside in as a presenter to the whole class). Do not limit what you do in this area because of what you perceive as a lack of technology. There are many ways to create these extended teams—be creative.

Partnering Tip:

It is best to address the issue of slacking in group work upfront, when a project is first assigned. Hold a class discussion in which you lay out the problem, solicit suggestions from your students (and provide your own), and agree as a class on certain structures and rules to make group work more successful.

Partnering Tip:

Be sure your classroom is set up in a way that you can easily (and literally) circle the chairs. It is an arrangement that gives everyone’s opinion equal value and that students consistently speak positively about. Set aside time periodically to ask students questions like these: Is what we do in class the best way for you to learn? What would you like to see more of? Less of? Does the class meet your expectations?

Partnering Tip:

Be sure to get as much technical assistance as you can from your students. Find out (by asking) who is the best at technology, and give them tasks to do. Trust them to do it right (lack of this trust is a huge complaint from students). Have those students meet with the tech assistants from other classes and with the tech coordinator if you have one. Then have them all meet with all the teachers to discuss what could be done to improve the use of technology in your school.

Partnering Tip:

Take the time to find out what your students’ parents do, to talk with community organizations and organizers, and, in general, to learn who knows who in your community. Find out who might be willing to visit your class or serve as an advisor to students with a particular passion. If you can, find a “passion-based” advisor for every student in your class. You and your students can find many e-mail addresses online, and you can “cold e-mail” various experts in what you teach, with a “Hi, I’m a teacher and could use your help . . . .” Many will respond.

Partnering Tip:

When planning, always think about what you can ask students, rather than what you can tell them. In fact, always consider how little telling you actually need to do in the class. Then cut that in half. And cut it some more. Try to be sure that any talking you do in the classroom is not telling, but rather asking and discussion. Your students and you will almost certainly be better off.

Partnering Tip:

Always spend a large part of your planning time on figuring out the big, overarching question and the detailed/incremental questions for each lesson. Write them down and hand them to students (and/or post them online). Ask students how they would like to answer them. If students say, “You tell us the answers,” ask them, “How would you get the answers if I weren’t here?” Then let them do that.

Partnering Tip:

Have each student keep a notebook area, blog, or other method of their choosing titled “Relating What I Am Learning To What I Like.” Be sure that students take a minute every day or two to fill this in. If they can’t think of anything, they should ask you or the class for help.

Partnering Tip:

Discuss with your students ways to increase their decision making as part of the partnering work they do. Groups or teams might use template software to test each other on their decision-making ability in whatever area they are studying.

Partnering Tip:

Try to hold discussions in a completely Socratic mode, with you and the students asking questions that get people to reflect on their own positions.

Partnering Tip:

If you do get 1:1 computers in your classroom, begin your work with them by holding a conversation with your class about using the computers. What are the responsibilities of each partner (i.e., you and the students) with regard to these tools? How can they best be used? How can abuse be minimized or prevented? Although it often goes against teacher or administrator instincts, students almost universally ask for fewer restrictions and more responsibility in this area.

Partnering Tip:

Hold a discussion with your students about whether and how they want to use their cell phones for learning. That discussion should include questions like these: How and when can we best use them? How will we prevent their use from becoming a distraction? What will we do about students who use their phones inappropriately? How will we deal with students who don’t have them?

If necessary, work with students to contrast legitimate student needs with outdated and fear-inspired school policies, and advocate for policy changes in your school. Doing this certainly qualifies as making learning real for students.

Partnering Tip:

If not all of your students have cell phones, I suggest looking at this positively, as a glass half full. The “glass half empty” way is to think, “Half my students don’t have a cell phone. I can’t use them.” The “glass half full” approach is to think, “Great! 100 percent of pairs of my students have a cell phone. Let’s go!”

Partnering Tip:

Ask your students if any of them play a game that relates to what you are learning. If the answer is yes, ask them to present it to the class, and integrate it into their learning.

Work with your students to invent a theoretical game that, if one were to beat it, would prove that a person had answered the guiding questions and/or learned the skills in question. To do this, ask questions such as these: “What decisions would the player have to make? What would the conditions for winning be?

Partnering Tip:

Review the list of nouns in the Chapter 7. Make a list of those that are unfamiliar to you, and then ask your students how many they are familiar with. Find out which of your students know a lot about technology, and then (1) use them as your own tutors and (2) pair them up (or put them in groups) with students who know less.

Partnering Tip:

Share this list of tools with your students. Discuss the list to both learn more about tools and to see which tools your students are interested in using. Decide which tools match best with the verbs students are using and practicing.

Ask your school’s tech coordinator about which licensed tools are available to your students, such as CAD, Intuition, Flash, and others.

Partnering Tip:

As you find out more and more about your students’ passions, also find out (by asking) what they like to create and have created in the past (much or most of this will have been done outside of school). Make and post a list of possible creations, that students can choose from or add to. Encourage students to try their hand at all of these over the course of the semester or year. To help the students who are unfamiliar with some of the tools learn, create teams combining experienced people with newbies.

Partnering Tip:

Ask yourself: What could my students create and share with the world that would enhance their learning? Now go ask your students the same question. Are there differences between their ideas and yours?  Encourage your students to create and share those things, and jointly review whatever feedback arrives.

Partnering Tip:
Why not have your students join a world conversation on some of the things you are studying? This involves collecting opinions from many different places, using the web, RSS, Google translation, and other tools, and then sharing student opinions in return, via a class blog or postings directly to the various sources. If security is an issue for some communications, secure sites such as ePals can be used.

Partnering Tip:
Ask yourself: Where could I give my students more choice in what they use, do, or study, and still achieve the learning I am looking for? Then ask your students the same thing. Implement the best ideas. Collect feedback on how they work. Share the best results.

Partnering Tip:

Try putting all of the slackers in your class into the same group for a particular time or project, challenging them to create, in their own way, “the best project the class has seen.” You may be quite surprised by the result (as other teachers who have done this have been).

Partnering Tip:

Have your students find out who the creative professionals are in your town, city, or neighborhood and among the parents of your student body. You or the students should ask those people if they will volunteer time to coach students (individually or in groups) who are doing creative projects in their field (which could be advertising, filmmaking, music production, broadcasting, game making, and even science or engineering.)

Consider hooking yourself and your students up with creative projects already out there, such as FIRST Robotics, humanoid robotics competitions, or Odyssey of the Mind.

Partnering Tip:

Before you introduce any technology into your classroom, either attempting to use it yourself (not recommended, as you know) or suggesting it for student use, talk it over with your students. Ask for their preferences and suggestions for whether and how it should be used, how they can use it, and what else they might like to see or have in order to enhance its effectiveness.

Partnering Tip:

Ask all of your students whether they prefer to cooperate or compete (or whether they like both) and under what conditions. Keep a record of the preferences of each student. Based on those preferences, create or suggest different types of tasks and tools for each of the groups to use. And balance the two by having teams that cooperate internally but compete externally.

Partnering Tip:

At the end of every class (or at least every couple of classes), iterate by asking your students, “How did our partnering go today? How could we make it better?” You can ask students to answer these questions either live, online, or on paper.

Follow up and act on as many of their suggestions as possible. (Of course, not all student suggestions will work, or work perfectly, but trying them at least lets students know that their ideas are listened to and not just rejected out of hand.)

Ask your students to keep their own partnering or learning journals as well. This will help them reflect and learn what works best for them.

Partnering Tip:

Make it a personal goal to share, via online video, at least one good idea a week or month with your colleagues.  If you can’t do this by yourself with your own cell phone or videocam (the Flip videocam is probably the easiest), ask your students for volunteer partners.

Partnering Tips:

  1. Talk with your students, as much and as often as possible, about their learning and about partnering. Take some time to explain what you are going to try to do and why. Get students’ reactions and suggestions. Ask for their help in the partnering process, and work with them to define their roles as well as yours.
  2. Find and consult with colleagues who teach in your subject and grade level who have tried this before and have been successful. You can often find these colleagues in your own school, but you can also find them through professional groups you belong to and online.
  3. Search the web for good examples of partnering. The best places to start are probably YouTube, SchoolTube, and TeacherTube. But Google and other search engines are good sources of information as well. You many need to use some of the “brand name” terms as search terms, i.e., “question-based learning,” “problem-based learning,” “inquiry-based learning,” “student-centered learning,” “challenge-based learning,” and “constructivism.”
  4. Pick a particular topic or lesson that you have to teach, and create a good set of guiding questions. The criterion for the questions is this: if a student can answer all of these, they have a sufficient understanding of the topic and should succeed on any test. While some of your questions may be factual, keep in mind that they are better when they are more open ended and idea based. For example, rather than asking, “In what year did Columbus first land in America?” you might ask, “Was Columbus the only one searching the world in the 15th century? Who else was searching? Why were they doing it? What did they find?”
  5. Reflect (preferably with your students) on what verbs (skills) you will want students to employ as part of their finding the answers to the guiding questions. How will you recommend they go about answering the questions?
  6. Think about the tools (nouns) associated with those verbs. How many of the tools do your students have access to?
  7. How will you have (or let) students share their answers with you and the class? What kinds of feedback, critiques, and discussions will you have?

 

Thinking about these things over and over, before and after your classes, and refining each future class based on what did and didn’t work in your context will, over time, provide all the practice you need to become expert at the partnering pedagogy.

Partnering Tip:

Whenever you attend a professional development conference (especially one that involves any kind of technology), try to bring a student with you—preferably the smartest kid you know. (It may be your own.) Having a student at your side gives you enormous opportunities to ask the student questions, let him or her help you, see his or her point of view, etc., giving you a perspective you wouldn’t have if you spent the time alone or only with your colleagues.

If you can’t do this in real time, try to do it virtually, staying in touch with an individual (or even a class) via various kinds of communication software. To find out how to do this, ask your students and your school’s tech coordinator. Those people can also help you capture what you learn at the conference on video, on a blog, or in other ways and later share it with your colleagues who did not attend and with your class for their suggestions.

Partnering Tip:

Think about in what situations evaluating students with their tools might be a good idea.  Ask you students about this.  Are they in favor of it?  How would they deal with the various issues that might arise?

What do you and your students think of “open phone tests?” (During one of my presentations a high school senior told me “Most of our tests already are open phone tests—you guys just don’t know it!”). Think of experiments you and your partnering students might do in this area. Try creating and giving an “open phone test” in each of your classes. Discuss the results with your students and then iterate to make it more effective.