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Recently, I worked with Steve Hargadon of Classroom 2.0 at an educational conference in Jacksonville, Florida. Steve is a marvelous conversationalist and has fantastic stories to share.
In the car on the way to the conference, Steve and I were discussing the “institution” of school and the “system” of school. The largest part of our conversation centered around the fact that we have, collectively as a nation, created a massive operation for educating children that does not work. Students are not graduating with the skills they need to be successful in the world they are graduating into. No surprise to many of you reading this--it isn’t “new” news. We know it’s not working.
The “institution” is the bureaucratic, policy side of public education that demands that “each get some.” The “system” is the mechanism for delivering the “some” to all. The good ideas that created the system and thus the institution around it are lost in the shuffle. Doing what’s best for kids and doing what’s fair for all have each become a separate megalopolis each on a separate continent.
Education has become so institutionalized that the act of “doing” something equates to readiness for the next checked off item on the “to do” list of instructional practice. The ebb and flow of “doing” becomes the barometer for success as measured by standardized high stakes tests that, in one moment, assess a student’s ability to “do school,” measure a teacher’s effectiveness, and be a checks and balances sheet to maintain the system as directed by the institution.
Note that in the previous paragraph, the word “learning” was not used. In a Huffington Post article from last March, Connie Yowell describes education as what institutions do and learning as what people do. What’s happening, though, is the system and the institution are methodically destroying learning. I think it’s high time we refocus on the learner.
My friend and colleague Jennifer Borgioli recently wrote a piece for the Gotham Schools blog about standardized testing, in the wake of the recent Common Core aligned New York state tests. In the blog post, she describes learning as a construct. We can measure variables that indicate that learning is happening but cannot quantify the whole of what learning means. In Jen’s words, we can’t “pull out a child’s brain, slap it on a scale, and say, yup, they’ve learned this much.”
The system and the institution would have you believe that it is possible to well quantify the learning with one high-stakes assessment that serves as a good indicator of year to year growth, how well a teacher teaches, and whether or not the school as a whole is an effective system. The problem is with the variables. In science, we draw conclusions based on the experimentation of one variable at a time, a process approach that helps winnow the possible outcomes of comparative observation. In our current model, the system and the institution are on a multi-variable train that not only amounts to bad science but, in turn, leads to bad practices.
Case in point: A few weeks ago, students in New York State took the first version of the new Common Core aligned tests. They were asked questions that were more rigorous than ever before in an attempt to measure the learning of the Common Core standards. The stories that came out of the woodwork over the course of the week involved students walking out of the test, kids crying, kids unable to finish, kids just giving up, etc. The test was designed to measure the degree to which the students met the Common Core standards. The test does not allow for variations in home environment, parental support, socioeconomic status, etc., all of which are variables that are not necessarily considered as important but in the end, majorly affect the data collected. (Other variables here would also include teacher support, teacher training, schools as systems supporting the standards versus pocket buy-in, etc.)
The test was designed to evaluate the system and perpetuate the institution. The tests in other states that are being designed to evaluate the “learning” are all heading in the same direction.
Do we want our students ready for college and careers? Absolutely.
Do we want them ready to meet the challenges of the world they will graduate into? You betcha.
Do we need assessment? Of course.
Do we want them suffering through assessments that were designed with the institution/system rather than the child in mind? Not at all.
Steve and I discussed how the people with the best ideas are usually not the ones running the companies that develop and market and sell the product that the idea people generated. Wonderful ideas are snagged up by companies or companies are created around them. In order to sell to the masses you need a system set up for production and delivery. You also need an institution to maintain and advance the ideas, normalizing everything for the benefit of impacting the most people possible to increase the bottom line over time.
The problem though, lies in the fact that once the ideas/learning lose the focus of priority in favor of the system or the institution because of a mistaken belief that “some” of the original ideas are best for “most” in the system, the system falters. How well does that work when the institution or the system becomes the priority? You tell me: Polaroid. Enron. Commodore. Hollywood Video. Madoff Investment Securities. The list is long...
Assessment is not bad. In a previous blog post, I wrote about why in the world we would practice for a game we never played or rehearse for a performance we never give? I also don’t disagree with checks and balances in the system, but the system must have integrity. That integrity lies in the priority of keeping the learner at the center. That means that we must not only find ways to more rationally assess students without causing complete psychological breakdowns on test days but also that we address some of the other variables that the system and the institution keep in the periphery, primarily poverty and family/environmental support.
Hmmm. “Test days.” Now that I’ve said those words specifically, perhaps that’s the beginning of the new conversation. Instead of the grimness of the dark and scary hell week of assessments, perhaps we start looking at what can be embedded in instruction. Perhaps we look at leveraging opportunities for choice and differentiated products through performance tasks and problem-based scenarios that not only generate a product but also are a launching pad for the next learning moment. These aren’t new ideas. I’m not innovating here. I am talking about something though that is difficult for institutionalized implementation. It is difficult for systemic production and delivery. It’s expensive and messy and would involve much more local control.
We can send a man to the moon but we are still having trouble negotiating the creation of a better assessment of student learning? I wonder how many one size fits all, end of the year, high stakes assessments those NASA engineers took before they were finally ready to, according to the system and the institution, design and implement their ideas? I wonder if Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would have been comfortable putting their lives on the line for a bunch of scientists that did REALLY well on their one moment in time, end of year state tests?
There are no easy answers here, I know that. But I also know that there are still kids at the heart of all of this. The institution and the system need to refocus on that. We have an unbelievable challenge and a massive obligation to get this right.
Originally blogged on Smartblogs.com/education. Portions added.
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I love witnessing miraculous things and I love it even more when it’s kids performing the miracles.
I attended a conference last weekend called EdJEWcon in Jacksonville, Florida where I attended a “Speed Geeking” session designed and presented by 4th and 5th grade students. In the session, participants were engaged in a “Speed Dating” model but with technology. Each of the seven students prepared a five minute presentation around a technology they cared about and shared with the participants how it impacted their learning. Students shared a variety of technologies including blogging, iMovie, Frames, and more!
The whole model reminded me of a discussion I had several weeks ago at EdCamp Buffalo about student S.W.A.T. teams: Students Who Assist with Technology. These are students who help each other and their teachers learn new software and hardware tools.
This is EXACTLY the kind of student-centered authenticity that schools need more of! In fact, I would love to see much much more of this going on in schools, particularly in faculty meetings. This would be a fantastic use of faculty meeting time to not only introduce new tools but to add new tools to everybody’s toolboxes. This also invites students into design and instructional practice and gives them an opportunity to be valued as contributing members of the school.
I’ve talked with administrators all over about leveraging digital tools like Padlet or Today’s Meet or Google Docs to have “meetings without meetings.” Asynchronous, anytime available digital opportunities increase participation in discussions and ease the dissemination of information without having to sit through a meeting that was called for the sake of saying we had one.
Speed Geeking is a way to kick that up several notches and upgrade the WAY a faculty meeting is run. Imagine it: Student Led Faculty Meetings! #AwesomeAwesomeAwesome
I was so impressed with these students and was absolutely thrilled to be able to see them in action! Kudos to the 4th and 5th graders at Martin J. Gottlieb Day School!
Pictures from Jon Mitzmacher - @Jon_Mitzmacher
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Originally posted on Smartblogs/Education at: http://smartblogs.com/education/2013/05/08/speed-geek-your-faculty-meetings/
It’s Teacher Appreciation Week this week and I’d like to take the time to share some memories of teachers who have impacted me over the years.
We’ve all heard Herbert Hoover’s most famous quote, “Children are our most valuable natural resource.” I agree wholeheartedly and would like to add that teachers are second only to those children as one of our most valuable natural resources.
The teacher is the common denominator, the roots of all successes. Teachers lay the foundations that students need to do whatever is in their reach, in their dreams, in their wildest imaginations. Teachers take seeds and help them grow. Teachers give their students wings to help them fly. Teachers unleash the power of the brain to do impossible and never thought of things.
It’s very difficult to quantify and qualify every little nuance of what makes an effective teacher. Sure, we can check off this or that, or look for evidence that suggests that they do effective work or better some or all of the time. What’s harder to measure, though, are the little details that are beyond the role of just teacher but that matter more than just delivery of content. I’m talking about caring. I’m talking about a deep interest in the lives of their children. I’m talking about taking on multiple roles such as parent, friend, confidant, playmate, role model, tour guide, nurse, coach, psychologist, clean up crew, chef, and constant imagineer.
At ASCD's 2013 Annual Conference, guest speaker Maya Angelou referred to teachers as “rainbows in her clouds.” Even when there may be storms brewing, there’s always a light. Ms. Angelou shared some of her rainbows, and I’d like to share some of mine here:
I remember specific details about being in first grade. Playing with the hermit crabs, washing my hair in the sink on picture day, and going into the private book nook to turn myself into the Incredible Hulk so that I could get all of my work done. Jill Roach, my first grade teacher took it all in stride, and still somehow managed to teach me to love reading. We used basal readers from a mid-70’s series with titles such as Galaxies, Secrets, and Tapestry. I was a voracious reader and Mrs. Roach gave me as much text as I was willing to consume. Later, as a resource teacher, she taught me how to program a Texas Instruments computer and the perseverance and tenacity it took to turn three solid weeks of work into a color-changing, pixelated dancing man called Mr. Bojangles.
This love of reading was supported throughout Elementary school and in 6th grade, Ron Seabolt introduced me to The Trumpet of the Swan. He used to read to us every day after lunch and I remember this book specifically. I’ve read it dozens of times since then. Later, when I started teaching myself, I read this exact book to my own 6th graders who were in as much awe as I was, so many years ago. There was something so caring in Mr. Seabolt’s reading to us; something so kind and inviting. Reading to a child is the most wonderful thing in the world. It is a gift to all involved, both the reader and the listener. When I read to others and especially when I re-read The Trumpet of the Swan, I still think about Mr. Seabolt, perched on his bar stool, reading with careful pronunciation and multiple voices. It’s one of my favorite school memories.
In 1986, I was in Mr. Robert Shinn’s 9th grade history class watching, with my classmates, the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. We had been taking copious notes earlier and were relieved to get a little break to watch history unfold live. Mr. Shinn was a teacher’s teacher. He knew his content extremely well and his charge was to prepare us both for meeting the requirements of his class as well as being prepared for the world we would all be graduating into. His class was consistently rigorous and I was well prepared for everything that came after his class. When the space shuttle exploded in front of us, and we quickly realized that all aboard had died, Mr. Shinn turned quickly from his teacher role and into a parent. He walked to the television and turned it off. When he turned around, his eyes were red and he spoke softly, “That was the bravest thing I’ve ever had the honor to witness. This is a horrible tragedy for our country but it’s all going to be okay. We will all be okay.” While I’m paraphrasing, I was both comforted and haunted by his words. We sat in silence for awhile and he later added, “there was a teacher on board that shuttle. Her name was Christa McAuliffe. Don’t forget her name.” I haven’t.
Jim Rodgers and Bess Oxendine were my High School English teachers. I had each of them for two alternating years. These were the two smartest people I had ever met and were each on different ends of a continuum of eccentricity that I haven’t seen since and doubt I will ever see again. Mr. Rodgers was straight-laced and cultured and referred to us all as “scholars” where Mrs. Oxendine was kooky and humorous and had a very “campfire / kumbaya” approach to teaching. In each of their classes I came to love Shakespeare, Dr. Seuss, Eudora Welty, C.S. Lewis, Chaucer, William Faulkner, and Barbra Streisand. Well, maybe not so much love with Streisand, but definitely a firm like. I can still recite, from memory, the introduction to The Canterbury Tales and in my Southern accent it still sounds as tainted as ever. I remember specific moments in their classes where I felt smart and I remember enough details from that time that it still resonates and impacts my current professional practice. When my wife is irked that I make connections in popular culture or answer correctly all of the literary categories on “Jeopardy!” I remind her that it is because of Mr. Rodgers and Mrs. Oxendine. They are the reasons why I have a Master’s in English today.
Speaking of that English Master’s...one of my professors at Buffalo State College, Dr. Susan Leist, who I still keep in contact with, was definitely a bright spot in my higher education. Our relationship began with me seeing her only as a “Comma Nazi” and trying to avoid her ire at all costs. It turns out she was excellent at her craft. She asked good questions. She didn’t tell me “what” to do or even “why” I should do it, she simply offered opposing arguments and different perspectives. Through conversation, she helped me learn to think of both product, audience, and impact--skills that are essential in the 21st century. Her conversations and voice have morphed over the years into what I call my “Leist Filter” through which I look at every single thing I write; looking for alternative ways to say something important and absolutely making sure that every comma is needed or at least has a plausible reason for being in the neighborhood. I probably still overuse that particular punctuation mark but like good seasoning I believe you should pepper your work with as many opportunities to pause and reflect while both reading and writing. I know now that is a stylistic decision, and as an artist, it is within my creative boundaries to permit such behaviors.
I am where I am today because of the fabulous teachers I’ve had. They have been models and mentors who showed me divergent paths and taught me to be diligent and perseverent. They taught me to think and they gave me choices. They gave me roots and wings.
It is with deep appreciation and sincere gratitude that I say, simply, “Thank you.”
Thank you to my teachers and thank you to ALL teachers. You have the most unbelievable charge, especially in this day and age. Know that you are having an impact on your students both in learning and in their lives. Know that bureaucracies and politics and their related ilk are tidal. They ebb and flow with the times. Teachers are constants. Teachers always do what must be done. Teachers are heroes.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Full disclosure: I am a New York Network Team Representative that is charged with taking the message of NY State Ed back to my participating districts. I attend meetings in Albany several times a year and then share this information with the schools I work with and help them understand and implement all that is coming in the wake of Race to the Top.
I believe in helping teachers help students. I believe that students are the focus of everything I do. I believe that some of this initiative, including the new Standards, is working and is good but I also believe some of it is not. I believe that teachers are professionals that deserve better than they’ve been treated in the last couple of years (particularly in the media) and I believe that if we trust them with children, then we should trust them with how to instruct and assess those children as well. I believe in fairness and I believe in calling attention to inconsistencies, not for the sake of argument or anger, but for the sake of solving solvable problems and getting this right. I believe in our obligations to our children.
I also believe that NY State has an opportunity here to build a new bridge.
But first, a little background:
In August of 2011, I began attending the NY State Education Network Team Institutes--the first of many that I’ve attended where State Ed rolls out initiatives, resources, upcoming expectations, etc. At one of these meetings, I had the very good fortune of meeting Mr. Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, author of Driven By Data. Data Informed Inquiry models were to be part of our message that we took back to schools as schools were expected to form their own inquiry teams for the sake of letting the data guide instructional decisions. The assessments were meant to be more frequent and standards-based with a quick turnaround so that teachers could use the data and make necessary tweaks and improvements to the instructional program in the moment, rather than waiting until the end of the year to see if students “got it.”
The most important part of Santoyo’s message is transparency in the assessment. In order to do the deep analysis required, teachers must have the assessment in hand so that the skills that a student needs to answer the questions could be analyzed. Additionally, having the test in hand means that there are further opportunities for professional development around the structure of the test, the deconstruction of the questions for type and strategy, and the levels of cognition (Bloom’s, Webb’s, etc.) on the assessment and how those compare to the levels of cognition in instruction. Understanding by Design 101.
At these Network Team meetings, we spent HOURS understanding this methodology, preparing to turnkey it to our participating districts by exploring the models and creating our own data analysis spreadsheets and understanding protocols for data meetings. Throughout every single bit of this, we had the assessments in our hands. Again, let me say, WE. HAD. THE. ASSESSMENTS. IN. OUR. HANDS.
We taught our districts to do this exact same thing through their data meetings. Test in hand, begin analysis, use the observations to make changes in instruction to benefit students and their success.
This is not intended to give teachers ammunition for teaching TO the test, this is about understanding skills and strategies that enable students to be successful on assessments. This is not just about multiple choice either--it’s meant to analyze multiple types of assessments but to do so quickly so that students reap the benefits of deep understanding and teachers reap the benefits of planned student successes. This is an opportunity to leverage our professional development to do well what we were trained to do: TEACH.
Jump to now.
New York State just finished administering the first tests that are aligned with the Common Core. They were way more rigorous than previous assessments and both teachers and students struggled. Sometime over the summer, scores will be released, but the test will not.
The test will be embargoed and teachers will not be able to see it. State Ed Leadership will say that there are sufficient samples available online. They will say that there are curriculum modules to help with understanding skills and cognition to prepare for the assessments. They will say that it’s too time-consuming and expensive to share the tests as new ones will have to be developed.
They will also continue to promote Santoyo’s model on one hand, but deny teachers access to the central message of the model on the other hand. This is the inconsistency.
With all of the stress that teachers are under to both perform and be evaluated on that performance in ways they never have before, there needs to be some team-building going on, something that will bring everyone together for the sake of our students.
There is an opportunity here: Release the tests.
Teachers need an anchor right now, a shelter in the storm of changes. They need something concrete that will help them and their students be more successful and help them to feel that they have more control over the flawed teacher evaluation system currently in place. There are so many across the state just treading water and releasing the test would be a major lifeboat moment.
Many of the teachers I’ve talked with over the last couple of years of implementation will tell you that the Common Core Standards are not bad. They will tell you that with time and continued professional development that we can use those standards as a basis for modern learning practice and to prepare our kids to succeed in the world they will graduate into.
These teachers will tell you that data driven inquiry is important and that they agree that it is necessary. They will even tell you that they are fine with teacher evaluation and that, for the most part, there is a desire to improve professional practice and discover opportunities to do things better and implement new ideas.
They will also tell you that the current evaluation plan is inauthentic, inspiring a checklist of “to-dos” that meet the requirements of Race to the Top but do little to impact practice. They will tell you that a single test score has too many uncontrollable variables such as parent support, home environment, and poverty status to be a reliable measure for any part of a teacher’s evaluation. They will tell you that doing the same thing for all may be equal but it is not fair.
They will also tell you that it is difficult to prepare for an assessment when the potential exists for only a narrow secret set of assessed standards which in turn need broad preparation, leading to missed opportunities in instruction and inconsistent results.
Release the tests.
Teachers need to see that they are trusted and valued. They need to see that they are viewed as capable collaborators in this quest for college and career readiness. They need to see themselves as part of the whole team.
Release the tests.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000
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I’m working with a new group of collaborators who happen to be in the fourth and fifth grade.
Nine to eleven year olds from the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School (http://www.mjgds.org) are creating a book based on some kids’ poems I wrote decades ago and are illustrating them and publishing them and selling them and creating a marketing plan around our work. Eventually, they will use what they’ve created as a fundraiser for their school.
These students are participating in a new form of learning that involves a mentoring relationship, new classroom roles, and embedded virtual learning. I’ve been able to Skype with them, email feedback about their work, and create additional learning “side trips” based on in the moment opportunities.
Their art teacher, Shana Gutterman- http://shoshysartroom.blogspot.com/, their classroom teacher, Stephanie Teitelbaum- http://teachblogandtweet.wordpress.com/, their Learning Coach, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano- http://langwitches.org/blog, and I virtually collaborated on the development of this project, via Skype, email, and Twitter. We came up with objectives and lesson activities and planned virtual sessions. We had a modern learning plan in place and launched our project with the intent of changing the level of engagement and learning with students.
Then, we discovered something. Something big.
Because of the depth of instruction and the built in time to negotiate new roles for the students and the upgrade of seeing themselves as collaborators rather than passive learners, we struck oil! Silver! Gold! Students began to self identify interests that were related to their planned learning and lead us down paths of unplanned learning that enriched the designed project.
While students were working on designing pictures to accompany poems in a book for multiple audiences, they also opened up cans of worms that were unforeseen in the curriculum design. These were some of the “teachable moments” or “side trips” that came out of our collaborative work:
Students learned new contextually specific vocabulary words such as emphatic, explicitly, iteration, synesthesia, and negative space.
Students were invited to investigate the meaning of “chiaroscuro” as it related to contrasting elements in their illustrations.
Beyond the chiaroscuro investigation, they were invited to read a book, The Tale of Despereaux, which explores chiaroscuro as a metaphor for the characters and action.
Students were asked to investigate and learn about Grandma Moses and art techniques that involved the layering of backgrounds and foreground elements in a painting.
Students learned about warm and cool feedback and improvement for the sake of the team versus just getting good grades.
They learned to articulate the reasoning behind the “why” of what they were doing and to be as specific as possible in deciding why their illustrations were a good fit for the poem’s text. They did this both with me and their peers, which I personally think is hugely significant. Once again: their peers helped to inform their improvements.
They became open to suggestions that were rooted in improvement versus identifying what was wrong with their work. This positive take on “doing what’s best for the intended audience” was a huge shift in meaning making.
They learned that its okay to explore different interest areas that were outside of the intended learning, particularly with one student that wanted to create his own comic books. We were able to have a conversation about the usage of Comic Life on the iPad to start designing his own graphic novels.
They learned to respond to different types of feedback from their formal teacher, their virtual collaborator, and their peers as they shaped their work.
I would also like to add that the students referred to me as their collaborator; that the work we were doing was OUR work. I loved that. I also loved that their classroom roles included roles like “Skype coordinator,” “Twitter Expert,” and “Illustrative Notes Expert.” So far beyond “Reader,” “Writer,” and “Notetaker.”
Authentic learning experiences that ask students to be part of the instructional design process AND the product are critical in the modern learning classroom. Student-centered work becomes student-owned learning even if teachers maintain an instructional anchor. In this case, the anchor was the product: the book. Everyone is contributing to it, though in multiple ways and with multiple extensions around their individual learning.
I should also mention that this project, because of the level of collaboration between teachers and students, was not a neatly contained event. It took some time to develop, to interact, to collaborate both virtually and in person, and even after these several weeks, the students are just now gearing up to start working on the marketing plan. As teachers, we had to find a new common ground of comfort when balancing the time it takes to do something like this with the deep learning that was possible.
Also, if you’d like to look at the project from several points of view--there’s a lot of blogging going on around it:
Learning in the Modern Classroom - by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano
And my favorite on vocabulary: Wacky Wacky Words!
Needless to say--but I’m REALLY proud of my collaborators! I will be presenting with them at EdJEWcon in Jacksonville, Florida in a couple of weeks. I couldn’t be more excited to finally meet them in person and see our finished product! I’d also like to say Thank You to Shana, Stephanie, and Silvia for all of the great professional collaboration.
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With state assessments in multiple states coming up soon, I thought I'd share some resources about assessments and test anxiety and opting out and those things related to assessments that have been in the news recently.
This blog post is meant to briefly address the recent “opt-out” concerns and provide resources so that the reader can make informed decisions. Some of the resources that I am sharing here will be easy to nitpick apart and cull details from that may seem inflammatory when pulled out of context and remixed and redistributed. I encourage any of you reading this to read closely what the text says explicitly, paying attention to words like “may” and “might” and “could.” These words are modal words of variability and as such, should be read with a menu of potential implications in mind--not a set in stone either/or scenario that the media tends to latch onto.
The major issue here is not really too much testing, it is academic integrity. That integrity extends over the whole of our educational system and has been in place ever since the notion of school was conceived. Teaching and learning without assessment is like preparing for a performance you never give. Like a book never published, like practicing on a field for a game never played. Integrity is disrupted when we only accomplish part of this process--education must be directed to its designed checkpoints--the assessments.
Students need opportunities to show what they know. The media and all others who are against the high stakes testing are really fighting the wrong battle. The “high stakes” part are labels attached to assessments recently and represent the usage of the data from the assessment to figure into student promotion, teacher evaluation, Title 1 funding, school effectiveness, etc. Those are external issues applied to assessments that have been in place for decades. These external issues are passed down to teachers and students which is what is causing the stress--not the assessment itself.
Additionally, because of the “high stakes” label, schools and teachers are participating in associated behaviors that represent what we should really be “opting out” of. Those behaviors include: test prep for weeks on end, multiple practice tests, teaching TO the test, traditional teaching throughout the school year and then a mad rush just before the assessment, negative assessment talk, misalignment in the rigor of instruction not matching the rigor of the assessment, misinforming or not informing parents about changes in standards and assessment in a timely manner and more. We maintain the “high stakes” label with all of these associated behaviors.
Last year, I wrote a blog post entitled “Ditch Test Prep.” Click the link and you can read what I wrote, but I encourage you to read the comments as well. All blog posts are invitations to conversations, not one-off publishing moments. The conversation in this particular blog post helped me shape my thinking around being what my colleague Jen Borgioli calls being “test-wise.”
In an effort to be more “test-wise,” I’d like to share the following resources:
Jen Borgioli’s Test Prep without Corruption Video Series on YouTube.
The actual document from the New York State Association of School Attorney’s about opting out.
My resources on Test Taking Skills (caveat: I used this stuff years ago and it has not been recently updated, but it represents perhaps a few different ways to approach embedding "test-wiseness.")
Please, continue to advocate for kids and their learning. Continue to do what you think is right for your children. But, be informed. Know what the real issues are. (For instance, I didn’t mention anything here about students being “overtested,” which the media would have you believe. If you think that, have you actually been in the schools looking at the way data is collected and used for instruction? If assessments are being done for the sake of “giving a test,” then perhaps the students are overtested. If the assessments are being used to shape instruction and give teachers an idea of the next instructional steps, then probably not.)
Our students need a chance to show what they know. We can talk about college and career readiness, we can talk about preparing kids for the world they will be graduating into, but I like to think about it like a ship we’re all on. Teachers are captains and the students are crew. If the students don’t ever get a chance to demonstrate the understanding of their learning, they will never be captains themselves. We need these assessments. We just don’t need all of the associated minutiae around them.
If you know of additional resources, please feel free to share them here!
Forging a new path is never easy, especially when the way is filled with so many barriers. Educators live and work in tumultuous times nowadays. Lawmakers with no educational backgrounds pass laws about teacher evaluations. Mass Media creates and disseminates propaganda crucifying the profession on a regular basis. Educational companies are chomping at the bit to buy and sell learning and effective teaching and new assessments.
You know what they all have in common? Every single person in every single role who makes a decision about what is best for schools and educators and children is in their position because of a teacher. A teacher is the common denominator of all professions.
Isn’t it mind-boggling to think that teachers are still willing to do what they do? I’m amazed at their tenacity, their ability to rise above on a consistent basis and to forge ahead in spite of the current indictable culture.
Alas, the road less traveled makes all the difference, right?
Enter EdCamp. From their website, EdCamps promote organic, participant-driven professional development for K-12 educators worldwide.
Politics and bureaucracies aside, I’m thrilled to see teachers taking matters into their own hands to continue to make a difference for the students they teach. This is the educational reform that matters. This is the opportunity to not only stay the course, but forge a new path that is ripe with possibilities and prospects for making a real difference.
Those that attend these events are who I call Guerilla Educators--Independent leaders with transform mindsets who act locally to benefit the entire educational system. It’s a grassroots level experience that creates connections, supports just in time learning, and exponentially expands the ethos of modern learning landscapes.
Interested in attending one of these awesome events? Check out the upcoming list of EdCamps--one may be close to you!
I will personally be attending EdCamp Buffalo next weekend at Canisius College. (on April 13) If you’re going to be in the area, come on over--the revolution needs you!
¡Vive la EdCamp!
One of my former student's parents contacted me recently to share my memories of him for a graduation scrapbook. I wanted to share with you what I wrote, as this was the last group of students I had before I left the classroom to do Professional Development full time (in 2008). I still get to interact with students, but I call it "Grandparent Teaching." I come in and do what I do and then I leave--it's not the same as having your own group of kids for the year and I miss being in the classroom full time.
The student to whom I am writing this is Matt--but the message is to all of my former students. I value every one of you and wish you the best that life has to offer!
My letter to Matt:
When you’re a teacher, you are tasked with not only teaching children something important, but also with developing a relationship that can be sustained for a year or sometimes, if you’re lucky, longer.
I’ve had the pleasure, over the course of my years in education, to teach a couple thousand kids. I remember every single one. Some stick out more than others, but all of them are locked in my brain and for at least a year—they were my children. I remember their interactions, their values, their humor, and their personalities. I remember their interests, their abilities, and their collective awesomeness.
In this age of social media, I’ve enjoyed my extension of interaction beyond the year I was granted as a teacher and being able to watch my students grow, and think, and react, and interact.
The year that I met Matt, and Libby, and Paige, and Maria, and more—was a year to be remembered. I remember trying to prepare a lesson, but always considering the 8 or 10 different ways it could potentially shift and trying to be ready for whatever happened. I had a group of thinkers that I had yet to encounter and they were all wired the same way—to question ANYTHING I came up with. I was in heaven as a teacher. I loved a challenge and I loved the multiple directions our classes always took. Sometimes, I knew the kids were just rolling with my ideas, and other times, I knew that they were really exploring new territory – learning beyond anything I could have really conceived but in the moment seemed absolutely perfect.
So, that said, my main memory of Matt specifically involves a teacher observation. Our assistant principal at the time really wanted to observe my teaching of the 6th grade students, which included Matt. They had been working on a project that involved their deconstruction and depiction of song lyrics and their visual representation in a digital presentation. The parameters of the project asked that students “teach” my class for ten minutes, but every single student taught an entire class period. Yes, each.
During the observation, the assistant principal was able to see the high caliber of the students’ projects as well as the questioning that followed, much of which was directed by the students. During the course of questioning and discussion, Matt raised his hand.
He asked, “Why do other teachers have us answer questions at the end of the chapters we read? Why can’t we do stuff like this all the time? It’s way more interesting.”
I was thrilled for a couple of reasons. He said this in front of an administrator during an observation and made me look awesome. But, deeper than that, he showed me that he had a keen interest in deep learning and sought to understand his world at a level beyond the prescribed zone. For a teacher, that is nirvana.
Later in the year, I tasked the students with creating their own “museum.” I asked them to create exhibits around areas of interest and wanted them to explore something that they were really interested in, that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to explore in school. Matt created an exhibit around astronomy and shared pictures that he and his dad took using their telescope. I was really impressed, as I shared an interest in Astronomy and was just in awe of their pictures.
That class of 2013, including Matt, is my last class to graduate from Starpoint Schools before I left the classroom. While I know I am doing good work now with teachers (and ultimately their students!) all over the country, I have VERY fond memories of my time with these specific kids. I love this opportunity to celebrate their passage into adulthood and feel so very lucky to have been part of their journeys.
To all of these students, these fabulous humans, especially Matt—I wish Godspeed. Go and grow and conquer—the world is yours! Be thinkers! Be givers! Be kind!
Be the change you wish to see in the world! Be the initiators and the trendsetters; be the caregivers and the change agents. Be friendly and be loving. Be questioners and be humble.
But beyond anything that you will eventually be, continue to be YOU.
You matter. Your contributions matter. You matter to others and every relationship and every interaction you have from now on will be predicated on the fact that you have gifts to offer others that they’ve never seen before.
So, be YOU. Be awesome.
And know that everyone whose life you’ve touched is cheering for you to succeed.
I’m grateful that I had my opportunity to have any sort of impact, Matt. I am grateful to you and your peers for having an impact on me.
Congratulations, Class of 2013.
I couldn’t be more proud.
“I’ve got two turntables and a microphone.”
I’m sure there are better examples of connecting multimedia in pop culture than this line from Beck’s song “Where It’s At” from 1995, but this lyric and the song title speak directly to my current upgrade idea.
I think in multimedia. I believe I always have. I suspect many of you do as well and certainly, your children and your students do. Our modern world is creating a new breed of student, all synesthetes, who learn best by involuntarily connecting words, pictures, moving images, and sounds.
In terms of modern learning opportunities and upgrades, I think Infographics are “Where It’s At.” Two turntables and a microphone, indeed, as well as a word processor and a camera and software to remix it all together.
They’ve been used in advertising and news media for decades and are starting to become a viable instructional strategy in classrooms around the world. The act of creating them addresses multiple standards and the finished product is a demonstration of integrated reading, writing, comparative analysis of text and more, all done in an illustrative and artfully designed way. The brain holds on to that. It’s mental glue.
In terms of the Common Core, creating Infographics of the content you are ALREADY teaching addresses the following specific standards:
If you’re looking for a quick upgrade, this is a good place to start! There are dozens of tools online that will help your students start visualizing their learning in new ways. Here are a few resources to add to your toolboxes:
By the way, in this day and age of modern learning, learning isn’t just about SHOWING what you’ve learned, it’s also about SHARING what you’ve learned. Encourage your students to use the Social Components of some of the Infographic websites. Encourage them to post to the Flickr Group. Encourage them to solicit feedback about their work and then encourage them to upgrade their work. This is AMPLIFIED learning. This is OUT LOUD learning.
This is WHERE IT’S AT!
Join Janet Hale and I as we discuss potential Upgrades at the ASCD Annual Conference this weekend. You can catch us here:
Upgrade Your Curriculum - Edge Group
Upgrade Your Curriculum Book - Now available in the ASCD bookstore
Also, if you just can't get the Beck song out of your head, and you've hummed it the entire time you've read this...here's the video:
In a recent MiddleWeb post, I blogged about digital tools that can help teachers align their instruction to the ELA Common Core standards. Now I’d like to do the same for Math.
As before, teachers want to make sure that the task is always the focus of lessons and units, not the tools. But we also know that with the right digital tools to help us, we can further engage our students around challenging content and deepen their learning experience.
In my new book with Janet Hale, Upgrade Your Curriculum, this is a persistent theme: Tools support the learning — they aren’t the purpose of the learning.Janet and I also advocate for
• upgrading curriculum one unit or even one lesson at a time;
• being considerate of the resources available;
• building on the new Common Core standards,
• collaborating with your colleagues.
We also concentrate heavily on our Transformation Matrix, which can help sustain a balance between learning and engagement. In a nutshell, the matrix encourages teachers to visualize a transformed curriculum where much of the teaching and learning is student-centered and thus student-owned.
The digital tools that I’m sharing here could be used on several levels in the math classroom. For one, they represent a moment-in-time assessment of student ownership. Because all of the tools are visual representations of learning, we can see a fairly clear picture of what a student can do with the knowledge/content.
These tools also offer an opportunity for engaging in specific literacy strategies around writing for new audiences and integrating domain-specific vocabulary into the literacy experience. While we may be specifically aligning to the CC Math Standards, we also need to integrate aspects of the ELA standards that help students comprehend our core content.
This integration helps students see relationships between what they are learning in multiple classes and helps contextualize learning moments, creating mental glue that holds on to that learning. This is a shift away from the traditional teaching and learning of isolated facts or processes — a much-needed shift that’s called for in the underlying Common Core principles.
A word of caution: These digital tools can also mask the learning that has occurred if we don’t stay on our teaching toes. Teachers have to be savvy about the ways in which the tools are being used. If students are just creating visualizations on the fly without (1) support for understanding the content well enough to dramatize it; (2) writing a script to go along with it, and (3) soliciting feedback from peers and their teacher before publishing it — then these tools aren’t being used in the most constructive way.
I’d like to think that any of these tools would be great as a formative assessment of learning and a student-created bank of resources for re-visiting the learning at a later time. Think of your own “Khan” style academy on your school’s website, where students share their learning with their classmates, the community, perhaps even the world!
Thanks up front to the teachers and students that shared their examples, particularly Ryan Graham, an 8th grade math teacher in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Please keep in mind that these are ALL middle school students, and all of the examples exemplify that age group. One in particular has a moment that other middle school students will find hilarious, and I suspect their teachers might laugh as well.
xTraNormal is a free web tool based on the premise that if you can type, you can make a movie. Students write out their scripts, use the web controls to manipulate characters and settings, and create a movie that talks, using the text (“script”) that they type in.
Both of the samples represented here are from 8th grade students working on Math Equations. In the videos, the characters suggest a particular way to solve an equation by isolating the variable. The students talk through it without showing the equation visually. While it seems that this is a very quick explanation for the amount of time invested in creating it, I’d like to remind you that this had to be articulated textually and the dialogue typed in before the video was made. That’s where the brain sweat appeared!
I’d also note that the student who added a humorous moment to his video did two important things. For one, he demonstrated a level of confidence and comfort with the material. Nothing says that learning happened louder than knowing the content so well you can laugh about it. The other thing this student did was create a mental “set point” for any other kid who watches it, even if the adults might roll their eyes a little. Kids will remember the funny moment as well as the content that was associated with it. Brain-based learning 101.
Prezi is a 21st Century presentation tool — something like a slideshow in the “Cloud.” It combines text and graphics in an innovative and easy-to-use interface that navigates through a presentation in a nonlinear and engaging way.
With xTraNormal, the literacy is in the background. We see the effect but not the cause. With Prezi, the literacy angle is front and center. Students write informatively to convey information about how to solve a multi-step equation. (Common Core writing standard #2) We get to see the learning that occurred and the explanation of the learning.
What better way to cement learning in a student’s brain than to have them teach it to someone? Prezi also allows embedding of YouTube videos (if that site is not blocked in your schools) which gives the students another opportunity, with a different type of media, to show what they know. Personally, I like multimedia approaches to learning and assessment.
Multi-Step Equations - Example 1
Multi-Step Equations - Example 2
Math Expressions - Example 3
Animoto is technically a slideshow type movie application. It uses still images, short videos, and text to convey a message in a “movie trailer” format that is visually spectacular. Students are using this tool in innovative ways to share the content they are learning as well as leveraging knowledge of other technology tools to make it work for them.
Both examples here are very quick and may potentially need to be paused so that the viewer has time to absorb what’s being shared. Additionally, both examples involved students who created images with an outside program, one being PowerPoint, saved as image files, and uploaded to the Animoto system.
Untitled Project – Tabb Middle
Animoto contains embedded images and opportunities to add text, but it’s not sophisticated enough to share all of the math formulas and explanations that the students wanted to share. This could potentially be a limitation, but the students found a way around it. Because they created their images in a different software program, the students had the opportunity to both textually and numerically represent their learning. This means that there is a dual layer of articulation here and pretty solid evidence that students are owning what is going on.
All of these tools allow students to both SHOW what they know and SHARE what they know. We change attention toward and engagement with the task, and the task’s associated elements, when we upgrade the potential audience. We also start to build in different types of motivation that lead to a better balance of engagement with and focus on learning.
iPad Math Apps: In the interest of adding additional tools to your toolboxes, I’d also like to share a Pinterest page that I created. It features Math Apps for digital devices, some of which are awesome for fluency exercises and others for the creation of fun instructional videos and other forms of engagement with math content that go above and beyond what students might traditionally experience.
I’ll be exploring more of these ideas with posts at my ASCD Edge blog as we lead up to the launch of our book in early March. If any readers would like to join Janet Hale and me in Chicago at the ASCD conference, we’ll be exploring what it means to Upgrade Your Curriculum in person. You can also use the Twitter Hashtag #UpgradeYC to interact online right now!
Upgrade Your Curriculum Book - Now available in the ASCD bookstore
Upgrade Your Curriculum - Edge Group
Without sounding like a lexiphanicist in this post, I’d like to share a blog I often read called “Letters of Note.” This blog collects interesting letters and correspondence. There are so many interesting offerings here and tonight I was reading a letter written by screenwriter Robert Pirosh in 1934 to all the directors and studio executives that he could think of while trying to get a new job.
The letter begins:
I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave "V" words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. (Read the rest of the letter here...)
I used the Lexile analyzer to get a preliminary lexile level (quantitative measure only) of this short note. Even with its powerful words, it topped out at 1150, a full 200 points below the top level for College and Career Readiness for students graduating 12th grade. But still, fat and buttery words make for a more complex and extremely interesting read.
I’ve previously written about vocabulary being one of the three most important things to consider when aligning curriculum to the new standards. It’s one of the major instructional shifts that the Common Core calls for. Within this shift, students are expected to use puissant and herculean words across all of the content areas. Likewise, teachers are expected to develop students’ ability to use and access words, be strategic about new vocabulary words, and work with words frequently.
Teaching unique terms in a specific way is probably the strongest action a teacher can take to ensure that students have the academic background knowledge they need to understand the content they will encounter in school. When all of the teachers in a school focus on the same academic vocabulary and are committed to specific strategies for teaching domain-specific vocabulary, then the school has a powerful comprehensive approach. I created a wiki a year or two ago called Innovativocab, where I save resources to share as I’m out and about in different districts. On the wiki, there are resources to support vocabulary instruction in multiple ways, from etymology to visualizations to games.
Building effective vocabulary with our students means that every teacher in every class is committed to engaging both academic and domain-specific words. Gone are the tedious and irksome days of assigning lists of words on Monday, writing the definition and then writing the words five times each, only to be tested on that list on Friday. That only teaches students that words are important for five days. Effective vocabulary instruction is prepared for, specifically engaged, and situational. Instruction around new words happens multiple times and focuses on fewer words, perhaps sesquipedalian, learned at a greater depth. Multiple exposure, visualizations, and discussions are the right ways to enhance academic success for all students.
Last week, I had a fabulous opportunity to Skype with some wonderful 4th and 5th graders at Martin J. Gottlieb Day School in Jacksonville, Florida. We were discussing writing and art and during the course of our conversation, I had the opportunity to introduce a couple of words that they didn’t previously know. At one point, I was asking the students to be emphatic and demonstrative when they write. The students didn’t know the word “emphatic” so we stopped, in the moment, to discuss it. We talked about the known word “emphasize” and how the new word is a version of the known word. Several students found online definitions which they were able to put into their own words and share with their classmates. We brought the conversation back to our task, using the word emphatic, knowing that the students understood and owned this word.
A couple of years ago, I blogged about these strategies related to specific vocabulary instruction, a la Bob Marzano’s Building Academic Vocabulary. I used the steps to engage my daughter, who was 4 at the time, around the ownership of the new word “nonconformity.” She had heard it in the “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” Christmas special. I videotaped part of our conversation which you can see here. Even now, two years later, if you ask her what “nonconformity” means, she’ll tell you, and she sometimes uses the word when explaining how things are different. Seriously.
Strategies work. Fat, buttery, glutinous strategies that enhance and support reading at higher levels and writing with salubrious words of power work.
By the way, Robert Pirosh got the job. In fact, he got three offers based only on his letter. College and career readiness isn’t a new thing we should start considering. It is the very real act of preparing kids for the world they are entering. Better vocabulary instruction is a prodigious first step.
*Note: the quantitative lexile measure of this blog post is 1210L.
@fisher1000 on Twitter
Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students coming soon from ASCD. Join our ASCD Edge Group to access the sneak preview!
Janet Hale and I got the Preview PDF of the new book today from ASCD. You can DOWNLOAD IT HERE. It will be publish in its entirety on March 5th and will be available at the Annual Conference in Chicago. Janet and I will be doing several sessions at the conference to support the major elements in the book.
Additionally, if you’d like to join the Upgrade Your Curriculum group on ASCD Edge, JUST CLICK HERE and then click JOIN.
All of the chapters (including the preview chapter!) include discussion questions that we will be discussing on ASCD Edge in the Discussion Forum. (Coming soon!) In the group, we will have conversations about bringing the major points in the book down to the classroom level and helping teachers create and share their own curriculum upgrades.
We are so looking forward to sharing all that Upgrade Your Curriculum means and can’t wait to start a global conversation and collaboration in collectively upgrading each other!
-Mike and Janet
While doing some work for an upcoming workshop on “Close Reading,” I was thinking about the balance between learning and engagement. Many of the “upgrades” I’ve seen lately do a fantastic job of upgrading the learning aspect but not so much the engagement part.
Students who are working in school only for the sake of learning may not be learning all that a teacher intends. They may simply be checking off what needs to be done in order to move on. Students who are engaged are learning at a sticky level, where ownership and attention are driving them toward maximum performance.
I decided to go digging into my own classroom archives (because it’s OKAY to upgrade from a known starting point!) and found a lesson I used to do with my science students around Bjork’s song, “Joga.” Bjork is an Icelandic singer and I chose the song because of the video I saw on MTV, back in the days when MTV showed music videos! The video is a combination of realistic and digitally manipulated/animated views of Iceland. Iceland sits on a divergent plate boundary and is subject to all kinds of tectonic activities.
My original lesson/learning moment involved a discussion of plate tectonics, Iceland, a viewing of the video, and then what I thought were Higher Level questions. Those questions, it turned out, were more holistic in nature and somewhat touchy-feely. They may have engaged at a creativity level but not necessarily at a learning level.
In our upcoming book, Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students (ASCD, March 2013), Janet Hale and I advocate for both learning AND engagement. I’ve written about this before and it is now a constant in my thought processes when I start tackling upgrades of any sort. For this particular upgrade, I’m looking for learning and engagement through the lenses of Curriculum Examinations and Higher-Order Thinking. Specifically, I’m looking to repurpose something I already had in my bag of tricks and kick it up ten notches in terms of what the Common Core is asking students to know and be able to do. I’m also kicking up the Higher-Order thinking skills and making the questions less about summary and blanket statements and more about text-dependence and metacognition.
In the Lesson Upgrade embedded below, you can see my original lesson ideas at the end of the document. There are links embedded in the Lesson Upgrade so that you have all the resources you need to do this in your classroom. I purchased the DVD of the Bjork video so that there would be no Youtube advertising and I could show it in High Definition. The Youtube link is included here, though.
I welcome your feedback. I know there are some issues already with the Text Complexity. I’m walking a fine line of justification here, because of the low lexile measure. I don’t know if it’s a function of the limited amount of text in the lyrics or the lack of high-octane words, but the addition of the visual, the implicit meanings, and the associated domain-specific vocabulary in a science discussion related to plate tectonics made me feel comfortable using this with 6th through 8th grade students.
Cure for the Common Core - eBook available now from Amazon
Mike on Twitter:@fisher1000
Janet on Twitter: @janet_hale
Janet’s New Common Core ELA Progressive Continuums Web App
Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students - coming in March 2013 from ASCD