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In the face of major societal and technological changes, all students need to be prepared with critical knowledge, skills, and attitudes and behaviors that allow for continued learning and growth beyond high school. In particular, they need to develop critical and creative thinking skills and the skills necessary for finding and processing huge amounts of information. Even with the Common Core standards, our current educational emphases aren’t adequately preparing most students for learning beyond high school – for college, career, military or other future endeavors.
While a critical knowledge base and positive attitudes and behaviors are important for future living, this commentary, along with others I have written in the past (see figure one, below) focuses on five skill sets students must develop if they are to adapt to
Previous ASCD Edge Commentaries about Five Skill Sets
Teaching the Right Skills For a New Age- Inquiry Based Instruction http://bit.ly/vVhpSQ
Seven Principles for Teaching the Right Skills for a New Age http://bit.ly/yLVZ0M
Using Inquiry-Research Projects to Teach the Right Skills for a New Age http://bit.ly/tU0RPR
Six ways to Build Greater Curiosity in Students http://bit.ly/TTKPqO
this new world and examines ten specific strategies to help students learn these skills. The five key skill sets that should be given a laser-like focus in order to prepare students for continuous learning in this new age are the following:
Building Curiosity (Asking Questions, Formulating Problems and Challenges)
In today’s rapidly changing world, curiosity – interest in and willingness to learn new things – is critically important. Most educators realize that the curiosity of young children seems to lessen as they go through school. Curiosity manifests itself through students demonstrating an interest in and a willingness to try new things and learn new ideas, ask questions, and pose and define problems and challenges.
Information and Data Literacy (Processing Information and Data).
New technologies that give us instantaneous access to huge amounts of information and data make information and data literacy skills imperative. Our students need to be able to use many approaches to search for (research) information and data effectively and efficiently, sort through large amounts to find the most useful and relevant, and determine the most reliable and valid information and data. Search engine results, gleaned in less than a second, require the ability to sort through, evaluate, read, and digest multiple information and data genres and formats.
Thoughtfulness (Thinking Deeply and Flexibly).
All students need to have the ability to think deeply and flexibly in today’s rapidly changing world, and be prepared to take their place as 21st century citizens. They need opportunities to compare and contrast, analyze and interpret, and develop unique relationships among information, data, and ideas. They need to be able to translate information into visual and quantitative data. They need to “think outside the box” and solve problems creatively.
Application (Drawing Conclusions, Applying Learning).
With so much information, the ability to “pull together” and synthesize information and ideas, form educated opinions backed by argument and evidence, solve complex problems, and determine ways to apply information and ideas to the “outside” world become critical. Summarizing, synthesizing, drawing conclusions, and applying learning to new, novel, and “authentic” situations are all critical for living in a 21st century world.
Communication (Communicating Effectively).
Effective communication in many forms is extremely important in a world of e-mail, twitter, Facebook, cellphones, Skype, and collaborative projects. Students need opportunities to practice communicating effectively through all types of writing, explaining ideas to others, diverse representations, effectively participating in discussions, and oral presentations.
Given the importance of these five skills sets, one would think that they would be front and center in our educational discussions. Unfortunately, in today’s educational climate, many of these take a back seat to a relatively small group of skills useful for doing well on standardized tests – namely, the ability to distinguish correct answers in multiple choice questions, to write short pieces coherently, or to state opinions and ideas with evidence from text (Common Core). So, in this commentary, I am suggesting ten simple and easy to use strategies – two for each skill set – that can make a big difference in the ability of students to learn and apply these skills.
Question Census. Ask students to brainstorm questions that they would like to explore for at least one unit of study. Together develop categories for the questions and then select questions or categories of questions that are the most challenging, interesting, or focused around big ideas. Use these questions to focus student learning and study the unit at hand.
Student developed challenges-problems. Find someplace in the curriculum where students can develop their own challenges or problems to give to others. Give students a chance to develop puzzles, games, historic or current challenges, math problems, or other challenges and problems, and then have them share these with the rest of the class and see if other students can solve the problems or challenges.
Information-Data Literacy –
Readings-Data search. Either as a homework or in-class assignment in a computer lab, ask students to find one or more readings or data sources that supplement current learning. Help students learn how to use search engines and find and use helpful search terms. Work with students to help them determine which sources of information and data are reliable, then how to read and interpret these meaningfully. If several readings or data sources are found, help students figure out ways to compare and contrast them and find the essential information, ideas, or data in each.
Close reading. The Common Core Reading Standards advocate that students do more of the work of reading and teachers do less. “Close reading” means that students read more deeply as part of their daily activities. Instead of teachers providing answers and “feeding” students, students are asked “text-dependent” questions. Text dependent questions force students to go to the text to give opinions and justify them through the text. Students are asked to “read like a detective”; to read text more than once; to analyze paragraphs sentence by sentence, to consider the nuances of a text, to analyze data sources. “Text” reading becomes much more significant as part of the learning process[i].
This type of reading should be encouraged, but takes time. If we are to foster information and data literacy, students, as often as possible, should be asked to do close reading.
Graphic organizers. Graphic organizers are a good way to promote deeper and more flexible thinking. Through a visual analysis, they help students take learning apart (analysis), organize information and data for decision-making, or weave a web of information and ideas. Use graphic organizers to help students extend and deepen student thinking[ii].
Brainstorming A brainstorming strategy is a good way to help students learn to “think outside the box”. Students are provided with an open-ended problem or challenge that has the potential to have many different types of solutions. They are asked to discover as many alternative ways to solve the problem as they can, and are given four rules around the acronym DOVE to help them with coming up with alternative possibilities: Defer Judgment, Offbeat Ideas encouraged, Vast number of ideas sought, Expand on other people’s ideas. Ask students to work in small groups to come up with as many ideas as they can, with one person acting as the recorder of all the ideas.
After the brainstorm, students share the ideas and make the list as long as possible. They may also be asked to indicate which five ideas are the most logical, the most unusual, the most interesting, and/or the best. Several ideas might be used to try to solve the problem and consider what would happen if the idea were put into practice.
3-2-1 Reflection. A 3-2-1 Reflection activity is often given at the end of a lesson or specific time period, such as a week, two weeks, or at the end of a unit. You can use this activity to ask students many different questions to discover what they learned and to uncover their thoughts about other aspects of the class: for example, to determine what main ideas students have learned, what questions they still have (good for stimulating curiosity), and what they most enjoyed.
A 3-2-1 activity that supports the development of the five skill sets might look like this: Ask students to write down 3 major ideas and-or principles that they learned, 2 conclusions that they can draw from the learning, and one way they can apply their learning to the outside world[iii].
No multiple-choice question test. For at least one time period, abandon the traditional multiple-choice short answer test for a test that requires students to draw conclusions about what they have learned and asks them to apply their learning to a new and novel situation. Performance tasks are good alternatives, as are long essay exams. Consider open book essay exam questions and essay exams where students take home three questions to prepare, and one or two of them are written as an in-class exam[iv].
Five minute explanations. For this activity, students are asked to explain a concept, big idea, understanding, or principle in their own words. They may do it in pairs, giving explanations to each other, or as a writing assignment, or as a presentation to the larger class. This activity may be completed after all or part of a lecture when a teacher has shared a new understanding and wants to determine if students understand what has been presented, or as a study activity at the end of a unit.
A corollary to this activity is that students use an active listening approach – as they work in pairs, one student provides an explanation and the other has to repeat the essence of the explanation in his or her own words. They then switch, and the other student provides an explanation while the first repeats the essence of it in his or her own words.
Persuasive arguments. In this activity, students are asked to create a persuasive argument in support of a point of view – an opinion about something they are studying. They need to state or write their point of view and provide arguments and evidence that support it. Once they state or write their argument, they can share it with others, either in small groups or in the total class. Persuasive essays are also good ways to introduce debate skills.
There are many additional activities that can be used or adapted to promote the learning of these five skill sets – developing questions for conducting interviews or for going on field trips, wait time to encourage deeper thinking, research projects based on student interests or related to a topic under study, oral presentations, creative problem solving strategies, individual book reflections, on-going, multiple types of writing activities, thinking skill activities, and choice of activities and courses.
In sum, the point of this commentary is that teachers who have limited time for developing some or all of these five sets of skills can do short, relatively easy to implement activities, even occasionally, that can make a big difference in 21st century skill development. These types of activities, represented by the ten examples above, can be especially significant if everyone in the school supports the development of these sets of skills and institutes instructional activities designed to help students learn and refine these skills.
If you are convinced that these skills are important for students to develop, chances are you will think of other activities that you can implement or adapt to promote the learning of these skills. Once you accept the importance of these skills and start thinking about how you can help students develop them, the sky’s the limit. Ironically, teaching these skills can also help students to perform better on the more traditional tests that have currently become so important for measuring classroom and school success.
[i] For further insight into text-dependent, close reading based on the Common Core Standards, see Christina Hank, Defining “Deep Reading” and “text-Dependent Questions”, at Turn On Your Brain, http://turnonyourbrain.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/defining-deep-reading-and-text-dependent-questions/
[ii] There are many sources of information on graphic organizers. One resource is by Vicki Urquhart and Dana Frazee, Teaching Reading in the Content Areas: If Not Me, Then Who? 3rd Edition (2012), Chapter 12. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
[iii] Many resources are available to help you develop 3-2-1 reflections. One can be found at http://www.facing.org/resources/strategies/3-2-1.
[iv] As a student, the use of take home questions was my favorite way of being assessed, because I could really take the time to prepare and learn. It changed the nature of assessment from “mystery” to “mastery”.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, Understanding by Design trainer, author, consultant, social studies teacher, former Professor of Education at Temple University, and Curriculum Director in Bucks County, PA. If you are interested in further examining these five skill sets and ways to implement them, as well as other dimensions of a 21st century education, examine his other commentaries on ASCD Edge or go to his website at www.era3learning.org
For this blog I wanted to reflect upon my experience in past course, current courses, and completing this course for NLU. Since January of 2013 I have been part of NLU and have been enrolled in online courses all terms at that time. My first courses included Health Education focused curriculum, followed by curriculum development course material. The conclusion of this program has focused my mainly towards research development and creation. My final three 4 courses in the program have been research development focused and has been interesting. The main focus for research has focused on Physical Education curriculum including middle school muscular strength and development and formative assessment in the Physical Education setting. These two projects have helped improve my skill and knowledge as an instructor in the courses that I teach in my everyday classes. As we move forward in this course I hope to intertwine these programs in a nice research project of some sort. With that being said, I am also enrolled in a group research based class currently along with this one, and our study is the relation of academic improvement as movement. We have been exploring how students that participated in some sort of movement feel that it improves that ability in school. We have completed a wealth of research toward this topic, which I also believe is relevant towards prior research I have done. It was be interesting, and exciting to complete my course work for the C&I program, and I am excited to see the conclusion of my research projects for both this course, and group course.
Have you ever been witness to a time capsule being opened? If you are not familiar with such events it is very simple. People select items that represent their culture or personal lives, and place them in a container to be sealed up for a long period of time. After a few decades the container is opened up at some sort of ceremony and people look at what was the height of technology, and life, decades ago. I guess we older folks get to appreciate those types of events more than the younger people, because the items in the time capsule usually do not need to be explained to us, as they need to be to the younger generations. I guess the fascination with time capsules is dependent on the apparent and dramatic effect technology has had on the culture represented by the encapsulated items which were selected.
It is one thing to study and talk about how technology and learning has made great strides in the field of medicine, but it is another conversation entirely when one experiences finding blood-letting tools in a time capsule. It prompts a great conversation that is lost in a textbook version of such events. It usually elicits from the youth questions like “What the hell were they thinking?” Of course the field of Medicine has probably developed faster and in more directions than any other field. I used to do a presentation where I would show a slide of a 19th Century operating room, followed by a picture of an operating room of today. The contrast was inimitable. Since this was a presentation for educators I showed a picture of a 19th Century classroom, followed by a class of today. It was the laughter of the audience that was inimitable at that point. There was little change. The upsetting point here is that if I were to do that presentation again, it would probably still hold true for the slow change in too many American classrooms.
As I engaged some of my connected colleagues in Edchat last week, we were discussing how the education system pays lip service to asking for innovation in education and for teachers to be innovative, while at the same time putting in place policies and mandates to stifle any such notion a teacher might have.
I pointed out how we are supposed to be teaching our kids how to be effective, competitive, and educated in the world in which they will live, while using tools for communication, collaboration, and creation that will exist in their world.
One Connected colleague pointed out that there is one school, or it might even be considered an education franchise school, that prides itself in the fact that it teaches its students without the use of any technology whatsoever. I guess that school franchise really holds 19th and 20th century methodology in very high esteem. Many of us are products of that methodology, so I guess there is a comfort level for some. I do often wonder why an educator’s comfort level should supersede the real world needs of his or her students.
Looking to the past in education and creating my own mental time capsule, I remember when calculators were not allowed in schools. The slide rule was okay. I remember the blue spirits ditto machine with a hand crank. I remember real Blackboards. I remember fountain pens, the Osmiroid Pen in particular. I remember desks with inkwell holes in the upper right corner. Again I am an old guy and this was my past.
What would go into an education time capsule today? Maybe a “Cellphones Banned” sign. Possibly, Oregon Trail would go in. Certainly those four computers, covered with dust at the back of the room. Definitely we would include the overhead projector that is now 75 year-old technology. Maybe we should also consider putting “sit and get” methodology in the time capsule. Let’s include the idea of teaching in silos as a concept. What about adding the concept of desks in rows. Why not add the idea of a content expert at the front of the room filling the empty vessels of student minds? This might also be the right place for standardized tests.
If we were to put all of these things into a capsule to be opened two decades from now, would we ever want to bring any of them back into the class? Maybe, Oregon Trail.
We need to reach out to those who are still teaching kids from the 20th Century perspective. We need them to commit to being learners again. Learning is ongoing and it must be a way of life for an educator. A relevant educator must continually learn to stay relevant. We can’t have time-capsule teaching in an ever-developing culture. At what point will we stop and look at what we are doing and say, “what the hell were we thinking”?
Much of my educational career has been spent in teaching or observing teachers. I also had the incredible opportunity of attending many wonderful professional development sessions with outstanding presenters, and working with some amazing educators over many years.
As a result, I have compiled a synthesis of some of the most important things that I have learned about effective teaching along the way. Here are fourteen ways of thinking about teaching that, when part of true self-reflection, can change much of what is being done in the classroom for the better.
These fourteen ways of thinking can be explored with individuals or groups of teachers to raise issues about teaching and learning, focus professional development around some important issues and challenges, and help provide a framework for professional growth over time. They may also be useful as a framework for thinking about teacher evaluation.
Read the descriptions below of my fourteen “ways of thinking” about teaching and learning. Get familiar with them. When you are done, consider doing the exercises at the end of this commentary, or sharing them in PD sessions, in order to better apply them to teaching and learning.
1. Get to know your students, especially how they learn and think.
Teaching is about relationships. Getting to know students helps with planning, motivation, interest, discipline, and effective communication. It is about knowing how students learn, how they think, what blocks their learning, what’s on their minds.
As much as possible, get to know students as individuals, with all their variety of thoughts, passions, ideas, backgrounds, humor, unique qualities. This is especially hard for middle and high school teachers, who have so many students to teach. But it is important that all teachers, whatever their level of teaching, whatever their situation, take some time during the school year to do activities that build relationships and help to learn about students. There are many ways to both formally and informally do this, such as get-to know-me activities, written self-reflections, observing how students go about solving problems, observing groupwork discussions, making sure students know to ask for help when they are having problems, meeting with students informally after school, or talking with other teachers about specific students (not always problem students).
2. Plan goals for both the long term and the short term.
Long term planning should be the force behind short term planning. In other words, plan for what you want your students to accomplish in the long run, and then plan each day so that your students can get closer to your goal. For example, a long-term goal might be to help students become better writers, while the short-term goal is to improve their grammar and vocabulary. A long- term goal might be a unit goal, and each daily lesson plan contributes to the goals of the unit. A long-term goal might be a yearly understanding-based goal, and a unit goal might contribute to the year-long goal.
As most teachers know, this is not easy. There are many obstacles, changes, and detours along the way, depending on what happens each day. The variables are tremendous. But it is always important to consider what you want your students to accomplish over a long period of time (the big goals), and figure out how each day helps them get there.
3. Include social-emotional learning goals as well as academic goals.
With the emphasis today on standardized test score success, learning academic content and skills become the most important focus for achievement and success. But much recent research suggests that “social-emotional” learning qualities are critical for long term success. Students who don’t see a connection between their effort and learning, are unable to be persistent, lack curiosity and resilience in the face of challenges, cannot work well with others, lack self-responsibility, are unorganized or unable to plan their time well, or lack the ability and willingness to ask for help and support when needed will have a great deal of trouble both in learning and in life. So it is important for teachers to assess these “soft” skills as well as academic and cognitive learning to help students achieve long-term success.
4. Translate learning goals into meaningful, interesting questions and challenges.
According to several sources, Richard Feynman, a world-renowned physicist, was “heavily influenced by his father, who encouraged him to ask questions to challenge orthodox thinking”… “[His father] never taught facts so much as questions. He encouraged young Richard to identify not what he knew, but rather what he did not know… What's most important for knowledge is the well asked question”.
Today, in my view, too many teachers have lost the art of helping students focus their learning around meaningful questions. My observations indicate that teachers still most often focus learning around imparting specific subject matter or stating goals in terms of “behavioral” objectives. But what if we thought about our teaching in terms of exploring open-ended questions that are interesting and meaningful to our students? What if we put “essential” questions on the board at the beginning of units and lessons, discussed with our students why they are important and meaningful, and then referred to them throughout the unit? Designed core questions that extended throughout the year? Created meaningful open-ended challenges as starting points for learning? Asked our students to develop essential questions?
One of my favorite questions, used by Kathy Davis, a first grade teacher, is the following:
What writing is worth reading? Imagine studying different kinds of writing over a long period of time with that question in mind? Another set of questions, worth studying in an American History course, is the following: “What is the American Dream? Where did it come from? Does it still exist?
So here’s something to think about: How can you translate your learning goals and objectives into important, interesting, meaningful questions? How can you use these questions as starting points for learning? For skill development? For making content relevant? How can these questions repeat and recur over time? Become the focus for many learning activities over time?
Much, if not most, important learning and growth starts with curiosity around questions, or perplexities around challenges. Teachers need to reinforce that type of learning, and begin student learning with questions and challenges that stimulate curiosity and interest, and motivate students to learn.
5. Teach reading (and other forms of literacy) as inquiry, exploration, and research.
Textbook activities often are treated solely as reading assignments (e.g. Read chapter seven and answer the questions at the end of the chapter). But what if teachers thought of textbooks and other reading materials, especially non-fiction reading, as sources of information designed to help answer questions, build understanding, explore interesting topics, and help find answers to challenges. What if the reading of literature was built around some interesting, significant questions, conflicts and issues? What if students had a chance to choose some of the literature they are asked to read based on their own curiosity? Treating textbooks, literature and other reading resources as a form of inquiry, exploration, curiosity, or research to answer questions helps put reading in an important context, not as a chore.
One simple textbook-non-fiction reading strategy that helps support this approach is the simple SQ3R strategy and its variations. First, students survey the material to be read, looking at headings, key words, difficult passages, pictures and other ancillary materials, and the like. Next, students turn headings into questions or bring into play previously developed questions to begin to find answers in the materials. Finally, they read and highlight key points, recite learning from the text that answers key questions, and then review and summarize the information that relates to the answers to each question.
6. Frequently use writing as a key instructional tool.
Asking students of all ages to continually write in many formats helps them formulate their ideas, organize their thoughts, think clearly and cogently, draw conclusions, self-reflect, and learn how to write position papers, among other things.
Most teachers don’t provide students with enough opportunities to write and reflect on their learning. Opportunities include writing at the beginning of a unit to determine what students know and how they think, daily short written reflections summarizing what they have learned at the end of a class, position papers around an issue discussed in class, research and project reports, analyses and interpretations from reading, frequent self-reflections, and end of unit essays in place of or complementary to traditional tests. Not all writing has to be graded, but carefully choosing writing to provide feedback provides students with significant opportunities for improvement.
7. Develop “deeper learning”.
I have always felt that many teachers try to teach much too much content and therefore do not have enough time for getting deeper into subject matter and skill development. Teachers need to think about priorities so that content is most likely to be limited and remembered. For example, the period of history in which the Constitution was developed is a very good time to concentrate on a few key points about the Constitution: the Bill of Rights, the Organization of Government, and the Constitutional “compromise” on slavery. While there are many other issues and facts that might be learned, these are key.
“Deeper learning” also results from analysis, interpretation, or doing something with (applying) the information learned. What if students ended this American history unit by developing their own Constitution for their classroom or school? Or created a new and better Constitution for America? Or simulated the Constitutional Convention and developed a Constitution based on the interests of each of the thirteen states?
8. Involve and engage ALL students in learning.
It is surprising how often teachers, especially in middle and secondary teachers, spend little time thinking about how to engage and involve every student on a daily basis. All too frequently, I have observed teachers who ask questions and involve very few students in giving answers; allow students to put their heads down on their desks during a lesson; stand in front of the class instead of walking around to engage students. Many students learn that it is OK to “tune out” of the lesson, and that they will be rewarded just for coming to school that day. Beginning teachers are especially likely to make the mistake of letting students “tune out” of their lessons. Here are some ways to avoid student passivity:
Don’t just stand in front of a group of students. Walk around the room. Catch the eye of students. Watch what they are doing. Gently shake a student who has his or her head on the desk. Call on students who you think are not paying attention.
Begin each class or new learning experience with an engaging “To Do” Activity that students must respond to as they enter your classroom. For example, a “To Do” Activity might begin with writing a short summary of what they were asked to read the night before or finding the answer to a math problem based on the work they did the previous day.
Use “think-pair-share” strategies to involve everyone in exploring significant questions. Here’s how it works. Ask an open-ended question. Then ask each student to write down an answer. Then students pair up with another student to discuss their answer. Finally, teachers call on individual students to share their answer and hopefully begin a discussion.
9. Bring the outside world into the school and classroom, and the school and classroom into the outside world, and help students apply learning.
Here’s how I think about schools and the surrounding world: The school world is for learning - the outside world is for living. People don’t live in a school. They go to school to learn. They live in their homes, in their offices, in the environment around them, in the world outside of school. Too often, school becomes an isolated entity unto itself, with little or no connection to the way people live in the outside world. As teachers, we need to remember this and, as often as we can, bring the outside world into the school and the school into the outside world.
How do we do this?
I remember watching Ms Tolliver, an excellent elementary math teacher who made some wonderful professional development tapes, take her fifth grade urban students on a walk through the school neighborhood looking for mathematics concepts and creating mathematics problems (Math Trail). They developed problems and found mathematics around park benches, playgrounds, subway trains, parking meters, building blocks and shapes, maps of the neighborhood, and seven step staircases in Central Park. The math that they were learning in school became real and relevant. Another example: in a local comprehensive urban high school I recently visited, a counselor organized talks in the school by local community members to help students see the variety of careers and lives led by those with similar ethnic backgrounds. Finally, new technologies provide new tools for bring the outside community into the school and the school to the outside community. There are currently many examples on the Internet and on websites of how teachers use Skype and other Internet options to bring in the outside community and world into the school and classroom.
10. Know when to maintain a strong structure for students and when to “let go”.
Good teachers know when to provide students with significant learning structure and when to give students greater freedom and self-direction. For example, when students are first learning how to do research, they need more structure – a step-by-step process, good explanations of how to conduct research and use research skills, models of good research products, and guided practice opportunities. Once they have learned and practiced the basic components of research, then they can be given more freedom to work on their own independently. In other words, sometimes students need strong structures, especially when they are first learning how to do something. But, eventually, we need to “let go” and give them freedom to work on their own and make their own mistakes in order to keep getting better at what they are doing. One of the most difficult decisions about teaching is knowing when students need significant structure and when to let go and give them more self-direction.
“Letting go” may also mean giving students greater choice and more options. Giving students the right to select their own books to read should be an important part of a good comprehensive reading program. Allowing students to select their own research question, sometimes within the parameters of a subject area, also gives students greater interest in and responsibility for their research.
11. Help students to improve, make progress, and get better.
What does it mean for students to get better at doing something? Understand in a deeper way? What are the most critical changes you would like to see in your students over time? What does it look like when they improve? How will you know when your students have a better understanding of core content? How can you build a student culture of “craftsmanship and understanding” that supports and encourages gradual improvement over time?
Unfortunately, traditional tests and quizzes don’t easily lend themselves to demonstrating improvement and progress in understanding and skill development. Seeking gradual progress and improvement is more likely to occur when students frequently do tasks related to what needs improvement, such as writing, making presentations, conducting research, performing experiments, and organizing learning for understanding. Specific feedback that provides students with specific guidance on what they need to do better is important. Showing models of good work to strive for is very helpful. An approach to teaching and learning that savors and supports gradual progress and improvement can lead to the development of a culture and way of thinking that promotes craftsmanship, deeper understanding, and improvement over time.
12. Check for understanding - often.
When I taught many years ago, I was unaware that I needed to frequently check for understanding. This was not good for student learning. This way of thinking has been getting much more play lately, and rightly so. Teachers need to check in frequently with students to see if they are “getting it” – really understanding what they are learning. Many strategies are available for this purpose, such as application oriented math problems, end of lesson summary strategies, such as 3-2-1 (three things I learned from this lesson, two things that were the most interesting, one question I still have); and 10-2 lectures (10 minutes of lecture, 2 minutes of reflection and questions).
13. Create strong culminating experiences and assessments.
Unfortunately, end of unit culminating experiences are often multiple choice-short answer tests. What could be less interesting for a student? What could be less relevant? Should the traditional test be the culminating experience of student work and learning?
Consider developing alternatives to traditional tests, even for just some units. How about a field trip to an art museum at the end of a unit so that students can analyze and write about a specific artistic period in greater depth? Perhaps students should write a position paper about a controversial topic in American History or design an experiment as the culmination of a science unit? How about giving students two or three (or more) essay questions several days in advance of a test time to give students time to prepare outlines of answers, from which one or two are selected to be written during a two hour class period? How about giving students interesting open-book (or even open-research) essay questions? Or what about completing an authentic performance task that demonstrates the ability of students to apply their learning to a new situation? These are much more interesting, relevant, and meaningful culminating assessments.
14. Appropriately use technology as a learning tool.
There is a tendency to talk about using technology today as if it were something to be automatically incorporated into the learning process. The reality is that technology is often hard to use or apply easily to teaching situations. Technology usage often requires a good deal of staff development, and is costly to implement and maintain.
However, technology, when used appropriately, can be an extremely valuable tool that enables teachers and students to learn more efficiently and effectively. For example, simple technologies, such as Microsoft word and powerpoint are useful for encouraging and editing writing and making presentations. The Internet is a wonderful tool to support research, but students have to learn how to use it carefully, skillfully, and wisely for this purpose. Some of the more complex technologies are useful to promote “gaming” and simulations. “Flipping” uses technology to help students learn basic information outside of school so that teachers can focus on “deeper learning” when students are in class. Some technologies that promote individualized learning through highly structured, engaging learning situations are very helpful to students.
Any of these technology tools, and others, should be used when appropriate to the teacher’s goals and to the learning situation. Technology tools should be used for specific goals when they make learning more efficient, but not when they might deter students from using their minds, thinking through a problem, or reading texts carefully.
Teaching is very complex, much more complex than it is made out to be in the press, in government initiatives, and even in State Departments of Educational directives. Good teaching is a moving target – goals, children, cultures, teachers, and conditions vary from state to state, school to school, and even classroom to classroom.
These fourteen ways of thinking about teaching suggest both the complexity of good teaching and the potential common core components that measure good teaching and help teachers improve on what they do. Learning about students, creating a positive learning environment, focusing on both academic and social-emotional goals, building curiosity by focusing on questions, focusing on less content and deeper learning, figuring out ways to engage and involve students, planning both long and short term goals – all of these and more are important elements of an effective teaching-learning process. I hope that an exploration of these components will help teachers and school leaders understand what they must do to improve schools and suggest a way to build a framework for evaluating teaching and improving teaching and learning in the classroom.
An Exercise to Share and Learn from These Fourteen Ways of Thinking
Now that you have read and learned about the fourteen ways of thinking, here is an exercise you can do to help you examine these in greater detail and apply them to your own teaching situation.
Here are the fourteen ways of thinking listed without commentary:
1. Get to know your students, especially how they learn and think.
2. Plan goals for both the long-term and the short term.
3. Include social-emotional learning goals as well as academic goals.
4. Translate learning goals into meaningful, interesting questions and challenges.
5. Teach reading (and other forms of literacy) as inquiry, exploration, and research.
6. Frequently use writing as a key instructional tool.
7. Develop “deeper learning”.
8. Involve and engage ALL students in learning.
9. Bring the outside world into the school and classroom, and the school and classroom into the outside world, and help students apply learning.
10. Know when to maintain a strong structure for students and when to “let go”.
11. Help students to improve, make progress and get better.
12. Check for understanding - often.
13. Create strong culminating experiences and assessments.
14. Appropriately use technology as a learning tool.
Some questions to consider:
This year ISTE put on what appeared to me to be the biggest education extravaganza to date. The number of participants was said to be somewhere between 20 and 22 thousand educators. I never verified that number but based on the food lines it seemed likely to be true.
Of course there was apparently a huge number of connected educators in attendance. I say apparently, because in reality I don’t believe it was so many. Many connected educators volunteer to do sessions. Many are also bloggers. A natural gathering place for them to gather, interact, and network is at the Bloggers Café, or the PLN Lounge. Twitter has added a whole new dimension to these education conferences where educators connected to other educators through various Social Media can meet up face to face. This enables real-time collaboration with people who have had a virtual relationship with each other for a while. Even if there were a thousand connected educators meeting at the Bloggers Café all at once (and there weren’t), It would seem to those gathered that the entire conference was connected. Of course this ignores the 21,000 other educators who were not connected.
I guess my take away for this is that being connected networks you with more people to have a good time with, as well as extend collaboration, but a majority of educators have yet to discover this. One would think that would be a lure for more educators to connect, but of course the only people who recognize these benefits are those who are connected. I imagine most of the people reading this blog are connected as well, so I am probably and again spinning my wheels on this subject.
I found this year’s conference to be a bit overwhelming. To me it seemed that many of the events and some sessions were trying very hard to create an atmosphere that was experienced with smaller numbers from previous conferences. That intimacy however, was lost with the numbers of participants this year. There were some invitation only sessions, as well as paid sessions with smaller numbers that I did find more enjoyable, but again, I attend many conferences and do not view them through the eyes of a new attendee. I might be too critical here.
I loved the fact that connected educators were actively backchanneling sessions and events. Tweets were flying over the Twitterstream as the #ISTE2014 hashtag trended on Twitter. Photos were much more prevalent in tweets than in past years, because that process has been simplified. That picture process has both good and bad aspects attached to it. It is great to see the session engagement. The pictures from some of the social gatherings however, may paint a slightly distorted view of conferencing by educators. It may give an impression that the social events outweighed the collaboration and interaction. The social events were fun, but it was as much a part of networking as any of the conference.
The vendor floor was beyond huge this year. It was quite the carnival atmosphere at times. If anyone would benefit from collaboration at these conferences it would be the vendors. There is a great deal of redundancy in education products. I wish more vendors would take a pass on the bells and whistles of their product and talk more about pedagogy and how their products fit in, as well as how they don’t. That requires an educator’s perspective, and not every product designer seeks that out. Those that do seek that perspective however seem to attract me more than the others.
One vendor had a closed booth with dollar bills being blown around inside. People lined up for a chance to step inside to beat the airflow for the dollars. The attraction was obviously the lure to get folks in, but who paid attention to the product? There were some products that I will address in a subsequent post, which I rarely do. These products were exceptional and should be recognized.
As ISTE came to a close this year, my reflection was that bigger is not always better. I was also mystified by the choices in keynotes. If one was to judge by the tweets about the keynotes, one was somewhat of a miss, one was on the mark, and one left many wondering why it was a keynote at all. I must admit that I did not view the keynotes in the lecture hall, but on screens in the gathering places in the conference. I enjoy the keynotes better when I can openly comment and yell at the screen if I have to. It would seem that I was not alone in these endeavors.
It should be noted that ISTE this year did have people’s Twitter handles on their nametags, an innovation. Of course mine was messed up, but who am I to complain? Now I wish they would take another suggestion and do an unconference, or Edcamp segment in the middle of the conference. This would allow educators to further explore those subjects that they learned about in earlier more conventional sessions. It would also break up the “sit and get” mentality of a conference. It would take as little as an hours worth of sessions.
For as much as we hear that we need and want innovation in education, I would expect to see it first in Education conferences. They are hyped to be conferences led by the innovators in education, but there is little that changes in conferences from year to year. We are still sitting through lectures and presentations with limited audience engagement. We are not yet directing our learning, but attending sessions devised and approved a year in advance. I realize that change is hard and takes time, but our society is demanding that we as educators do it more readily and now. We need to change in order stay relevant. How does an irrelevant education system prepare kids for their future?
A few years back I spoke at a conference and experienced first hand what a backchannel was. Twitter is probably the best tool to do it. I did write a post on that experience back in November of 2009 and later reposted on my blog, Twitter’s Effect on Presentations and Presenters.
Backchanneling happens when someone on Twitter uses a hashtag to tweet out to followers what is happening at a conference, or more importantly, what is being said by a speaker at a conference session. THE BACKCHANNEL by Cliff Atkinson is a great book source for understanding the process.
ISTE 2014 will take place at the end of this week. The numbers of attendees will probably approach 20,000. Although that sounds like a huge number of people, it only represents a very tiny number of educators nationwide who get to attend such national education conferences. The attendance of connected educators however, has had a great effect on the transparency and sharing of these gigantic education events through social media, specifically, Twitter.
The Twitter Hashtag has played a huge role in sharing out the conference experience. Since most educators will not be attending the ISTE 2014 conference, many who are connected will rely on their connected colleagues, who will attend, to tweet out the happenings of the event. Those tweets will go from the broad events to individual sessions as well. Although ISTE 2014 is one of the most connected of education conferences, backchanneling is becoming evident at even the smaller local education gatherings. It is a key in sharing at local Edcamps
Conferences have taken notice of this new layer of experience and assign hashtags for the conference, as well as some specific sessions. Experienced connected educators in sessions will make up and share a hashtag on the spot at the beginning of the session. To broadly follow the ISTE conference this year, you need only to create a Twitter column on Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to follow the #ISTE2014 hashtag. There will be several thousand tweets coming out with that hashtag to keep you informed of: personal encounters, celebrity sightings, quotes, new ideas, new products, and even social events taking place. There will be pictures, videos, podcasts, diagrams and graphs. All will be tweeted out with the Hashtag #ISTE2014.
Probably the most sought-after tweets will be those coming directly from sessions. Thought leaders in education presenting their ideas and having people right in the room tweet out what is being said, as it is being said. This is sharing at its best. If the vast majority of educators cannot experience an education conference first hand this is not a bad second best.
As a community of connected educators we need to think of our Personal Learning Network members as connected colleagues. Those educators fortunate enough to have any experiences that cannot be afforded to all, and are willing to take the time to share, are truly collaborative colleagues. These hashtagged tweets have a range in the millions. That is a Public Relations Gold for any organization with a successf
Of course there is a downside. If something does not go well, that is tweeted out as well. It could also be a professional setback for an unprepared presenter. The Twitter Backchannel Buzz could affect the subsequent enthusiasm for any future conference by a particular group. It also underscores those conferences that are attended by the connected community of educators.
I have always believed that we as educators have a professional and moral obligation to share. In so doing, we can build a stronger and better profession of educators. If you have never done it, try following the backchannel for this year’s ISTE Conference by following the #ISTE2014 hashtag. If you attend the ISTE Conference, tweet out as much important stuff as you encounter using the #ISTE2014 hashtag. We can engage fellow educators in the conferences, which they have been blocked from because of location, money, or even an unawareness of what these conferences have to offer. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.
Our time was to include a visit to a local school but due to an array of circumstances, including the fact that most local schools were preparing for end of year exams and the busyness that comes with wrapping up a school year, we were not able to make that happen.
Enter Clarence Middle School in Clarence, New York.
I put out a message on Twitter asking my network if there was anyone willing to let us Skype into their school on short notice, so that the education officials from Thailand would be able to at least virtually visit a school and observe some of the issues we were discussing.
John Mikulski, the assistant principal of the school, tweeted back that he could help us make it happen. With a couple of emails and phone call (and a plea deal with his wife who is due to go into labor at any moment) we were able to quickly set up a virtual visit.
The significance of this, and thus the reason that I am sharing it, is multi-faceted. For one thing, we were able to do something better than what we were planning by utilizing available technology. We engaged in a new form of observation and interaction that minimized interruptions. Nineteen people crowded into a classroom to observe a teacher would be a huge disruption. One person with a recordable device isn’t disruptive at all.
Another aspect of significance is what this virtual visit did to underscore the modern learning practices we were exploring. It gave us a window into a classroom where we could observe student engagement, fluency practice, communication, problem solving, critical thinking, critiquing the reasoning of others, and teachers as guides on the side. The delegation got to ask questions about curriculum, assessment, who is designing what, etc., interviewing both John and Rob about this slice of life in an American school.
Using technology allowed us to do something that we’ve never done before, modifying and redefining traditional actions into more modern and efficient ones. This helps to flatten our world and bring us all closer together using technology and meaningful conversations.
Thanks to the Ministry, to Clarence Middle School, and to John for all the legwork. And a special thanks to his wife for staving off labor for at least an hour so we could make this happen.
I have written about why I feel Tenure is important and how it is used as a scapegoat for inadequate follow through on the part of many administrators inTenure’s Tenure. I guess it comes as no surprise that I am appalled at the recent decision in California against Tenure.
Of course the statement that upset me the most came from the presiding judge. Judge Treu wrote, “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently in California classrooms,” I do not know what defines a “grossly ineffective teacher”. I know how I might define it, but it would have nothing to do with standardized test scores of children. Even under my personal definition, I would think it would apply to an insignificant number of teachers, many of whom could be brought up to competent levels with properly supported professional development.
Based on articles that I have read since the judgment, the number of “grossly ineffective teachers” in the poorer districts referred to by the judge may have been made up on the spot by a conjecturing witness. Fuzzy Math: guesstimate that struck down California’s teacher tenure laws.
The fact of the matter is that a teacher’s role in a child’s education is very significant. It is not however, the sole influence on that child’s education. This is especially true of children in schools in areas of poverty. The unfortunate truth is that before we can apply Bloom’s taxonomy in many schools, we need to first apply Maslow’s Hierarchy. If kids are coming to school stressed because they are hungry, tired, undernourished, and concerned about their safety, there are no teachers trained well enough to convince those kids to put all that aside for the sake of schoolwork.
The issue with schools in poverty areas both rural and urban is not the teacher quality as much as it is the poverty itself. Poverty brings with it issues in schools that no amount of high-performing teachers can fix. Teachers are beaten down in their attempts to teach in these schools. Toxic cultures have evolved as a result of fighting the good fight and being defeated by social prejudice, poor infrastructure, and lack of support. These are reasons for high turnover rates of administrators and teachers alike that are commonplace in schools in poverty areas. These are many of the reasons teachers do not actively seek positions in these schools. None of this failure has to do with Tenure. None of this failure has to do with a made up number of 3% of highly incompetent teachers.
Lets make up our own numbers and blame 75% of the do-nothing, ineffective and incompetent politicians who do not address the very issues of poverty that actually are the real reasons for schools in areas of poverty not performing in the same realm as schools in affluent areas.
The idea that teachers are the key to getting all kids thinking and learning at the same level of competence throughout the country is ridiculous. If we can’t even attempt to standardize the environments and conditions in which kids learn, how can we expect the results to be the same nation-wide?
Tenure is only a guarantee of due process. It is not a lifelong commitment. Incompetent teachers can be fired as long as we have competent administrators providing due process. Too often administrators blame the law rather than their inability to follow it.
Without due process teachers will serve at the whim of whatever politicians are in control. Whatever trend school boards, or state legislatures buy into could be thrust upon teachers to teach or else. If the school board is of the opinion the Earth is only 9,000 years old and wants that taught in the schools, who could stand up to that at the risk of loosing a job? If books are banned by a board, who stands against that? If policies are changed in favor of budget over safety who advocates for safety?
Without due process in times of economic considerations, teachers who earn the highest wages are considered the biggest liability. Being an economic cutback is hardly a just reward for years of service. All of these factors do not create a profession that would attract and maintain the brightest and best this country has to offer. Doing away with due process is the best way to weaken an already shaky profession. Half of all teachers entering the profession leave before the fifth year. Some of the most successful and experienced teachers are leaving for consulting positions after years of teaching. The very reason many of the most experienced leave is the current atmosphere of teachers being vilified, and not even involved in discussions of reform. The profession needs to attract more and maintain what it has, and not drive people away.
Rather than talking about easier ways to eliminate teachers, why not find better ways to teach, support, and maintain them. Why not focus efforts on affecting the hard things to fix, the things that have a real effect on education and learning. Poor schools are a symptom of poverty, not the other way around. Let’s deal with poverty, as an issue and education will improve. Fixing education will come at a cost to us all and not just a cost to teachers. We can’t reduce taxes as we improve education. Great education is a long-term goal investment that, unfortunately, exists in a short-term goal-oriented society. Public education is what will keep America safe with informed citizens able to critically think, analyze, process, and create. We can’t afford not to support it.
Maybe, Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court should look at politicians who obstruct any programs to address the issue of poverty as an attack on education and an obstruction to “a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education”. This might have a more positive effect on education than attacking due process, tenure laws. To paraphrase or rather reuse the words of the judge, there is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective politicians currently in the California legislature rooms.
On June 6, 2014, almost 100 educators from all over the U.S. arrived at the United States Department of Education to participate in the first-ever Edcamp to be held there. Most of these educators paid their own way to attend incurring a personal expense of time and money, two days and $500 to $900, depending on where they came from.
The question comes to mind, why would any educator give up personal time and money to attend an event at the U.S. Department of Education? Actually, the organizers were limited in the number of educators that could be accommodated, because of space and security issues. There were over 1,000 requests to participate the day after the EdcampUSA was announced. This was a huge number when we consider that many educators are in the closing weeks of their schools and could not apply.
Most of the participants had attended previous Edcamps, and many had organized their own local Edcamps. There have been well over 500 of these conducted in the US and some in other nations. Edcamp is being recognized as a grassroots professional development movement for educators. This was suggested to the US DOE in order to involve them in some way in the movement. The whole idea of doing an Edcamp at the DOE was probably an effort not only to inform the DOE, but also to seek some form of validation for trying to fill a professional development need that is felt by so many educators today. It was also a statement that educators are very interested and invested in improving their profession by taking up that cause without any help from the very system for which they work.
My hope was for the DOE to become more than aware. I hoped for the participation of top policy makers in the sessions to observe first hand the discussions of educators and their efforts, needs, and desires for real education reform. Edcamps are known for their frank and experienced views on the problems in education. These are views that take place through a lens of experience and not theory.
My view however was not to be realized. The DOE did assign a few people to attend the sessions. Some rotated in and out during the course of the day. The policy makers however did not participate in any numbers. There were a very few at the beginning of the day, but after just two sessions they went on to other obligations in their day.
The chief liaison person, Emily Davis, who headed up the Edcamp on behalf of the DOE, was an educator working as the Secretary’s direct assistant in such matters. She was a great contributor, and participant. It was her first Edcamp and she participated with excitement and enthusiasm, as well as awe, throughout the entire day. I know that she will enthusiastically report the success of the Edcamp at the DOE, but I admittedly wanted more. I wanted the Secretary and other policy makers to experience an Edcamp as opposed to receiving a feedback report. That desired involvement however, was not to be. We were granted a very quick visit and a limited photo op with Secretary Duncan before the opening session.
I know we often refer to Edcamps as a place for professional development to take place, but it is not PD in the conventional sense of the term. It is more of self-examination of what we do to bring learning to students. Some of it is steeped in tradition, education as it was in the 19th & 20th Centuries. Some of it is very progressive, involving the latest technological tools for learning. It is also an examination of pedagogy. It is an open reflection of the educator’s role in education today. It is an experience that gives direction to educators as to how to direct their professional development to achieve the outcomes discussed in these sessions. It is an eye-opener for many, and an expansion of progressive ideas for others. All of it is based on education experience and pedagogy of educators. These are not opinions of politicians, business people, or for-profit reformers.
The Edcamp itself was very exhilarating. It is always great to respectfully test someone’s ideas on education, as well as having your own ideas tested. It was that open transparency in examining the problems and possible solutions that I wished could have been experienced by some of the people who are in a position to make education policy.
I always come away from these experiences wondering after all this is said and done, what is the next action to be taken by all who attended. I think the educators there came away with a number of ideas to implement. I am not sure what the next steps from the DOE will be. That, after all, was the reason for locating this Edcamp at the DOE in the first place.
The DOE’s awareness of Edcamps is a big step. The positive force of social media that was evident at the event was another lesson for the DOE. I would also hope that the dedication of educators to unselfishly sacrifice for their profession was another lesson learned. I know that the members of the DOE are often targets for the wrath of frustrated educators, but that is not part of Edcamp. Hopefully, that was learned as well, so that, if this ever happens again, policy makers will engage rather than just do a quick walk through and photo op.
BTW: If you get an opportunity to attend an Edcamp, jump on it!
In addition to continually looking at the ASCD Edge Blogs, if you have some time this summer (or during the year), you might want to examine the materials found on the following websites:
Most educators are familiar with Edutopia, but if you are not, there are a wealth of articles, materials, and insights about teaching and learning to be gleaned from its numerous articles and blogs.
Smart blogs on education provide numerous, interesting articles and commentaries on educational programs and practice. You can sign up to have a Smartbrief (daily articles and commentaries about educational programs and practices) delivered right to your computer every day!
Another more practical daily smartbrief blog is Accomplished Teacher:
My own website provides a wealth of ideas and practical information on the kind of education we need for children in a 21st century world and how to implement it.
Thom Markham is an independent consultant who does work on project- based learning. On his website, you can download several items that support
project based learning, and also read his blogs about project based learning.
Bob Pearlman is a long time educator and consultant who uses his website to share information about 21st century educational programs, practices, schools, and opportunities. He provides a wealth of information worth exploring.
Yong Zhao is a brilliant scholar and educator, on the school of education faculty at the University of Oregon. His focus is on creative thinking and 21st century educational practice. He is a critic of standardized tests and the use of PISA data, and does a lot of work on global education. His latest book was published in 2012 – World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. This website is not for those interested in specific teaching techniques, but rather how to pursue new directions in education designed to help students do well in a 21st century world.
These blogs, written by Tom Vander Ark and posted on the Education Week website, focus on how to promote deeper learning in schools.
Finally, for fun, you might want to look at the ASCD Blog: “25 Signs You Might Be A 21st Century Teacher:
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, author and Understanding by Design trainer. If you are interested in examining his other blogs, go to http://bit.ly/13sMlUZ. Additional and related teaching and learning resources and ideas designed to help prepare students to live in a 21st century world can be found on his website: www.era3learning.org
I just finished reading a post from my good friend and co-author of The Relevant Educator, Steve Anderson. His recent post, “Why Formative Assessments Matter” got me thinking about assessments in general and how often they are misunderstood and often abused by well-meaning educators.
We have all been taught that there are two categories of assessment, Formative and Summative. Formative assessment is done during a particular lesson to gauge student learning and understanding as the lesson progresses. This often takes the form of quizzes, but there are less formal forms that are as effective. The summative assessment is usually, but not always an exam of some type. It is to determine how much the student learned and understood from the overall experience. This could be a unit exam with various types of questions, or possibly some type of report done by the student.
With my education students I would explain assessments with a cooking metaphor. As a chef prepares a meal he or she would taste it along the preparation process. Based on those tastings adjustments are made. Spices may be added. Cooking time may be lengthened. Some components of the meal may even be eliminated. All of this is formative assessment. This assessment is for the chef to read the results of his or her preparation in order to adjust for the best outcome.
The summative assessment has nothing to do with the preparation, and everything to do with the final outcome. The summative assessment happens when the diner experiences the dish by eating it. How successful was the preparation in the final outcome?
Now, how can such a simple concept get corrupted? Grades! We are all held accountable by some measure. We have determined that grades are what we will use to hold students accountable. We will measure their every effort to learn and assess it with a grade. I guess if the chef assigned a grade to the dish with every tasting and averaged the grades it would not be an outstanding average. But then again how can the dish be measured when it has not yet been completed in the preparation process. Similarly we hold students responsible for quiz grades on assessments, which were originally intended for the teacher to consider in order to make adjustments to a lesson. If the kids do not get it, is it their fault or could it be a shortcoming in the lesson? Yes, students do have a responsibility to bring something to the table as well, but the bulk of the responsibility lies with the teacher.
Grading formative assessments to measure students understanding makes little sense. They all learn in different ways and arrive at learning specific things at different times. To use formative assessment to grade a student is a misuse of the assessment. It is expected that some will get it others won’t, but that is for the teacher to understand and adjust accordingly. That is the purpose of formative assessment.
Of course grading the summative assessment might have some value, as long as the summative assessment is assessing the learning. Too many unit tests however are nitpicking questions for content recall. I guess that lends itself well to Scranton testing. We all know how quickly we can bang out those Scranton test results. It is as easy as ABCD. Essays take too long to grade.
Of course not every teacher does this, but how many is too many? We need to better understand why we do things as educators. Often times the only reason for doing something is because that’s how others do it, or that’s the way it’s always been done.
If we better understand how to utilize assessments, maybe we can better our delivery of lessons without penalizing kids for things that they have little control over. Formative assessment comes in many forms and none really require grades. Summative assessments come in many forms as well. We need to choose those forms that show what individual kids have learned overall. To aim for the low hanging fruit of content questions is missing the mark. They have their place, but they should not be the focus of any test.
This should be a topic of faculty or department meetings. These are the things that need to be addressed by educators more than the usual fare of such meetings. We need to better understand what we do, and why we do it as educators. We need to be more reflective and critical within our own profession.
After sitting down with colleagues there were 3 main points that came from the discussion. The first was that are kids are physically in great shape (according to the Fitness Gram) but we are weak. Second, we need to integrate strength orientated exercises and activities into our curriculum. Third, and the most challenging, this sort of activities cost money and adding to our curriculum always costs money. Going forward, addressing the need for increasing the muscular strength of our students is of high need and high expense.
The main observation tool used for our PE/Health program at Franklin Middle School is the Fitness Gram tool. The Fitness Gram involves students completing a series of fitness tests based on the different components of fitness. Cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, and body composition are the components evaluated for the tool. Each test has a specific range based on age and gender of “healthy fitness zones”. The Fitness Gram is a district wide observation tool, and I believe one of the most used in the state, maybe even nation. I believe the Fitness Gram is a great tool for evaluating students on the different components of fitness.
One clear observation myself and colleagues have made about our school is that are students need to be stronger. The push-up test is the test that are students have consistently scored the lowest on year in and year out. Thankfully, areas such as cardiovascular endurance and body composition are categories that our school excels in. One reason I believe the school struggles with this is the lack of strength training equipment and activities in the curriculum. Just recently our department purchased $2,000 worth of strength training and circuit training to help address the needs of our students.
About a year ago Adam Bellow and I were discussing the possibility and the benefits of doing an Edcamp at the site of the United States Department of Education. Adam had just met with some members of the Department and I was in touch with many of them from the connected educator month committee on which I was serving. Our thought was to have an Edcamp take place in the Department of Ed and have all of the policy makers attend sessions with real, in-the-classroom educators to see, and feel their concerns as educators in regard to what is important in the classroom. We were thinking in terms of #Edcampwhitehouse.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the Edcamp model of professional development, a brief explanation may be in order. The Edcamp model is a grassroots movement for professional development. Educators assemble at a location with no set agenda for PD sessions. The day starts early with a provided breakfast while everyone collaborates. There is usually a large board with session times and room assignments for each session, but there are no session descriptions. That is what the breakfast collaboration is for. As educators’ discussions emerge and develop there are usually two types of participants, those who know about a subject, and those who want to know about a subject. Either type may put up that subject in a session slot. Both the experts and the novices then will have an opportunity to discuss the topic. Edcamps are more about discussion than presentations. The discussions involve classroom experiences both successful and unsuccessful. Each session provides a safe discussion for educators to explore their understanding of any education topic.
Both Adam and I thought that this is what the policy makers within the Department of Education need to hear. This is a great way to put educators into the national discussion of education, that so many educators feel has been hijacked by business people and politicians. So, with the help of some key members of the Department of Education, we got the go ahead. The DOE was willing to provide a space and coordination, but the bulk of the organization and planning were to be up to the educators to complete. To me, that meant The Edcamp Foundation under the leadership of Kristen Swanson. The Edcamp Foundation is a volunteer group that helps organize and support Edcamps around the world. This US DOE Edcamp was a perfect opportunity for their leadership. They took on the project without hesitation.
Since the space at the DOE would have a limited capacity, the attendees needed to be limited as a result. The invitations to all went out on social media to enlist interested educators to enter a lottery for the Edcamp attendance. There was a huge response considering it is on June 6, a weekday. The DOE is closed on weekends. Edcamps are usually a Saturday event. The lottery was held and invitations to attend went out. Many educators at their own expense will be making the pilgrimage.
The Edcamp will take place this Friday. I truly hope that the people or surroundings that educators will encounter at this event will not intimidate them in any way.
We are hopeful that most of the participants will be tweeting out their experience. This entire project came as a result of social media and connected educators. It will be that connectedness that gets the experience and feelings of the event participants out to all educators. I look forward to thousands of tweets and many blog posts coming from this event on Friday. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a statement with what educators do, and who educators are to possibly affect change. It is doubtful the President will show up, but at the very least Arne Duncan, The Secretary of Education, should have some level of engagement.
I often say: To better educate our students, we must first better educate their educators. Friday I will say to better affect change in education, we need first to better affect change in our policy makers.
Recently, the editors of Edutopia were considering a theme for their bloggers to blog about concerning testing. In order to keep things timely, they needed to find out when most schools were being affected by standardized tests. It was a reasonable consideration, worthy of a responsible examination of the subject. It was the question posed to the bloggers however, that set me off about our evolved approach to these standardized tests. When is your Testing Season?
Every standardized test has a date or two or three that it is to be administered, but the question was not what are the dates of the standardized tests in your school. The idea that any school would have a “testing season” is enough to drive an advocate for authentic learning to skip taking his scheduled life-saving medications in order to stay on task completing a post about this culture of testing that we have allowed to develop. Every state has its own schedule for tests and a list of grades to take them. New York was at one time considering testing from Pre-K to 2nd grade as well all as the other grades. How does anyone get behind testing toddlers? Testing as it stands now begins in New York at 3rd grade. Here is a site that outlines what each state requires for their Standardized testing. Standardized Testing State By State, Standardized Tests Are Here to Stay
The thing that has really gotten me bothered is this culture change in education. It is no longer about the learning, but rather it is all about the testing. We no longer view the test as an assessment tool of learning to adjust lessons to meet the needs of each student. It has become a means to manipulate data to affect factors beyond that of just student learning. Standardized tests are certainly not the best form of student learning assessment. That seems not to matter however since for whatever the reason, we have had to expand and elevate testing day, or days to The Testing Season.
I remember a conference that I attended a few years ago where a New York City teacher was complaining that his elementary school dedicated an entire month to nothing being taught except for test preparation. The principal of that school monitored the classes to make sure that this strategy was adhered to by one and all. The most recent change in the testing culture is the need to accommodate the tests with all available technology. Some standardized tests are to now being administered via computers. Many schools provide Internet access to their students and teachers solely through computer labs. The tests however, take precedence over learning during “Testing Season” requiring limiting or even shutting down access to these labs in order to prepare for, and administer these computer delivered standardized tests.
I guess each season brings us feelings associated with it. From the season of summer we may feel invigorated with warmth and recreation associated with it. The season of winter brings on good feelings of sharing holidays, and hot-chocolate comfort. From the season of Testing we get stress and anxiety for kids and adults. I guess the season of Testing is not the season about which many poems are written.
Of course teachers will tell you that they are comfortable in setting their students at ease about the tests during “Testing Season”. I often told my students that I had every confidence that they would do very well on any standardized test that they took because their education prepared them for it. That of course was to reduce their stress and build their confidence, but I am glad I did not have a wooden nose. It would have been a dead giveaway.
Today’s teachers are very stress bound when it comes to these tests. The tests have become less of an assessment of student learning and more of a club or Thor’s hammer for teacher evaluation. Of course teachers are stressed and that is generated to the students for the duration of the “Testing Season”, whether or not the teacher intends for that to happen.
If teachers could select students for their classes, crafty teachers would always opt for classes with the slower students. Those are the classes that can show the most advancement in “testing season”, making the teacher a shining star. A great teacher with an outstanding class is cursed and possibly deemed inadequate because kids performing at the very top of the scale will show little improvement. Of course, according to the assessments, it must be the teacher’s fault that kids in the 95th percentile did not move at least five points higher. How can there not be stress and anxiety in the “testing season”?
We may need to research any drop in attendance at schools with stress related illnesses during “testing season”. We do flu shots in the winter season, so maybe we need stress reliever shots in the “testing season”.
Of course pushing testing into a season has had a great affect on the testing industry and all of its requirements. We need to prepare for “testing season”. We need to test in “testing season”, and we need to develop tools and curriculum for “testing season”. The result of all of this is a billion dollar a year industry and we have yet to develop the “testing season” greeting cards.
Maybe we should take a step back and assess our assessments. We do not need this testing season. Tests have grown beyond what they were intended for. They were intended for the teacher to gauge student learning in order to adjust lessons to better meet the needs of students. Tests were never designed to become the goal of education at the expense of actual learning.
This is the part of the post where I should be proposing a thoughtful alternative as a positive spin for this unpopular aspect which has been pushed into American education. Unfortunately, I have no recommendations. I have no ideas that can replace a billion dollar a year idea. Portfolios, individual conferences, and authentic learning projects would all be improvements over standardized testing for student assessment, but they do not provide easily calculated data.
We as a society have allowed business and politicians to corrupt an assessment tool in order to use it as a money-making device for a select few companies. Education needs to be more transparent, but certainly the best people to administer education should be the educators and not business people or politicians. We need to realign education’s goals on learning and not testing. We do not need a season of testing, but a life of learning.
What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #19)
“Dreaming or Awake – Is There A Difference?”
Early in my life, my mom encouraged me to dream. I am not sure if she was teaching me to escape the present or plan for the future or both. Recently, I have been dreaming a lot about life personally and professionally. My dreams have not been limited to the moments of sleep. I have often found myself “day dreaming”. As I have reflected on why I dream, what I am dreaming of and should I share my dreams, I have been left numb by the question, “what if”? As my body lay motionless last night, I found myself questioning was I awake or asleep? Then, I felt a strange sense of peace – did it really matter?
I have learned that dreams can prepare us for the awaken life. It is one thing to dream, it is another to understand the nature of the dream. Without examining the nature of our dreams, they are merely moments in between two breathes. As leaders we have dreams and we try to operationalize those dreams through vision and mission statements, action/improvement plans and our daily work. In education, we often use terms like equity, access and achievement gaps as ways to add context to our dreams. I am not sure we pause often enough to question the nature of the dreams and our actions.
I have a dream that one day our schools will rise up and lead our great nation. Lead you ask, yes lead! For if it is not us, then who shall? Although we the educators know that we are not all created equal, we know it is our job to create equitable opportunities for all our children. This is the true intent of our great nation, access to the dream, the American Dream. I have a dream that my two little boys, my daughter and every child that I serve will one day attend schools where they will not be judged by the AYP cell they are assigned to but by the content of their character and their ability to create their own new knowledge.
I dream that one day educators will open the doors of gifted and talented, honors and other college preparatory curriculum; one day in each of our towns, all students will be able to engage in the richness of Advance Placement and International Baccalaureate; one day in every school house, students will have one adult that believes that they deserve to and can achieve at the highest levels. I dream that we will not place barriers in front of our students and pretend that we are trying to protect them from failing before they have tried.
I dream that one day every hidden curriculum will be revealed, every lesson will be scaffolded, teachers will work collaboratively to provide portals to language, instructional strategies will the topic of conversation around the staff room table and the glory of new knowledge shall be revealed and all students will create it for themselves.
I dream that others will recognize that this is our chance. I dream that others will share the same conviction. I dream that we will all go back to our schools this year and every year until our dreams are our reality. With this conviction we will be able open the locked doors of promise for all students and be able to transform the clattering dissension of our profession into a picturesque web of support for our students. Then we will be able to collaborate together, to learn together, to struggle together, to walk the steps of the capital together, to stand up for access together, knowing that we will all be free one day.
As we wrap up one school year and begin to plan for another, I hope we relentlessly dream and ask ourselves, “what if”. More importantly, what if we the adults relentlessly asked our students to dream, plan and act? What if our students felt safe enough to share their dreams? What if we defined our work by ability to teach students how to learn and facilitated their dreams? What if we shared our dreams with our staff and students? What if…
Finally from, Stella Stuart “Dream - Everyday”
Behind me infinite power
Before me is endless possibility.
Around me is boundless opportunity.
Why should I fear?
As I was picking up my Hawaiian shirts from my local dry cleaners last week, I was approached by a former student of 30 years ago, who managed to recognize me all these years and extra pounds later. He mentioned a few of the memories that he had of our student/teacher time together and then offered his view of education today. It was soon apparent that he felt that at least half of the entire student population in America was graduating school with a total inability to read anything. He stated and restated his very firm belief several times during our brief conversation. It was apparent to me that changing his mind would not take place at that moment in that parking lot, so I headed off with a simple disagreement, but not really challenging his view of education.
This encounter caused me to start thinking about other perspectives people might have on education today. I travel extensively in education circles and engage people in conversation about education on a regular basis. I am starting to believe that when it comes to what people believe, or don’t believe about education has little to do with facts. It seems to be more about who has the ear of the public in order to say things loud enough and often enough regardless of facts. Sound bites seem to be framing the education discussion in terms of taxpayer perceptions. Politicians and Tax Reformers seem to be the loudest and most persistent voices in the discussion.
I then attended the Education Industry Summit held by the Software and Information Industry Association (www.siia.net/education). It is the premiere conference for leaders in the education technology industry. This organization sponsors, encourages, and mentors companies that are education technology innovators. It is by all means an excellent organization.
My personal takeaway from this conference however, was a glimpse of how the perspective on education is viewed by the people in this industry. They are constantly surrounded by tech, so they view all education in terms of technology. They are rich with facts to support their beliefs. They talk about the impact their products will have on a technology-rich environment in education. They have charts and diagrams in PowerPoint presentations, as well as professionally produced videos to support their product’s entry and impact into the world of education.
What vexed me about this perspective was that I did not recognize the education system that they described in a majority of their presentations.
There are many schools with a culture that supports technology and innovation, but I question whether it is a majority of schools. Technology in education has been introduced in bits and pieces as it developed. Few schools had systematic plans for integration. Many were required to have what were called five-year plans, but five years in technology is a lifetime. Dog years don’t even come close. Many schools are playing catch up in this age of technology. Integrating new tech-driven methodology into a system steeped in 19th and 20th century methodology is not going to be accomplished overnight, or in some cases over a decade. We have many schools trying to teach their kids for the future while relying on methods and technologies of the past. Too many schools do not have the mindset or culture to support systematic conversions to the latest and greatest innovations of technology. These points are not being made in power point presentations, or professional videos of the industry people. They discuss the impact of their technology on students, but ignore the impact on teachers.
One would think that educators would have the best perspective on a view of education and many do. Their view however is determined by their teaching experience. There is a vast difference in perspective when talking to an urban teacher as opposed to a suburban teacher. Rural teachers have a completely different view. There is a big difference between schools of poverty and schools of affluence. How can we ever address the solutions to the problems in a standardized way when the problems are so diverse? How can we have a national discussion on education when the problems for the most part exist on a local level? How do we listen to politicians, profiteers, tax reformers, education reformers parents, students, teachers, administrators, and concerned citizens while each has a different motivation and view of education? Should each of their views carry the same weight? Will it ever be possible to find common ground between the likes of Diane Ravitch and the likes of Michelle Rhee?
Before we decide on the changes maybe we should reconsider the needs. Before we went to standardized testing, maybe we should have determined some basic standardized professional development. Maybe in reflecting on how we approach teaching on a national level, we could be less concerned with what we teach. The emphasis might go from what kids learn to how kids learn. If the national focus was on creating learners instead of test takers, we might make a more effective difference. If our educators rededicated themselves to learning as models and mentors, we might see significant change in a system long in need of updating. It would take a commitment to professional development. It would seem more likely to affect a significant change in our students, if we could first affect a needed change in their educators. Committing to educating educators to the needed changes in methodology and pedagogy as a priority in modern education.
The next time my Hawaiian shirts need to be picked up from the dry cleaners, I should ask my wife if she would please help me out and pick them up.
When I was in high school, I wrote a lot of expository essays. I mean a lot of expository essays. Through these writing experiences, it became my impression that there were different kinds of expository essays, but that each pretty much had its own blueprint. Furthermore, I came to believe that these types were distinct, self-contained, and that they didn’t really mix with other writing forms. That’s what I was taught. Yet despite all my early work in expository writing, it wasn’t until I became an adult writer that I really came to understand what “expository” actually means.
According to Merriam-Webster, the word “expository” is “used to describe writing that is done to explain something.” I’m quite confident that my high school teachers would agree with this definition. That notwithstanding, the Common Core State Writing Standards (CCSWS) are curiously devoid of an “expository” text type. Could this be some kind of editorial oversight? Or is expository writing really gone?
The answer is neither. Exposition is alive and well. It’s actually thriving as part of the newly defined text types. The CCSWS have simply put it where it belongs in the scheme of writing instruction. The word “expository” refers not to a specific type of writing; rather, it refers to identifiable structures that may exist within multiple types of writing. Consider this excerpt from the CCSWS definition of opinion writing (Appendix A, page 23):
Although young children are not able to produce fully developed logical arguments, they develop a variety of methods to extend and elaborate their work by providing examples, offering reasons for their assertions, and explaining cause and effect. These kinds of expository structures are steps on the road to argument. (emphasis added)
This definition alludes to expository structures (specifically cause and effect) within the opinion text type. When I first read this definition, it was a little confusing to me. After all, I had been taught that an expository essay was one thing; a persuasive essay was quite another (and that any essay confusing the two would not score well).
But the CCSWS have put all this into a more correct perspective. Persuasive, after all, is not a text type. It’s a purpose for writing. Expository is also not a text type. It refers to structures that can live within multiple text types. Therefore, blending these elements is not a conflict between exclusive writing forms. Understanding this allows us to correct a flawed paradigm and adjust expectations for student writers.
Consider the following example: Let’s say a student decides to argue a point in writing. Argument is a text type characterized by identifiable characteristics (a claim, reasons, examples, and evidence). While arguing, the student might use expository structures to defend his claim (explaining causes and effects, reporting observations or outcomes, identifying proven solutions for specific problems, etc.). Depending upon the writing situation, the student may also choose to integrate some persuasive elements into the argument. Persuasion is a writing purpose characterized by an emphasis on credibility, emotions, or self-interest, so purpose and audience are critically important considerations in this decision. At any rate, this hypothetical student could write an argument (text type) wherein his claim is supported by expository structures, and his writing purpose is supported by (appropriate) persuasive elements.
Other examples abound to recommend the inclusion of expository structures across the text types: A student begins an historical narrative by explaining the causes and effects that led to World War II. Another student concludes an opinion essay about a specific problem with an exposition of a solution. These are but a few examples. The role of exposition is clearly revealed by the standards themselves and by the specific definitions of the text types provided in Appendix A. Effective exposition within writing forms is also typified in the writing models found in Appendix C.
One question remains: Is there still such a thing as a strictly expository essay? The best, most academic answer I can muster is… “sort of.” The CCSWS use the words “informative/explanatory” to define a text type that is similar (the relationship is apparent in that many historical definitions of exposition included both of these words). But the new standards don’t include an “expository” text type. The implication here might be that exposition constitutes a set of structures that pervade multiple text types, thereby defying classification as a text type itself.
But isn’t it possible to engineer an entire composition using an expository structure? Sure. But teacher, beware! In practice, this paradigm can be instructionally limiting. When we focus intently on expository structures, we sometimes overemphasize the more concrete and objective aspects of writing (such as organization). We tend to ask more questions like, “What kind of writing is this?” and fewer questions like, “How effective is this writing for the purpose and audience?” To bypass this potential pitfall, it is imperative to use a writing curriculum that addresses each of the six traits consistently within the writing process: ideas, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, and voice. This instructional design ensures uniform attention to all of the qualities that make writing effective, even when addressing an assignment that seems to emphasize a specific organizational structure.
A note about the newly defined informative/explanatory text type: While the new standards separate “informative” and “explanatory” with a slash, these two concepts live harmoniously along a continuum. Informative writing gives facts. Explanatory writing is somewhat more complex, going beyond the simple provision of facts to demonstrate processes, comparisons, and relationships between ideas. While distinctly identifiable, these forms are not separate from one another. For example, a kindergarten teacher might begin by asking students to create an “All About Me Book,” with a picture and a fact on each page (informative). As students become more sophisticated writers, the teacher might ask students to write about the steps to making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (explanatory). The second task is more complex, requiring the use of transition words and a logical sequence (explanatory), but it builds upon students’ ability to articulate individual ideas in writing (informative).
To summarize, expository writing has not gone missing, and it’s certainly not dead. It has simply gone home to its proper place within the new standards. So while we may not write as many (strictly) “expository essays” as we used to, good writers can leverage their understanding of expository structures to improve their work in any text type.
This is the second in a series of blog posts about the writing text types and how they have been redefined by the Common Core State Standards. Part 1 of the Decoding the Text Types series, One of These Things Is Not Like the Others, explains how the concept of persuasive writing differs from the Common-Core-defined text types, opinion and argument. Later posts in the series will cover the new narrative writing text type and misconceptions about descriptive writing.
—James Scott Miller, M.Ed., Zaner-Bloser Senior Instructional Consultant and Consulting Author, Strategies for Writers