Search ASCD EDge
Once again ASCD leaders from around the world are traveling to the Leader to Leader conference to be held this weekend. Leader to Leader (L2L) is our annual professional development event for those dedicated education professionals who serve in important leadership roles for ASCD Affiliates, Connected Communities, Professional Interest Communities, Student Chapters, and our Emerging Leaders program. Over the five years I have been associated with L2L, it has evolved to be a much more collaborative event with lots of opportunity for networking and learning from one another. The diversity of thought, perspective, experience and expertise is, in my own humble opinion, what makes this conference such a success every year. It’s never the same event twice.
This year we are looking to up the ante again, focusing on the theme of Take Charge Leadership, as we continue to encourage these ASCD leaders to work with one another across their constituent groups and generate new ideas, initiatives and energy that they can take back home and implement in support of the educators they serve. And so the question we ask at the outset of this year’s L2L is, “What do you get when you allow talented, capable minds to self-select groupings and projects that will build their professional capital while providing new value and greater capacity to lead?” We are about to find out.
We look at leadership around eight very specific actions that are nurtured and sustained over time. Beginning our conference work around these actions and then moving into an unconferencing format that allows participants to take charge of their learning sets the tone for the weekend. We are also instituting for the first time Web-based polling that will allow everyone in attendance to vote and comment instantaneously using their mobile devices throughout the three days. Modeling this as participants provide quantitative and qualitative feedback to one another will provide practice and experience with a tool our leaders can take back with them to their respective, states, provinces and countries.
By the time we wrap up Saturday, everyone will be saturated in new ideas and possibilities. L2L is always an exhausting experience for everyone involved. Exhausting and gratifying. What is most gratifying for us as staff is the number of return participants we have every year, and the highly positive feedback we receive from the conference participant surveys. The truth is, it’s the ASCD Leaders who come and participate who make L2L the success it is. As a membership organization, ASCD could not make the difference it does for educators everywhere without its constituent group leaders. L2L is ASCD’s way of giving back to our leaders in the field, offering them the skills and support to be effective on the ground where it matters most.
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
While we do not often think about it, we can start redesigning schools with the physical space. As I think about how to structure a high school, I see ways to change the school simply with the furnishing. Open spaces, natural light and comfortable seats can all take a school from “cells and bells” to a place of innovation and invention. I have often said that I go onto college campuses and I see how I wish to teach. It is amazing to have open manicured lawns, wooded paths, and some time to be outside. Being at a traditional high school, cooped up inside, it makes me wish I could escape, not stay and learn. If I feel that way, and I had a positive experience at school, I know my students feel the same way.
Along with how the school is designed, I am interested to see how much schools could become like the best idea companies. Places like Google, Microsoft, and Twitter have to give their employees space to think. Google has become famous for its Genius Hour in which the employees are given time to simply pursue whatever interests them and some of their newest innovations (Google Glass, the Google self driving car) have come from this time. These companies thrive based on how well their employees think. This is how we should be approaching schools. We should treat our students and teachers like thinking, and developing new ideas, was their job. We should give them time to pursue their passions and interests. We have to trust teachers to develop systems and solutions for the issues they face. We then further need to trust students to learn and find passion in learning.
When we think about public education, it is frustrating that while we want to have schools as a place of learning, growing , innovation and invention we run them like factories. With fixed amounts of credits, minutes and grades, we are trying to mass produce graduates (the all important graduation rate as the critical marker of success) with teachers working on the assembly line. We have this system, not because we think it is the best, but because accountability demands clear criteria to measure (test scores, graduation rates). Free time to generate ideas and follow passions is not as measurable as 3 years of high school science or 55 minutes of Geometry.
While places like Google see Genius Hour as a way to allow its engineers to follow intellectual endeavors as vital to it continued success and relevance, it is hard to see this becoming part of our public schools in our current high stakes, high accountability climate. There are some educators calling for the changes, to make schools more like our most innovative and productive companies, it has failed to penetrate the average school and is not part of the much of the current popular reform conversation. Less is more is not as prevalent as more is more.
If we are serious about schools being places of idea production, we have to build them to support the creation of ideas. We have also recognize that learning is an organic process, not a mechanical one. We cannot simply speed things up and have students simply learn more in less time, just like we cannot double the fertilizer we put on crops and expect them to grow twice as much in half the time. What we can do is create a set of circumstances, a climate, that can support higher growth. This can be done many ways, but one way that might need to be considered includes natural light and some free time.
Cross-posted from: http://wsascdel.blogspot.com/2014/07/learning-from-ground-up.html
Please follow John @jhhines57 or check out his blog at notfillingthepail.blogspot.com
Exercise and the Brain
By Jonathan Jefferson
“SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” by John J. Ratey, MD is the one book that all educators must read to fully understand the inseparable connection between exercise and the brain’s ability to acquire knowledge. Long before this well structured, research-based book was released in 2008, I had admonished my colleagues that it was a misnomer to equate academic learning and exercise as two separate spheres if for no other reason than that the brain can only receive nourishment through movement. Movement increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain priming it for the development of new neuron-passage ways. Recent studies have also shown that coordinated movement (e.g. dance, martial arts, & yoga) are the most effective “steroids” for the brain.
Why is this topic important? Far too often we find well-intentioned educators unwittingly act on assumptions which are too detached from prevailing research to be anything but ineffectual. Having students engage in physical activity before classes and exams is much more beneficial than having them sit quietly and read. However, the “control freaks” contingency of educators are disinclined to relinquish their illusion of control, which ultimately contributes to the detriment of student performance. Let us truly put kids first and embrace the maxim of doing what is best for them; not what is most convenient for the adults.
Dr. Ratey thoroughly shared the success of Naperville Illinois’ school district in his book. This district is lead by their physical education and wellness program. On the 1999 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Naperville’s eighth graders placed sixth in the world in math and first in science. He also reported that in Naperville students are deliberately scheduled for their most difficult classes following physical education class. This is done to take advantage of their brain’s readiness to learn at that time. Imagine that; a striving school district actually applying proven research to a successful end.
I am not surprised that “SPARK” is a best seller. The research shared explains the benefits of exercise on stress, anxiety, depression, attention deficit, addiction, hormonal changes, aging, and learning. There is something for everyone, and acting on the research shared can improve the quality of life for many.
In addition to this fine work, another great read specific to movement and the brain is Math and Movement by Suzy Koontz.
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”?
I find myself returning to a particular moment in one of my classes as an illustration of my philosophy of education. It wasn’t one of those inspirational lessons or fantastic units, either. It was a required, school-wide, test-prep math lesson.
I’m an English teacher. Let's just say, math isn't my thing.
In this school-wide initiative, we all did the same reading passage or math problem every day. These were sometimes not available until five minutes before the class and rushed out to teachers.
On this day, we had this math problem that dealt with the volume of a cube ( or something like that), and we had to figure that out to resolve the larger problem. But the image provided was two-dimensional. It was a letter T, a box that was completely laid flat.
With a very clear, personal awareness of my non-math aptitude, I was actually a better model for learners that day. First, I had to offer myself some motivation for doing the problem other than the fact that it was required because doing something that way isn’t a motivation. I had to be curious about how to solve the problem.
Teachers were given the answers, of course. But what good is an answer without wanting to understand where it comes from?
I thought aloud about how to approach the problem as a learner for a bit and then opened it up for class collaboration, to see what we could do or not do with it. I modeled my thinking, which was probably something along the lines of "Seriously?! There has got to be a way…"
My mind just wasn't getting it, though. It didn't bother anyone, least of all me, that I didn't have the answer because we often held discussions where I didn't have the answer. That was okay in my class.
So, we piddled and pondered together, and after a few minutes, a student figured it out (math whiz that he was!) jumped up excitedly and tried to tell us how he'd arrived at the (correct) answer. I didn't follow, so he ran up to the front, grabbed some scissors, cut the paper,
and made the cube by folding it over.
The whole problem rested on this spatial understanding.
This learning moment exemplifies my philosophy of education.
Now, I know a lot of people talk about strategies and methods when they discuss their philosophy of education, but I have to wonder what it is that induces those principles--what's behind the decision-making process that compels one to choose a particular strategy or method? Doesn’t our mindset come first?
Because there was no method or strategy that I used in our cube story. But we learned.
There were however, several mindsets at work, and I think my philosophy of education seems boils down to mindsets. If the mindset is appropriate, the method or strategy will emerge more naturally. They are (in no particular order): mindfulness, curiosity, creativity, and humility.
Mindfulness has to do with a state of being in response to or approach to things as a teacher (or a learner). Whether that is a stellar discussion post from an adult learner or a snarky comment from a teenager face-to-face, I steer away from knee-jerk reactions. Rather, I prefer to take a moment and consider what is actually happening or will happen. I allow the moment to happen--it's being fully present.
In the cube story, I allowed the moment to happen. Without that mindfulness, I probably would have just glossed over to the answer. If I attach mindfulness to an action, I would call it allowing. I enjoyed allowing the moment of not knowing, thinking, collaborating, and listening.
Curiosity as a mindset played a large role, here--the ability to be curious about things that we might not be interested in or that we might already know a lot about is a game-changer for education. It is a mindset that has helped me in so many ways with students. For example, I taught Frankenstein every year in AP Lang. While I can certainly say I knew the story and characters inside and out, every year, I would approach the novel with new curiosity. I created a question for myself to answer, generally along the lines of "How is this ages-old novel STILL relevant today?" And every year, without fail, I'd come up with an answer.
Curiosity seems to attach to the action of searching. Students need to see us searching.
Creativity has recently gotten a lot of press, but I'm careful when I say that this mindset is one of the driving forces of my philosophy. I'm not a creative genius or anything, but I know it when I feel it, and I notice when it's not there.
I don't see it as a "what," though. It's a how. It's a process. It's a blend of willingness and flexibility and exciting discomfort. I want that in learners because that's where they can make some strides as far as autonomy (which they'll need) and in problem-solving.
The art of brainstorming, collaboration, and sharing all fall under this category, and it seems to be one of the areas where my former students excelled. Though our cube story focused on one person as a catalyst, it was still a collaborative moment. Perhaps creativity can be connected to the action of trusting. Without trusting each other, could we have had this moment?
The last mindset in my philosophy, humility, was really evident, here, and it certainly played a role in moving the students forward in comprehension. They saw me struggle and succeed. They struggled and succeeded, and we had a positive learning moment. Humility, as an action, could be seen as acknowledging one’s self. I am more open and flexible in my awareness of what I don’t know.
Side note: I had to laugh, recently, because one of the comments I received on a course evaluation (I facilitate professional development courses for educators) was: "I know more on some topics than the facilitator does."
I thought--"Damn right, you do! I learned from you! I want to learn from you! That's what it's all about!" Though I'm sure she meant it as a negative, it was actually a sort of positive for me, if only because she saw me as fellow-learner, which was my goal anyway.
After the student had shown the class what the heck was going on with cube, you could hear the collective, "AHHHHHH..." followed by the scribbling of the problem resolution.
We applauded him and ourselves that day. We shared in that moment of curious searching, mindful allowing, creative trusting, and humble acknowledging of ourselves and each other as a community of learners.
Mirror Site: http://joyfulcollapse.blogspot.com/2014/07/through-two-dimensional-cube-philosophy.html
ONEness…Here Lies the Power!
Most the time we consider ONE an isolated number. Isolation Island is not a fun, nor an effective place to be. Not in education, that is! One cannot make great things happen alone…it is unfair to the student(s) and the educator. However, ONE is a dynamic number when we’re talking about a team…or even a school. Uno, isa, dua, taha, ngicce-q, een, um, ëk, wa’, or d’aya…. they all mean ONE no matter what tongue speaks the word. Great leaders know the impact teams have when operating from the “power of ONE.” Now, don’t get me wrong! I do not mean they operate like a cookie factory where everyone does the same thing simultaneously. I simply mean that teams have unified goals, objectives, visions, and the ability to come together to make things happen. Students deserve teachers and administrators who are willing to work together and make decisions collectively for the betterment of all those they serve. In fact, all systems should be operating from the “power of ONE.” If a school wants to ensure their campus goals are met, they also need to make sure they have a one-way vision that is so visible and audible to all stakeholders, including parents and the community. All those who influence student achievement in any way should be walking the same path in a unified direction. This means they need to have leaders providing direction, encouragement, and the drive needed to keep the path moving forward. Schools need to have a respectful fear of the “power of ONE.” Without taking this power stance, a school can rapidly lose momentum and fail.
Last night I was reading an article on from Education Leadership (EL) magazine published by ASCD. By the way, if you do not subscribe to this magazine, you are missing out on a lot of awesome PD through intriguing monthly articles. Great stuff!!! The article I read, How Japan Supports Novice Teachers, discussed a Japanese system that lines up with my thoughts on the “power of ONE.” In 2006, “only 1.35 percent of first-year teachers in Japan left the profession” (Ahn, 2014, para 3). Not to my surprise or probably even yours, the “power of ONE” does not work for our novice colleagues in America. Ummmm…the United States loses about one-third of our new teachers sometime during their first three years in the profession. By year five, the percentage increases to nearly one-half (Ahn, 2014). The article describes a room called shokuin shitsu (do not try to say that ten times fast because it will not sound good…believe me…I tried). This shared space is an area where teachers and administrators hang out anytime they are not in the classroom. The goal of the shokuin shitsu is support. Inside this “educator only” space, teachers collaborate and work side-by-side before school, after school, during off periods, and at lunch. Novice teachers get help with planning, calling parents, or simply gaining support or encouragement. So, is this type of “power of ONE” the answer for teacher retention in the U.S.? Maybe! Maybe Not! It definitely couldn’t hurt! It fares better than the systems I’ve witnessed in my years as an educator. Even if we did half as much (myself included), we would most likely see a sharp decline in teachers leaving the classrooms.
The shokuin shitsu may be a bit too much for us to implement as our systems and mindsets are not ready to support it. I share this story not to start this Japanese practice at my school but to show the powerful force found in unified organizations.
If you, your team, or your school is not operating from a ONE stance, then you need to reevaluate yourself or the systems in place at your school. Before going back to school this fall, reflect on ONEness (my word of the day). Remember, the “power of ONE” can certainly begin with you!
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?
There’s never enough time to blog and reblog all of the interesting resources I find during the week, so I decided to start a Best of the Week List where I share all of the education-related blogs, articles, apps and resources I come across every week.
Reading and Language Arts
BookCrossing.com (register a book online, share it, and find out where it travels)
10 More Awesome Fantasy Series That are Not Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings
For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II (fascinating article from Smithsonian.com)
Inside America’s Atomic City (interesting article and images from Messy Nessy)
The 1970s Cold War Era Home Built 26 Feet Underground
An 8th Grade Final Exam from 1895
1,000 Years of War in 5 Minutes
10 Myths About Vikings
Famous Last Words (tragic and amusing collection of last words!)
The History of Taxes (an interactive infographic)
D-Day Landing Scenes in 1944 and Now (an interactive photo collection)
A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding A Coat of Arms (an infographic)
How To Turn A Negative Consequence Into A Positive Classroom Management Strategy (an excellent article by Larry Ferlazzo)
7 Ways to Increase Student Engagement (an infographic)
99 More Incredible Lectures From the World’s Top Scientists
Impact Calculator (create a virtual impact on Earth by changing the size, speed and composition of an approaching asteroid or comet)
Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Pamela Gay, and Lawrence Krauss Discuss Our Future in Space
MIT's Freaky Non-Stick Coating Keeps Ketchup Flowing
Remastered and Stabilized Apollo 16 Footage
Science Hack (every science video on the site is screened by a scientist to verify its accuracy and quality)
Random Education Links
4 R’s of Summer School: Keeping the Momentum Going
What People Think A Teacher’s Summer Is Like Vs. What It’s Really Like
Road Tested / Lesson Closure: Stick the Landing (good advice on ending lessons with a bang)
Meaning Makers or Empty Vessels (6 questions we should ask ourselves before assigning homework)
Rethinking Homework (an interesting article from author and former-principal, Alfie Kohn)
Technology in the Classroom
Shadow Puppet Edu (a free app to help you capture and share student work)
Integrating Technology & Genius Hour: My Journey as a Teacher & Learner (a nice collection of resources related to Genius Hour)
Contemplate (a proverb-generating web application)
Draw a Stickman (free web application; could be useful for developing students’ fine motor skills)
The Coffee Cup Analogy (good advice on pursuing happiness)
The Straight Dope (you ask a question, Cecil Adams will answer it)
Partially Examined Life (philosophy podcasts)
Philosophy Bro (nice collection of summaries of philosophical works)
Please feel free to distribute this email and information widely to professionals in the fields of Special Education, Early Childhood and Health.
I am writing to invite submissions for a 2-3 page chapter proposals for an international and interdisciplinary book titled, Challenges Surrounding the Education of Children with Chronic Diseases scheduled to be released in April 2015.
This book is an edited volume so I'm seeking authors interested in writing chapters for the book. I am also in need of participants interested in being members of the Editorial Advisory Board.
The deadline for chapter proposal submissions is July 1, 2014.
For more information please visit IGI Global publications at http://www.igi-global.com/publish/call-for-papers/call-details/1389.
All the best,
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.
Caring connects kids to their school, their teachers, their learning, their families, their communities, to one another and to themselves. Therefore, creating and maintaining a culture of caring in our schools and communities is paramount to effecting real change.
As with any impactful change, creating a culture of caring requires a delicate combination of programs, processes and people. It is simply not good enough to create or purchase a program and implement it. Over the years, packaged programs have proliferated while bullying and mental illness have increased. Schools have developed processes to create safer environments, yet more students are being hurt physically, socially and emotionally. Little attention has been paid to empowering the people in our schools and communities to make a difference.
As principal of a large, inner city school we implemented a very effective balance of programs, processes and empowerment of people that resulted in a very effective school culture in which our students thrived. Bullying was almost non-existent, kids who needed help got it and test scores went up. All of this occurred in a budget model which allowed us to spend funds where needed. We were empowered.
In order to move you to action, here is a selection of our most effective strategies that allowed us to create an award-winning school in which everyone was proud to work and to learn.
1. Student Empowerment
1. Early Intervention Program- Intermediate students self-selected to be part of a weekly mental health support group that addressed at-risk behaviors and was run in partnership with a local mental health hospital.
2. Yoga – Students self-selected to be part of a weekly lunchtime yoga group. One at-risk girl commented that it saved her life.
3. Mental Karate – The entire school was involved in Mental Karate, a program that took them through setting goals and taking action in the areas of Initiative, Discipline, Contribution, Courage and Awareness.
4. United Mentors for Peace - Intermediate students planned activities to create a peaceful school, reaching out to the community and beyond. They created annual peace assemblies, managed charitable fundraising activities, and took responsibility for supporting a safe and caring culture in the school.
5. Peacekeepers – Junior students were trained in conflict resolution strategies and helped resolve disputes in the Primary and Junior yards.
6. Fun Bunch – Junior students were trained to teach and supervise schoolyard games for Primary students.
7. Social Skills group – Identified students were directly taught social/ emotional skills in partnership with a local community center support program.
8. Leadership development – Students of all ages were engaged as lunch monitors, peer tutors, teacher helpers, reading buddies, coaches and referees. They were also engaged in a multitude of service learning projects.
9. Option Program – Intermediate students had one period a week in which they could choose an activity of interest from such things as cooking, chess, hip-hop dance, drama, visual arts, guitar, board games etc.
2. Teacher Empowerment
1.SSafe and caring teaching and leading– All classrooms were safe and caring, free of ridicule, harassment and sarcasm. Teachers understood the importance of creating an atmosphere in which the brain is at the optimal level of arousal.
2. Bi-weekly professional development staff meetings – Staff were trained to differentiate teaching strategies through honoring multiple intelligences, learning styles and current brain research.
3. Shared leadership – Division leaders were empowered to implement programs and process to support their students academically, socially and emotionally.
3. Parent Empowerment
1. Parent Council was guided to develop a Mission and Goals that supported the school’s Mission.
2. Parental responsibility was embedded in the school’s Mission Statement, “To maximize student learning through students, staff, parents and community working together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and shared responsibility.”
3. Parent education workshops were provided.
In addition to the previous empowerment examples we maximized the adult:child ratio of support; ensured that each student had a significant connection with a teacher; focused on connections and relationships; worked within a shared, vision, values and beliefs; maintained stability on our staff and leadership team; became a recognized leader as a Professional Learning Community and ensured that being at our school was fun and rewarding.
I hope this provides you with some useful ideas to move forward in creating a safe and caring culture in your classrooms and in your schools.
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.
As I begin my first day of summer vacation, memories of this past school year are fresh in mind, and I cannot help but evaluate the larger picture of my pedagogy: What did I do effectively this year? Where did I go wrong? What should I do differently next year?
The school year ended, summer has started, and projections about day 1 of next year are already formulating in my mind. I can’t think of a better way to indulge in such reflection than by referring to such a reputable source like Peter Smagorinsky (2008). In reference to in-class discussions, he states:
“I have found that students appreciate approaching literature through a variety of astructures, tasks, and activities, which alleviates the tedium that they haveunfortunately come to expect in school. More important, however, by engaging in these activity-oriented, student-centered means of discussion, students become more active agents of their learning and rise to a higher level of expectation for their engagement with literature,” (Smagorinsky, pg. 44).
Most educators would probably say that they strive for an “activity-oriented, student-centered” classroom, but perfecting what this actually means and looks like is a task that most teachers—at some point in their career—fall short of. One aspect of my teaching I am proud of from this past year was my effort to promote authentic discussions: engaging dialogues in which students respond to each other and use evidence to support substantial claims about meaningful topics.
Undoubtedly, students prefer hearing their own voices rather than listening to their teachers talk for the entire period, butas Johannessen & Kahn (2007) note,“Unfortunately, studies of classrooms reveal that students are seldom engaged in authentic discussion. Christoph and Nystrand (2001) and Nystrand (1997) report that, in the classrooms they observed, authentic discussion occurred on average for only fifty seconds per class in eighth grade and fifteen seconds per class in ninth grade classes,” (Johannessen & Kahn, pg. 101). A classroom that lacks in authentic dialogue will fall short in other critical aspects of learning such as engagement and formative assessment. Students must be able to voice their understandings to test understandings and receive feedback on misunderstandings.
One of the difficult aspects of an authentic discussion is to motivate students to respond to others. Many teachers will fall into a IRE (teacher initiates-student responds-teacher evaluates) pattern of questioning. This form of questioning--two teacher contributions for every one student contribution--minimizes the amount of time students get a chance to talk and heightens the amount of teacher talk in class. But how should a teacher go about getting students to respond to others? Ask them to! Step out of the conversation and establish some key policies and procedures:
Take a look at a transcript from a final discussion on A Tale of Two Cities that occurred last week. The question students were discussing was, “How does Charles Dickens use minor and major characters to comment on human nature?” At first I didn’t like this question. I thought it was too broad and that it should be focused more directly on our inquiry. Nonetheless, many of my colleagues were using the same question, so I thought, “My colleagues are pretty smart, so why not see what students come up with?” Given that there were three other focus questions for discussion, I decided to give it a shot. Students had 20 minutes to work with a partner to formulate responses and supporting examples. This is a selection from a small portion of the dialogue that ensued the next day:
STUDENT 1: I think Dickens wants us to understand the evilness of human nature. Ordinary people can be evil and contribute to the world in a negative way. Like when it says, “I call it my Little Guillotine. La, la, la; La, La la! And off his head comes!” (Dickens, pg. 275). He [the wood-sawyer] thinks it’s funny. He doesn’t have much value for life. He’s [Dickens is] using this minor character to demonstrate there is an evilness to human nature.
STUDENT 2: Yet to go off your claim—I agree that all people are innately evil. Gaspard was so upset that the Marquis killed his son, and on page 130 it says, “Driven home into the heart of the stone figure attached to it, was a knife…. ‘Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from Jacques,’” (Dickens, pg. 130). This just shows that people are driven by revenge. Gaspard goes to kill Marquis because of revenge.
STUDENT 3: I can see your point that human nature is innately evil but I cannot say that it is for certain. Human nature is easy to follow with Sydney Carton, “I see the lives for which I lay down my life,” (Dickens, pg. 372). He had no will to live but found a purpose to live, to die for his friends. He doesn’t seem that evil to me.
STUDENT 4: Human nature is innately evil, but that doesn’t mean that they are always evil. They can demonstrate good, but they are motivated mostly by wants and needs. The marquis was driven by his selfishness, “It is extraordinary to me… that you cannot take care of yourselves and your children,” (Dickens, pg. 111). He doesn’t care about killing a boy and just kills someone because he’s selfish.
This discussion is not perfect. Each student could be more articulate; there are a few points that need to be clarified; the connection between each idea could be more explicitly stated. Next year, I will make intentional efforts to close those gaps depicted in the transcript with future students.
However, there are a few things I like about that exchange: students are responding to each other, using evidence to support their ideas, and are offering different viewpoints on the ethical nature of individuals—pretty substantial material for 9th graders. Jeffrey Conant Markham (2007) notes that “education is essentially an ethical endeavor…. my own career has become increasingly focused on ethics—almost everything we read and discuss has an ethical dimension, and allowing our students to avoid this dimension, for me, represents real failure,” (Markham, pg. 19). Thus, to put students in a position where they can explore the ethical dimensions of a complex text is a worthwhile undertaking.
Furthermore, in the dialogue the teacher’s voice was minimized, and the students’ voices were heightened. The more opportunities a student has to engage in critical issues, the more they will understand those issues. Don’t fool yourself in thinking that it’s the other way around—that the more a teacher talks, the more students will understand. To be clear, I am not saying to let students leave with misinformation or let students completely run class. The idea is that a teacher should do everything he or she can to motivate students to construct knowledge on their own and engage with each other about critical issues.
The dynamics of teacher talk vs. student talk begs more fundamental pedagogical issues such as, “How should teachers engage students in learning? Who holds the knowledge in the classroom? What is the correlation between discussions and literacy comprehension?” These questions are difficult to answer, but have serious implications on our students’ lives; therefore, these issues must be examined.
How we talk not only matters in school but also outside of the classroom. We live in a rapidly changing society in which communication is being transformed by technology. I often hear people say, “Young kids just don’t know how to talk to each other anymore.” Given the transcript above, I’m not sure that is true, but one only needs to look around to see that people often communicate more with their phones rather than the person next to them. Students must be taught and put in the position to communicate in meaningful ways. When it comes to the classroom, I will err on hearing more from the students rather than hearing more of my own voice. Students will enjoy their educational experience more, and they will get more out of it. I will end here with a quote from John Dewey on the power of communication:
Not only is social life identical with communication, but all communication (and hence all genuine social life) is educative. To be a recipient of a communication is to have an enlarged and changed experience. One shares in what another has thought and felt and in so far, meagerly or amply, has his own attitude modified. Nor is the one who communicates left unaffected. Try the experiment of communicating, with fullness and accuracy, some experience to another, especially if it be somewhat complicated, and you will find your own attitude toward your experience changing; otherwise you resort to expletives and ejaculations. The experience has to be formulated in order to be communicated. (Democracy and Education, pgs. 5-6).
Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2004. Print.
Dickens, Charles, and Gillen D'Arcy. Wood. A Tale of Two Cities. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004. Print.
Johannessen, L. and E. Kahn "Engaging Students in Authentic Discussions of Literature." Talking in Class: Using Discussion to Enhance Teaching and Learning. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. N. pag. Print.
Markham, Jeffrey C. "Inquiry Versus Naïve Relativism: James, Dewey, and Teaching the Ethics of Pragmatism." Talking in Class: Using Discussion to Enhance Teaching and Learning. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. N. pag. Print.
Smagorinsky, Peter. Teaching English by Design: How to Create and Carry out Instructional Units.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2008. Print.
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
Despite his relative anonymity, James Pillans dramatically changed teaching and learning. Pillans, you see, invented the blackboard and colored chalk in 1801.
More than 210 years later, teachers continue to use Pillans' tools. Sure, most have gravitated away from chalk and slate to Interactive Whiteboards and tablet computers, but Pillans' centuries-old invention is holding steady in classes worldwide.
What made Pillans' idea so revolutionary was that it solved a huge problem in a remarkably simple way. Nineteenth century teachers needed a way to share information with students visually (some actually wrote on kids' hands), and the blackboard gave birth to a new visual world for students.
If James Pillans could impact education for hundreds of years with a blackboard, isn't it possible that another ridiculously simple idea can revolutionize education for the next two centuries? Following the Pillans model for change in the classroom, modern education needs a simple solution to a gigantic problem. How about assessment?
For as long as education has existed, teachers have assessed students by placing numbers, percentages and letters on their work. This system has been the norm for so long that it isn't often questioned, but it continues to leave gaping holes in achievement and independent learning. Ask students what they've learned, or tell them to assess themselves, and most will respond with blank stares.
If students can't assess their own learning and understand what they have or have not mastered, this is a powerful problem that must be fixed. The good news is this monumental issue can be rectified with James-Pillans-type simplicity.
Assessment 3.0 is today's blackboard, and it can revolutionize teaching and learning. Best of all, it doesn't require any inventions or manufacturing costs. Assessment 3.0 involves replacing traditional grades with conversation, self-evaluation and narrative feedback using SE2R or a similar model.
SE2R is James Pillans simple
Image from Role Reversal (ASCD, 2013)
After many years of using traditional grading practices, I realized that my students needed more. "A" students were just good at manipulating an outdated system, and "F" students didn't try, because they were convinced they couldn't learn. What if we just talk about learning, I wondered. So, I threw out numbers, percentages and letters and stopped grading anything and everything my students ever did. Instead, I provided SE2R feedback:
This is SE2R. It's simple and can be used with any age in any class and delivered in a variety of ways, including through digital tools and social media. Best of all, SE2R creates conversation about learning.
It's time for a revolution
James Pillans' blackboard and chalk changed how teachers shared information. Isn't it time for us to change how we assess what students learn? Numbers and letters are ineffective. Assessment 3.0, featuring SE2R narrative feedback, stimulates the kind of conversation that inspires independent learning and promotes better understanding of achievement.
Best of all, it's ridiculously simple.
Cross posted at Brilliant or Insane