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Response to White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African
Americans: Strategic Diversity Plan Executive Summary for African American Males in the Arkansas Delta.
If we continue to call the institution that our children attend to acquire an education “school” we must begin to demonstrate some evidence of learning. Names can be very misleading; the name of an entity should match its purpose and accomplishments. Based on the ineffectiveness of most school in the nation, to call our institutions for learning “school” is a misnomer. Locally, our students continue to score low on the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP); we continue to sustain the employment of incompetent teachers. We continue to use the same instructional strategies that have failed to advance students achievement even though there are alternatives that have proven to advance academic achievement available. The key to success in diverse classrooms is selecting and implementing powerful instructional methods that simultaneously address a variety of different learning needs (Voltz, Sims, & Nelson, 2010). The students in this district are mostly African American; we have about two percent of other groups. Yet, we still have a diverse group with in the African American student culture. Diversity refers to differences in persons. It incorporates skin color, gender, age, abilities, economic-status, sexual preferences, religious preferences and language to name a few.
African American male students should learn to identify with their own culture before they can be expected to respect other groups. There is a profound diversity within the African American culture. Because of insufficient grammar/language skills and lack of travel experience our African American youth are English Language learners in their own Nation. We cannot justify nor expect the community to accept and support our failure to educate African American males. When I compare data from the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP) test scores and academic progress in class over the last five years, I find that African American males in this district have not received the encouragement they need to be successful. These students are not aware of the history of cultural racism. Cultural racism is the practice of recognizing the activities and contributions of one racial group in preference to others within a multiracial society (Koppelman, 2013). Black males need to know and understand why their present conditions are as they are. By exposing them to their history, we can help them gain such valuable insight. Without this understanding, they will continue to accept incarceration as a natural condition rather than as the consequence of centuries of racism (Kafele, 2009). It is the responsibility of this district to provide these students with the means to navigate through obstacles and master academic challenges.
Students spend more time at school than any other place that they venture. I foresee a school climate where students are interested in learning. This comes about with motivation and encouragement from administrators, staff, teachers, community patrons and parents. Also students are more productive when they experience success; therefore I envision teachers that model high expectations and reach out to students with total acceptance; we must work to ensure that all students have a sense of importance in the school environment. Some students do not feel valued in their home. The response they receive at school can fill that void and improve their self-esteem; when students feel safe they achieve more in class. Also children lack sufficient physical and emotional support in their homes; we must put agencies in place to help with issues of food supply and heat/air conditioning when needed. Children are experiencing crime in their neighborhood; fears begin to grip their minds leaving little room for academic function. A positive culture inspires optimism and hope; a negative culture promotes cynicism and defeatism (Danielson, 2006). Since the school/community is laced with apathy, poverty, Black-on-Black crime and violence, it is easy to see how the children in the public schools adopt the motto, “none of us will learn.”
Over the next five years, we must decrease the number of African American males attending alternative schools. This is not because alternative school is detrimental, but due to the fact that in society there is no reward for not being able to conform to the norm. Lack of respect and outlandish behavior can result in a prison sentence or an early grave in the real world. Young men must learn to control their behavior and respect authority to avoid dire consequences. Alternative schools should service students that need a legitimate alternative. We service students that refuse to participate in class, blatantly disrespect teachers and instigate chaos all day. We will focus on engaging these students in grade-level appropriate, authentic, purposeful curriculum that reflects their interest, culture and academic needs.
Absenteeism is a hindrance to academic achievement. Many students skip school because they feel so unappreciated and cannot demonstrate competence in grade level subject matter. These students need a curriculum that addresses their interest and moves them from underachievers into the arena of successful grade level accomplishments. Students who see themselves in the curriculum will want to attend school; we must provide them with the proper curricular. This is a major issue for third through sixth graders even though attendance is not a profound problem at this age group; parents still have the control to make them go to school in the lower grades. We must draw these younger students into our present so that we can administer the instructions for the strong foundation they need in order to be prepared for upper grade level proficiency. On the other hand, high school students cannot perform well on the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP) unless they are in attendance when instructions are being given. Eleventh grade literacy, tenth grade biology, algebra I, and geometry scores reflect the necessity for increased attendance rates.
Our Black males are struggling to write a single paragraph; we must give them authentic purpose for writing and using correct grammar. For black adolescent males, in order to offset resistance that occurs because of cultural differences and to develop their identities, it is essential to establish culturally responsive instructional practices and infuse the curriculum with culturally relevant materials. (Tatum, 2005)
African American Males need competent male teachers. Poor achievement among our neediest students is the result, at least in part, of a lack of strong, positive black educators in the classrooms. This nation needs to move swiftly to engage more African-American men in teaching. No longer can we simply be OK with black men representing less than 2 percent of our teacher workforce. It is unacceptable (Nicolas, 2014). He continues, “I have also seen the tremendous impact an effective black male educator can have in the classroom. Notice I use the word effective; this is because an effective black male educator can have a more detrimental impact on a school than perhaps a teacher from any demographic.”
Our mission is to prepare students for college, careers and life. All district and school personnel are equally responsible for the success of students. In order for us to move high school students from fifty five percent basic to fifty-five percent advanced we must create and implement a shared vision that all of us will support. School security guards, secretaries, nurses, custodians and cafeteria workers are all a viable part of the organization. All these internal patrons will interact with students in a way that reflects acceptance, and respect. It is the responsibility of the Principal to set the tone for the school culture. With support from the principal the teachers will receive professional development that takes the needs of the students into account. Teachers must learn to focus on the emotional, physical, psychological, social and academic needs of the students. They must also learn to reflect on their own personal prejudice and strive to be fair to all students by eliminating inconsistences that hinder the performance of students. There is a requirement of innovation, concern and educational reform to increase the academic performance of our students. The district administration office must support the principals and provide finances, resources and technical support as the schools engage in transforming students from kindergarten to twelfth grade into lifelong readers, learners and American Citizens.
By the end of the 2014-2015 school years the district personnel as well as the local community will be aware of the vision, objectives, mission and other components of the strategic diversity plan. Successful schools are much more than a list of strategies or activities. At their core, each of the “breakthrough” high schools demonstrates a belief that every student in the school can be academically successful (Westerberg, 2009). The district office will contact Mr. John Hoy, Assistant Commissioner Division of Public School Accountability for information on equity monitoring at the school.
Administrators and the stakeholder will have met together to create, distribute and implement the goals and objectives. This will include the community patrons, parents, students, staff and teachers. The plan will be posted on the school web-site, also. School leaders will ensure that teachers have begun professional development and will have already begun to revert to instructional strategies that are proven to ensure academic excellence for the targeted students. The literacy coaches will meet with the K-12 teachers periodically to vertically align the curriculum. During the 2015-2016 school year administrators will monitor this process ensuring that teachers are following the instructional strategies that match the school vision. Teachers will be responsible to participate in professional learning communities that include community patrons to collaborate and share in the planning and implementation of the identified goals. Administrator will work with teachers to clarify problems or misconceptions that they may have encountered. In 2014-2019 the administration and teachers will use the data to identify students and procedures that require special attention including academic, social and emotional growth of the students. In the 2014-2019 school years the administrators will assess title one funds as well as other state funds to plan the expenditures for resources to cover the needs of the district. Individual school will submit their school plans to the Federal Program Director for access to funds to support their programs.
Task Force for School Diversity Plan
(Pseudo names to demonstrate how we will select a task force)
Diversity Strategic Plan
1.1 K-12 teachers will use instructional strategies and curricular that’s researched and proven to increase student performance of African American males.
1.2 Staff, teachers, and community patron will exhibit a school culture of safety, acceptance and high expectation for all students.
1.3 Parents will be included in developing and implementing a vision for the school that supports the emotional, social, cultural, and academic needs of the students.
1.4 Teachers will have on going professional development and collaboration that support the vision and mission of the school.
1.5 Incorporate frequent surveying to assess the students’ opinion of the school culture
2.1 The cafeteria will provide a nutritious breakfast and invite parents and community
Patrons to serve students.
2.2 Provide weekly incentives for students that come to school every day.
2.3 Allow students to visit the elementary school as peer tutors during the morning hours.
2.4 Modify instructions to allow reasonable success.
2.5 Allow students to use their personal I phones to research in class.
2.6 Conduct bi-weekly recognition of attendance and academic progress.
2.7 Allow students to use their talent such as singing, playing musical instruments, and
3.1 Provide professional on effective classroom management
3.2 Train students to handle conflict resolution
3.3 Provide counseling/medication
3.4 Connect students with police officers as mentors
3.5 Create a culture that encourages parents to visit classrooms
3.6 Arrange for convicts to come in as resource/scared straight tactic
3.7 Arrange for former successful residents to return as a resource speaker
3.8 Model/role play appropriate behavior
Writing/grammar mini lessons.
4.1 Read and write using technology/online portals
4.2 Use culturally appropriate interesting fiction/nonfiction text
4.3 Teach writing/grammar skills in context of literature
5.1 Develop curriculum that reflects the cultural social, emotional, physical, developmental, and Cognitive needs of African American students.
5.2 Raise the bar/rigor to accomplish grade level reading proficiency
5.3 Teach African American history/inventions
5.4 Visit colleges (3-12)
5.5 Keep a personal portfolio of graduate credits (9-12 grades)
5.6 Employ competent African American male teachers
Danielson, C. (2006). Teacher leadership That Strengthens Profession Practice.
Alexandra, VA: ASCD.
Kafele, B. K. (2009). Motivating Black Males to Achieve in School & in Life.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD
Koppelman, K., L. (2014). Understanding Human Differences Multicultural Education for a
Diverse America. (4th ed). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Nicolas, Donald G. (2014). Where are the black male teachers? Education Week, 33(22), 28
Tatum, A. (2005). Teaching Reading to black Adolescent Males. Portland, MA: Stenhouse
Voltz, D. L., Sims, M. J., & Nelson, B. (2010). Connecting Teachers, Students and Standards
Strategies for Success in Diverse and Inclusive Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Westerberg, T. R. (2009). Becoming a Great High School 6 Strategies and 1 Attitude That
Make a Difference. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
9. But this is Social Media. I'm afraid to post. Yes it is Social Media (SM) but a rule of thumb is this, anything you post whether it's on Twitter, Facebook or a blog or a comment on a blog is a footprint. Just think of it this way, do I want my parents of students, staff and my family reading this, then you will be safe. Also, be kind - it is okay to agree to disagree in chats, but we are here to learn. Be nice. Diane Ravitch has a great post about posting comments on her blog. Rules to follow! Edutopia has a great page about creating Social Media guidelines here: http://www.edutopia.org/how-to-create-social-media-guidelines-school
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
ASCD Nominations Committee Selects Candidates for ASCD Board of Directors
In January 2014, the 2014 ASCD Nominations Committee selected five candidates to run for two open positions on the Board of Directors in the next General Membership Election. Those five individuals are Tony Frontier (Wisc.), Josh Garcia (Wash.), Patrick Miller (N.C.), Lorraine Ringrose (Alberta, Canada), and Anne Roloff (Ill.). The election process will open on April 1 and will run through May 15.
ASCD Releases 2014 Legislative Agenda
The key priority for ASCD in 2014 is to promote multimetric accountability so that standardized test scores are not the sole measure of student achievement, educator effectiveness, or school quality. Multimetric accountability systems must
The 2014 Legislative Agenda (PDF) contains four policy recommendations:
ASCD Educators Connect the Classroom to the Capitol
Educators throughout the United States recently convened in Washington, D.C., to attend ASCD’s legislative conference, the Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy (LILA). Attendees had the opportunity to meaningfully network with colleagues, build knowledge to expand their personal influence, and hear from top education thought leaders including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who urged attendees to “seize the day.” Duncan also commended ASCD and its members for “walking the walk when it comes to professional development,” helping classroom teachers and schools leaders commit to a “rich, well-rounded, rigorous education.”
If you were unable to attend this year, see LILA’s storify collection—which brings together your colleagues’ pictures, tweets, and reflections. ASCD Emerging Leader alum Hannah Gbenro also shared her reflections in an ASCD EDge® post Educational Advocacy: Why and How.
Other conference highlights:
Access follow-up resources from the conference, including more detailed policy recommendations and an overview of the legislative agenda.
ASCD Emerging Leader is Facilitator of New Professional Interest Community
Congratulations to ASCD Emerging Leader Jill Thompson, facilitator of ASCD’s newest Professional Interest Community on the topic of personalized learning. Please join the Personalized Learning group on the ASCD EDge platform to stay connected on this important topic.
Join the ASCD Forum Conversation on Teacher Leadership
The ASCD Forum is the chance for educators to make their voices heard on a topic of worldwide importance. From January 15 to April 11, ASCD invites all educators to explore the question through online and face-to-face discourse, “How do we cultivate and support teacher leaders?”
To learn more about the ASCD Forum:
To join the conversation:
Join the ASCD EDge® group and respond to the comments from other educators.
Read and comment on these blog posts:
Follow the conversation on Twitter at #ASCDForum.
Write your own blog post on the topic of teacher leadership. Here’s how.
Join us at ASCD Annual Conference in Los Angeles at session #2124 hosted by ASCD President Becky Berg on Sunday, March 16, 8:00–9:30 a.m. pacific time.
As the most active leaders in the association, you are integral to the success of this conversation. Your leadership helps set an example for others to make their voices heard. Please join the discussion on teacher leadership!
ASCD Leader Voices
ASCD Releases 2014 PD Online® Course Catalog for K–12 Educators—ASCD announced the release of the 2014 PD Online course catalog. The new catalog offers more than 100 user-friendly courses developed by ASCD authors and experts available anytime, anywhere to educators, including 21 new PD Online courses. PD Online courses are developed to help educators increase their knowledge and discover best practice methods. Read the full press release.
ASCD Announces Expanded On-Site and Blended Professional Learning Services Offerings—ASCD announced the new ASCD Professional Learning Services, enabling more school districts nationwide to receive greater customized professional development from the association. The ASCD Professional Learning Services offerings are customizable based on the needs of a district or school and are available in on-site or blended solutions. Read the full press release. Read the full press release.
2014 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show Set to Host Sessions Focused on Technology, Leadership, Common Core Implementation, and More—ASCD announced the full schedule of events for the upcoming 69th ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show. The upcoming conference will be held March 15–17 at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, Calif. Attendees will learn ideas and best-practice strategies that drive student achievement while unlocking ways to boost teacher and leadership effectiveness. Read the full press release.
ASCD Releases Four New Professional Development Publications to Transform Learning—ASCD announced the release of four new professional development titles for educators. As educators face new standards and classroom challenges, they will find solutions for prioritizing school improvement efforts, working with difficult students, bringing joy into teaching and learning, and teaching vocabulary effectively in these new professional development publications. Read the full press release.
ASCD Brings Spring and Summer Common Core Professional Development Institutes to New Cities in 2014—ASCD announced the lineup of one- and two-day Professional Development Institutes for the spring and summer. Expanding to eight new cities, ASCD’s institutes are designed to provide greater support to educators nationwide as they continue to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), while meeting educators where they are. Read the full press release.
ASCD Releases 2014 Legislative Agenda, Calls for Increased Multimetric Accountability—ASCD released its 2014 Legislative Agenda on Monday, January 27th, at the association’s Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy in Washington, D.C. Developed by the association’s Legislative Committee—a diverse cross section of ASCD members representing the entire spectrum of K–12 education—the 2014 ASCD Legislative Agenda outlines the association’s federal policy priorities for the year. Read the full press release.
A lot has happened this year across the country in education. Our profession is being decimated, teachers are being trampled, and no one is focusing on the real issues: equity, poverty, and access. And children. Politics and bureaucracies and figure-heads and anyone else who knows very little about how to teach are setting rules and impossible challenges for those of us who do.
When I started writing my end of year message this year, my initial drafts were about how awful things have gotten and the subversive things we could do to put the heat on the decision makers. I wrote about what next steps we should take and provocated for global actions with a posse of guerilla educators who were ready to kick butt and take names.
But I realized that I still wasn’t hitting the mark of the profundity and simplicity of what I was intending to impart. So here I am at my latest draft and I think I’ve narrowed it down to a better end of year message--the one step you need to take for a great 2014:
All of the things I wrote about in my first few drafts were rooted in the negative and they were not a place I wanted to begin the New Year. In spite of the negativity in education this past year, there were a lot of bright and shining lights. These bright spots are more worthy of my time than the continued analysis and dwelling on all that went wrong.
The things that I found joy in were what kept me going; they were my emotional fuel--my inspiration for continuing to do what I do. Those moments included kids that I live-skyped with from Niagara Falls. They included a tweet-up in Chicago where I got to see a lot of my network live and in person! (I’m talking to you Paula White and Becky Fisher and Crista Anderson and Tom Whitby and Steven Anderson and everyone else that came to the party!)
They included teachers who met challenges head on with positive attitudes and a can-do spirit. They included my grandfather, A. L. McDaniel, who gave my brother and me some tools over the summer that belonged to my great-grandfather. It was just the metaphor I needed as I wrote about tools and tasks for my newest book. I was planning on giving the book to my grandfather for Christmas and surprising him with how he influenced my ideas and shaped the eventual book. He passed away unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago, a week before the book was published. This was a turning point for me, though, in terms of joy, both finding it and holding on to it.
Unknowingly, my grandfather had inspired me again. It was all the sadness of the past couple of weeks that revealed a pattern of wallowing in the negative, ultimately getting stuck there. I realized that the negativity and the sadness are things to identify but are hard to set a course of action around. I don’t want to plan around the barriers. I want to plan around the bright spots, around the joys that working in education brings. We’re supposed to be lighting fires, right?
There’s a lot of joy to be found in the wonderful things that have happened in schools this year, despite the obstacles. There’s a lot of joy in students discovering incredible things outside of prescribed curricula. There’s a lot of joy in knowing that educators are the primary influencers of the future of this world. There’s a lot of joy in knowing how we shape and influence and inspire and teach, teach, teach.
There’s a lot of joy in remembering the 42 wonderful years of inspiration from my grandfather and the impact that he’s had on my life, my career, and my family.
So my challenge to you is to go and find it. Find JOY. Find it wherever it might live. Find the bright spots in what you do this coming year. Let those joyous moments sustain you and feed you and motivate you. Seek out JOY. Create JOY. Identify it and celebrate it.
Cheers to you all for a wonderfully joyous 2014--here’s to our best year yet!
My mother used to tell me I was "very persistent" growing up. "You didn't take no for an answer," she often said. One of her favorite examples of this was when I was fired from a summer camp job and managed to get rehired for the following summer. (I was 22).
I made a lot of mistakes that first summer working as a head counselor, most of them because of pride and immaturity: being afraid to ask questions when unsure, not actively listening to the children and assistant counselors in my group (I was real good at telling them what to do), and not utilizing problem solving strategies prior to making decisions.
When I wasn't rehired I was surprised: didn't most of the kids like me? So, I had a few parental complaints. Don't we all? Yes, the Camp Director had to speak to me privately once or twice. Isn't that an initiation rite? (It wasn't).
The camp let me know by letter that I would not be rehired for the following summer. The administration cited my "inconsistency in relating to staff, campers and their families. on a regular basis." I really liked working at the camp, liked the kids, and enjoyed the staff. The atmosphere was warm and inviting. However, the place I liked didn't think I'd be a good fit in the culture and climate they created.
I needed to be honest with myself if I was going to grow and put forth a better me: introspect, digest what the camp administration stated to me during our "one-to-one conversations" over the summer and in the letter, then share with the Camp Director and Camp Owner that I'd learned from my failures.
So, I wrote my own letter. To them. I stated that I understood I had made some poor decisions when interacting with some of my younger counselors and campers. My role was to model how to behave in a recreational atmosphere, build on the positive environment they'd created, and send the children home wanting to come back the next day. Campers needed to have fun playing sports while feel safe and appreciated. Their parents needed to feel that the environment was nurturing. I hadn't fulfilled my end of the bargain, and if the administration hadn't fired me, they wouldn't have done their job.
However, my job description was now to show them I listened to them, that I took the time to have an honest conversation with myself, and I wanted an opportunity to show them I used my failures as learning opportunities. I asked the Camp Owner and Camp Director for two things in my letter to them: to meet with me so I could apologize personally, and if they were open to it, to hire me back on a contingent basis. Week to week, day to day, unpaid, didn't matter to me. I wanted to be there. I wanted to make a difference.
The Camp Owner and Camp Director met with me. They were honest with me, sharing what got them to the point where firing me was the best option. I reciprocated their honesty, explaining my thought process during different incidents, what I learned from each experience, and all I asked for was an opportunity to continue to learn in an environment I truly enjoyed. We could figure out the money situation later.
I was hired back. I'd like to say I was a a new man, but I wasn't. I still made errors in decision making as I continued to learn. But, I grew. Rapidly. I made less mistakes. I shared my stories with new counselors and counselors in training who I saw making similar decisions early in their career. I made fun of myself, and said, "Don't pull a Barry." For some of them it stuck, and we remain friends to this day. For some, they weren't ready to hear the message, weren't rehired, and made a choice to seek future employment and guidance elsewhere.
I stayed at the camp for seven more years, until an opportunity to direct a summer camp came my way. My mom references this camp story as an example of me "being persistent, of not hearing no. I still can't believe you got that job back." I view it in a different lens now: I was taught that having grit, perseverance, and a willingness to take risks were worthwhile. I didn't like being fired, so I asked myself what I could do to change the situation. When I made mistakes during my following years at camp, my administration took the time to ask me questions instead of making snap decisions: explain what happened? What was your thought process? Why did you chose to solve the problem that way? Upon reflection, what can you do differently next time? How do we know this experience will make you better?
I keep these questions and this story in mind when I work with students and teachers. No one comes in fully-formed. (Exhibit A: me). We all have room to grow, and it's incumbent upon me to teach others how to think (not what to think), identify mistakes and learn from them, as my camp administrators did for me.
I wouldn't honor them if I did not pay it forward, and remember their lessons when I need to tap into my own perseverance and grit. Because, each opportunity in my work with teachers and students is another chance to reinforce to the Camp Director and Owner who rehired me that their investment in me taught me something, and made a difference in my life. And if I'm lucky, a student I've taught, a child I've worked with in the Before and Aftercare program, or a teacher I've mentored will internalize and model what I've shared so they "Don't pull a Barry" too.
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
Today’s comprehensive high schools are generally organized the way they have been for decades. While some high schools have radically transformed teaching and learning in the face of major societal changes, most maintain a traditional look, feel, organization, and curriculum. High schools schedules are often the same as they were in the Industrial age, with days broken down into seven or eight time periods. The schools are often large and generally impersonal. Teachers often have between 100-140 students on their rosters. The required curriculum remains pretty much the same as in the past, and tends to be divided into diverse subjects, levels, and courses, without any central focus. High schools generally divide the year into two semesters and few if any student summer programs or professional development requirements exist. Graduation is still based on course credits and, in some states, high stakes standardized tests. Students are expected to stay in school all day and are expected to graduate within four years. Advanced Placement courses are often used as a major barometer of the academic rigor of a school’s program.
How can high schools improve on their programs and bring them into the 21st century? How can they develop more relevant assessments and a more relevant accountability system? While some advocate radical transformations, there are many adaptations and smaller changes that can bring traditional high schools into the 21st century by preparing students for rapid changes through the development of lifelong learning skills; citizenship; and individual talents, strengths and interests. I suggest fifteen possibilities below:
1. Clarify and share a 21st century mission, set of goals and outcomes that drive the school program, courses, and instruction.
Most of today’s high schools seem to lumber along without a clear mission or set of coherent student outcomes. Many high schools often have a confusing, diverse mixture of programs, activities, courses, and compartmentalized teaching approaches. They often suffer from passive learning environments, low expectations, superficial, uninteresting teaching and learning, uneven instruction, and fragmented courses. Many students leave high school unprepared for future learning or work, with a lack of planning or direction for their future.
One important way for high schools to better adapt to the 21st century is to develop and clarify a mission and outcomes with a meaningful and coherent school-wide set of goals. The mission and outcomes are then shared with both the school and school community and used as the basis for making changes in the school’s program and organization. In other commentary, I suggest three goals for K-12 education that are especially appropriate for high schools: prepare students for lifelong self-directed learning; prepare students for citizenship; and help students develop their own talents, strengths, interests and goals. If these three goals are accepted as the core mission of a high school education, what would they imply for the curriculum? For teaching and learning? For assessments and accountability? For a more integrated program? For the school organization? For scheduling? For core courses? For electives? What would change? Clarifying and becoming committed to implementing a clear mission and set of outcomes and goals for all students helps to create a core program focus and more coherent organizational structure for the high school experience.
2. Rethink the organizational and administrative structure
The traditional seven or eight period day, the Industrial model of scheduling, needs rethinking. In an age of computers, it ought to be possible to have more complex scheduling approaches that allow for longer blocks of time, mini-course structures, schedules that promote interdisciplinary teaching and learning, and common preparation time. Year round schooling is another option that needs to be seriously considered. New technologies suggest organizational structures that are only beginning to be appreciated and understood!
In today’s world, more students also need the opportunity for flexible, individualized schedules. Some students work part-time. Some need to help with their families. Others need time to do community projects and service learning. Some students need to leave school for periods of time, and be able to return at a later date in order to complete their work. Some may graduate early, others may take up to six years or more to graduate. All these options need to be built into the school’s programs.
Currently the most comprehensive high schools have principals, assistant principals, and “Department” heads as key administrators. High schools need to examine the question: how can this traditional administrative structure be reconfigured to better serve the needs of students in a 21st century world? What if one administrator were put in charge of “innovation”, looking across the curriculum to determine how the high school could develop innovative programs to better serve the needs of all students. What if one person was in charge of curriculum and instructional resources and curriculum and instructional development across all subjects? What if one was in charge of community “outreach”? Technology? A reconfigured set of administrative responsibilities, designed to promote innovation, interdisciplinary learning, outreach experiences, curriculum and staff development, technology applications might be a better way to organize for the future.
Finally, schools with organizations that tend to support impersonal and detached relationships between students and teachers should consider alternatives. One advantage of block scheduling is that teachers have many fewer students on their roster, and more time each semester with their students. They have a greater ability to get to know their students, to help and support them. The use of advisories and student-teacher advising systems over the four years of high school also enables teachers to develop stronger relationships with students. Teams of teachers working together with groups of students help build better relationships. Organizational changes that enable teachers to get to know students better (and visa versa) and work more closely together will probably help to increase student achievement and build better support systems for students.
3. Build a coherent curriculum
The current curriculum at most high schools is a fragmented mix of individual courses and programs, most of which have little connection to each other. Here are some recommendations for how to revise the curriculum to support student learning:
a. Identify and streamline core courses around the school’s mission, outcomes and goals.
The core curriculum are those “musts” that are required for every student. Should special core writing and reading courses be instituted? What types of thinking should every student be exposed to? How should reading and writing experiences be integrated into every course and subject? What math should be part of the core? Algebra and Trigonometry for everyone? Understanding statistics? Staff members should identify and collaborate to develop the core subject matter and core skills that should be taught and learned across the curriculum[i]. Each course might be organized around a series of “essential” questions, understandings and explicit skills that are core for every student to explore, learn and master.
b. Reduce the number of or eliminate Advanced Placement courses[ii] and instead develop a large number of high quality electives.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses tend to be implemented with an abiding faith that they are good for students. However, while they have some virtues, AP courses often repeat content that students have already studied, superficially cover a lot of content quickly, and crowd out worthy and interesting high school electives. Many of the students who take AP courses to increase their grade point average and feather their transcript don’t even take the AP exam and yet still get AP credit!
Instead of AP courses, develop a set of high quality electives that provide many options for all students to develop their talents, interests, and skills, such as deep learning-discussion seminars, research and project based courses, Internet course options, mini-courses, internships and practicums, and independent study courses. In themed schools, electives should provide a variety of options around the theme. New Internet-based college courses, known as MOOCS (Massive open online courses) provide many new opportunities for students to try out different topics and learn from some of the best college instructors in the country.
c. Increase the number of interdisciplinary, integrated learning experiences.
Should some core subjects be taught in an interdisciplinary fashion, like mathematics and science? Should integrated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses be an essential part of the high school curriculum? Should more efforts be made to integrate and teach in parallel fashion English and social studies courses? Should mathematics courses be integrated and taught the way most of the world teaches mathematics?
Interdisciplinary learning opportunities might occur as part of the on-going curriculum and within a ninth grade team. High schools also need to create a greater number of synthesizing courses, offered in the junior or senior years, such as “problems of democracy”, applied mathematics, or science and society. Synthesizing courses enable students to integrate learning from previous years and learn how to apply knowledge and skills to new and novel situations and events.
d. Pay attention to innovative ideas that might motivate students, make learning more relevant, increase deep learning, and provide students with new types of programs and new ways of teaching and learning.
Innovative ideas are constantly being introduced into the education world. Entrepreneurship programs provide students with opportunities for learning how to start and maintain a business and they learn math and planning skills. Project based learning strategies suggest new ways of teaching and learning. Technological updates suggest new resources for learning. MOOC’s (Massive open online courses) offer free entrees for students into the college world. Integrated mathematics programs reorganize learning mathematics. The Understanding by Design curriculum model promotes a very different way of planning units, courses and programs. International Baccalaureate (IB) programs offer alternative ways or organizing high school programs, courses and assessments. Innovative organizational structures, such as Big Picture schools, offer alternative high school models that may be appropriate for many students. Competitions in chess, robotics, science, future problem solving, debate teams, and others provide students with exciting learning opportunities.
These and many more interesting and innovative ideas need to be searched out and considered, and some type of decision-making process needs to be introduced into the high school experience to help determine which innovative ideas are worth pursuing and implemented, and which should be rejected.
4. Create freshman teams.
Many students who drop out of school do so because they have not been able to make the transition from middle to high school. Students need to have a gradual and supportive transition from middle school to the first year of high school, with opportunities for personal attention and a focus on core skills and critical knowledge. Teams of teachers and students, working together for the year, help students to adapt to high school requirements. Teachers have the opportunity to get to know students, advise them, coordinate their schedules, differentiate their learning experiences, and create integrated learning across the team that supports key skill development.
5. Create a digital portfolio assessment system
While high school students do research papers, projects, and other forms of writing, the most commonly used summative assessment tool in high schools is still the “traditional test”, consisting primarily of multiple choice, short answer and short essay questions. Unfortunately, an emphasis on traditional tests guarantees that our primary educational focus will be on remembering and recognizing key facts and information, on developing low-level inference skills, and on producing relatively simple written products. A major problem with the use of these tests is that many of the key, critical “learning to learn” skills and personal development characteristics necessary for living in a 21st century world often get short shrift.
In order to demonstrate progress and success in achieving critical lifelong learning and personal development skills, high schools should create digital student portfolios that include multiple types of assessments –many types of written work, performance task processes and results, project results, oral presentations, observations of student participation in discussions, and, yes, the results of traditional tests. Many opportunities for student self-reflection also help to determine what each student is learning and whether each student is developing his or her passions, interests, talents, and goals. Part of the self-reflection process should be a goal setting and planning process throughout the high school years, but especially in junior and senior years.
Students also need opportunities to share senior projects and portfolios with adults from outside the high school, who listen to their explanations and analyses, ask clarifying questions, and help them to better understand their progress, goals and future directions.
6. Encourage student engagement through greater use of inquiry, research and project based instruction
Too much of the high school learning experience is in the form of traditional teaching and learning – recitations, lectures, coverage of textbooks – that makes for passive student learning and disinterested students. Students need more opportunities to be engaged in “inquiry” – to focus on essential questions as the starting point for learning, actively seek out reliable information to share with other students, think deeply and share their thoughts about content, draw conclusions and apply learning, and communicate through writing, presentations, and discussions. Projects based on student interest, chosen all or in part by the student, should be an integral, on-going part of a student’s learning experiences. Senior projects should be used to assess whether students have developed the attitudes and skills they need to be successful beyond graduation – self-direction, curiosity, persistence, patience, research, inquiry, study, thinking, creativity, writing and the like. High school course descriptions might be focused around key questions that will be explored during the course.
Consider alternatives to traditional assessment and accountability models. Multiple types of assessments, such as those described above, collected by students in digital portfolios, brought to class, shared over the Internet, is an alternative model that works well for many high schools in the digital age.
7. Develop community service-personal enrichment requirements.
Both personal learning that develops talents and interests, and service learning, are important elements of a 21st century education. In a Philadelphia public high school that I work closely with, students are required to do 120 hours of a combination of service learning and personal enrichment activities over four years. This requirement has meant that students learn more about their own interests and talents as well as learn ways to help others. Intentionally building these two dynamic components of a strong education into the high school experience has made a strong difference in the education of these students.
8. Make advisories a central part of the high school experience.
Advisories over the entire high school experience can help to personalize and customize education in a more impersonal world. Brian Cohen, a math teacher in the Philadelphia School District, beautifully describes the concept of high school advisories in a recent blog:
“A brief look at schedules across the [Philadelphia School] District leads one to believe that the advisory class plays little to no role in the life of a student. From my experience (and small survey sample), advisory in high schools is between 10-25 minutes long on average and takes place either at the very beginning of the day (before the first academic class) or between 2nd and 3rd periods. There are a variety of reasons for this - announcements, time to allow late students not to miss class, or to allow teachers to mark students as "present" in case they are very late to school. But, these reasons falter when compared to the potential of what advisory could be: a lifeline to the student body to influence school culture and educate the whole person.
Unfortunately, "advisory" is a misnomer. There is little time (or energy) to truly "advise" students as the time is used more for babysitting than anything else. Imagine if there were a rich curriculum devoted to increase student's organization and study skills, with growing themes over the course of four years of high school. Students would know who to go to for advice and truly see a connection with the outside world because they would have time to discuss their place in it.
In my ideal world, advisory would function as a place for discussion and curiosity, with articles read about educational research on how to be the best student; with discussion on what's happening in the lives of students now; with time devoted to what students really need. There are a small number of high schools that provide time for this (Science Leadership Academy being one) but we need more flexibility.
Maybe with that time students would be able to get themselves together and teachers would not have to spend as much time calling home over forgotten homework and missed assignments. And, instead, students would start applying these tools to other aspects of their lives.”[iii]
9. Make Media Centers the hub of the high school learning experience
If advisories are the central place for personal attention and advice, library-media centers are the hub for academic learning. They are the place in which students learn research skills. They are centers for conducting research. They often are the central computer centers for students, especially for those who might not have access to computers at home.
10. Create multiple outreach and “inreach” experiences
Outreach experiences enable high schools to better provide a more “authentic” education experience. For example, powerful outreach experiences occur when students are provided with internships in local businesses, health clinics and hospitals, schools and colleges, social work agencies, and the like. Other outreach experiences occur when students are able to interview a wide range of experts through technological arrangements, visit local colleges, or go on field trips. “Inreach” experiences - outside visitors brought to the school to talk with students about careers and experiences – is also a powerful way to connect students to the outside world. Significant outreach and inreach provides powerful connections to the “real” world outside of high school.
11.Create continuous, high quality, meaningful, relevant professional and curriculum development experiences
Today’s changing educational world demands continual learning and updates about teaching and learning. What would we think of a doctor’s world without continual updates on the best forms of treatment, new drugs, research, and other changes. Yet it’s strange how little emphasis is placed on professional and curriculum development over time. The establishment of professional learning communities (PLC’s), with a school culture that supports continuous learning around collaborative and individual learning goals, should be a key goal. Summers are ideal times for professional development, yet there are generally no requirements that teachers devote some portion of their summers (e.g. two or three weeks) to collaboratively exploring new ways of teaching, new forms of curriculum design, the teaching of writing and thinking, how to implement the Common Core, project and problem based learning approaches, and so on.
12. Switch to Standards-Based Report Cards
Traditional report cards Provide little helpful information to both students and parents. A more effective report card is one that provides information as to how well a student is doing, but also how a student might improve. Standards based report cards incorporate key learning goals and skills either in an interdisciplinary configuration or within each subject area. The ability to solve problems, conduct research, make presentations, write effectively – all these can be incorporated into standards based report cards[iv]
An even stronger standards based report card format includes individual comments by each teacher. Some high schools have built an individual comments model into their assessment process[v]. This entails a lot of work, but it customizes comments, builds on specific student talents, strengths and skills, provides greater specificity as to how students might improve, and in general makes report cards much more meaningful and helpful to students and parents.
13. Use technology as a tool for reaching key goals and priorities
Technology is often used in a haphazard fashion within high schools. The judicious use of technology, designed to help students reach key goals, is a much more rewarding and promising way to use technology. For example, the use of digital portfolios provides ways to collect and analyze student work. Common uses of technology to write papers, spellcheck, organize thoughts and ideas, and so on might be encouraged. Search engines used to find resources, to contact people around the world when appropriate, can be helpful. Teacher use of technology to share articles and readings, course outlines, information about a course, handouts and assignments with students on a regular basis is a good use of technology. The appropriate use of on-line simulations can enhance learning.
However, beware of newer forms of technology without being clear on how they promote the goals of the school. Tablets and smartphones may be useful, but they should be introduced with great care, and with knowledge and understanding of how they will contribute to advancing learning goals.
14.Create small learning communities
Although small learning communities are a radical departure from traditional high school organization, they are worth considering. They consist of groups and teachers and students working together around themes (e.g. communication, technology, health sciences and the like). Where possible, small learning communities within a building are physically separated from each other.
The creation of small learning communities requires significant professional development so that each team is well organized around a theme and is given a chance to work together in advance of implementation. Failure to provide time for teachers to receive professional development and for learning how to work together is often why they fail.
15.Design innovative ways to rate and judge the success of high schools.
High schools are being judged today by arbitrary processes often determined by government bureaucrats. The outside accountability systems often get in the way of making modest and relevant changes that would significantly improve programs. It is time for high school leaders to develop their own models that demonstrate their success!
Instead of a reliance on test scores, high school accountability models, shared with the public and with Boards of Education, might include the number of students who have developed their talents and interests in different directions; sample digital portfolios that demonstrate student learning; data on students that go on to some form of post high school educational experience; results from special programs, such as International Baccalaureate and small learning communities; data on what happens to students as they move through a post high school experience; collective data from report cards; survey data from high school graduates who rate their high school experience; results from student surveys of current courses, and so on. A comprehensive accountability process developed by high schools themselves would be much more meaningful and significant than the current systems being implemented.
Comprehensive high schools need to adapt to a 21st century world. Clearer mission statements that guide teaching and learning, revised and flexible scheduling, strong core and elective programs, administrative restructuring, advisories, greater student engagement through inquiry, research and project based teaching and learning, library-media center hubs, standards based report cards, small learning communities, more meaningful and personalized accountability systems, a careful look at innovative ideas – these and the other suggestions described above would go a long way towards better preparation of students for living in a 21st century world. Not all of these ideas may currently make sense to high school teachers and leaders, but some might be helpful when high schools reconsider their programs, assessment models, organizational structures, and accountability systems in order to adapt to this new age.
[i] In other work, I have identified five core skill sets that should be taught throughout the curriculum – curiosity, information and data literacy, thoughtfulness, application, and communication. For greater insights into what these five skill sets mean in practice, go to www.era3learning.org. I have also developed a process – the Integrated Skill Development Program (ISDP) – that can be used to identify core skills to be taught and learned across the curriculum. A description of this process can be found at: http://bit.ly/RnSwRT
[ii]Advanced Placement courses have many problems. They are often survey courses that focus on learning content without depth or thought. Many students take Advanced Placement courses, get credit for them, but don’t take the Advanced Placement exams. Other students take the AP course, don’t pass the AP exam, but still get AP credit. Scarsdale High School has eliminated Advanced Placement courses in favor of “advanced topics” courses. Some advanced topics courses are designed so that, at the end of the course, if students wish to do so, they can take the Advanced Placement exam.
[iv] For an excellent article on Standards Based Report Cards, see How We Got Grading Wrong, and What to Do About it, in Educational Update, October 2013, Volune 55, No. 10, ASCD.
[v] For example, Science Leadership Academy, a public high school in Philadelphia PA, incorporates teacher comments into its report card system.
I have been writing blogs for two years on ASCD Edge. While each of the blogs are independent entities, consisting of separate thoughts and ideas, they also can be combined to create what I hope is a coherent framework of goals, suggestions and practices for educating children in a 21st century world. In this “meta-blog”, my blogs are placed into categories that examine a different aspect of 21st century teaching and learning. This will provide you, the reader, with a chance to browse through one or more of these commentaries using a larger framework as a reference.
You can also delve more deeply into the qualities, characteristics and perspectives of a 21st century education by going to my website:
***Please note that a few blogs are listed in more than one category.
The Broad Perspective: Reflective Questions and Suggested Changes
A Learning-Centered Checklist for 21st Century Classrooms, Schools and Districts - http://bit.ly/18RS0VJ
Reflect on Your School Year With the Following Questions… http://bit.ly/1218hB7
Ten questions that will improve your teaching, school or district http://bit.ly/OKOj9a
Ten things that will REALLY make a difference in education http://bit.ly/18WGdIZ
My Top Ten education wishes for 2012 (and beyond) http://bit.ly/12LVKZj
Mission and Goals
What should be the outcomes of K-12 schooling? How do we know if we’ve achieved them?
What is your core mission?
What Does This Poem Say, About Education Today
New Goals For a New Year (and a New Age)
Make Meaning and Purpose Key Elements of Teaching and Learning http://bit.ly/14Npfdf
Beliefs about Learning
Beliefs about Learning and their implications for teaching and learning http://bit.ly/1b1pCRu
Positive Learning Environments, Cultures, and Attitudes
Thirteen Ways to Build Positive Learning Attitudes: a Key to Successful Teaching
Core Skills: Identification, Methods and Strategies
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
Eight Types of Instructional Strategies That Improve Learning in a 21st Century World
Six ways to build greater curiosity in students
Do You Teach Creative Thinking? You Should if You Don’t!
Curriculum and Instruction Issues
The Integrated Skill Development Process (ISDP) - The Power of Teacher Collaboration
Strengthening Curriculum and Instruction in a 21st century world
A Dozen Reasons Why We Need High Quality Science Teaching and Learning in a 21st Century World
Why we need strong science programs, K-12!
Promoting STEM in a 21st century World
Ten reasons why teaching the arts is critical in a 21st century world
Early Childhood Education
Bridging the Opportunity Gap: Improving Early Childhood and Primary Grade Education
Formative and Summative Assessment
Use portfolios -- the best tool for assessing 21st century skills
Customized Versus Standardized Assessments: A Fairy Tale
The Bubble Test Trap vs. Project Based Learning
Increasing Learning With Traditional Tests
Five Powerful Feedback Principles That Improve Student Learning
Professional Growth and Development
Four Activities To Help You Become a Better Teacher and Leader…
The Integrated Skill Development Process (ISDP): The Power of Teacher Collaboration
Ten Possibilities for Summer Professional Development
Using Education Leadership Articles as a Staff Development Tool to Promote a 21st Century Education
Exercise: Ten Teacher Questions for Self-Reflection
Alternatives to Teacher Tenure – What Will Work?
No Child Left Behind
Adapting NCLB to a 21st Century World
Five Books That Every Educator Should Read?
Some Summer Reading And Resource Browsing
A new book that helps all of us examine teaching and learning in a 21st century world
All blogs can be found at
More blogs will be coming soon that will enhance these categories, including the unique qualities of American education, the importance of motivation, seven types of projects, ten ways we will know that STEM is being practiced in schools, changing the organizational structure from courses to learning inquiries, and many more….
It's one week into the school year and the literacy PD plan has been launched. Summer readings are done, classroom routines are developing. The readers' workshop is up and running! We're on the right path. But there's always a challenge when we set a plan into action, we get busy and lose focus. It's similar to the resolutions we set for the new year. We tell ourselves this is the year I'll lose 10 pounds, this is the year I'll cut down that credit card debt, this is the year that I'll run the NYC marathon. Great goals....but without reflection you'll never meet your intention. So let's take a moment to reflect about the purpose of reflection (every pun intended). It's with good intention that we set goals, right? We often hear people say, oh, she had every good intention.....meaning, she meant to do something but she didn't. But without reflection there's no point of intention. I know, I know....let me make this real! I intend to develop best practices in the area of reading workshop with my colleagues. Why? So students become skilled, critical thinking readers. I set the intention, I took the first step and outlined a plan, provided professional readings, had teacher team discussions, and started observing in classrooms. The goal is concrete, the intention has been set but if I don't stop and reflect, there's no point to it all! Teaching IS reflective practice. If it's not, then it's just a lot of "wah, wah, wah," think Charlie Brown. It becomes a whole lot of talking at kids, depositing information, requesting students to complete tasks, and so on and so on. And come on, we don't really believe our students are empty vessels do we? No, so we set our intentions, make a plan, and take the time to reflect because we want our students to thrive in the classroom, to feel challenged. We want to be the best professional we can be, we want to challenge ourselves as practitioners to study, learn, and reflect!
The theme of this opening week is reflection on the intention. Am I following the plan? Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing? Could I do it better? I challenge everyone one of us to take a moment after this first week to reflect! To remind yourself of your teaching intention. Examine the plan you created and applaud yourself for those things you accomplished this week. Reflect on what didn't work and fine tune it. Intention, planning, reflection. This is the formula for best practices.
This summer has not been the summer that I wanted, expected, nor planned for. It has been a summer filled with setbacks, surprises, and struggles. And throughout the summer, I have worked hard to deal with the surprises, address the setbacks, and work through the struggles.
It has taken a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of sacrifices to continue to feel like I was moving forward the summer, that I was doing the things that I needed to get done. And that I was maintaining some sense of balance in my life - the reality is there was no balance.
The truth is that the entire summer has really been focusing on working through the struggles. Recently, I attended a leadership conference for administrators, and I heard the term "productive struggle", and I finally realized that was what I have been trying to accomplish this summer. Educators have often talked about the things that are not as easy to learn are the things that we remember better. They advocate for students to have a productive struggles in their learning, so that they would develop grit or perseverance or the willingness to follow through to completion. Ultimately, we will have students that remember and have learned better. And so I take the idea of productive struggle and analyze my summer and I realize that I will remember this summer.
I will remember all the new information I learned - and I will remember all that I learned about myself once again - and finally I will remember the choices I made to learn and to get done what needed to be done. In some cases, I hope I do not have to make the same choices again. In other situations, I hope that I will remember how I proceeded through the struggles and how I felt on the other side of them. I have learned, I have grown, I am better than I was before.
Robert Frost once said, "the best way out is through." I have never appreciated or understood that comment more than I do at the end of this summer of productive struggles.
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-mail newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
School Improvement is tough and requires putting a lot of pieces into place to ensure that all schools meet the needs of kids. The whole child “Improving Schools”blog entry, written by ASCD Whole Child Programs Director Sean Slade, takes a look at the various factors required for successful student outcomes by tackling the issues kids and schools face today. During his more than two decades in education, Slade has written extensively on topics related to the whole child and health and well-being (PDF) and has been at the forefront of promoting and using school climate, connectedness, resilience, and youth development data for school improvement.In the latest “Improving Schools” column, Slade discusses the importance of preparing students for the futureby teaching them the skills they need for tomorrow. Read Sean’s entire “Improving Schools”column.
Throughout September at wholechildeducation.org: Resilience
Resilience—the ability of “each of us to bounce back stronger, wiser, and more personally powerful” (Nan Henderson); “not only survive, but also learn to thrive” (Bonnie Benard); or even to “bungee jump through the pitfalls of life” (Andrew Fuller)—is more than a trait; it’s a process that can and should be taught, learned, and required. Being resilient helps youth navigate the world around them, and schools and classrooms are becoming more attuned to providing the cognitive, emotional, and developmental supports needed for resilience to prosper and grow in each of us.
“If children are given the chance to believe they’re worth something—if they truly believe that—they will insist upon it” (Maya Angelou). What benefits do schools, classrooms, and students gain through increased attention to resilience teaching and development? How is resilience best developed: taught as a curriculum, integrated across all content areas, or organically developed by each student?
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on resilience with host Sean Slade, director of Whole Child Programs at ASCD, and experts Sara Truebridge and Andrew Fuller. Throughout the month, read the Whole Child Blog and tell us what has worked in your school and with your students. E-mail us and share resources, research, and examples.
ASCD Leaders on Reflection
A defining trait of leadership is a passion for success and continuous improvement. With progress comes new vistas and new goals, as well as new challenges to overcome in our never-ending quest for knowledge and excellence. Leaders envision a future, and great leaders shape that future. With that in mind, the Whole Child Blog asked ASCD leaders to share their thoughts on what reflection means to them as learners, teachers, and leaders. Here’s what they said:
ASCD Leader Voices
Reflecting on How We Learn, Teach, and Lead
Educating the whole child and planning for comprehensive, sustainable school improvement requires us to be whole educators who take the time to recharge, reflect, and reinvigorate. How did you reflect on your practice this summer and what goals have you set for the new school year? Read more at the Whole Child Blog.
Over the summer months, we looked at educators’ need to reflect on the past school year, refresh their passion for teaching, recharge their batteries, and look ahead. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast hosted by Kevin Scott—a former history teacher and current director of constituent services at ASCD—and featuring guests Peter Badalament, principal of Concord-Carlisle High School in Massachusetts, and Jason Flom, director of learning platforms at whole child partner Q.E.D. Foundation.
Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read the latest newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Something to Talk About
Keynote Speakers Announced for ASCD's 2014 Annual Conference and Exhibit Show—ASCD has released the keynote speakers for the 69th ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show, held in Los Angeles, Calif., March 15–17, 2014. The conference will showcase ideas and best-practice strategies that are driving student achievement and will unlock ways to boost teacher and leadership effectiveness. Attendees will choose from more than 350 sessions that will enable them to prepare our world's learners to be creative, critically minded, and compassionate citizens. Read the full press release.
ASCD Kicks Off Yearlong “Membership Means More” Campaign, Announces Insurance Benefits—ASCD announced today new benefits available to current and future members as part of a yearlong rollout of new member perks and benefits during the association's “membership means more” campaign. Read the full press release.
ASCD Publishes Eric Jensen’s Book about Engagement Strategies to Help Students in Poverty Succeed—ASCD announces the release of Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind: Practical Strategies for Raising Achievement, a new book by seasoned educator, prolific author, and brain expert Eric Jensen. Read the full press release.
CEO and Executive Director Dr. Gene R. Carter received the Best Health Promotion Practice Award at the 21st IUHPE World Conference in Thailand for his service promoting a whole child approach to education and fostering greater alignment between the health and education sectors. Dr. Carter was selected by the Global Scientific Committee of the International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) as one of the three award winners for best health promotion practice. Dr. Carter urges educators to promote and view health as fundamental; not only for the individual, but also for the success of education itself. Read the entire press release.
Baruti K. Kafele’s New ASCD Book Shows How to Close the Attitude Gap to Improve Student Learning—ASCD has released Closing the Attitude Gap: How to Fire Up Your Students to Strive for Success by award-winning educator and best-selling education author Baruti K. Kafele. Read the full press release.
New ASCD and McREL Book Presents Simple Approach to Maintaining Focus in the Classroom—ASCD has released The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching: A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day by McREL experts Bryan Goodwin and Elizabeth Ross Hubbell. Read the full press release.
ASCD Welcomes New Teachers to Profession, Offers Resources—ASCD is pleased to welcome new teachers to the education profession and offer professional development resources to ensure their success during the coming school year. Read the full press release.
ASCD Launches New Educational Leadership Subscription Offering—ASCD now offers subscriptions to its flagship magazine, Educational Leadership (EL).Read the full press release.
ASCD Releases New Professional Development Offerings for Educators Heading Back to School—As students head back to school for the start of the 2013–14 school year, ASCD offers a new selection of professional development opportunities to enable educators at every level to support the success of each learner. Read the full press release.
Dr. Carter Receives International Award for Best Health Promotion Practice
Recently, our elementary school designed a Learning Commons. The Learning Commons is an extension of the media center. We remodeled a traditional computer lab, with straight rows and desks. School staff replaced the desks and computers with student friendly furniture, carpet, a futon, neon signs, and a space that encourages the 4 Cs (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity). Laptops and iPod Touches will be used in the new space. Students will be able to have Socractic Seminars, create videos, mentor younger students, and more.
According to Linton (2012), a Learning Commons must meet several criteria such as the following: the space must be flexible, open, wireless, comfortable, inspiring and practical. Recently, I gave some parents a sneak peek at the new Learning Commons. One family asked, "When do you think all of the classrooms will look like this?" This is a powerful question for a parent to ask a school administrator. I did not need to share the theory behind the room or distribute journal articles about learning space or instructional strategies. This parent immediately understood that the new room looked like the real world. She said, "Children don't recognize desks and metal chairs."
How Is Your School Creating Classrooms That Are:
What does a flexible classroom look like? Furniture that is flexible allows students to work in different groups or teams throughout the day. The teacher has placed students in charge of their learning (November, 2012). Procedures are in place to assist students with staying on task, yet meeting the learning goals in their own way. While this may look much different in an AP U.S. History class than it does in a first grade class, I have seen flexible furniture and grouping at both levels.
Open spaces are unconfined. When you walk in the traditional classroom, it is difficult to walk around the classroom. The classroom furniture is bulky and heavy to move. One look at the furniture would tell you that the furniture was designed for different educational goals. I read a great article this week by John Kotter, Change Leadership guru. Kotter (2013) wrote an article that describes the difference between Knowledge Workers vs. Knowledge Networkers (Forbes, 2013). When you visit software companies, website design studios, corporate headquarters, and modern university libraries, you will find open spaces. Clients and co-workers are inspired to collaborate with one another based on the open space. When you look at classrooms in your school ask, "Does this space encourage Knowledge Workers or Knowledge Networkers?" As Kotter described, the workforce is seeking Knowledge Networkers. If your school claims to prepare students for College and Career Readiness, then we should redesign classrooms to look like the real world.
Wireless classrooms are beyond the control of the classroom teacher. Gone are the days of going to the back bookshelf to look up your answer in a World Book. A classroom with three computers is helpful, but a wireless classroom opens new doors for teaching and learning. There are issues with chat rooms, blogging, and searching the Internet for appropriate content. However, this is where teaching Digital Citizenship is important. A wireless classroom is like the real world for most students. Have you ever seen a two year old in a shopping cart at the grocery store? Chances are the child was playing a game or using an app on a SmartPhone.
This is the most difficult part. Unless you are building a brand new school, you probably don't have the funds to purchase new furniture, lamps, or accessories. Our school received a $2,000 Matching grant from our PTA and the Board of Education. The funds allowed us to purchase dorm room-style furniture, a used futon, lamps, cardboard cut-outs of Star Wars and Monsters U characters. The furniture and the accessories are in neon colors, which is in style. The room looks like the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo, but a little louder. The cheapest accessory we purchased was international clocks. We purchased wall clocks for $4 per clock. Each clock is set to a different country and time zone. The center clock is a neon clock and we paid $20 for the center clock. It reads HES - Eastern Standard Time.
Teachers are great at finding bargains. You will also be surprised how many families will donate items or support you with creating a comfortable space. Recently, a parent donated five large pillows to our new room. Another parent went to Wal-Mart and was able to secure a $100 gift card to purchase additional items. Garage sales, Craig's List, and Going Out of Business Sales are additional ways you can create a comfortable classroom. I struggle to imagine how we could fund another classroom with a $2,000 renovation, much less every classroom. However, I know it can be done.
Inspiring students is easy. Teachers do this everyday. If you follow the other guidelines listed in this article and referenced by Linton (2012), you will create a more inspiring classroom. What inspires students? Neon colors, a graffiti wall, art, collaboration, technology, a green screen, interacting with students in other countries, blogging, Twitter, The 1970's, music, a lounge theme, zoo animals, student created posters, video games, challenging puzzles, books, e-Readers, and multimedia are examples of things that students find inspirational. The easiest way to find out what inspires students is to ask students what they would like to see in a classroom. Let students design the learning environment. Once you design a space that meets the students' needs and preferences, you may be surprised at the change in student performance. When you are blogging or reading the news at home, do you put your feet up in a chair? Do you sit on the couch? Do you drink a cup of coffee and sit on the back porch? We do our best thinking when we are relaxed. Students can collaborate, communicate, create, and think critically when we/they design inspiring spaces.
There is no need to turn your classroom into a theme park, purchase a flat screen tv for all four corners of the room, or take out a student loan to redesign your classroom. In 2000, I observed a middle school English Language Arts teacher who purchased four lamps for her classroom. She paid $25 total for the four lamps. The lamps were mood lighting for the classroom. Some teachers use motivational quotes in the classroom. Practical is difficult for teachers, because teachers are constantly spending their own money to support teaching and learning.
I recommend that you start small and redesign your classroom in phases. Can you afford dorm-room furniture this year? If you cannot afford 25 chairs, can you afford three dorm-room style beanbag chairs? Music is another way to change the mood and feel of your classroom. I have seen an elementary teacher effectively use milk crates with pads on top for student seats. The seats create a collaborative setting when they face each other. Another teacher used children's beach chairs. Beach chairs are low to the ground. How many people went to the beach this summer and bought beach chairs? These chairs are often sold in garage sales or placed by the curb, following the vacation. There are several ways to redesign your room. Once again, ask the students to design a dream classroom with the existing furniture.
Teaching has changed. I see instructional strategies that are inspiring and I see teachers working hard to integrate technology across the curriculum. Mathematics and science are not taught the same way that they were twenty years ago. Teacher collaboration and the use of common formative assessments have also improved teaching and learning in the United States. Teachers and administrators are using Twitter as a way to learn about new instructional strategies and are communicating with educators around the world. Education is changing at a rapid pace. One thing that is often overlooked in education is the learning space. We need to look at our schools and ask, "Is this classroom flexible, open, wireless, comfortable, inspiring and practical?" As the parent asked me, "When do you think all of the classrooms will look like this?"
August is that kind of month where I always wonder if I’m ready for the school year. Guess what? I never am fully ready. One of the hardest parts of being a principal is the mental checklist that sifts through the brain as you consider the opening of school. Here are some of my random thoughts about the opening of school.
I start with the building… I constantly ask myself if everything in its right place? Did I make sure that all my promises were kept? During the summer, I usually do weekly checks, but as the end of August approaches, I am doing daily, sometimes 3 and 4 checks of the building. This summer we had major projects such as wi-fi throughout the building, a new cafeteria, redesigned faculty lounge, painting, offices moved and renovated. Thankfully, I have an awesome crew who continues to deliver a clean, organized building.
Then I continue to labor over the various schedules… Does everyone have a prep? Do we have enough sections? What about morning, afternoon, lunch? Have I optimized instructional time? Will the students have what they need? This year, we will opening the building without our full staff. As of now we have three positions that need to be filled (or are in the process of being filled). Students continue to transfer in and out on a daily basis.
What a year we have planned… New Teacher Evaluations, Student Growth Objectives and a Model Assessment that will help us transition to the PARCC. Our teachers (and fellow administrators) are feeling the crunch as we ensure to be compliant with the state mandates. Am I fully prepared for the new evaluations? Can I articulate the rigor needed for an appropriate Student Growth Objective? Are we prepared for assessments every 6-8 weeks and do we have enough time to analyze the data to improve student performance?
So far I have had a few “back to school” dreams. In one dream I realized I was wearing two different shoes. In another dream I was at my school (but it really wasn’t my school) and I was checking on the process of the teachers and their classrooms. One teacher had decorated their entire ceiling and it was a dome shape. In another dream, I was greeting students on the first day but I was not at the correct school! I know we all have crazy back to school dreams, but this year they have been intense!
The reality is that when we open for business next week that I will be supported by an amazing administrative team, fabulous teachers, excited students, supportive parents, un-replaceable secretaries, and a dedicated support staff that will work collaboratively to achieve our goals. So I am done reflecting and I have to get back to working…. late!
What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #1)
Throughout my travels and in my reflections this summer, I have become fascinated by the words we use to describe our world, our lives and our dreams.
James MacGregor Burns defined leaderships as, "Leadership is leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivations-the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations- of both leaders and followers. And the genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders see and act on their own and their follower's values and motivations".
As we go into a new school year, have we defined or redefined what leadership is for us individually and collectively? Do we know the goals for which represent our values and motivations. Finally, do we know our followers well enough to ensure that we are acting on their behalf?
There are many days when I struggle to find where I belong and many days I can find where I went wrong. When I think of what we as a Nation our attempting to do for every child within our borders, I am not sure I feel more pain for what still has to be done or pleasure for the opportunity to participate in such a noble cause. Throughout the unknown and the certainty of what I have not yet got right, I remain resolute to our students, our community and our team. As educators (teachers, administrators, support staff), we cannot be divided against ourselves. Our commitment to every child must be in trusted to each of us and we must conduct ourselves with such firm conviction knowing no one else, cares or works as hard as we do to reach every child.
The new school year is here and we have an opportunity to positively change lives. As we collectively fight to fulfill the “Dream”, I wish you all the best. Make no mistake, it is with pride and complete faithfulness that I walk with you.
Finally by Stella Stuart
Why Should I Fear?
“Behind me is infinite power.
Before me is endless possibility.
Around me is boundless opportunity.
Why should I fear?”
After a brief hiatus from my blog writing (the Administrative” Spring rush” and then the summer unwind), I am back at school and back online thinking about the upcoming year. I didn’t really take a break from leadership over the summer, as I worked a bit from home, continued to watch news around educational issues and most importantly, still thought about school and my work. With the impending start of school right around the corner, it has me thinking about how much I love the time just before school starts. There is that “buzz” around getting things ready and getting things done in the school to welcome children back. The fact of the matter is; I love being a school leader. I love working with children, teachers, parents, and other school community members that contribute to a worthy cause, which is educating children. And despite the period of upheaval that is currently taking place in education, I still love leading my school and helping to make a difference for children.
The one thing I know about being a school leader is that I still don’t have all the answers and that I’m still learning too. I think some people believe that principals have all the answers within the school, however, just like students and teachers, we’re still learning and trying to figure some things out. That is one of the other great things about summer, preparing to start back to school, and working in education. I get to look back on the year that ended and reflect upon what we did as a school and what I did to lead those efforts. That doesn’t just mean reviewing data about student performance. It also means playing back in my mind decisions I made during the year, revisiting interactions and conversations I had, celebrating successes, and making an honest appraisal of my work in leading a school full of teachers and students. That honest appraisal also includes things that did not work well. The process isn’t one day, and it isn’t a week. It is a summer of darting in and out of my thoughts around my own practice and how I served the students and the greater school community. It involves confronting my own short falls as well and thinking about where I need to make improvements and provide better leadership. In the end, strong and capable leaders not only honestly look at where they need to improve, they admit that and share it with those that work with them and around them.
Ultimately, for me, that is the joy of being a school principal and one of the great opportunities of working in education. Often times, I feel many people think the term leadership implies that the person leading holds every bit of knowledge there is. In my opinion, leading and learning go hand in hand. It means that as I lead, I learn, and vice versa. It means that I have a growth mindset, and I am open to learning more so that I can be of the greatest service to students and teachers, and that I can support the organization I work for in a way that moves it forward too.
As many of my principal colleagues get ready to begin or have already begun their school year (those near and far), I hope that they have the opportunity to learn about their own work, celebrate their successes and think about the work they will change to help them have the most successful year possible with students and teachers, both leading and learning!
As an early adopter of transformative technologies, I have been watching the mobile app space carefully to see how it can benefit all facets of education. By being a thought leader in the use of digital technology in schools, I was approached by a bold start-up in Boston called Beeonics, which wanted to talk to me about their breakthrough technology. I had them come down and meet with several student leaders and me this past spring where I shared my vision of having a mobile app for New Milford HS, which could also be shared with other schools. This work, has rapidly resulted in, I am very excited to say, a native mobile app for the NMHS community.
My vision is for every high school around the country to have its own native mobile app. For a high school, having its own native mobile application is a tremendously valuable asset as a tool to communicate more rapidly and efficiently within its community and as a means to help administrators, teachers, coaches, students, and parents to organize more productively all school activities. Here at New Milford High School we have been at the forefront of adopting social media and the latest technologies to improve the way we run our educational and extra-curricular programs. Understanding how mobile devices can be used to benefit all the constituents of our community is a staple of our long-standing commitment to bring technology to the use of our community.
Using Beeonics technology, we have been able to quickly create a state-of-the-art native mobile application with a rich set of features. Our application can be managed very easily by our staff through a website with a user-friendly graphical interface. We envision every school benefiting from having their own native mobile application. Therefore, we want every school to benefit from our work. Thanks to Beeonics technology, any school can take our mobile application as a template and almost instantly create their own native mobile application, customized to their school. We will continue to add to our application while making these additions and improvements available to any school, public or private, so please check back often.
Where we stand today is that the New Milford High School native mobile application is now in use by the students, faculty, staff, and parents at New Milford High School on iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android devices (smart phones and tablets). All the constituents of the NMHS community are both intrigued and excited by its capabilities. The new school-year version of the application will be available during the first week of September.
I am sure at least some of you, maybe even many of you, are dubious that creating the app itself was easy, let alone easy-to-manage. However, I assure you any school can do it. Remember when doing a web site was hard 20 years ago? Today, a non-engineer can go to SquareSpace, GoDaddy, Wordpress, and many others and make a good web site in a few days, sometimes even hours. This is the Beeonics vision, but for mobile apps (which is a much harder problem with different operating systems, different versions within operating systems, and devices of markedly different size and dimension). Let me tell you what we did.
The mobile application was developed directly from the input of a group of students, teachers, and administrators. The process was quick and efficient. Modifications and improvements were rapidly implemented. The mobile application comes with a user-friendly website, which staff and administrators can use to easily share content and notifications with their students in real time. A group of students, teachers, and administrators tried the mobile application during the last four weeks of the previous school year. We collected further feedback and ideas for additional functionality, which were used over the summer to fine tune the application and associated website in the new school-year version. We made the changes and, voilà!, we have a richly-featured mobile app.
I wanted a mobile app for the community of stakeholders at NMHS for many reasons. First, for the students, the application helps them organize their schedule, activities, and homework, and provides them with real-time updates on classes, activities, and athletics. Specifically, for students, the app enables them to:
The students are excited because they can have all this information and all these capabilities always available and immediately accessible on their phones, rain or shine, in or out of school.
With respect to teachers and coaches, they are now able to:
This functionality helps us run the internal functions of the school more effectively, more efficiently, more easily, and with a fun factor we have not had before. The app also allows the constituency outside of the school, the parents, guardians, and other stakeholders to:
The parents are excited because they can have the peace of mind that they are always up-to-date and informed of the activities of their children and notified of any time-sensitive information. Last, but by no means least, I would be remiss if I did not address how this benefits me and the administration of NMHS.
We use the mobile application to:
What I love the most about our native mobile application, in addition to the obvious positive impact that it has throughout our community, is that I can reach all my constituents instantly and reliably, on the one device which is the most personal and which is (unless they leave it at home like I have a few times before!) always with them.
I am really excited about the mobile app and even more excited that all of you can take advantage of the work done by my students, staff, teachers, coaches, parents, and myself to bring the same capabilities we have today to your school quickly. To that end, I have asked Beeonics to offer our app to other schools for only $1.49 per user per academic year as a favor to me and because we helped Beeonics debug their software (the Beeonics app is normally $2.99 per user per academic year). The company has graciously agreed. This offer stands through the end of 2013. Please go to http://www.beeonics.com to register and use the keyword "Eric".
This summer I enjoyed the time my wife and I were able to spend with our two year-old son, Mason. Whereas a summer spent with a two year-old may conjure images of tantrums, potty training mishaps and struggles to leave the house with some sort of clothing (and, sure, there were some of those things), it was a very productive summer with respect to my growth as a teacher and I didn’t do much work at all. Sure, at times I felt guilty for not reading the stack of ASCD books I had piled up or reworking the lessons I swore I would do as soon as school got out, but in not doing those things I learned so much more.
In the early weeks of summer this scene seemed to play itself over and over again: Mason would be content playing with his trucks so I would sneak into the kitchen to attack the mounting pile of dishes. Suddenly my soapy silence would be broken, “Daddy! Daddy!” Wanting to wash at least one dish I would respond, “Just a minute, I’m busy.” Then we would ping-pong “Daddy!” and “Just a minute” back and forth until I finally went to the other room, usually to listen to him demonstrate his latest creative pronunciation of “fire truck” or “bulldozer”.
Through this and similar experiences, two things struck me: First, if I listened—even just for a second—Mason was able go back to his independent play and I back to the dishes. He simply had to be heard. If I addressed his need by listening, we could both continue doing what we were doing. Second, and most important, it struck me that I had failed to learn this lesson through almost a decade of teaching experience. I became shamefully aware that the same scene had played itself out as students entered the door in the morning. I would be busy with attendance and other morning administrative tasks, yet a student wanted to tell me about something that happened the night before. Usually, not wanting to “waste” any learning time, my response would be something to the effect of, “Can you just wait and tell me during recess?” I realize now that, no, they probably couldn’t just wait until recess. Just like Mason, they had to tell me right then. They had possibly been waiting all night to tell someone and they had to be heard. By refusing to listen I not only kept these students from being heard, but perhaps also unable to engage productively with the tasks at hand, unlike Mason, who was able to return to his truck play. I began to question the consequences of my unwillingness to listen: What was the effect on our relationship? How attentive were they until recess? Were they learning anything?
There is nothing comfortable about realizing that you have been putting your own needs ahead of your students and it doesn’t make it any easier knowing that it is probably having a negative impact on their learning—the very reason you are there in the first place. Nonetheless, I’m thankful to have realized just how important it is to prioritize the social and emotional needs of students. This is especially important as we as teachers are pushed to increase student achievement by increasing instructional time at all costs. Mason, however, showed me that giving a little time results in far reaching benefits in relationships, attention, and learning.
So before the new school year begins I pledge to honor the social and emotional needs of my students and prioritize their needs over mine. I pledge to make the time, to be there, to listen.
This is the fourth year I have been part of a summer reading program which ditched the traditional assignment for a more connected approach. Utilizing a tool, like Schoology as we have, to provide a platform for ongoing communication regarding the reading has had a truly transformative effect on a traditional assignment.
I mean, what else could explain this lack of excitement I feel, as the days of summer begin to wind down? Normally, this time of year brings to me a renewed sense of enthusiasm. Maybe it was because my summer was a little “turbulent,” but I don’t think that’s the root cause of my blues. I think it might have something to do with the following story I read last week:
A local elementary has received sub-par scores on the statewide reading test. They are now being required to add 1 hour to the length of each school day for the entire 2013-2014 academic year, in order to focus on additional reading instruction.
Geez, I need to try to understand this. Let me see if I’ve got this right. So, we’re going to take kids--between the ages of 6 and 12--and add 5 hours per week to the amount of time they spend in school, right? Instead of 7 hours each day, they’ll now spend 8 hours in school each day. Now, on the surface, this sounds great:
More instructional time
Improved test scores
But, let’s think a little deeper about this. What do you suppose will be the quality of the reading instruction that takes place during that additional hour at the end of the day? Kids will be tired; adults will be tired. Is it reasonable to expect that simply adding more time will automatically lead to more academic improvement? I honestly don’t think so.
Maybe the idea is that enhanced/supplemented reading instruction will occur in the mornings. However, if that’s the case, something’s still got to give during that last additional hour of the day, when kids and teachers are exhausted.
This “solution” worries me, especially when we have other alternatives. I respectfully raise the fact that, perhaps, the issue should not be the quantity of instructional time, but rather the quality of instructional time. What about exploring any of the following?
What about the possibility of exploring alternative structures to the things I’ve listed above? Further, what about the possibility of engaging in schoolwide, collaborative action research as a mechanism to explore the effectiveness of current practices and evaluate the potential power of alternatives to current practice? There simply is not enough of this type of reflective teacher inquiry into professional practice as a means of solving the educational problems that we face in today’s classrooms and schools. We absolutely need more of this kind of empowered thinking in our schools if we truly intend on finding effective ways to improve the system of education in our country.
|"They spent the summer texting. It takes a while to wean them."|
This cartoon would be hilarious if it weren’t so ominous. It’s ominous because it pokes fun at a distressing problem for our youth: text messaging seems to be negatively impacting kids’ language skills. This is the conclusion of a study published in New Media & Society, a top-ranked, peer-reviewed journal. The authors of Texting, Techspeak, and Tweens: The Relationship between Text Messaging and English Grammar Skills say:
|"They spent the summer texting. It takes a while to wean them."|
There is no question that text-speak has crept into classrooms; however, the question to date was whether or not adolescents were able to switch between writing text messages and using correct English grammar for class work. The results of this study indicate that most adolescents are not able to do so.
The fundamental question is, will kids be able to limit their texting language to just text messaging? Or, will the frequent use of texting bleed into kids’ use of language in more formal settings? If the latter is true, then we’ve got a problem on our hands.
How Texting Impacts Grammar – the Study
Bear with me for a quick synopsis of the study’s methods. Don’t worry – it’s not hard to follow. The researchers compared 6th, 7th, and 8th graders’ scores on a grammar test to the frequency with which they used these common adaptations in text messages:
The study found that adolescents’ frequent use of word adaptions in text messages correlated to lower grammar scores. But frequent structural adaptations (capitalization and punctuation) did not negatively impact test scores.
The Limitations of the Study
The research showed that the more kids’ used word adaptations in texting, the lower they scored on the grammar test; but this does not prove that their texting habits caused their poor test performance. It may be the other way around: that kids who are less skilled with grammar use more word adaptations in their texts.
The study does not definitively answer the question of whether texting harms grammar skills. But it gives enough cause for concern that we should be paying attention. Here is its message to teachers and parents:
“Adolescents should be educated to understand the differences between tech-speak and Standard English grammar, recognizing that there is a time and a place for both.”
|"They spent the summer texting. It takes a while to wean them."|