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  • What I Learned Lately (WILL 13 What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #18)

    • From: Joshua_Garcia
    • Description:

      What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #18)

      4/16/2014

      @Garciaj9Josh

       

      “Are you OK, Am I OK?”

      How do I ensure that today I am wiser, calmer, and more relentless than yesterday?  As I continue to learn, I find that leadership in its easy silence of my thoughts, is truly as simple and complex as – “to be or not to be”.  I have found that in this time of year, we are both tired and excited.  It is an interesting time for educators, communities and most importantly our students.  During the spring many would like to rest.  Some lose their urgency and others may never have had it.  Yet, I see others that thrive during this time.  I am left to wonder if urgency is lost or mistaken for crisis when we are tired.  How do we continue to be urgent until the very last minute?  As an organization, can we handle relentless urgency?

      For our students, this time of year is filled with the realities of time running out and excitement of the unknown.  What will I do this summer? What will next year be like?  What will my next school be like?  What will it be like after graduation?  Will I make it this year?  Will I make it today?  Additionally, there is a sense of running out of time.  I heard one student recently say, “It is isn’t because they (staff) haven’t been telling us too, we just haven’t done it.”

      As a leader how do you “check yourself”?  How do you know if your vision is just?  How do you know if those who you are trying to serve value your service?  We are in the final stretch of the school year, we will blink and we will be headed into summer.  As we relentlessly drive forward, we must be clear.  For those who put their own interest ahead of the students that we serve, we must have no time.  Amid the doubt and unknown, we must relentlessly put our trust in our students’ abilities and in our staffs’ commitment to serve each of them.  Am I Ok?  Are we Ok?  Our pain and our struggle is our everyday life.  I pray that we never become numb to them, for I know that we will have given up.  The time is now to become urgent, one last push, our best effort, and I am confident that we will ensure student success. 

      Finally from, “Edmund Vance Cooke”

      Did you tackle that trouble that came your way?

      With a resolute heart and cheerful?

      Or hide your face from light of day

      With a craven soul and fearful?

      Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,

      Or a trouble is what you make it.

      And it isn’t the fact you’re hurt that counts,

      But only how did you take it?

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  • I hate testing not standards I hate testing not standards

    • From: Erik_Palmer
    • Description:

      Where the hell have you been?

       

      Pardon my language, but I do want to ask this to those of you who are vehement about how bad lots of testing is and how horrible high stakes tests are. I have hated all the testing and the Big Test for twenty years now.  Where were all of you?  Why didn’t you ever join me?  This testing mania has been around for decades and now suddenly you figure out that it’s bad for kids?

                 

      A little history.  We have had high stakes testing for about twenty years now.  I was teaching when Colorado adopted the Big Test, the Colorado Student Assessment Program.  The governor at the time was sure education would improve if we had a Big Test For All To Take.  I was outspoken at the time that the test was unnecessary and bad for students. The governor and a congressman who was a big supporter of the test were persuaded to take the 11th grade test.  The governor refused to have his test scored; the congressman said he hoped his test would be shredded.  I was livid and I wrote a guest column for the paper: how valid is the test if very successful people can fail it?  It must measure something that doesn’t matter in life.  And what a waste of time and money!  This was 15 YEARS BEFORE COMMON CORE.

                 

      My district purchased test prep packets and we were supposed to go through them for the month leading to the Big Test.  Students and teachers got seriously stressed at CSAP time. I felt the packets were not the best use of instructional time and, in defiance, never used them.  (My students test scores were as high or higher than my peers who used the packet in fear of the big test.) This started 15 YEARS BEFORE COMMON CORE.


      I had my son opt out of the Big Test.  I felt it wasted a week of his life, had no instructional value, and told teachers nothing about him that they didn’t already know. This was 10 YEARS BEFORE COMMON CORE.

       

      My district added MAP testing two times a year, DRA testing two times a year, and a district-created writing assessment four times a year.  I gave the first writing assessment and realized that it had no instructional value so I never gave it again.  I was prepared to use the “asking forgiveness is easier than asking permission” defense, but no one ever noticed.  I was livid again.  Why all this testing?  No one can keep up with it!  This started 8 YEARS BEFORE COMMON CORE.

                 

      I was teaching 8th grade when the district added the EXPLORE test.  The EXPLORE test predicts how well kids will do on the PLAN test which predicts how well kids will do on the ACT test which has almost no predictive value about how well kids will do in college.  I was an outspoken critic.  More money wasted, more instructional time gone, no information that I didn’t already have.  This started 4 YEARS BEFORE COMMON CORE.

                 

      Where was the outrage all of this time?  Why was I the only voice against non-stop testing, test prep, and the Big Test?  If you think this is a Common Core issue, you are way wrong. If you hate the Common Core because of testing, you are way off base.

                 

      Are people making money from new tests? Probably, but I never hear a peep from you about the insane SAT or ACT preparation industries. Are there glitches in the new online tests? Of course, but at least testing is finally getting into the 21st century instead of looking exactly like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills I took half a century ago (46 YEARS BEFORE COMMON CORE!). But still, I agree: this testing mania is insane!

                 

      And here is the mind-blowing part: I don’t hate the Common Core State Standards.

       

      For some time now, I have been asking haters to tell me exactly which standard they don’t like. You don’t like “Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea?” You don’t like “Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation?” You don’t like “Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate?” Well then, tell me exactly which ones need to be tossed out? NOT ONE PERSON HAS EVER ANSWERED THIS QUESTION. Only a fool sees things in black and white; all good or all bad; everything or nothing. Aren’t there some good ideas here?

                 

      More history. When I started teaching, I was told to teach language arts. I had some ideas of things to do, but I never had a clear idea of what the end result was supposed to be. I was told to assign book reports and teach topic sentences and other things, but everyone was weak on where we were all supposed to be headed. I would not have minded at all someone saying, “At the end of this year, see if you can get kids to recognize and correct vague pronouns (i.e., ones with unclear or ambiguous antecedents).” Ah, that’s what appropriate for this age! That’s my goal. We’ll shoot for that.

                 

      And that is all a standard is.

      No drama.

      No all or nothing.

      No “I hate Bill Gates.”

      And definitely no “But testing is horrible!!!!”

       

                 

      I am happy that after twenty years, people are joining me on the Too Much Testing Bandwagon. I am seriously disappointed, however, that people can’t see a distinction between a standard and a test. And I am shocked at the number of folks who haven’t figured out that you can have standards and not have ridiculous amounts of tests. They do not logically have to go together. You can (and should?) hate testing but not standards.

      

      

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  • Failing Goals of Education Failing Goals of Education

    • From: Tom_Whitby
    • Description:

      I recently had a discussion with a friend John, who is a Superintendent in a rural school district. We were discussing his district specifically and what it was providing its students in the way of relevant programs of study. The conversation came around to a question often asked and an answer that is too familiar. I asked what the purpose of school was? As educators what is it that we want for our students at the end of the journey of K-12? Of course the answer was to get them to college or to get them to a good job.

      My friend was consulting with a number of local companies to determine what they were looking for in employees. He was also consulting with area colleges to see what they expected to receive as college ready students. He was doing everything a responsible, caring superintendent could do in order to properly prepare his students for the stated goals of education, getting to college, or getting a job.

      Thinking about the goals, as pragmatic as they are, I was really having trouble with the idea of what the goals were. We were considering limiting kids’ learning to the limited needs an industrial complex, or the present entry requirements of institutions that are slow to change in an ever-changing culture.

      My other problem with these almost universal goals of American education is that for too many kids these goals are not an inspiration to learn. If college is truly a goal for education, why is it that only a third of Americans have completed four-year degrees?  The first answer that comes to mind is that most were not able to handle the studies involved. A more likely answer however, is that a degree has become cost prohibitive. People can no longer afford to go to college without incurring massive debt. How can any kid embrace a goal of education knowing that it is financially unattainable, or that it will come at a cost of unending loan payments? This is not unlike promising every kid playing sports should have an expectation to play in any of the national, professional sports leagues. Few might, but most will not.

      This goal of a college career is certainly less of an incentive when we consider schools in areas of poverty. Middle-income people may have some shot at college with the help of family, but that puts the student and the family into years of debt. What chance do poor kids have, especially in the current political climate of limiting any government funding for anyone?  Nationally, student debt is rising at an astronomical rate because of the need to fulfill the goal of college and its promise of financial security upon completion. Poor kids are told that college will break the cycle of poverty. How is that an incentive for a kid who knows its likelihood will never happen? Education’s goal is not the kid’s goal. That is not a winning strategy.

      Now for the second goal of education for those who we recognize as the non-college ready students. Our goal is to place them in the labor force. We ask business and industry what they require of their employees, and then we work that into our education system. We have then prepared our students for the workforce of today. The problem here is that they are not prepared for the workforce of tomorrow. That is more likely the place that they will live. We saw the result of this when the economy went bust. Many workers who found themselves again in the job market, were not prepared for the world of work today. We can’t program kids to fit into a workforce that may not support their skills after they graduate. Business, industry and our entire society are subject to rapid change driven by the evolution of technology. Think of how different the workforce will look from when a kid enters school until his or her graduation. In that time, that twelve-year span, how many businesses died, and how many started anew? Yet, we will have programmed our kids to be work ready for a workforce that may no longer need those skills. Think of how long a time it took moving typewriters out of education in a world of word processors.

      If college readiness and work readiness are failing goals in education, what should the goal of education be? I don’t know. I think life readiness or learning readiness might be more fitting for our world today. Teaching kids how to learn and continue to do so outside of a classroom is the best way to prepare them for whatever path they choose.  A goal of self-reliance might serve kids better in the future. To enable a kid to learn without a teacher is the best gift a teacher can give a student.

      Change will be slow however, because all of our educators and all of our society have been programmed to believe that school is to prepare kids for college or work. We have come to believe that education is salvation, when in fact it is the learning that is important. Education is a certificate of learning that comes at great expense. It does have its place however, and we will always hold it in high regard. The fact is however that fewer people will be able to pay for that piece of paper, but the learning it represents may cost a great deal less, not in terms of effort or work, but in terms of dollars and cents. In the future it may not be the degree, but the learning that is important. Maybe we need to reassess our goals in education? 

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  • Joy_Walke

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  • Service Learning Service Learning

    • From: Mike_Hennessy
    • Description:

      Many school districts in America have a Service Learning requirement. An idea well-intentioned but poorly implemented in most schools. Teachers and Administrators who have never even done volunteer work now demand that their students do what they have never done. Needless to say these administrators offer nothing but lip service to the cause. We set the requirement but then we back off, we want nothing to do with these service learning requirements. "That's your problem kiddo" go get it done. And by the way stop whining about it, just go do it. The teenager is now left to fend for themselves with little help from the adults in their world. Oh, sure we offer the opportunity for the students to meet after school with their counselor or the service learning coordinator to discuss upcoming opportunities but what about the adults who stand in front of them every day? Where are they? They are nowhere to be found.

       Let's be honest we forced this requirement upon our students because we believed it's so damned important but the truth is we do not walk the walk and talk the talk. If teachers and administrators truly believe that service learning is so damned important (and even if they do not) it is about time educators began to support the service learning agenda. It is about time educators stopped hiding behind empty rhetoric and began including service learning into the curriculum.

       Every single requirement for students is supported at school except service learning. Driver’s education is supported with classes and books, so is physical education, the constitution exam, health, sex education and the arts. But when it comes to service learning we kick the kids to the curb and wish them luck. Then we blame them when the appropriate number of hours is not met in the given time frame. If schools are going to make service learning mandatory then it's about time these educators began supporting this requirement with more than slogans and suggestions.

      The solution is simple. Every teacher at school must include two service learning projects into their unit plans every year. If the subject you are teaching is relevant then there must be some practical way to integrate this into your instruction. If you cannot do this then your subject is not worth teaching.

      Schools exist to prepare our young to be productive members of society. How is this possible if we do not demonstrate how the topic presented in class each day applies to a real world situation? Service Learning is the only graduation requirement we throw at students with little or no support. If we really believe in the value of service learning then let's start supporting that requirement in deeds not just with words. Let’s bring service learning into the curriculum front and center. Let’s give everybody a stake in the responsibility to complete and implement the service learning requirement

       

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  • Teaching with an Adventurous S Teaching with an Adventurous Spirit

    • From: Tiffany_Della_Vedova
    • Description:

      

      As much I flooded my blog Teach on the Edge with shameless bragging over my preparations for and "reasons" to, it was hard to miss that I was in a triathlon race this weekend. When it was over, my 28 days of race blogging also came to an end, and I was left thinking about the connections between two central pieces of my identity: fitness and education. I feel strongly that one informs the other constantly, so I set out to explore these connections in an April blogging series: Teach Fit. 

      Teach Fit Tip: Teach with an Adventurous Spirit

      One synapse through which energy flows between all the facets of my personal and professional life is adventure. When I think of adventure, my heart returns to my childhood favorite The Goonies, in which an eclectic crew of well-intentioned, ill-prepared teens sets off to find the hidden pirate treasure that will "save the Goondocks" from foreclosure. With no forethought, the group hops on their bicycles with nothing more than an old map and key, an asthma inhaler, and a ton of brash courage. Along the way, they find friendship, purpose, compassion, inner talent, and (of course) the treasure.

      While it would be hardly responsible to send students off to impending doom by booby trap, it seems today that too many teachers are fearful of teaching with an adventurous spirit. As I stood in front of the waves on Sunday's race day, it was not without a fair amount of trepidation, but I also felt sure that I could at least survive and succeed given my level of preparation. In an age of so many creative and collaborative possibilities, educators would benefit from confidence in their abilities in order to dive into an adventurous sea. When facing something new or unexpected, we need to remember that we have arrived on this shoreline of possibility with no trivial amount of preparation. Unlike our beloved Goonies, we have far more in our packs to help us avoid danger and find the learning treasures with our students. Here are five adventurous seas most teachers face and should feel confident diving into...

      1) Tech Integration: Beyond checking age-appropriate guidelines for platform use, which are clearly outlined in the user terms, the integration of technology, especially that which has been specifically designed for the classroom, is a safe sea. While there will be waves to contend with, nobody is going to drown. Allowing students to play around in the surf and share with each other how they used different techniques to arrive at the same task completion is a great practice.

      2) Project-Based Learning: The best projects are often the most open-ended ones. It's uncomfortable for teachers to set forth projects with vague rubrics, but students can benefit from ones that set high standards for creativity, collaboration, and quality, with very little else detailed. 

      3) Choice-Based Exploration: As long as the prerequisite standards have been set so that students know how they must show they have learned, allowing students to choose what they learn and design their own demonstrations of learning is an excellent way to foster agency and creativity.

      4) Unfamiliar Topic: In today's data age, information is as easy to come by asking Siri. What is far more difficult to find is guidance, rapport, and connection. Allowing for student choice sometimes means allowing for topics outside our expertise. That's okay though because teachers are adept at the latter skills so as to guide students to the best resources and connections. We are boosters of brain power and creative, critical thinking...not databases for facts. Think Socrates--he never answered any questions!

      5) Being Ourselves: This is a personal and sometimes polarizing topic. Teachers cannot and should not try to be separate people in class and outside of school. While it would be unprofessional to over share information about one's personal life, our families and our interests make us human and relatable. These are two qualities a computer can never be. Yet, teachers are understandably fearful of sharing about their family if they feel the environment is intolerant. A moving example is Chris Friend's Edutopia blog "Silence is not Golden" in which Chris explores his missed opportunity in helping students embrace their own identities and differences. "Because I never brought up my sexuality on campus, I continued the discrimination. By hiding, I silently expressed my fear and added to the problem I feebly wanted to protect students from. I was trying to make sure that students felt safe in my classroom. Instead, I showed them that even I was not." 

      There is no shortage of fear in teaching. Sometimes we fear for ourselves, but mostly we fear the impact our mistakes will have on our students. We feel the weight of each interaction because we know that there are no neutral moments or do-overs. Still, with safe boundaries for exploration, we can trust in our skills as educators when faced with some trepidation. Our adventurous spirits can inspire our students to learn at new heights if we provision our packs with trust, creativity, and strong rapport. 

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  • Leader to Leader News: April 2 Leader to Leader News: April 2014

  • Jennifer_Holland

    • ASCD EDge Member
    • Points:250
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  • Richard_Laboyne

    • ASCD EDge Member
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  • Five Ways for Teacher-Leaders Five Ways for Teacher-Leaders to Bolster the Effectiveness of Peers

    • From: Krista_Rundell
    • Description:

      This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “How to cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to http://edge.ascd.org/page/ascd-forum.html


      How many educators have “fallen” into a teacher-leadership role without intention?  As a high school social studies instructor, I continually strived to refine my skills both the art and science of teaching.  In my ninth year, I was encouraged to apply for a grant-funded position that would take me not only out of my classroom, but also out of my comfort zone.  However, I also knew that I would regret passing up this opportunity for personal and professional growth. 

      During my five years as a Curriculum and Instructional Technology Coach, my growth was exponential.  My most pivotal insights involved learning how to best move the district towards achieving its mission and vision through ongoing, job-embedded, collaborative, and supported professional development. 

      It is my hope that what I have learned can serve not only as a guide for other teacher-leaders, but for all educational stakeholders interested in building a climate and culture dedicated to staff development and student achievement.

      1.     Be a life-long learner: Model continuous learning alongside peers.

            Learning can be engaging, enthusiastically contagious, and invigorating.  Experiencing that “AHA!” moment-of-realization continues to be remarkable, even in adulthood.  Teacher-leaders share the joy of this adventure with peers, engage curiosity, and spark momentum for knowledge-seeking.  Similarly, they also recognize that everyone has valuable contributions that add to the collective learning of a group, and thus, encourage the facilitation of learning over the “sage on the stage” mentality.

      2.     Be a contributor: Build a Personalized Learning Network.

            Connecting with other dedicated educators opens doors for the permeation of new concepts, astute advice, and best practices.  Teacher-leaders exchange ideas with their network, then share these perspectives with peers in the district to help direct next course of action.  Better yet, teacher-leaders invite interested peers to join their online network (see #5 below).  These additional viewpoints can help direct the movement of initiatives forward or provide guidance when the path needs to be altered. 

      3.     Be a canvasser: Seek input and multiple perspectives when introducing, modifying, or deepening initiatives.

            Valuing the opinions of others, even those who disagree, builds character, collegiality, and a positive climate in which learning and growth can flourish.  Teacher-leaders suspend judgment, actively listening to and incorporating the ideas, concerns, and solutions of others.

      4.     Be an advocate: Create a communication bridge between administrators and teachers.

             Uniting stakeholders helps reinforce our common goal to provide a valuable, meaningful educational experience for our students.  Oftentimes, our own vision is limited by the constraints of our daily schedule, the pressures of external forces, and the determined focus on accomplishing our own tasks.  Teacher-leaders weave connections between administrators and teachers to address the “whats, hows, and whys” to create a deeper understanding between both groups.

      5.     Be a capacity-builder: Stand next to colleagues as they integrate their new learning into practice - and reflect with them afterward.

            Offering to co-teach with teachers integrating a new practice can alleviate feelings of uncertainty, promote confidence, and lead to fun, engaging collaboration.  Teacher-leaders spend time with colleagues reflecting on the effectiveness of lessons in relation to student learning, focusing what went well, and addressing what could be improved.  In addition to building capacity among staff, this interaction shows students that teachers work collectively to provide the most effective instruction in order to meet their varied needs.

      “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”  ― W.B. Yeats

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  • Kaitlyn_Smith

    • ASCD EDge Member
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  • mark2 (2).JPG mark2 (2).JPG

    • From: Mark_Estrada
    • Description:
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  • 9 Ways Students Can Develop a 9 Ways Students Can Develop a Growth Mindset

    • From: Ryan_Thomas1
    • Description:

      Last week, Larry Ferlazzo reblogged a photograph of a growth-mindset chart he came across on Twitter. I liked so much that I decided to reformat it into a printable version.

      Growth Mindset






                                                              New Call to action

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  • Curating Content with Students Curating Content with Students: 4 Steps

    • From: Mindy_Keller-Kyriakides
    • Description:

      Content Curation is a relatively new term for educators to consider as they flex their Web muscles. After all, many of us are used to content being synonymous with "what's in the textbook." Or from a student perspective, we've hopefully moved past the bibliography cards (shudder) as a way of gathering content. We may not have started out with the idea that information or strategies or tools are available with a search, but now we need to know that the act of gathering them is also a skill. It's time to figure out the best way to get students on board with this crucial 21st century skill.

       

      Mullan (2011) defines content curation as "the act of discovering, gathering, and presenting digital content that surrounds specific subject matter." Thus, our role as a facilitator of learning is to figure out the general why and how, so we can help students better understand their specific why and how.


      1. Start with the end in mind.

       

      Our planning of the use of content curation will be somewhat backwards from our presentation to students because we first need to figure out why we want them to curate content before we jump into having them do it.

       

                          If you don't have a good reason for kids to curate, then...don't.

      Without a clear alignment of this task and the learning, you'll soon find them off-task and/or whining and complaining, no matter the tool. So, we need to first consider:

       

           What is the end goal of the assignment or project? 

           What do we want students to be able to "do" with it?

       

      These questions come before the "curation" question:

       

           Why is curating content the BEST thing to help students reach those goals or demonstrate their   

           learning?

       

      For example, let's say I have a project idea that I want students to complete a research project on one aspect of education for sustainable development. The topic is certainly significant, and I want them to decide on one problem they want to tackle under the umbrella of this topic, and research solutions and ideas for overcoming it. Finally, I want them to present their findings in a comprehensive way for others to learn from. They are expected to choose their intended audience for this compilation of information. My reason for curation is then germane to the learning. They need to find the sources, so having a spot to put them all is a logical, practical exercise.


      2. Scaffold the skills.

       

      Then, I'll want to brainstorm some thoughts on what the kids will need to know about content curation before they tackle this project.

       

      What immediately stands out for content curation as a skill is the credibility and/or reliability of what is discovered or gathered, etc. Evaluating sources can be tricky, so students may need some help understanding what is/is not a viable source. Providing them with examples in discussion prior to sending them out on their own would allow them more solid footing. They should be asking questions such as:

       

           Who is the author of this source, and why is he/she credible?
           Does the source provide references or at least links to information that supports the discussion?
           How will this source help me reach my goal?

       

      3. Distinguish the tools.

       

      Another thing kids will need to know is what kind of tool will work best. There are so many options! Paperli, Pinterest, Symbaloo. Since the use of the tools is probably not going to be too much of an issue (they are very user-friendly and easy to figure out), then, we'll need to do a bit of background on a few. What is it that curation tools can actually DO?

       

      contentcuration.jpeg

       

       

      From Webby Thoughts http://www.webbythoughts.com/content-curation-tools-resource/

       

      For example, some curation tools, such as scoopit and paperli lend themselves to actually being the final project whereas Symbaloo, Diigo, and Pinterest are more like warehouses that store information for something else.  Thus before you open up Pandora's box of tools, make sure you know what you want it to do.

      A quick comparison of a few--you can find some listed in Moss (2014) "Content Curation Tools"--can aid you in guiding students to the choice that will work best for them. This is actually good spot in the unit/lesson to offer students some choice because you want them to hone the skill. The tool is up to them!

       

      4. Set clear expectations.

       

      Of course, you'll want to make sure your expectations for the final product are clear! Using rubrics and checklists that help students understand how you'll be assessing their skills of curation for the purpose of the final project will offer them a solid foundation for moving forward in the magic of content curation.

       

      Working with the backwards design approach really offers us a powerful way to approach this valuable skill! Students who can curate have a definitive advantage over those who don't know what it is or how to use it.

       

      And they need all the advantages that we can give them.

       

       

      

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  • The Best of the Week: Volume 3 The Best of the Week: Volume 3

  • MEC PR Pic 2.jpg MEC PR Pic 2.jpg

    • From: Craig_Mertler
    • Description:
    • 3 days ago
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  • Ghost Busting Ghost Busting

    • From: John_Hines
    • Description:

      While schools seem like historical institutions that anchor a community with continuity, they are always changing. While one school can provide a connection through generations in a neighborhood, the school that existed for the baby boomers is not what exists for the millennials. I went to a high school that just celebrated its centennial and while the name over the door remained the same, almost everything else has changed.


      Every year the students, staff, and community change. New educational policies and reforms are instituted and old ones are forgotten. New events become traditions and new initiatives become protocols. One of the reasons that schools are so hard to change is that they come with history that was created through the efforts of the many people that were part of moving a school from a building to a monument to community accomplishment.

      While some traditions provide connections within a neighborhood, others hang on long

      past their usefulness.


      As we have moved forward to change things in my school, there has been continuous discussion around how we got to where we are today. My school is less than fifteen years old, but there have been many changes since its inception. Many of the policies where put in place in order to solve problems that we are still facing, but others have lost their relevance. As we push forward to make the necessary changes to address our current student, staff and community needs, we are often stopped by these irrelevant policies, procedures and traditions. Last year, I began to call these policies ghosts because they continue to haunt us long after they are no longer relevant.


      These ghosts haunt us for many reasons: we have failed to reassess their ability to meet the needs that we currently have, we lack an understanding of why they were put in place, and or we simply are still doing them because we have always done it that way. Most of the time, they do not cause problems. We have adjusted them to meet our needs each year, but in adjusting past practice, we find it difficult to develop new practices that better meet our needs. They continue to hang around and distract us from the work ahead, clouding the next steps in the process, and make us a less flexible school. Instead of developing something new, we are consumed with making something we have always done survive for another year.


      Over the past year, a few teachers have engaged in a ghost busting process. We started getting together to discuss where we want the school to go and what ghosts haunt us from getting there. Throughout these meetings, I have seen that three steps are needed to bust ghosts.

      • Figure Out the Ghost Story - Do Research - Find someone that was there when it was created. As the years go by, schools change. People responsible for policies are no longer with us and we are left with an incomplete understanding of why we do things the way that we do. Ideas that were created for one set of circumstances, may no longer exist. The policies then still hang around, bent for a new purpose, when a brand new policy is needed. By finding someone who was there when it was created, we can better understand the development of the policy, procedure or tradition, why it was created, and why it was changed or maintained throughout the years.
      • Determine if it is Ghost - Re-examine the Circumstances - once we know where the ghost came from, we have to decide if it is a friendly ghost, or one that we need to bust. We need to see if the original circumstances still exist and if the policy, procedure or tradition is still relevant or valuable. If it is still valuable, it is not a ghost. Many great ideas are lost through the years and would be great to bring back. They are ghosts due to neglect and not due to their irrelevance. These policies should not haunt us but rather guide us forward. In conversations with colleagues, we came up with many of these that we felt should be brought back to life. The critical step is then the reflection on the relevance. If it is no longer relevant, then it is a ghost and we must bust it.
      • How to Bust a Ghost - Eliminating the Irrelevant - Busting ghosts all comes back to open dialogue and honest discussion. We need to discuss the old policy, why it was there, and why it needs to be brought back or eliminated. This has to be done out in the open, with all parties involved. Staff, students and families need to be part of the discussion. As with any policy, procedure or tradition, there will be detractors and defenders. By allowing all parties to come in and advocate for their position, a ghost can be busted and a new, more relevant policy can be put in place. If people are not privy to the discussion, they will continue to be haunted by the ghost. Only by bringing the ghost to light through discussion will they be changed and stay busted.

       This process is long and we have had real challenges at my school with making it happen. One person’s ghost is another person’s sacred cow and worth defending. We have taken steps forward and steps backwards, but we are working together. Schools are buildings with long institutional memory full of ghosts, but also the great work of generations committed to making it a great place. By ghost busting we hope to only to continue building that monument to community accomplishment.




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  • Alternatives to Standardized T Alternatives to Standardized Tests: Building a Comprehensive Assessment Plan

    • From: Elliott_Seif
    • Description:

      As a high school teacher, I used an array of diverse assessments to measure and evaluate student achievement and success. Many varied components would go into each student’s grades and narratives – test and quiz results, the quality of projects, writings and self-reflections, observations of students, and judgments regarding effort, growth, and class participation. Given the multiple student cognitive abilities, attitudes, character traits, and strengths and problems, it would have been foolish of me to use only one type of measure to determine a students’ success in my class.

       

      Given that multiple types of assessments such as the ones I used above are used by most teachers, one would expect that appropriate, multiple assessment approaches would be also used to assess school and district success. Thus, it is surprising that “one size fits all” standardized tests, with their major emphasis on multiple choice-short answer questions, are touted as the major, and often the only way to judge school success, student achievement, and even teacher effectiveness.

       

      Unfortunately, the sole use of these traditional tests pose many problems for assessing actual student knowledge, skills, abilities, talents and interests. First, many educators and lay people suggest that standardized tests often do not do a good job of measuring the purported skills associated with them. For example, as recently pointed out by a New York State teacher in a NY Times op-ed piece, the New York English Language Arts test questions do “a poor job of testing reading comprehension”. A student’s answers to the questions on this test have “little bearing on [his or her] reading ability and yet [have] huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools”[i]. Some students also might be good readers but do poorly on the reading test because of their poor test-taking skills.

       

      Second, standardized tests have limited use in evaluating whether students have learned many of the most important skills required for college work or for living in a 21st century world, such as interest in learning, motivation to learn, research and study skills, coherent writing abilities, effective oral communication skills, project and problem-based development skills, problem finding and question asking, the ability to apply learning to authentic situations, scientific investigation skills, “deep” thinking, student “grit”, and the development of each individual student’s talents and abilities.

       

      In addition, the tests usually provide schools and teachers with limited, if any, feedback to help them figure out how to improve teaching and learning. And, unfortunately, they also have a number of negative side effects, such as increasing sterile test-prep activities, narrowing the curriculum, increasing student anxiety and frustrations, and reducing student interest in learning. Many of our best teachers write about how the emphasis on testing plays havoc with their curriculum, the interest and motivation of their students, and their joy of teaching. Some have even left the teaching profession altogether because of their school or district emphasis on preparing for standardized tests.

       

      As opposition to the use of these tests increases, and a greater understanding of their limitations and negative consequences develops, it is imperative that opponents to standardized testing suggest alternatives. In fact, there should be many varied assessments used to determine school and district success, just as there are many and varied types of educational goals, results, and students. This is a very different paradigm from the “one size fits all” standardized testing results model of measuring success. So, described briefly below are some examples of types of measures that might be combined into an assessment plan useful for judging district and school success, student achievement, and the school or district conditions that limit or reinforce success. The first number of measures are designed to measure output – achievement and successes of students, their involvement and participation in multiple types of activities, perceptions of stakeholders in how the school is meeting their needs, and so on. The second set of measures focus on input: characteristics of student population, conditions under which students learn, amount of resources available, the quality of curriculum and teaching, and others.

       

      Assessing Output:

      Achievement, Successes, Activity Involvement, and Perceptions

       

      Student graduation data

      What do students do when they graduate, where do they go and how successful are they both during their time with us and after they leave us?

      In analyzing school success, data should be regularly collected on the % of students who graduate and what they do after graduation (types and names of colleges and universities attended, financial aid obtained, military enlistees, technical school attendees, etc.); what % of those who attend college graduate and why do they drop out; college majors. Student data also should include surveys and interviews with graduates to find out their levels of satisfaction with their K-12 school programs;

       

      Mission-related achievement data

      How well do our students meet the mission of our school or district?

      Student data should be collected and analyzed that demonstrate achievement and success based on mission-related goals. For example, a school specializing in the visual arts might collect data on the type of artwork students complete and a sampling of student portfolios; a school with an emphasis on music may focus assessments around the types of student performances given by students and the skill level of its music students. Vo-Tech schools might collect data on the types of training received by each student, their post high school plans and career goals, their job placements and acceptance levels into advanced programs.

       

      Report card results

      How successful are our students, based on the results of their daily and yearly work?

      We know that the best predictors of student achievement and success lie with how well students do in their classes and in the recommendations of teachers and others in the school. We therefore need to make sure that each school or district develop specific, “standards-based” report cards, built around measures of 21st century goals, that reflect how well students succeed and grow in their classes and courses. Report cards should be broken down into specific cognitive and social expectations, with ratings that use levels of achievement as well as grades. Narrative comments convey specific information to parents-guardians about the strengths of individual children and areas that need improvement.

       

      Report card data can be summarized to provide a picture of how well the school or district is doing to meet the needs of its students. Randomly selected report cards, along with narrative comments, can also be collected and shared.

       

      Cornerstone-graduation project(s) results

      How well do our students complete “cornerstone” projects that both develop and assess core 21st century skills?

      Cornerstone projects consist of research projects and “authentic” performance tasks that culminate in presentations and exhibitions and demonstrate in-depth understanding of ideas, the ability to use 21st century skills, and the ability to transfer and apply learning. Students who are able to develop questions around their interests or suggested topics, conduct research, read and comprehend, write essays and research papers, and make presentations to others demonstrate an understanding of content and competence in using significant skills.

       

      Cornerstone project results at different school levels demonstrate progress towards the development of these skills as well as final mastery of them.

       

      Student plans for the future

      What are student plans for the future?

      Every student should be required to develop a plan for his or her future, indicating their next steps after graduating from high school and their more visionary goals for the future. Part of the development of a plan should include research about future educational goals, career options and choices. A summary of these plans is an important indicator of school and district success.

       

      Student portfolios

      What is the comprehensive nature of individual student work?

      Portfolios - collections of student work - help us to assess actual student work and incorporate “real learning” into the assessment process, not the artificial, “out of context” kind of learning assessed through standardized tests. Portfolios are also individualized and customized to demonstrate an individual’s nuanced and varied skill levels, talents, abilities, and interests. Today, with Internet capability, an individual student’s best writing and/or artwork, project results, tests, self-reflections, plans for the future, and other student work can be scanned and placed electronically into portfolios.

       

      Students should be asked to develop portfolios of their work throughout their K-12 experience. Sample portfolios, or parts of portfolios, can be used to illustrate the types of work students are doing within the school or district, and how well a school or district is helping students master key 21st century knowledge and skills.

       

      Survey-focus group data

      What do parents, students and teachers think about us?

      In this day and age of the Internet, it is relatively easy to develop, post, and summarize survey data. Every school and district should collect data from parents, students and teachers at least once a year, and then use the data to review its programs, applaud its strengths, and figure out ways to improve what it does[ii].

       

      What do graduates and dropouts think about us?

      Once students leave school and move on to colleges and other post high-school experiences, they have greater perspective on their experiences and can often provide valuable insights into the strengths of a school program and “needs improvement” areas. Data from graduates should be sought after, even if it is often difficult to collect.

       

      Attempts should be made to collect and analyze data from dropouts, even if this data might be difficult to collect, in order to indicate why they dropped out of school and therefore suggest ways to help other students stay in school.

       

      Student reflections

      How do students view our school? What do they see as our positive and negative features?

      Students who will be leaving one school to go to another school within the district (e.g. from elementary to middle school) or leaving a school to transfer to a school outside the district, or graduating from high school should be the focus of special attention when it comes to surveys and data collection. These students should be asked to reflect on their school experiences and focus on what they perceive as the strengths of the school they are leaving, the major learnings resulting from their school experiences, and suggestions for improving their learning experience. This data should be collected, analyzed and shared.

       

      Community service and field-based activities

      What are our students’ opportunities to connect with and apply their learning to the outside world?

      How do students provide service to the community? How do students connect with the outside world via field trips, career days, and so on? How do outside individuals and groups provide services to and work with students within a school? These and other similar questions should be part of data collection that is shared and used to provide feedback on connections to real world, outside resources.

       

      Extra-curricular, support, or enrichment activities

      What opportunities are there for students to participate in extra-curricular, support and enrichment activities? How much do our students take advantage of extra-curricula, support and enrichment activities?

      “Extra curricular” activities provide opportunities for students to explore and learn about a variety of options that are beyond academics. What extra-curricular activities are available? Data should be available that indicates which students are partake of which extra-curricular activities, and how often they do so.

       

      In a similar vein, are their support and enrichment activities available for students? Data should indicate which students participate in these and why.

       

      Assessing Input:

      Conditions, Culture, Teaching, Curriculum, Resources,

       

      School and district student population, resource availability and conditions

      What are the characteristics of our student population? What resources do we have available to support our teachers and students? What school or district conditions help or hinder us in meeting achievement goals?

      This data helps us to understand the characteristics of the school, district and student population, and resource adequacy, needs problems and challenges. The data include information about student populations, such as ELL, special education, identified gifted populations; the number of students on free or reduced lunch. Other data includes the % of students who drop out of a school or district before graduation and the reasons why they leave; % who are “lifers” within the same school or district, % of students who are absent 10 or more days a year, % of students given suspensions and other discipline data, and mobility rates.

       

      District and school information include, among other things, resources available for technology, supplies, materials and other needs; class sizes; adequacy of library-media centers, art-music, and extra curricular programs; and support personnel available (NTA’s, nurses, counselors, community laiasons).

       

      Curricular programs and instructional activities

      What are the common types of curricular programs and instructional activities used in classrooms?

      One part of a school or district assessment plan might include examples of the kinds of curriculum, teaching and learning experiences that are incorporated into classrooms and other activities. Suppose, for example, that the school or district promotes inquiry learning. Do teachers in the district use an inquiry learning model in their classrooms? If yes, what does learning look like? What are the essential features of the mathematical curriculum? The reading-language arts curriculum? Are there any special programs in place (e.g. leveled books, writing process, deep learning, competitions) that provide the opportunity for a different type of learning experience for students?

       

      School and program reviews

      How can we increase the amount of “objective” assessment data in order to determine our successes and improve our programs?

      When I was on the staff of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, an educational service agency in Bucks County, PA, we conducted a number of program reviews for our constituent districts each year. We would enlist a number of teachers, administrators, and experts from across the county and the area to spend three days in a district examining and analyzing all or part of the district’s program. Our final report would list the strengths and needs of the program, and also make suggested recommendations for improving the program.

       

      These types of reviews are extremely valuable for a school or district, especially since an outside agency is conducting the review. It provide a wealth of objective information and data, along with suggestions for improvement, that help to assess a program and provide the impetus for making changes.

       

      Building a Comprehensive Assessment Plan (CAP)

       

      Just as we should expect teachers to build a comprehensive assessment plan to measure student success and achievement in their classes, so should we expect schools and districts to build a Comprehensive Assessment Plan (CAP) that measures both output and input: a broad array of types of achievement, successes, involvement, perceptions, conditions, culture, and resources. The plan should both assess student achievement, growth, and development, and also be useful in improving school conditions and success in the future.

       

      The selection of a set of a core set of assessments, built into a Comprehensive Assessment Plan, may be best determined by each school or district, depending on its resources, options, and viewpoints. My own view is that a combination of student population and school and district conditions-resource data, strong report card and student portfolio data, cornerstone project results, and surveys of and reflections from current students and graduates will provide significant and important data on how well a school or district is doing as well as the conditions under which schools, districts and teachers operate.

       

      In today’s world of e-mails, Internet surveys, smartphones, computers, tablets, much of this data would be relatively easy to collect. Many of these measures, taken together, can become part of a holistic school-district annual report card, presented by a principal or superintendent to school boards and available to the general public. They can be used to identify problems that need to be addressed. They present a much more nuanced picture of how well a school is doing, the qualities of student graduates, what issues a school or district are facing, and what steps need to be taken to improve the results.

       

      Unfortunately, a broad, varied array of assessment data just doesn’t get collected and developed by itself. A school or district needs to assign someone who is responsible for the development, collection, and analysis of this complex data. The person responsible might even be part of a collaborative, regional effort. The development of this more comprehensive approach will also take time to develop, and a long-term goal should be to enable every school and district to develop a significant assessment process for judging success with students and the conditions and resources necessary for success.

       

      How Federal and State Officials Can Help This Assessment Process

       

      Here are some ways that state and federal officials can provide support for a the use of a much more comprehensive assessment process:

       

      • Encourage schools and districts to collect and synthesize a wide variety of data, provide funding, resources and examples to help them;

       

      • Provide examples and models of report cards, surveys, cornerstone assessments, portfolios, and the like. Provide the technical means for collecting and analyzing data from these examples and models.

       

      • Provide support for school, district, or regionally-based individuals to be hired to build assessment systems, organize data collection, and prepare summary reports around data.

       

      • Encourage schools and districts to develop their own mix of data alone or collaboratively with others, develop new measures, and share their methodology with others;

       

      • Forbid the use of a single number to describe a school or district’s success;

       

      • Encourage the development of data summaries that are easy to understand and posted for the community to see;

       

      • Encourage schools and districts to develop a wide variety of ways to use data as feedback and to experiment and find solutions to problems that arise from the data, including curriculum adaptations, community liaisons, ways to motivate students to stay in school, and so on.

       

      • Encourage high performing schools and districts to share what they do that makes them high performing, especially when they have a significant number of students that need special help and attention.

       

      • Provide support for professional development that enables staff to review and draw conclusions from data; encourage professional development to develop potential solutions to problems discovered through data collection.

       

      • Encourage school and district experimentation with potential solutions, even if they lead to failure (that’s how we learn).  

       

       

      Ultimately, a trust in a decentralized assessment process, a belief in the value of multiple, diverse assessments to measure school and district success, along with a combination of strong leadership at all levels, will provide the necessary impetus to move us away from the primary reliance on standardized tests to assess student, school and teacher success. We should be moving towards the use of varied sets of data that provide nuanced, helpful pictures of success and student achievement and help to improve the conditions of learning. Let us hope that we move in the right direction soon, because the current direction is leading us away from the kinds of education that our students need to prepare for living in a 21st century world.

       

      -------------------------

       

      Elliott Seif, Ph.D. is a long time educator, author, consultant, educational advocate, and trainer. If you are interested in further examining ways to improve teaching and learning and help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, read more his blogs on ASCD Edge and go to:  www.era3learning.org

       

       

       



      [i] Elizabeth Phillips, We Need to Talk About the Test: The Problem With the Common Core, The New York Times op-ed page, April 9, 2014.

      [ii] A High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) is available free of charge from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. Go to:

      http://ceep.indiana.edu/hssse/index.html

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