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Once again ASCD leaders from around the world are traveling to the Leader to Leader conference to be held this weekend. Leader to Leader (L2L) is our annual professional development event for those dedicated education professionals who serve in important leadership roles for ASCD Affiliates, Connected Communities, Professional Interest Communities, Student Chapters, and our Emerging Leaders program. Over the five years I have been associated with L2L, it has evolved to be a much more collaborative event with lots of opportunity for networking and learning from one another. The diversity of thought, perspective, experience and expertise is, in my own humble opinion, what makes this conference such a success every year. It’s never the same event twice.
This year we are looking to up the ante again, focusing on the theme of Take Charge Leadership, as we continue to encourage these ASCD leaders to work with one another across their constituent groups and generate new ideas, initiatives and energy that they can take back home and implement in support of the educators they serve. And so the question we ask at the outset of this year’s L2L is, “What do you get when you allow talented, capable minds to self-select groupings and projects that will build their professional capital while providing new value and greater capacity to lead?” We are about to find out.
We look at leadership around eight very specific actions that are nurtured and sustained over time. Beginning our conference work around these actions and then moving into an unconferencing format that allows participants to take charge of their learning sets the tone for the weekend. We are also instituting for the first time Web-based polling that will allow everyone in attendance to vote and comment instantaneously using their mobile devices throughout the three days. Modeling this as participants provide quantitative and qualitative feedback to one another will provide practice and experience with a tool our leaders can take back with them to their respective, states, provinces and countries.
By the time we wrap up Saturday, everyone will be saturated in new ideas and possibilities. L2L is always an exhausting experience for everyone involved. Exhausting and gratifying. What is most gratifying for us as staff is the number of return participants we have every year, and the highly positive feedback we receive from the conference participant surveys. The truth is, it’s the ASCD Leaders who come and participate who make L2L the success it is. As a membership organization, ASCD could not make the difference it does for educators everywhere without its constituent group leaders. L2L is ASCD’s way of giving back to our leaders in the field, offering them the skills and support to be effective on the ground where it matters most.
In the face of major societal and technological changes, all students need to be prepared with critical knowledge, skills, and attitudes and behaviors that allow for continued learning and growth beyond high school. In particular, they need to develop critical and creative thinking skills and the skills necessary for finding and processing huge amounts of information. Even with the Common Core standards, our current educational emphases aren’t adequately preparing most students for learning beyond high school – for college, career, military or other future endeavors.
While a critical knowledge base and positive attitudes and behaviors are important for future living, this commentary, along with others I have written in the past (see figure one, below) focuses on five skill sets students must develop if they are to adapt to
Previous ASCD Edge Commentaries about Five Skill Sets
Teaching the Right Skills For a New Age- Inquiry Based Instruction http://bit.ly/vVhpSQ
Seven Principles for Teaching the Right Skills for a New Age http://bit.ly/yLVZ0M
Using Inquiry-Research Projects to Teach the Right Skills for a New Age http://bit.ly/tU0RPR
Six ways to Build Greater Curiosity in Students http://bit.ly/TTKPqO
this new world and examines ten specific strategies to help students learn these skills. The five key skill sets that should be given a laser-like focus in order to prepare students for continuous learning in this new age are the following:
Building Curiosity (Asking Questions, Formulating Problems and Challenges)
In today’s rapidly changing world, curiosity – interest in and willingness to learn new things – is critically important. Most educators realize that the curiosity of young children seems to lessen as they go through school. Curiosity manifests itself through students demonstrating an interest in and a willingness to try new things and learn new ideas, ask questions, and pose and define problems and challenges.
Information and Data Literacy (Processing Information and Data).
New technologies that give us instantaneous access to huge amounts of information and data make information and data literacy skills imperative. Our students need to be able to use many approaches to search for (research) information and data effectively and efficiently, sort through large amounts to find the most useful and relevant, and determine the most reliable and valid information and data. Search engine results, gleaned in less than a second, require the ability to sort through, evaluate, read, and digest multiple information and data genres and formats.
Thoughtfulness (Thinking Deeply and Flexibly).
All students need to have the ability to think deeply and flexibly in today’s rapidly changing world, and be prepared to take their place as 21st century citizens. They need opportunities to compare and contrast, analyze and interpret, and develop unique relationships among information, data, and ideas. They need to be able to translate information into visual and quantitative data. They need to “think outside the box” and solve problems creatively.
Application (Drawing Conclusions, Applying Learning).
With so much information, the ability to “pull together” and synthesize information and ideas, form educated opinions backed by argument and evidence, solve complex problems, and determine ways to apply information and ideas to the “outside” world become critical. Summarizing, synthesizing, drawing conclusions, and applying learning to new, novel, and “authentic” situations are all critical for living in a 21st century world.
Communication (Communicating Effectively).
Effective communication in many forms is extremely important in a world of e-mail, twitter, Facebook, cellphones, Skype, and collaborative projects. Students need opportunities to practice communicating effectively through all types of writing, explaining ideas to others, diverse representations, effectively participating in discussions, and oral presentations.
Given the importance of these five skills sets, one would think that they would be front and center in our educational discussions. Unfortunately, in today’s educational climate, many of these take a back seat to a relatively small group of skills useful for doing well on standardized tests – namely, the ability to distinguish correct answers in multiple choice questions, to write short pieces coherently, or to state opinions and ideas with evidence from text (Common Core). So, in this commentary, I am suggesting ten simple and easy to use strategies – two for each skill set – that can make a big difference in the ability of students to learn and apply these skills.
Question Census. Ask students to brainstorm questions that they would like to explore for at least one unit of study. Together develop categories for the questions and then select questions or categories of questions that are the most challenging, interesting, or focused around big ideas. Use these questions to focus student learning and study the unit at hand.
Student developed challenges-problems. Find someplace in the curriculum where students can develop their own challenges or problems to give to others. Give students a chance to develop puzzles, games, historic or current challenges, math problems, or other challenges and problems, and then have them share these with the rest of the class and see if other students can solve the problems or challenges.
Information-Data Literacy –
Readings-Data search. Either as a homework or in-class assignment in a computer lab, ask students to find one or more readings or data sources that supplement current learning. Help students learn how to use search engines and find and use helpful search terms. Work with students to help them determine which sources of information and data are reliable, then how to read and interpret these meaningfully. If several readings or data sources are found, help students figure out ways to compare and contrast them and find the essential information, ideas, or data in each.
Close reading. The Common Core Reading Standards advocate that students do more of the work of reading and teachers do less. “Close reading” means that students read more deeply as part of their daily activities. Instead of teachers providing answers and “feeding” students, students are asked “text-dependent” questions. Text dependent questions force students to go to the text to give opinions and justify them through the text. Students are asked to “read like a detective”; to read text more than once; to analyze paragraphs sentence by sentence, to consider the nuances of a text, to analyze data sources. “Text” reading becomes much more significant as part of the learning process[i].
This type of reading should be encouraged, but takes time. If we are to foster information and data literacy, students, as often as possible, should be asked to do close reading.
Graphic organizers. Graphic organizers are a good way to promote deeper and more flexible thinking. Through a visual analysis, they help students take learning apart (analysis), organize information and data for decision-making, or weave a web of information and ideas. Use graphic organizers to help students extend and deepen student thinking[ii].
Brainstorming A brainstorming strategy is a good way to help students learn to “think outside the box”. Students are provided with an open-ended problem or challenge that has the potential to have many different types of solutions. They are asked to discover as many alternative ways to solve the problem as they can, and are given four rules around the acronym DOVE to help them with coming up with alternative possibilities: Defer Judgment, Offbeat Ideas encouraged, Vast number of ideas sought, Expand on other people’s ideas. Ask students to work in small groups to come up with as many ideas as they can, with one person acting as the recorder of all the ideas.
After the brainstorm, students share the ideas and make the list as long as possible. They may also be asked to indicate which five ideas are the most logical, the most unusual, the most interesting, and/or the best. Several ideas might be used to try to solve the problem and consider what would happen if the idea were put into practice.
3-2-1 Reflection. A 3-2-1 Reflection activity is often given at the end of a lesson or specific time period, such as a week, two weeks, or at the end of a unit. You can use this activity to ask students many different questions to discover what they learned and to uncover their thoughts about other aspects of the class: for example, to determine what main ideas students have learned, what questions they still have (good for stimulating curiosity), and what they most enjoyed.
A 3-2-1 activity that supports the development of the five skill sets might look like this: Ask students to write down 3 major ideas and-or principles that they learned, 2 conclusions that they can draw from the learning, and one way they can apply their learning to the outside world[iii].
No multiple-choice question test. For at least one time period, abandon the traditional multiple-choice short answer test for a test that requires students to draw conclusions about what they have learned and asks them to apply their learning to a new and novel situation. Performance tasks are good alternatives, as are long essay exams. Consider open book essay exam questions and essay exams where students take home three questions to prepare, and one or two of them are written as an in-class exam[iv].
Five minute explanations. For this activity, students are asked to explain a concept, big idea, understanding, or principle in their own words. They may do it in pairs, giving explanations to each other, or as a writing assignment, or as a presentation to the larger class. This activity may be completed after all or part of a lecture when a teacher has shared a new understanding and wants to determine if students understand what has been presented, or as a study activity at the end of a unit.
A corollary to this activity is that students use an active listening approach – as they work in pairs, one student provides an explanation and the other has to repeat the essence of the explanation in his or her own words. They then switch, and the other student provides an explanation while the first repeats the essence of it in his or her own words.
Persuasive arguments. In this activity, students are asked to create a persuasive argument in support of a point of view – an opinion about something they are studying. They need to state or write their point of view and provide arguments and evidence that support it. Once they state or write their argument, they can share it with others, either in small groups or in the total class. Persuasive essays are also good ways to introduce debate skills.
There are many additional activities that can be used or adapted to promote the learning of these five skill sets – developing questions for conducting interviews or for going on field trips, wait time to encourage deeper thinking, research projects based on student interests or related to a topic under study, oral presentations, creative problem solving strategies, individual book reflections, on-going, multiple types of writing activities, thinking skill activities, and choice of activities and courses.
In sum, the point of this commentary is that teachers who have limited time for developing some or all of these five sets of skills can do short, relatively easy to implement activities, even occasionally, that can make a big difference in 21st century skill development. These types of activities, represented by the ten examples above, can be especially significant if everyone in the school supports the development of these sets of skills and institutes instructional activities designed to help students learn and refine these skills.
If you are convinced that these skills are important for students to develop, chances are you will think of other activities that you can implement or adapt to promote the learning of these skills. Once you accept the importance of these skills and start thinking about how you can help students develop them, the sky’s the limit. Ironically, teaching these skills can also help students to perform better on the more traditional tests that have currently become so important for measuring classroom and school success.
[i] For further insight into text-dependent, close reading based on the Common Core Standards, see Christina Hank, Defining “Deep Reading” and “text-Dependent Questions”, at Turn On Your Brain, http://turnonyourbrain.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/defining-deep-reading-and-text-dependent-questions/
[ii] There are many sources of information on graphic organizers. One resource is by Vicki Urquhart and Dana Frazee, Teaching Reading in the Content Areas: If Not Me, Then Who? 3rd Edition (2012), Chapter 12. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
[iii] Many resources are available to help you develop 3-2-1 reflections. One can be found at http://www.facing.org/resources/strategies/3-2-1.
[iv] As a student, the use of take home questions was my favorite way of being assessed, because I could really take the time to prepare and learn. It changed the nature of assessment from “mystery” to “mastery”.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, Understanding by Design trainer, author, consultant, social studies teacher, former Professor of Education at Temple University, and Curriculum Director in Bucks County, PA. If you are interested in further examining these five skill sets and ways to implement them, as well as other dimensions of a 21st century education, examine his other commentaries on ASCD Edge or go to his website at www.era3learning.org
This past week #Satchat extended it's Twitter conversation to a mobile app called Voxer. It has been an amazing experience for participants who are now able to share their insight through voice messages. Once downloaded on your mobile device, Voxer enables users to hold individual or group chats in real time or at their own pace. In terms of professional growth, over 75 educators from around the world have shared their perspectives and insight on a plethora of topics. More specifically this week our group is discussing the trials and tribulations of being a new school leader. Educators from all walks of life including teachers, vice principals, principals, supervisors, superintendents, and other stakeholders have provided tremendous guidance.
The great thing about this experience is that participants, including myself, can hear the emotion that others bring to the discussion. It's one thing to read a tweet and a whole other thing to listen to someone speak to a particular topic.. That's why Voxer is so unique. Users can listen and learn on the own time, whether it's in their car or during a lunch break. Need to have a more specific conversation based on something that was brought up in a particular group chat? No problem. Send a direct voice or text message to that person within the application. Pictures, links, and other resources can be shared during a conversation as well.
Are you intrigued by this whole Voxer rage in the educational community? Send me a direct message on Twitter or via email with your Voxer handle and I will add you to the #Satchat group. Or better yet, try starting your own group. The options are many as it relates to the impact Voxer can have in the school setting. For example, it could be used as an assessment tool or during a time of crisis to communicate with staff. Currently I am apart of a Voxer book chat on digital leadership and participate in a administrator group that shares best practices. Over the past few weeks I have recommended Voxer to some of my PLN members from around the country. Although at first hesitant to see the true value of this web tool, their minds quickly changed after conversing with other like-minded educators.
So what do say? Take that leap into the Voxer world and see your professional growth be stimulated in a way once thought unimaginable.
In grading a recent test, I noticed that the scores were lower than usual. I questioned if we had spent enough time on the material. I wondered if I had failed to address the challenging content appropriately. Was I to blame for the below average scores? Was it time for the dreaded “It’s not you, it’s me” speech. After wallowing in this short self-blaming, “I stink as a teacher” mode, I decided to do something about it. I decided to offer my students a re-do. I love a good old re-do because they are wrapped in hope, second chances, and all things warm and fuzzy. I think we all could benefit from a do-over every now and then (or every day). Like the infamous episode where Oprah gave away cars, teachers should give away do-overs in their classrooms. Every once in a while teachers should say, “here’s a free do-over for you, one for you, one for you…” The only problem is that there are some drawbacks to the revision process. Students may take advantage, the revision opportunity may limit the effort put forth on the initial work, and of course the practicality issue (in the real world we do not always get to correct our mistakes). Lastly, sometimes students don’t follow through and do not participate in the revision process at all. In the spirit of revision, I have developed a list of 7 strategies to facilitate the process and in turn encourage student participation:
1. Assess student interest in revision.
When thinking about assessing interest, an online ad (it has over 20 million views) about gender stereotypes came to mind. You can watch the entire ad here. In the ad, there are adolescents that role play physical activities "like a girl" and then they act out the same activities "like a boy". Unsurprisingly, within the role plays, the girls are portrayed less flatterinly than boys (for example they run less powerfully, swim less aggressively, etc.). The best part, however is after a discussion of gender stereotypes, the adolescents are asked if they wish for a second chance to do their role plays "differently". Instead of forcing a do-over, the children are invited to revisit their stereotypically laden gender beliefs. And you know what-each child participates in the do-over. The big take-away here is that a simple participation request allows for instant participant buy-in and thus increases participation in the revision process.
2. Include students as peer reviewers in the process.
Even though teachers are more knowledgeable than students (we are the experts in the classroom), we can learn a great deal from our students. The “curse of the expert” theory outlines how experts may sabotage learning (they often underestimate the level of task difficulty and overestimate potential performance of novices). In order to get around this, try to incorporate the help of your students in the revision process. Students share the same language or jargon, and provide a variety of feedback to help one another improve their work (Cho & MacArthur, 2010).
3. Consider how to manage time in the revision process.
If you are not careful, all of your teaching time will turn into revision time. To avoid this, one educator in an article titled “The utility of a student organized revision day" describes the benefits of designating one class day for student revision (Gill, Ong, & Cleland, 2012). Another idea that I tend to use-would be to include detailed rubrics so that the students have what they need to get the assignment right the very first time. A final suggestion would be the use of video to record assignment instructions or tips (Whatley & Ahmad, 2007). The video method is effective because conversational style is often more user-friendly than written/formal style (personalization learning principle).
4. Consider how your feedback influences student revision.
An article titled "What does it take to make a change?" shows the that the type of teacher feedback impacts the likelihood that a student will participate in the revision process (Silver & Lee, 2007). Specifically, when teachers offer advice about how to improve work quality, this facilitates more revision than other feedback methods (such as praise or criticism). So, if you tell your student, “I wonder if you can provide more details”, instead of saying “I like how you use detail in this one part”, the student may be more inclined to revise the work.
5. Examine how students view the revision process.
Do you remember Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs? In general, Maslow described our needs in terms of layers- basic needs had to be met before we could pursue higher order needs. A Maslow-like theory may explain how students perceive the revision process (Thompson, 1994). In a paper from the College Composition and Communication conference, an educator described that in revision, students attend to basic needs (what is required to pass or not fail the assignment) and then they move on to higher order revising skills (creativity, synthesis, etc.).
6. Adjust classroom perception of revision.
Students view revision as a reflection of themselves. One study from the English Teaching Practice and Critique Journal showed that students believed that teacher revision comments indicated they were "careless" (Silver & Lee, 2007). Also, students reported that the teacher feedback lowered their confidence and made them feel angry. My take away from this study is that teachers must work to improve the way students perceive the re-do process. Perhaps reminding students that change is not bad. Additionally, identifying real-life examples of revision (such as remaking movies or remixing songs) to help students see that revising is a normal part of life.
7. Measure the revision process.
If you decide to offer students a re-do, measuring how well the process works (or not) is useful. Think about asking the students to provide feedback about their experience with revision. Typically, students report that revision allows for an increase in knowledge and confidence (Gill, Ong, & Cleland, 2013). Also, reviewing the grade changes (before and after the revisionn) will offer insight into the usefulness of allowing students to re-do future assignments.
You’ve already spent years, maybe even decades, in the classroom as a teacher, you know how to lead and organize, and you certainly have the “in-the-trenches” perspective that every administrator worth his or her salt must have. Now what? What should you do to make the prospect of becoming a principal a reality? To help answer these questions, we’d like to share a few tips from Peter Hall’s book, The First-Year Principal.
So You Want to Be an Administrator? 5 Tips for Aspiring Principals
Skip the resume—for now
Your first inclination may be to dust off your resume and start looking for open positions, but as Hall wryly notes, the “application” process begins long before resumes, long before you had the crazy idea that “13-hour days with no lunch sounded appealing,” and long before you even had the slightest inkling that you wanted to become a principal.
Hall suggests that you start with “those people with whom you have worked, the contacts you have made, the folks from whom you have earned support and respect.” Do you need to “schmooze” these people? Not at all, but keep in mind that “relationships with credible professionals” are a form of currency—and that currency is priceless.
Stay in the moment
Regardless of their career aspirations, aspiring principals should always “stay in the moment.” For Hall, this means that you must continue to “focus on students in your care and your current school organization as a whole.” In addition to this, it means aligning your “work practice and decision-making with the established school goals.”
For Hall, there is “no reason to focus on anything but excelling in your current position.” This means going where no teacher has gone before: Set and exceed new standards of excellence and watch as your name becomes associated with positive results.
Involve yourself in projects beyond your current position
So you’re continuing to perfect your craft and excel at what you do? Good. Now it’s time for you to do a little more. Start by participating in district activities, committees, panels, focus groups, and other school or district groups and organizations. Just don’t take on so much that you begin to shirk your current job responsibilities or your students; doing so will only undermine the benefits you are hoping to gain from joining these organizations.
Be respectful to everyone you meet
You’re an educator, so you already know that the job doesn’t end when the bell rings. This is especially applicable to teachers who live in small, rural towns, but even those of us who live in the city will run into students, parents, and colleagues at the mall, the grocery store, or in restaurants. We may not even see these people, but you better believe they see us and they take note of what we say, do, and how we behave when we’re out in the community. Eyes are always on us. Keep this in mind not only when you are in the classroom, but outside of it as well.
Find an experienced mentor
There are plenty of books offering advice for aspiring and first-year principals, but few are as wise as someone who has been doing what you hope to do for the last five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years. Seek out a mentor and learn from him or her. Hopefully, this relationship will not only reaffirm your passion for the position, but also help you become better prepared for the road ahead.
Ok, its been a while and I know there should be more consistency in my writing. I have made a commitment to share and reflect a minimum of two times per month. It's the right thing to do!
My focus this year for my faculty, students, and parents is engagement. We can't win the game of educating our kids without engaging them and those around them. I have made it a goal to get 100% student participation in clubs, organizations, activities, or sports. We have also challenged the parents at our school to commit to spending 5 contact hours at our school. Through these efforts I hope to have a better relationship with the community and frankly, if it turns out like I expect it to there will be a huge paradigm shift.
I believe educators must work to help students meet their needs to be significant, to grow, and make connections. By having a positive attitude, planning, and being NICE, we can make learning fun and challenging. We can make learning a process kids want to be a part of. Let me ask you: If you were in a meeting that was not engaging and held no purpose for you, would you get up and leave? Absolutely!!! We would check our email or probably go get a snack. Our students are no different. We need to realize they may not be engaged and ready to learn 100% of the time.
What should we do?
You gotta like kids and understand how they work. We need to give them their monies worth each and every time they come through the doors. I always like to ask the question: If they were not required to come to your class would they still want to be there? This is also true of our schools. Well, we will work on it and together we can make a change.
We made great strides at my school in my first year as principal, but we have only just begun. There is much work to do, so stay tuned and I will keep you posted on the progress of year two.
Keep working, reading, and improving your craft. Remember to keep your students FIRST!!
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