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Before I started teaching, I spent five years as a writing tutor in the Marygrove College writing center. While each student had a unique set of needs, most struggled to commit their initial ideas to paper.
Like most of us, students want to get it right on the first shot. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Writing is chaotic. It’s messy. Why? Because most of us (that includes professionals) don’t really know what and how we’re going to say what we want to say until we actually start writing.
To help students move beyond the “scary white screen,” I came to rely on a writing strategy called clustering. If you’re not familiar with this invention strategy, the student starts by jotting down a nucleus word; this should be a word or phrase that is related to the assigned topic. The nucleus word should trigger a series of other word associations that students continue to jot down quickly and without censorship.
It’s a chaotic process, but even after five minutes of clustering, most of my students were astounded by how much they knew and how many questions they had about topics they, not even five minutes before, vehemently claimed were “boring.”
While I started teaching students to cluster by having them write on a scrap sheet of paper, I eventually turned to a free web application called bubbl.us.
During our session, the student and I would read through the clustering handout (you’ll find this below). Then I would pull up bubbl.us on my laptop and turn it over to the student.
bubbl.us. is convenient for a few reasons: First, there’s no learning curve. Second, it allowed me to save a digital version of the cluster and email it to the student. When we picked up the following week, all I had to do was pull up the file and I would know exactly what we discussed in our previous session.
In my experience, this exercise is helpful with students of all ages and abilities. I even use it myself. To help you teach clustering to your students, I’ve included the handout I used with my own students below.
What is Clustering? And How Can It Help Me Develop My ideas?
Most serious and experienced writers incorporate some sort of writing strategy into their habits, so you should feel no shame in using them. In the following exercise, you’ll learn how to use clustering as a way of developing your ideas.
First, you must think of a word or phrase. You can do this with any random word or phrase, but it is far more effective to choose something that is related to the assigned topic. Say you are writing an essay about your experience with the American Dream….well, “American Dream” might be the best phrase to begin with. Here’s what to do next:
Instructional leadership is essential in K-12 schools. What is an instructional leader? A second grade teacher can serve as an instructional leader. Principals and assistant principals should also be viewed as instructional leaders. A central office staff member may have the title of Chief Academic Officer or Curriculum Director, but that does not mean they are the only instructional leader in the school district. Once teachers begin communicating with teachers in the same grade level and make connections with the next level (i.e., middle school and high school transition), students will benefit from increased clarity on the essential learning outcomes.
“One of the tasks of curriculum leadership is to use the right methods to bring the written, the taught, the supported, and the tested curriculums into closer alignment, so that the learned curriculum is maximized” (Glatthorn, 1987, p. 4).
How do you 'maximize' the learned curriculum? Developing the local curriculum, curriculum alignment, analyzing assessment data, and meeting in job-alike teams are important activities. However, meetings can often become a weekly ritual that do not lead to increased student understanding. An instructional leader is constantly focused on 'maximizing' student understanding. During the No Child Left Behind Era, student achievement was defined in most schools as passing a high stakes test. When instructional leaders define test results as student achievement, most meetings focus on test prep, curriculum reductionism, and closing gaps. Closing gaps is critical and ethical work. Closing gaps should not mean teaching to the middle or ignoring our gifted students who need challenging work. Schools throughout the United States have witnessed artificial gains in student test scores by eliminating science, social studies, art, music, PE, and other non-tested subjects. Glatthorn's question is one that drives the work of instructional leaders. Does test prep or curriculum reductionism 'maximize' student learning?
3 Ways To Grow As An Instructional Leader
1. Join a Twitter Chat
I have been participating in Twitter chats for the past two years. When I describe Twitter chats to other educators, they often look at me like a deer in headlights. Why would someone teach school all day and then join a Twitter chat at 9:00 pm on a Thursday night? How could a one hour chat with educators across the world support teaching and learning in my school? I have met educators in all 50 states. As a principal, I learn from principals, teachers, superintendents, university professors, education consultants, and others who are passionate about teaching and learning. Educators share links to their blogs, school websites, curriculum maps, school goals, presentations, family resources, and more! A Twitter chat is similar to attending a national conference. You will be exposed to multiple perspectives and it will challenge your own views on education. The conversations are lively, but professional. If you ask a question, you may get answers from New York, California, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Texas. Twitter chats will inspire an instructional leader and will offer multiple opportunities for professional growth.
2. Join and Become Active in a Professional Learning Community
According to Schmoker (2006), "Mere collegiality won't cut it. Even discussions about curricular issues or popular strategies can feel good but go nowhere. The right image to embrace is a group of teachers who meet regularly to share, refine and assess the impact of lessons and strategies continuously to help increasing numbers of students learn at higher levels" (p.178). Schools throughout the United States are operating as a Professional Learning Community (PLC). If your school still allows teachers to operate in isolation, you can learn more about a PLC at http://www.allthingsplc.info.
“Schools committed to higher levels of learning for both students and adults will not be content with the fact that a structure is in place to ensure that educators meet on a regular basis. They will recognize that the question, ‘What will we collaborate about,” is so vital that it cannot be left to the discretion of each team’” (DuFour, 2011, p. 61). Instructional leaders believe in growth. Continuous improvement is possible when each instructional leader is a member of a PLC.
3. Identify Essential Learning Outcomes
It is difficult to maximize student understanding if you do not know the goals. Learning targets help instructional leaders know if students are reaching the goal. Is your goal college and career readiness? An instructional leader must define what the path to college and career readiness looks like for a ninth grade student. Is your goal to increase the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes? Once you define the end in mind, it will be easier to determine the skills and understandings that students need to be prepared for advanced courses. According to Wiggins and McTighe (2007), "The job is not to hope that optimal learning will occur, based on our curriculum and initial teaching. The job is to ensure that learning occurs, and when it doesn't, to intervene in altering the syllabus and instruction decisively, quickly, and often" (p. 55).
Instructional leadership supports teaching and learning. It is easy to focus on standards, assessment, school safety, school improvement plans, faculty meetings, high-stakes tests, developing your next meeting agenda, technology integration, curriculum alignment, and state mandates. While none of these topics can be neglected, it is easy to lose sight of the goals of an instructional leader. Instructional leadership should not take the backseat to meetings, planning, or activities. Parker (1991) cautioned instructional leaders to avoid motion mascquerading as improvement.
I just finished reading Michael Fullan's, Stratosphere. In this book, he outlines how: "the ideas embedded in the new technology, the new pedagogy, and the new change knowledge are converging to transform education for all" (p. 3). Fullan's book resonates with a driving question I have grappled with in my own work. How do we create meaningful change throughout our system to truly innovate teaching and learning?
Fullan's argument is something to consider as we work to make our schools and systems more responsive to the students we serve. In some ways, Fullan's book treads familiar ground. In his earlier writing, Fullan has correctly warned that technology as the solution can be the "wrong driver" for school reform if it is not paired with "smart pedagogy."
In Stratsophere, Fullan issues a similar warning. I agree with him. We should not mistake the tools for actual student learning. Using upgraded technology will not automatically transform pedagogy.
Fullan is critical of those who have ventured before him to articulate 21st Century learning frameworks. After reviewing several of these efforts, he concludes:
No matter how you cut it, we are not making progress on this agenda. By and large the goals are too vague, having glitzy attraction. When we start down the pathway to specificity, the focus is on standards and assessment (which does help with clarity), but the crucial third pillar -- pedagogy, or fostering actual learning -- is neglected. And aside from its use in assessment schemes, which is a contribution, technology plays little role in, surely the main point of all this highfalutin fanfare. (p. 36)
Prensky to whom Fullan pays tribute also critiques the Framework for the 21st Century precisely because identifying the outcomes students will need is the easy part; changing our pedagogy and engaging students in relevant learning is the hard part.
While I agree with Fullan and Prensky that we can't simply identify outcomes and not transform teaching and learning, I don't think the frameworks themselves are to blame for not tackling the tough hill. The frameworks are just that -- an outline of skills and compentencies students will need for future success.
From this starting point, we, as educators, need to define and articulate what these outcomes look like, how we help students develop these habits of mind and skills, and how we can determine whether students have mastered these competencies.
Fullan's discussion of the "new pedagogy" aimed at higher-order thinking is helpful in this regard. He draws upon some of the most powerful voices calling for a fundamental rethinking about how we organize schools to make them more meaningful for students' learning. Citing the work of Tony Wagner, Sir Ken Robinson, Marc Prensky and Jonah Lehrer, he concludes that to "maximize learning", the integration technology and pedagogy must be:
Putting these pieces together will require us to make changes within our systems to ensure that all students develop their fullest capacities to meet the challenges ahead. As in previous books, Fullan proposes a systems approach to change that "helps us achieve [the vision], learning while we go."
It is not the work of isolated individuals working on bits and pieces, adding tools to our existing models that will ensure our students soar into the "stratosphere." It is the intentional effort of people throughout the system focusing on the essentials, building capacity, and leading the way.
I’m working with a new group of collaborators who happen to be in the fourth and fifth grade.
Nine to eleven year olds from the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School (http://www.mjgds.org) are creating a book based on some kids’ poems I wrote decades ago and are illustrating them and publishing them and selling them and creating a marketing plan around our work. Eventually, they will use what they’ve created as a fundraiser for their school.
These students are participating in a new form of learning that involves a mentoring relationship, new classroom roles, and embedded virtual learning. I’ve been able to Skype with them, email feedback about their work, and create additional learning “side trips” based on in the moment opportunities.
Their art teacher, Shana Gutterman- http://shoshysartroom.blogspot.com/, their classroom teacher, Stephanie Teitelbaum- http://teachblogandtweet.wordpress.com/, their Learning Coach, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano- http://langwitches.org/blog, and I virtually collaborated on the development of this project, via Skype, email, and Twitter. We came up with objectives and lesson activities and planned virtual sessions. We had a modern learning plan in place and launched our project with the intent of changing the level of engagement and learning with students.
Then, we discovered something. Something big.
Because of the depth of instruction and the built in time to negotiate new roles for the students and the upgrade of seeing themselves as collaborators rather than passive learners, we struck oil! Silver! Gold! Students began to self identify interests that were related to their planned learning and lead us down paths of unplanned learning that enriched the designed project.
While students were working on designing pictures to accompany poems in a book for multiple audiences, they also opened up cans of worms that were unforeseen in the curriculum design. These were some of the “teachable moments” or “side trips” that came out of our collaborative work:
Students learned new contextually specific vocabulary words such as emphatic, explicitly, iteration, synesthesia, and negative space.
Students were invited to investigate the meaning of “chiaroscuro” as it related to contrasting elements in their illustrations.
Beyond the chiaroscuro investigation, they were invited to read a book, The Tale of Despereaux, which explores chiaroscuro as a metaphor for the characters and action.
Students were asked to investigate and learn about Grandma Moses and art techniques that involved the layering of backgrounds and foreground elements in a painting.
Students learned about warm and cool feedback and improvement for the sake of the team versus just getting good grades.
They learned to articulate the reasoning behind the “why” of what they were doing and to be as specific as possible in deciding why their illustrations were a good fit for the poem’s text. They did this both with me and their peers, which I personally think is hugely significant. Once again: their peers helped to inform their improvements.
They became open to suggestions that were rooted in improvement versus identifying what was wrong with their work. This positive take on “doing what’s best for the intended audience” was a huge shift in meaning making.
They learned that its okay to explore different interest areas that were outside of the intended learning, particularly with one student that wanted to create his own comic books. We were able to have a conversation about the usage of Comic Life on the iPad to start designing his own graphic novels.
They learned to respond to different types of feedback from their formal teacher, their virtual collaborator, and their peers as they shaped their work.
I would also like to add that the students referred to me as their collaborator; that the work we were doing was OUR work. I loved that. I also loved that their classroom roles included roles like “Skype coordinator,” “Twitter Expert,” and “Illustrative Notes Expert.” So far beyond “Reader,” “Writer,” and “Notetaker.”
Authentic learning experiences that ask students to be part of the instructional design process AND the product are critical in the modern learning classroom. Student-centered work becomes student-owned learning even if teachers maintain an instructional anchor. In this case, the anchor was the product: the book. Everyone is contributing to it, though in multiple ways and with multiple extensions around their individual learning.
I should also mention that this project, because of the level of collaboration between teachers and students, was not a neatly contained event. It took some time to develop, to interact, to collaborate both virtually and in person, and even after these several weeks, the students are just now gearing up to start working on the marketing plan. As teachers, we had to find a new common ground of comfort when balancing the time it takes to do something like this with the deep learning that was possible.
Also, if you’d like to look at the project from several points of view--there’s a lot of blogging going on around it:
Learning in the Modern Classroom - by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano
And my favorite on vocabulary: Wacky Wacky Words!
Needless to say--but I’m REALLY proud of my collaborators! I will be presenting with them at EdJEWcon in Jacksonville, Florida in a couple of weeks. I couldn’t be more excited to finally meet them in person and see our finished product! I’d also like to say Thank You to Shana, Stephanie, and Silvia for all of the great professional collaboration.
Upgrade Your Curriculum - Now available from ASCD
Originally posted at K2TWelve.com
The first two parts of Be Social Change and the Center for Social Innovation's three-part series on the Future of Education began with attendees sharing in small groups their personal transformative educational experiences outside and inside of the classroom. At both meetings and in both instances, the general opinion was that transformative educational experiences were personal experiences that felt "out of the box" or "above and beyond" what was expected.
What has been clear in both Future of Education Meetups is that these transformative experiences are currently missing from college and K-12 classrooms. Both teachers and students are dissatisfied with the current education system and has chosen to value.
From the educational entrepreneurs at the first Meetup, who spoke about their role in complementing and enhancing core college curriculum with hands-on job experiences, to the K-12 educators at the second Meetup, who spoke about an "educational ecosystem" and the necessity for self-efficacy and the acceptance of failure, the resounding message was that there is a disconnect between the classroom and what students want to know. Ivan Cestero of the Avenues school and a panelist at the second Meetup put it best when he said as educators we needed to "meld the passion piece with the stuff they (students) need to know."
Lyel Resner, co-founder of Startup Box: South Bronx and moderator of the second Meetup began the discussion by asking the audience: What is school for? I was reminded of something Eduwonkette wrote years ago, conveying historian, David Labaree's vision of school as an environment that nurtured children's ability to
Participants responding to Lyel's question echoed Labaree's vision. They responded that the purpose of school was to prepare students for civic engagement and to teach them how to apply their passions, as well as build their social and emotional skills.
Like going to an art opening and dropping words like "derivative" or "jejune", for the past couple of years, the password into educational cliques has been "Common Core" (sometimes "STEM", sometimes "21st Century skills/literacies"). When the topic of Common Core State Standards came up, there was no overtly negative criticism, only a cautionary thought from Ivan Cestero that the standards required "habits of mind, passion, and social skills to be meaningful."
When the issue of standardized testing came up, panelist Tim Shriver, Dream Director at The Future Project said "test scores won't matter to students if they are not hopeful about their future success." Most everyone in the room (including me) believed portfolios are a superior and more accurate assessment than test scores.
Panelist Leigh Ann Sudol-DeLyser, Computer Science Teacher & Consultant at the Academy for Software Engineering NYC, spoke of the trial and error process that software engineers engage in when writing code. She said that it was important to get students to try and fail at something and then try again. She said "self efficacy" needed to be cultivated. Students need to believe in their ability to solve difficult problems and overcome seemingly impossible challenges. Most of the room agreed with what Leigh Ann was saying.
What has interested me most about these Meetups is the pragmatism. There is a lot of talk of innovation and "new" ways, but it has been tempered with talk of "accreditation" on the college level and systems level implementation in the K-12 grades. Andrea Coleman, CEO of the Office of Innovation at the New York City Department of Education, cited her office's partnership with The Future Project. I'm looking forward to that same pragmatism in the final Meetup of this series.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation on “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum or join the ASCD Forum group.
What is an effective teacher?
It is the question we have paradoxically circled around and yet, improbably, ignored. Rather than define, describe and debate what effective teachers are or are not, we default to discourse on holding teachers accountable with test scores—crude metrics at best, destructive red herrings at worst. In essence, we put the cart before the horse: measuring “effective” teaching before we know what it is or looks like.
So what is an effective teacher?
The effective teacher is a mosaic of professional behaviors, skills, and habits of mind that collectively amount to students’ vigorous well-being in body, mind, and emotion, or, in education reform parlance, “achievement” (another term crudely defined as a test score by default). The foundation of these behaviors, skills, and habits is learning: curiosity, inquiry, and a testing of theories. As a starting point, effectiveness in the business of learning is effectiveness as a learner.
However, “master learner” is not synonymous with “effective teacher.” Educators must possess and apply a host of other qualities consistently in the service of students to attain the coveted “effectiveness” status. Dr. Leo Sandy, Professor of Counselor Education and School Psychology at Plymouth State University, penned a short essay, The Effective Teacher, that might serve as a good starting point for creating a common definition. Below is a distillation of his main points.
The effective teacher . . .
- Must be a leader who can inspire and influence students through expert and referent power but never coercive power.
- Is a provocateur who probes, prods, asks incessant why questions
- Exemplifies what Maxine Green calls teacher as stranger.
- Models enthusiasm not only for his subject but also for teaching and learning.
- Is an innovator who changes strategies, techniques, texts, and materials when better ones are found and/or when existing ones no longer provide a substantive learning experience for her students.
- Is a comedian/entertainer who uses humor in the service of learning.
- Is a coach or guide who helps students to improve.
- Is a genuine human being or humanist who is able to laugh at herself and the absurdity in the world without being cynical and hopeless.
- Is a sentinel who provides an environment of intellectual safety.
- Is an optimist or idealist.
- Is one with others. He is a collaborator who places a high value on collegiality.
- Is a revolutionary because she knows that, with the exception of parenthood, her role is the most vital one on earth in the preservation of the sanctity of life and its natural outcome – the elevation of humanity.
It is here where I believe we should take up the question of what constitutes an effective teacher. Not because I agree with all of Dr. Sandy’s suggestions, but because I think they best approximate the kaleidoscope of responsibilities necessary to understand and meet the needs of all students.
Hopefully for now we can set aside the brainstorm inhibitors—“How will these be measured?” and “How can we possibly go to scale with such subjective qualities?” Instead, let’s first understand what we want of our teachers (perhaps by considering the kind of transformational experiences we want for our students) and then determine the best ways to observe, cultivate, and measure those actions, behaviors, and “achievements.”
In an ideal world, our students would pop out of the womb with an innate appetite for books. That’s not the world we live in, so rather than dreaming, we’re going to offer a few tips to turn your reluctant readers into avid readers. One thing to keep in mind when trying to engage reluctant readers is that there are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Reluctant readers—students who can read, but choose not to—have little intrinsic motivation, which means that you’re going to have to be the extrinsic motivator; it’s up to you to use the techniques to unite students with books! Finding a reading role model is one way you can make this happen.
Engaging Reluctant Readers By Recruiting Reading Role Models
Now ask them to think of professions that require reading and discuss why. Make a list on the board and discuss it. Use it to reach out to potential speakers now
You might ask the mentor to tell your students about the different types of reading that they use on the job every day. Of course, this isn’t limited to just reading books. Your mentor may not be used to public speaking, so it might be helpful for you to talk a bit about your own reading habits and what you’ve told your students about them. If you need a framework, here’s what we might say:
Every morning, I wake up, brew a pot of coffee and sit down to check my email. I encourage people to contact me as much as they like, so usually there are five or six emails from some of my colleagues, students or parents. Once I’ve read and answered the emails, I read over my lesson plans, reacquaint myself with some of the assigned readings and if I have time, I check out my favorite celebrity gossip blog. Remember, there’s no such thing as “real reading.” When I get home, I have to cook dinner—which means that I have to read and follow the directions in my recipe book. Etc. etc. etc.
One thing we always try to keep in the forefront of our minds is the fact that most of us excel at something when we truly love it. Without passion or love, motivation will almost always diminish. Finding a reading mentor is only one small step we can take toward teaching our reluctant readers to love books. If you need a few more tips, check out one of our most recent blogs, “Teaching Reading Means Teaching Our Students to LOVE Reading.”
As 2012 comes to a close, I thought I would end my ASCD Blogging year with this recent post that I originally published on Smart Blogs in Education a few days ago. There are still so many that are overwhelmed with all the recent changes in education and my end of the year message is simple: talk to each other. Talk to each other physically, virtually, any way you can at any time you can. We are stronger as a chain of connected people and we can do great things for the children we teach. Good luck to you all in 2013, and I hope to see many of you in Chicago in March at the Annual conference!
Many teachers beginning the process of deep curriculum work and/or practice / teaching transformations start in zones of comfort. It's difficult sometimes to articulate the changes needed when everything is new, and starting from a known point, i.e., current curriculum unit, current assessment, current methodologies, strengthens foundations and helps to solidify the systemic growth I’m always advocating for. I call this "Knowing Your Harbor."
Harbors are places of refuge, a shelter from the rough seas; they are known places. The assumption in the harbor is that you know where you are anchored, as well as know where to find what you need within that safe zone.
We have to realize, though, that even when you are anchored in a harbor, you are still on a ship. A ship is not designed just for anchoring. In order to be a working vessel, it must be on the water, sailing. There's a big difference when we break down the nouns and verbs here. Ship is different from shipping. Boat is different from boating. Sail is different from sailing. It is the verb, the action, that matters. This is a very important realization, and I discuss it often in my work with curriculum design and practice. If we are looking only for endpoints, for harbors and anchors as the barometer of our work, then we are not meeting the needs of ourselves, or our students.
We have to know our ships, too. We have to know that they are designed for action and are not about the ship itself, it's what the ship can DO that matters. The ship, in curriculum terms, could be you the teacher, it could be the collaborative group you work with, it could be the system you operate within. Whatever you determine your ship to be, the actions you collectively take are what matters to the shipping event. You must determine who and what needs to be "on board" with you as you plan your journey. This includes content experts, interest experts (this could be students!), resources and technology, and could include elements beyond the ship. (Virtual experiences that relate to the learning.) All of these elements have roles, and those roles could change with different shipping adventures: Captains, mates, or other crew.
"Research on intelligence and the brain suggests that we learn best when we are engaged in meaningful classroom learning experiences that help us discover and develop our strengths and talents." (Silver, Strong and Perini, 2000) When we think about the College and Career ready student, what are some considerations for preparing them to be Captain? If they are always crew, then they aren't really being prepared to sail the ship themselves. How can we assure that the students are ready? By having them take on multiple roles. I’ve mentioned in multiple blog posts and online conversations how important it is for students to use collaborative and communicative technologies, and we need to make sure that they are "on the boat" with it all. In terms of communicating, this would be a good time to work with students on something like Thinking Routines, where students articulate how they are exploring, interpreting, and justifying through communication and conversation. This moves communication from a planning event to an action event, as well as a teaching and learning event. Teachers could use the Thinking Routines as a mechanism for establishing and sustaining curriculum conversations.
The final step is about knowing your Journey. We have to know the destination, and we have to make plans for what it will take to get us there.
"To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding
of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you
better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are
always in the right direction." (Covey, 1994)
If our destination is unclear, it's going to be hard to figure out what needs we may have along the way, what roles we need to plan for, and how we keep to our intended path along the way.
When a teacher commits to a particular transformation or improvement in their professional practice and begins the process of revising and aligning curricular elements, the process of continued communication and collaboration (like we’re asking the kids to do!) allows for constructive feedback and additional revision moments. Committing, Communicating, and Re-Communicating are vital to meaningful and systemic transformations.
To complete the metaphor, these processes illustrate the "round trip" nature of good curriculum work. A boat sails out into the ocean on its journey, arrives at its destination, and sails home again to prepare for the next journey. The ship is always on the move, and always finding new places to visit.
Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York, NY: Simon
Project Zero, . "Project Zero." Introduction to Thinking Routines. President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2010. Web. 13 May 2011. <http://pzweb.harvard.edu/vt/VisibleThinking_html_files/VisibleThinking1.html>.
Silver, H., Strong, R., & Perini, M. (2000). So each may learn: Integrating learning styles and multiple intelligences. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Originally posted on SmartBlogs on Education:
Mike on Twitter:@fisher1000
Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students - coming in Feb. 2013 from ASCD
Cure for the Common Core - eBook available now from Amazon
by Terry Heick, TeachThought.com
With instructional strategies, data collection, curricular planning, personal communication, and classroom management to consider, where technology fits in to a teacher’s workday isn’t obvious—especially a new teacher. But if you can consider technology as a macro tool rather than a micro task, this simple paradigm shift can make all the difference.
A Means and an End
Technology is as much an end as a means.
While it can act as a powerful tool to actuate thinking, curate performance, and connect learners, technology can create its own need to know, and even obscure the reasons for learning in the first place.
On a simple level, there is the matter of function. While hardware (iPads) and software (programs and apps) are designed to be accessible, there are inevitably problems. Passwords can fail, broadband access can be problematic, and even the simplest act—such as copying a file from one drive to another—can take up more time than they save, and suggest a point of diminishing return.
On a murkier, more complex level is the idea of workflow.
Technology workflow refers to the role of technology in learning facilitation—specifically what is used when for what reason.
If a student is taking notes using an iPad, then needs to share those notes with a partner, the technology workflow is simple. The student internalizes materials, interfaces with the technology to capture thinking, then uses an app or function of an app to share the file. At this point, all is well.
But if ten lab partners need to access unique databases, return to a shared physical (or digital) space to share ideas, communicate priorities, then re-disperse, the workflow is more complicated and recursive. This matters less with individuals (though it matters then, still), and more when large groups like classes or entire schools access similar hardware, software, and even content.
Workflow can make or break technology use.
Luckily, there are some ideas to keep in mind as you plan.
1. Think Function First
As you approach technology, think first of what it is doing. What exactly it is doing.
To do this, you’ll need to observe some barrier to learning—otherwise the technology use is, at best, gratuitous, and at worst, leading students away from what you’re wanting them to come to understand.
Rather than think “What’s a cool way to use twitter?”, you might notice that students are missing out on real-world access to content experts. Then you might notice that blogging, twitter, and RSS feeds are all three powerful ways to connect students to said experts.
Technology use here becomes strategic, intentional, and more likely to result in additional capacity for learning with technology.
2. Let Students Lead
Students may or may not know technology better than you. This is difficult to judge because their knowledge here can be so uneven.
Regardless, they likely know it differently than you do. So let them lead.
Let them choose new applications for existing technology—a new way to use Evernote, or a smarter way to use hyperlinking in Microsoft Word.
Let them corral emerging trends in social media use and work them into the learning process.
Let them figure out the logistics of turning work in, sharing feedback, and maintaining a digital portfolio. While this is necessary in a BYOD environment, it is possible anywhere.
3. Start With What You Know
While you’ll gradually need to push yourself out of your comfort zone, start where you’re comfortable—and not comfortable as a teacher, but as a technology user yourself.
If you’re an avid user of facebook or pinterest, figure out a compelling way to integrate it into the learning process. Same with your Android smartphone or the new digital multi-meter you just picked up on Amazon.
This will help you learn how technology actually works in the learning process while not having to juggle mastering a new technology while you’re at it. As a new teacher, you’ve got enough to keep you up at night.
4. Experiment Constantly
Whatever you do as you grow as a teacher, do not become complacent. Step out of your comfort zone, seek out better ways to complete the mundane tasks that sabotage your free time, and try new things with technology.
This experimentation can come as the result of collaboration with your professional learning network, business leaders in the community, or the students themselves. Make sure that in your daily use of social media, physical print, or in-person observation you have access to powerful uses of technology, or your “idea well” will be self-contained and likely unsustainable.
5. Be Mindful Of Your Own Biases
Both new and experienced teachers will need to prioritize what’s most important in their classroom. There’s only so much time and so many resources. This is understandable.
For new teachers, before you know it your first year becomes your fourth, and built-in habits that were formed during the storm of your first classroom experience can be difficult to even see, much less break.
For experienced teachers, constantly seeing education technology with fresh eyes can help you see function first while also staying ahead of emerging trends. If you hold fast to this app or that operating system you risk creating your own personal learning environment rather than one for your students.
Resisting this requires a solid framework for technology integration from the beginning that is catalyzed by your own interests and passion, but is also interdependent with students, experts, and your global learning network.
Don’t be afraid to fail; everyone fails. Just be sure that failure comes in pursuit of better technology integration that is dynamic and evolving, rather than a stunted system of tried-and-true that will eventually catch up to you in your career.
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that we’re living in tough economic times these days. That means that understanding the value of a dollar, being able to manage credit responsibly, and being capable of making sound financial decisions overall is more important than ever before. It also means that we should be thinking as parents about how to teach our children good money management sooner rather than later.
If you have children age 12 and under and you haven’t yet begun to teach them how to be financially literate, there’s no time like the present to begin. Studies show that the younger children are taught how to properly and responsibly deal with money, the more likely they are to grow up to have exemplary habits in regards to their own treatment of earnings and credit as they grow older. Let’s take a closer look at what you can do as a parent to help your children grow up with all the right values.
Make Money Management Part of Everyday Life
The best place to start with your child’s financial literacy is by simply opening the lines of communication when it comes to money. Make it a point to talk to your child about money and don’t just stop at dollars and cents either. Also make sure you explain concepts like credit, credit cards, debt, bankruptcy, and savings to your children. Be sure they understand how important it is to save for a rainy day and use credit responsibly.
It’s also incredibly important to make sure your child understands where money comes from. When they see you swipe a credit card at the grocery store or withdraw money from the ATM, it’s all too easy for young children especially to get the impression that money is a limitless, free resource. Talk to them about your job and make sure they understand how hard (and how long) you have to work to earn a certain amount. Talk to them about how you plan a budget and strive to stick to it every month as well.
You should also give your children chances to get hands-on themselves when it comes to managing money. Give your child an allowance and teach them the basics of saving through allowance management. When they’re old enough take them to open bank accounts of their own and encourage them to save part of their allowance so that they can deposit it into their savings account on a regular basis.
Educational games on the computer that teach children about money management can also be great learning tools. They help to link the concept of learning and being responsible with money to fun and enjoyment. They also help your child to become smarter and more goal-oriented overall by using multiple modes of stimulation to help them learn.
Set Good Examples Yourself
Although what you tell your children in regards to money management and financial literacy is no doubt important, don’t ever underestimate the value of setting a good example via your own habits. Children look to the people around them to decide how they behave. Kids who grew up with spendthrift parents who abused credit and lived beyond their means often grow up to do the same. However, children who were taught up front about the value of a dollar, a solid work ethic, and the importance of sticking to a budget are more likely to avoid debt, manage credit well, and be willing to work hard for what they want in life.
When it comes to financial literacy, early education is always the best course of action. Start talking to your children today about money and see what a difference it really makes.
Clay Piggy (http://www.claypiggy.com) is a virtual world gaming environment which teaches children basic money management skills and the concept of Earning, Spending, Saving, Investing and Giving in a fun and social way. Clay Piggy users choose their avatars by selecting and customizing their characters. Users earn virtual money by working at a job. Users also learn concept of credit score, different kinds of bank accounts, deposit money in bank, write checks and use debit / credit cards.
Decision paralysis is a real thing. Faced with making too many decisions at once and you’re likely to not make ANY decision. The mountain grows larger, the journey grows longer. Dan and Chip Heath talk about decision paralysis in their book, Switch. (2011) They describe scenarios where, rational or not, humans that are faced with too many choices can’t make a decision at all.
Lately, decision paralysis has become the modus operandi in education. We have become habitually overwhelmed to the point of non-action. We lament the good old days while our students, with their smart phones and modern environments and yearnings to move on, sit in front of us waiting to be prepared for colleges or careers.
So what do you do? Where do you start?
You only have to do three things. That’s right, just three things. Consider invigorating your curriculum with the following:
While there may be mountains of considerations with the new standards, their associated new assessments, and the tie-in to new teacher evaluations, these three things are really the core of your curriculum conversations and actions, no pun intended.
I’ve highlighted a few considerations in each of the three categories in the visual though there are a myriad strategies to engage in. (Click on the image to make it bigger)
I would suggest research based / peer reviewed strategies versus textbook driven decisions, however. In a lot of schools, much emphasis is placed on the textbook as the driver of the curriculum and then there is shock and disappointment when the students don’t perform. Modernizing our work means that there must be a focus on the essential learning needs of students and truly preparing them for college and/or careers, and not on what a salesman would like for us to believe.
These three things are the learning essentials. They are the roots of good instruction and attending to them in specific and purposeful ways will help you align to new standards, prepare for new assessments, and prepare students for the world they will graduate into.
Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2011). Switch, how to change things when change is hard. (1sted.). New York: Crown Business.
Mike on Twitter:@fisher1000
Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students - coming in Feb. 2013 from ASCD
Cure for the Common Core - eBook available now from Amazon
I had a great conversation this morning with Professional Developers from different parts of New York State as we discussed the implementation of Curriculum Modules in their respective districts.
Some were saying that they adopted the modules as they were published, including all associated resources and materials. Some said they adapted the ideas and framework of the modules, but changed some of the resources, materials and strategies based on their population of students and available books. I shared that I thought it would be important for teachers, as they adopted and adapted, to become “module specialists.” I thought it would be a good idea for them to know the structure of the module so well that the adaptations were multifaceted and assessment focused. (Not state test focused, necessarily, but evaluation of learning focused.)
It dawned on me that this was a pretty decent cycle for implementation. Teachers could jump in at either the adopt or adapt zones, then become adept at the structure and process, something along the lines of:
Teach the unit/module/lesson “AS IS” while looking for opportunities for improvement.
Teach the unit/module/lesson in a “MODIFIED” way with new strategies and resources.
Teach the unit/module/lesson in a “SKILLED REVISION” mode with full understanding of process and structure of unit with attention to assessment and appropriate strategies and resources for:
I think anyone that reads me regularly probably already knows that I’m not a fan of canned curriculum or curriculum module “gifts.” I believe the curriculum design and action plan is a purposeful and thoughtful process that begins with the end in mind, aligns to specific standards, and is considerate of specific populations of students and the resources a school may have. Teaching from these canned modules removes some of the most important factors of curriculum work, namely conversation and collaboration among colleagues.
That said, as I continue to do curriculum work, sometimes concessions need to be made for those who may see a marked improvement by working in the “Adopt” zone. That experience leads to learning how to adapt, which in turn may eventually lead to working adeptly.
In this Brave New Educational World with new standards, new planned curricula, new data considerations, and new teacher accountability, anything we do better in the best interest of kids is a step in the right direction. The impetus is upon us all to enter into curriculum work with open minds and high expectations that as we know better, we do better.*
*Partially taken from a quote from Toni Morrison on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Special thanks to colleagues Carol Bush from Orleans / Niagara BOCES and Dr. Marla Iverson from Wayne Finger Lakes BOCES for a great conversation and for thinking new ways.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000
Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students coming from ASCD in February 2013
Cure for the Common Core, eBook available now from Amazon Kindle Store
As a follow-up to our 9 Characteristics of 21st Century Learning we developed in 2009, we have developed an updated framework, The Inside-Out Learning Model from TeachThought.com
The goal of the model is simple enough–not pure academic proficiency, but instead authentic self-knowledge, diverse local and global interdependence, adaptive critical thinking, and adaptive media literacy.
By design this model emphasizes the role of play, diverse digital and physical media, and a designed interdependence between communities and schools.
The attempted personalization of learning occurs through new actuators and new notions of local and global citizenship. An Inside-Out School returns the learners, learning, and “accountability” away from academia and back to communities. No longer do schools teach. Rather, they act as curators of resources and learning tools, and promote the shift of the “burden” of leanring back to a more balanced perspective of stakeholders and participants.
Here, families, business leaders, humanities-based organizations, neighbors, mentors, higher-education institutions, all converging to witness, revere, respond to, and support the learning of its own community members.
The micro-effect here is increased intellectual intimacy, while the macro-effect is healthier communities and citizenship that extends beyond mere participation, to ideas of thinking, scale, legacy, and growth.
The 9 Domains Of the Inside-Out Learning Model
1. Five Learning Actuators
2. Changing Habits
4. Self-Initiated Transfer
5. Mentoring & Community
6. Changing Roles
7. Climate of Assessment
8. Thought & Abstraction
9. Expanding Literacies
The Inside-Out Learning Model Central Learning Theories & Artifacts: Situational Learning Theory (Lave), Discovery Learning (Bruner), Communal Constructivism (Holmes), Zone of Proximal Development & More Knowledgeable Other (Vygotsky), Learning Cycle (Kolb), Transfer (Thorndike, Perkins, Wiggins), Habits of Mind (Costa and Kallick), Paulo Freire, and the complete body of work by Wendell Berry
There’s a rather famous Nietzsche quote you may have heard: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
Most likely, the “monster” Nietzsche had in mind wasn’t writer’s block and “the abyss” wasn’t the blank loose-leaf sheet or the wordless computer screen “that gazes into” our students when they sit down to write. But as far as our students are concerned, they might as well be.
Even for the best writers, Joseph Conrad, for example, writing is difficult. In a letter to a friend, he writes, “I sit down religiously every morning, I sit down for eight hours every day - and the sitting down is all.”
Writing isn’t easy. Writing well…even harder—apparently even for geniuses like Conrad. I don’t know what he did when he sat down religiously every morning for eight hours a day, but I always wondered if he might have benefited from these two writing strategies we’ve adapted from Cheryl Glenn and Melissa A. Goldthwaite’s book, The St. Martin's Guide to Teaching Writing.
Writing Strategy 1: Clustering
Most serious and experienced writers incorporate some sort of writing strategy into their habits, so your students should feel no shame in using them. One that your students might find useful is what we call clustering.
First, you must think of a word or phrase. You can do this with any random word or phrase, but it is far more effective to choose something that is related to the assigned topic. Say your students are writing an essay about their experience with the American Dream….well, “American Dream” might be the best phrase to begin with. Here’s what your students should do next:
Writing Strategy 2: Brainstorming
A second form of invention is brainstorming. Like clustering, brainstorming asks the writer to jot down any ideas that come to his or head. The difference is that it takes sentence form and is best done in 15-minute increments.
The writer decides on a subject, sits down in a quiet place with a pen and paper or computer, and writes down everything—literally—that comes to mind about the subject. Here are some of the main “rules” of brainstorming:
The writer, in other words, free-associates, writing down as many ideas as possible. After doing so, the writer either tries to structure the information in some way—by recopying it in a different order or by numbering the items, crossing some out, adding to others—or finds the list suggestive enough as it stands and begins to work.
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Depending upon your outlook, when students tell us they would like more study tips, we either see that as a good thing or a bad thing.
I have written before about how my courses use the Noel Levitz retention tool, the Noel Levitz College Student Inventory ™, to leverage what students tell us their needs are with content useful to them in the course. The majority of the students in my current Comp I online course say they would like help in finding good study tips. They told me this through the CSI, which was presented prior to the start of the semester.
Of course, we teachers pride ourselves on building study tips into our courses, and so it is easy at first to say the students just are not paying attention. I can easily take this attitude as the course is marked with what I call bread crumbs. That is, worksheets, practice quizzes, diagnostics, referrals to counselors, links to tutors, and so much more are clearly labeled. I even have the words “start here” to indicate that students should start with the lectures. How can the students possibly miss all of this? Well, some do. Plus, remember that the survey was done prior to the semester when students had not seen any of the study elements.
With that, I continue to build into the online courses I teach more bread crumbs to provide the help they crave. My latest effort was to create short study tips as announcements. I have created 10, focusing on tips for essays and critical thinking. I have cued the computer to release a new one every 10 days. In addition, I plan to provide a hyperlink within each study tip announcement that tells students where they can find more on the topic.
One of my key concerns is whether or not I am giving the students the exact study tip they seek. However, I also view these tips as entry points, so to speak, to a broader resource they can find, which is why I add the hyperlinks for more help. For example, I am moving them toward the tutors, the handbook, worksheets, and myself, following a study tip in the announcements.
I am including my list of 10 resources in this blog. Readers may use any of these, if they are so inclined. If you have good ones of your own, please share. I am grateful to others who have shared many of these ideas. Here are the tips I am now placing in the announcements:
Study Tip 1: SQ3R clarifies the reading
One approach to reading an assignment, even to review your own writing, is the SQ3R approach. This stands for Survey, Question, Read, Review, and Reflect. To expand, first Survey the essay. That is, scan it. Pay attention to sub-heads, if present, and look quickly for the main ideas in paragraphs. Then think of the Questions you have after scanning the essay. This will engage your mind to look for the answers. Then Read through the essay. Next, take time to Review what you have learned and whether or not your questions were answered. Finally, Reflect upon the meaning of the content. Then repeat the process. Sometimes the essay is better with the second read.
Study Tip 2: Include three things when writing a thesis
When writing a thesis, be sure you do three things: 1. make a claim, 2. explain why it true, and 3. show why it matters. Example: Children should not stay up late at night watching television (claim) because they need eight hours of sleep each night (why it is true), so that they will not be inattentive the next day in school (why it matters).
Study Tip 3: Organize thoughts before you start to write
One element that marks the difference between the novice writer and the experienced one is taking time to organize your thoughts. Just as a home builder would not construct a house without a blueprint, the writer needs to plan thoughts. Planning an essay can be in the form of an outline, a brainstorm, a list of ideas that need to be included, and so on. The point for the writer is to consider the ideas to be included within the essay prior to starting.
Study Tip 4: Essay structure key to success
Presenting ideas in a structure that helps the reader to comprehend the ideas is important for successful communication. One essay format, the five-paragraph structure, offers the reader a format for comprehending the writer’s ideas. The five-paragraph structure calls for, in this order, an introduction, a thesis within the first paragraph, at least three main body paragraphs that each has a main idea with supporting examples and explanations, and a conclusion that summarizes the lessons learned and/or makes a prediction about the future.
Study Tip 5: Conclusions summarize lessons learned make future predictions
A conclusion should add to the points the main body has made as the writer wraps up the essay. A good way to do so is to make a prediction about the future, given the points made in the main body. A writer may also comment upon the lessons learned, for example, how the case that was just made has changed him or her as a person. A conclusion must not present ideas that were not developed in the main body. In addition, the conclusion must connect to the thesis.
Study Tip 6: Avoid distractions when studying
Many students think they are good at multi-tasking and so they study with the television or music on in the background. The cell phone and text-messaging are also close at hand. Studies show that human beings really are not good at multi-tasking, that the examples presented really should be called what they are, distractions. Study in a quiet environment and your mind will be better able to focus on the material.
Study Tip 7: Make use of Online Tutors
The course offers opportunities for connecting with online tutors for questions involving math and English. Students are encouraged to make use of the tutors. Each student has 15 hours of time scheduled with tutors per year and very few students make use of this time. Having a person who is trained as a consultant is valuable. However, do not expect the tutor to do the work. The tutor’s role is to guide the student to individual success.
Study Tip 8: Paragraphs require explanation and example
When writing a paragraph, remember that your objective is to communicate your ideas that support the thesis to the reader. Because the reader cannot “read” your mind, but is limited to only the words on the page, you need to provide details beyond the main idea of the paragraph. It is important to support the main idea with examples and explanations. Therefore, a writer must be aware of what the reader needs to know to fully understand the message being delivered.
Study Tip 9: Critical thinking valued in communication
Instructors value the concept of critical thinking, but at the same time this can be very confusing as to what is wanted because it is seldom defined. To demonstrate you are thinking critically begin with any one of three processes: one, review the evidence and conclude what is truthful; two, consider a concept and apply it to a situation; or, three, show how you would solve a problem. Note that each of these approaches must be appropriately applied to the question being asked.
Study Tip 10: Creative thinking brings out the inventor
One creative thinking approach is to combine two ideas and make something new. For example, someone in the plastics industry once looked at the spoon and fork and made a new eating utensil, the spork, combining the spoon and fork into one utensil. To apply the creative thinking concept to your studies, consider how, for example, big ideas have changed history. In addition, consider how big ideas of today are changing the world. Finally, consider how the big ideas you have learned in one course can be applied to another.
Although the standards from around the world significantly address what is important for students to know and be able to do when they are in school, what happens when they leave school? What happens when they are challenged by a world of uncertainty and the chaos of change? Will they be prepared for the tests of life as carefully as they were required to be prepared for a school life of tests? Listen to this video where Art Costa and I talk about why we believe that the habits of mind are a global common core as we move forward in the 21st century and beyond!
If you want to have more information about the habits of mind, go to our book Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind