Search ASCD EDge
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.
While we do not often think about it, we can start redesigning schools with the physical space. As I think about how to structure a high school, I see ways to change the school simply with the furnishing. Open spaces, natural light and comfortable seats can all take a school from “cells and bells” to a place of innovation and invention. I have often said that I go onto college campuses and I see how I wish to teach. It is amazing to have open manicured lawns, wooded paths, and some time to be outside. Being at a traditional high school, cooped up inside, it makes me wish I could escape, not stay and learn. If I feel that way, and I had a positive experience at school, I know my students feel the same way.
Along with how the school is designed, I am interested to see how much schools could become like the best idea companies. Places like Google, Microsoft, and Twitter have to give their employees space to think. Google has become famous for its Genius Hour in which the employees are given time to simply pursue whatever interests them and some of their newest innovations (Google Glass, the Google self driving car) have come from this time. These companies thrive based on how well their employees think. This is how we should be approaching schools. We should treat our students and teachers like thinking, and developing new ideas, was their job. We should give them time to pursue their passions and interests. We have to trust teachers to develop systems and solutions for the issues they face. We then further need to trust students to learn and find passion in learning.
When we think about public education, it is frustrating that while we want to have schools as a place of learning, growing , innovation and invention we run them like factories. With fixed amounts of credits, minutes and grades, we are trying to mass produce graduates (the all important graduation rate as the critical marker of success) with teachers working on the assembly line. We have this system, not because we think it is the best, but because accountability demands clear criteria to measure (test scores, graduation rates). Free time to generate ideas and follow passions is not as measurable as 3 years of high school science or 55 minutes of Geometry.
While places like Google see Genius Hour as a way to allow its engineers to follow intellectual endeavors as vital to it continued success and relevance, it is hard to see this becoming part of our public schools in our current high stakes, high accountability climate. There are some educators calling for the changes, to make schools more like our most innovative and productive companies, it has failed to penetrate the average school and is not part of the much of the current popular reform conversation. Less is more is not as prevalent as more is more.
If we are serious about schools being places of idea production, we have to build them to support the creation of ideas. We have also recognize that learning is an organic process, not a mechanical one. We cannot simply speed things up and have students simply learn more in less time, just like we cannot double the fertilizer we put on crops and expect them to grow twice as much in half the time. What we can do is create a set of circumstances, a climate, that can support higher growth. This can be done many ways, but one way that might need to be considered includes natural light and some free time.
Cross-posted from: http://wsascdel.blogspot.com/2014/07/learning-from-ground-up.html
Please follow John @jhhines57 or check out his blog at notfillingthepail.blogspot.com
Why do our students come to school? Yes, yes, of course because they have to, but why else? Is it because of you? Is it because of the mind-bending lectures we give? If you asked Michael Kahn (see his article, “The Seminar”) these questions, he’d tell you that there’s nothing intrinsically special about us or the textbooks.
No, what makes coming to school “worth it” for Kahn is the collaborative learning experience—or in his words, the “opportunity [for students] to engage in a fantastic dialogue, trialogue, multilogue with a fantastically varied assortment of consciousnesses.”
There are countless ways we can get students working together, talking and learning from one another, but literature circles are certainly one of the most effective. Not only do they encourage open dialogue, creativity and critical thinking, they also push students to take ownership of their own learning experience.
What are literature circles?
When we use literature circles, small groups of student gather for an in-depth discussion of a literary work. To ensure that students have a clear sense of direction and remain focused, each group member is given a specific task. For example, one student may be the designated artist; s/he is responsible for using some form of art to explore a main idea, a theme, or significant scene from the text. Another group member, the wordsmith, might be responsible for documenting important, unusual, or difficult words from the reading. Regardless of each student’s role, each group must collaborate as they read, discuss and critically engage with texts.
The circles meet regularly, and the discussion roles change at each meeting. When the circle finishes a book, the members decide on a way to showcase their literary work for the rest of the class.
To give you a better sense of what literature circles are—and aren’t—take a look at the following chart from Bonnie Campbell Hill’s guide, Literature Circles and Response:
What is the teacher’s role in literature circles?
As Harvey Daniels explains in his book Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups, “the teacher’s main job in literature circles is to not teach.” Instead, teachers use mini-lessons, debriefing sessions and Socratic questioning techniques as they circulate the room, moving from group to group to evaluate student progress. As a facilitator, the teacher is never center-stage. In literature circles, the teacher’s role is supportive, organizational and managerial.
What is the role of each student?
There are a number of approaches you can take, but Daniels believes in introducing literature circles by using predefined roles that students take turns fulfilling. Although the terminology used to name the roles may vary, the descriptions remain similar.
Pam Chandler, a sixth-grade English, reading, and social studies teacher at Sequoia Middle School in Redding, California, defines the roles her students take on in literature circles in this way:
Teachers will want to begin by modeling the various roles within a small group in front of the whole class before sending students out on their own. However, you may be surprised to find out that once students are comfortable with the group-discussion format, you may be able to discontinue these roles altogether.
How do I evaluate students?
Literature circles are not intended to “cover material”— they are designed to empower students to take control of their learning experiences, to get them excited about literature, and to help them find creative ways to delve into books. Keeping that in mind, teachers who use literature circles do not use traditional methods of evaluation.
Because teachers are not at the center of attention, they are better able to engage in “authentic,” real-time assessment. This can include keeping narrative observational logs, performance assessment, checklists, student conferences, group interviews, one-on-one conferences, and the like.
Keep in mind that evaluation in literature circles is not just the job of the teacher. Just as we require students to take responsibility for their own book selections, topic choices, and reading assignments, we also want them involved in the record-keeping and evaluation activities of literature circles.
For a more comprehensive discussion of literature circles, check out both Bonnie Campbell Hill’s guide Literature Circles and Response, and Harvey Daniels’s book, Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups.
I’m sure we’d all agree that a trusting classroom environment is crucial for students. We know that they naturally thrive in an environment where they can reach out to be heard and possibly take creative risks. The sense of community in a trust-based classroom is stronger, and students feel more like they belong to something, which, in turn, positively impacts their learning. All that's a given. But while teachers tend to start the school year relatively well in this area, somewhere along the line, things start to unravel. So, how do we go about actively creating this environment and, perhaps more importantly, maintaining it in the classroom?
One way to tangibly cultivate a sense of trust in the classroom is to ensure that the physical environment reflects trust. For example, the seating arrangement of a class sends an immediate message of trust or distrust. Sitting in rows (all facing the teacher at the front) or a U-shaped arrangement (everyone facing inward) each says something different about how much the teacher trusts the students. One approach says, “I have to have you all looking at me at all times,” and the other says, “Let’s learn together.” Compare these two:
Granted, the types of desks in the left image are designed to be more flexible. Nonetheless, any desk type can be reorganized in a shape that is more inviting than rows. Further, we’re talking about first impressions, here, as the needs for the class will shift throughout the year. (Rows might be necessary at some point, but they aren't immediately necessary.)
Of the two classrooms, though, which one would evoke more trust from the student perspective? Taking the time to mindfully choose a classroom layout that sends a message of trust is a step we can take before students even arrive in the classroom.
Once school has begun, a teacher’s choice of words, whether spoken or written, can also serve to cultivate trust or distrust. Are we actively creating a sense of trust in how we refer to the class and students? Take a look at these two classroom posters:
(For a clearer look at these images, click here.)
The use of “we” and “our” makes a huge difference in establishing the foundation for trust, here, particularly the vast difference in tone between “This is MY classroom” and “This is OUR classroom.” Further, the negative expectation of failure (snarkily cushioned with "if" statements”) versus the positive expectation of “will” sends out completely different messages of trust. It’s as though one teacher expects to have all sorts of problems, which automatically sends out an “I don’t trust you” message. The teacher on the right expresses a sense of confidence in the students (and himself/herself) that is designed to cultivate trust.
Imagine coming into a classroom on the first day and seeing one of these posters. Which classroom would you really want to be a part of? In which classroom would you feel more likely to express your thoughts and take creative risks? (On a side note, the poster on the left is offered as a “Motivational Poster” on eBay for $8.95. The other image is my revision of it.) Actively seeking to establish a sense of collaboration and community, once students are in the class, is another crucial step we can take.
Maintaining the trust throughout the year is probably the most difficult part, and having a strategy in mind to maintain patience will aid in keeping that trust alive. Well-intentioned teachers may start out the school year just fine. They’ve set up the classroom and diligently used language designed to inspire collaboration, but somewhere in October, things can fizzle. Kids start to fray our nerves; we lose patience and react without thinking. Unfortunately, losing that patience also means that any trust we’ve established will begin to dissolve.
Acclaimed educator Rafe Esquith (2007) notes, “It is deeds that will help the children see that I not only talk the talk but walk the walk.” Walking the walk entails not only our initial actions, but also our reactions. For example, if you’ve told students that you will use a particular procedure for getting their attention (such as raising your hand or counting to five), and instead, you lose it and start yelling at them (“Alright! Everybody QUIET!”), they will no longer trust you. You are not walking the path you said you’d walk. Once you’ve lost your cool, you’ve evaporated the trust, and you’ll have to work to build it up again.
Having a strategy for maintaining patience, even in the midst of chaotic mutiny, really helped me out with high school freshmen. My strategy was a little silly, I guess. I would visualize the calmest person I could think of: Mahatma Gandhi.
Then, I would repeat a mantra: Be what I want to see (a quick version of his famous quote “As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him” (Gandhi, 1958).
This sort of “channeling of Gandhi” strategy compelled me to pause before reacting—not unlike counting to ten, but a tad more inspirational. Who pops into your head as the epitome of patience and calm strength?
Another means of maintaining trust is to cultivate a mindset that is passionate for understanding. In this mindset, no matter what, you do whatever it takes to ensure your students “get” what you want them to get. Esquith (2007) offers this straightforward strategy in developing the mindset—answer all student questions:
I answer all questions. It does not matter if I have been asked them before. It does not matter if I am tired. The kids must see that I passionately want them to understand, and it never bothersme when they don’t. During an interview, a student named Alan once told a reporter, “Last year, I tried to ask my teacher a question. She became angry and said, ‘We’ve been over this. You weren’t listening!’ But I was listening! I just didn’t get it! Rafe will go over something fivehundred times until I understand.”
What the student described is pure trust. This approach sounds easier than it is because having one student ask you something and then having the very next question be the same question can be exhausting and annoying. However, a kid who knows that you’ll answer his questions, no matter what, trusts you. In that “knowing” is the trust.
This kind of trusting classroom environment is attainable if we take some time to reflect on how we present the physical environment, what messages we convey, and actively seek to maintain it. What do you want your kids to “know” about you?
Mirror site: Joyful Collapse
Esquith, R. (2007). Teach like your hair’s on fire (Reprint). Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=11644
Gandhi, M.K. (1958). The collected works of Mahatma Gandhi (Vol.19, p. 233). Delhi, India: Government of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Publications Division.
Have you ever been witness to a time capsule being opened? If you are not familiar with such events it is very simple. People select items that represent their culture or personal lives, and place them in a container to be sealed up for a long period of time. After a few decades the container is opened up at some sort of ceremony and people look at what was the height of technology, and life, decades ago. I guess we older folks get to appreciate those types of events more than the younger people, because the items in the time capsule usually do not need to be explained to us, as they need to be to the younger generations. I guess the fascination with time capsules is dependent on the apparent and dramatic effect technology has had on the culture represented by the encapsulated items which were selected.
It is one thing to study and talk about how technology and learning has made great strides in the field of medicine, but it is another conversation entirely when one experiences finding blood-letting tools in a time capsule. It prompts a great conversation that is lost in a textbook version of such events. It usually elicits from the youth questions like “What the hell were they thinking?” Of course the field of Medicine has probably developed faster and in more directions than any other field. I used to do a presentation where I would show a slide of a 19th Century operating room, followed by a picture of an operating room of today. The contrast was inimitable. Since this was a presentation for educators I showed a picture of a 19th Century classroom, followed by a class of today. It was the laughter of the audience that was inimitable at that point. There was little change. The upsetting point here is that if I were to do that presentation again, it would probably still hold true for the slow change in too many American classrooms.
As I engaged some of my connected colleagues in Edchat last week, we were discussing how the education system pays lip service to asking for innovation in education and for teachers to be innovative, while at the same time putting in place policies and mandates to stifle any such notion a teacher might have.
I pointed out how we are supposed to be teaching our kids how to be effective, competitive, and educated in the world in which they will live, while using tools for communication, collaboration, and creation that will exist in their world.
One Connected colleague pointed out that there is one school, or it might even be considered an education franchise school, that prides itself in the fact that it teaches its students without the use of any technology whatsoever. I guess that school franchise really holds 19th and 20th century methodology in very high esteem. Many of us are products of that methodology, so I guess there is a comfort level for some. I do often wonder why an educator’s comfort level should supersede the real world needs of his or her students.
Looking to the past in education and creating my own mental time capsule, I remember when calculators were not allowed in schools. The slide rule was okay. I remember the blue spirits ditto machine with a hand crank. I remember real Blackboards. I remember fountain pens, the Osmiroid Pen in particular. I remember desks with inkwell holes in the upper right corner. Again I am an old guy and this was my past.
What would go into an education time capsule today? Maybe a “Cellphones Banned” sign. Possibly, Oregon Trail would go in. Certainly those four computers, covered with dust at the back of the room. Definitely we would include the overhead projector that is now 75 year-old technology. Maybe we should also consider putting “sit and get” methodology in the time capsule. Let’s include the idea of teaching in silos as a concept. What about adding the concept of desks in rows. Why not add the idea of a content expert at the front of the room filling the empty vessels of student minds? This might also be the right place for standardized tests.
If we were to put all of these things into a capsule to be opened two decades from now, would we ever want to bring any of them back into the class? Maybe, Oregon Trail.
We need to reach out to those who are still teaching kids from the 20th Century perspective. We need them to commit to being learners again. Learning is ongoing and it must be a way of life for an educator. A relevant educator must continually learn to stay relevant. We can’t have time-capsule teaching in an ever-developing culture. At what point will we stop and look at what we are doing and say, “what the hell were we thinking”?
Much of my educational career has been spent in teaching or observing teachers. I also had the incredible opportunity of attending many wonderful professional development sessions with outstanding presenters, and working with some amazing educators over many years.
As a result, I have compiled a synthesis of some of the most important things that I have learned about effective teaching along the way. Here are fourteen ways of thinking about teaching that, when part of true self-reflection, can change much of what is being done in the classroom for the better.
These fourteen ways of thinking can be explored with individuals or groups of teachers to raise issues about teaching and learning, focus professional development around some important issues and challenges, and help provide a framework for professional growth over time. They may also be useful as a framework for thinking about teacher evaluation.
Read the descriptions below of my fourteen “ways of thinking” about teaching and learning. Get familiar with them. When you are done, consider doing the exercises at the end of this commentary, or sharing them in PD sessions, in order to better apply them to teaching and learning.
1. Get to know your students, especially how they learn and think.
Teaching is about relationships. Getting to know students helps with planning, motivation, interest, discipline, and effective communication. It is about knowing how students learn, how they think, what blocks their learning, what’s on their minds.
As much as possible, get to know students as individuals, with all their variety of thoughts, passions, ideas, backgrounds, humor, unique qualities. This is especially hard for middle and high school teachers, who have so many students to teach. But it is important that all teachers, whatever their level of teaching, whatever their situation, take some time during the school year to do activities that build relationships and help to learn about students. There are many ways to both formally and informally do this, such as get-to know-me activities, written self-reflections, observing how students go about solving problems, observing groupwork discussions, making sure students know to ask for help when they are having problems, meeting with students informally after school, or talking with other teachers about specific students (not always problem students).
2. Plan goals for both the long term and the short term.
Long term planning should be the force behind short term planning. In other words, plan for what you want your students to accomplish in the long run, and then plan each day so that your students can get closer to your goal. For example, a long-term goal might be to help students become better writers, while the short-term goal is to improve their grammar and vocabulary. A long- term goal might be a unit goal, and each daily lesson plan contributes to the goals of the unit. A long-term goal might be a yearly understanding-based goal, and a unit goal might contribute to the year-long goal.
As most teachers know, this is not easy. There are many obstacles, changes, and detours along the way, depending on what happens each day. The variables are tremendous. But it is always important to consider what you want your students to accomplish over a long period of time (the big goals), and figure out how each day helps them get there.
3. Include social-emotional learning goals as well as academic goals.
With the emphasis today on standardized test score success, learning academic content and skills become the most important focus for achievement and success. But much recent research suggests that “social-emotional” learning qualities are critical for long term success. Students who don’t see a connection between their effort and learning, are unable to be persistent, lack curiosity and resilience in the face of challenges, cannot work well with others, lack self-responsibility, are unorganized or unable to plan their time well, or lack the ability and willingness to ask for help and support when needed will have a great deal of trouble both in learning and in life. So it is important for teachers to assess these “soft” skills as well as academic and cognitive learning to help students achieve long-term success.
4. Translate learning goals into meaningful, interesting questions and challenges.
According to several sources, Richard Feynman, a world-renowned physicist, was “heavily influenced by his father, who encouraged him to ask questions to challenge orthodox thinking”… “[His father] never taught facts so much as questions. He encouraged young Richard to identify not what he knew, but rather what he did not know… What's most important for knowledge is the well asked question”.
Today, in my view, too many teachers have lost the art of helping students focus their learning around meaningful questions. My observations indicate that teachers still most often focus learning around imparting specific subject matter or stating goals in terms of “behavioral” objectives. But what if we thought about our teaching in terms of exploring open-ended questions that are interesting and meaningful to our students? What if we put “essential” questions on the board at the beginning of units and lessons, discussed with our students why they are important and meaningful, and then referred to them throughout the unit? Designed core questions that extended throughout the year? Created meaningful open-ended challenges as starting points for learning? Asked our students to develop essential questions?
One of my favorite questions, used by Kathy Davis, a first grade teacher, is the following:
What writing is worth reading? Imagine studying different kinds of writing over a long period of time with that question in mind? Another set of questions, worth studying in an American History course, is the following: “What is the American Dream? Where did it come from? Does it still exist?
So here’s something to think about: How can you translate your learning goals and objectives into important, interesting, meaningful questions? How can you use these questions as starting points for learning? For skill development? For making content relevant? How can these questions repeat and recur over time? Become the focus for many learning activities over time?
Much, if not most, important learning and growth starts with curiosity around questions, or perplexities around challenges. Teachers need to reinforce that type of learning, and begin student learning with questions and challenges that stimulate curiosity and interest, and motivate students to learn.
5. Teach reading (and other forms of literacy) as inquiry, exploration, and research.
Textbook activities often are treated solely as reading assignments (e.g. Read chapter seven and answer the questions at the end of the chapter). But what if teachers thought of textbooks and other reading materials, especially non-fiction reading, as sources of information designed to help answer questions, build understanding, explore interesting topics, and help find answers to challenges. What if the reading of literature was built around some interesting, significant questions, conflicts and issues? What if students had a chance to choose some of the literature they are asked to read based on their own curiosity? Treating textbooks, literature and other reading resources as a form of inquiry, exploration, curiosity, or research to answer questions helps put reading in an important context, not as a chore.
One simple textbook-non-fiction reading strategy that helps support this approach is the simple SQ3R strategy and its variations. First, students survey the material to be read, looking at headings, key words, difficult passages, pictures and other ancillary materials, and the like. Next, students turn headings into questions or bring into play previously developed questions to begin to find answers in the materials. Finally, they read and highlight key points, recite learning from the text that answers key questions, and then review and summarize the information that relates to the answers to each question.
6. Frequently use writing as a key instructional tool.
Asking students of all ages to continually write in many formats helps them formulate their ideas, organize their thoughts, think clearly and cogently, draw conclusions, self-reflect, and learn how to write position papers, among other things.
Most teachers don’t provide students with enough opportunities to write and reflect on their learning. Opportunities include writing at the beginning of a unit to determine what students know and how they think, daily short written reflections summarizing what they have learned at the end of a class, position papers around an issue discussed in class, research and project reports, analyses and interpretations from reading, frequent self-reflections, and end of unit essays in place of or complementary to traditional tests. Not all writing has to be graded, but carefully choosing writing to provide feedback provides students with significant opportunities for improvement.
7. Develop “deeper learning”.
I have always felt that many teachers try to teach much too much content and therefore do not have enough time for getting deeper into subject matter and skill development. Teachers need to think about priorities so that content is most likely to be limited and remembered. For example, the period of history in which the Constitution was developed is a very good time to concentrate on a few key points about the Constitution: the Bill of Rights, the Organization of Government, and the Constitutional “compromise” on slavery. While there are many other issues and facts that might be learned, these are key.
“Deeper learning” also results from analysis, interpretation, or doing something with (applying) the information learned. What if students ended this American history unit by developing their own Constitution for their classroom or school? Or created a new and better Constitution for America? Or simulated the Constitutional Convention and developed a Constitution based on the interests of each of the thirteen states?
8. Involve and engage ALL students in learning.
It is surprising how often teachers, especially in middle and secondary teachers, spend little time thinking about how to engage and involve every student on a daily basis. All too frequently, I have observed teachers who ask questions and involve very few students in giving answers; allow students to put their heads down on their desks during a lesson; stand in front of the class instead of walking around to engage students. Many students learn that it is OK to “tune out” of the lesson, and that they will be rewarded just for coming to school that day. Beginning teachers are especially likely to make the mistake of letting students “tune out” of their lessons. Here are some ways to avoid student passivity:
Don’t just stand in front of a group of students. Walk around the room. Catch the eye of students. Watch what they are doing. Gently shake a student who has his or her head on the desk. Call on students who you think are not paying attention.
Begin each class or new learning experience with an engaging “To Do” Activity that students must respond to as they enter your classroom. For example, a “To Do” Activity might begin with writing a short summary of what they were asked to read the night before or finding the answer to a math problem based on the work they did the previous day.
Use “think-pair-share” strategies to involve everyone in exploring significant questions. Here’s how it works. Ask an open-ended question. Then ask each student to write down an answer. Then students pair up with another student to discuss their answer. Finally, teachers call on individual students to share their answer and hopefully begin a discussion.
9. Bring the outside world into the school and classroom, and the school and classroom into the outside world, and help students apply learning.
Here’s how I think about schools and the surrounding world: The school world is for learning - the outside world is for living. People don’t live in a school. They go to school to learn. They live in their homes, in their offices, in the environment around them, in the world outside of school. Too often, school becomes an isolated entity unto itself, with little or no connection to the way people live in the outside world. As teachers, we need to remember this and, as often as we can, bring the outside world into the school and the school into the outside world.
How do we do this?
I remember watching Ms Tolliver, an excellent elementary math teacher who made some wonderful professional development tapes, take her fifth grade urban students on a walk through the school neighborhood looking for mathematics concepts and creating mathematics problems (Math Trail). They developed problems and found mathematics around park benches, playgrounds, subway trains, parking meters, building blocks and shapes, maps of the neighborhood, and seven step staircases in Central Park. The math that they were learning in school became real and relevant. Another example: in a local comprehensive urban high school I recently visited, a counselor organized talks in the school by local community members to help students see the variety of careers and lives led by those with similar ethnic backgrounds. Finally, new technologies provide new tools for bring the outside community into the school and the school to the outside community. There are currently many examples on the Internet and on websites of how teachers use Skype and other Internet options to bring in the outside community and world into the school and classroom.
10. Know when to maintain a strong structure for students and when to “let go”.
Good teachers know when to provide students with significant learning structure and when to give students greater freedom and self-direction. For example, when students are first learning how to do research, they need more structure – a step-by-step process, good explanations of how to conduct research and use research skills, models of good research products, and guided practice opportunities. Once they have learned and practiced the basic components of research, then they can be given more freedom to work on their own independently. In other words, sometimes students need strong structures, especially when they are first learning how to do something. But, eventually, we need to “let go” and give them freedom to work on their own and make their own mistakes in order to keep getting better at what they are doing. One of the most difficult decisions about teaching is knowing when students need significant structure and when to let go and give them more self-direction.
“Letting go” may also mean giving students greater choice and more options. Giving students the right to select their own books to read should be an important part of a good comprehensive reading program. Allowing students to select their own research question, sometimes within the parameters of a subject area, also gives students greater interest in and responsibility for their research.
11. Help students to improve, make progress, and get better.
What does it mean for students to get better at doing something? Understand in a deeper way? What are the most critical changes you would like to see in your students over time? What does it look like when they improve? How will you know when your students have a better understanding of core content? How can you build a student culture of “craftsmanship and understanding” that supports and encourages gradual improvement over time?
Unfortunately, traditional tests and quizzes don’t easily lend themselves to demonstrating improvement and progress in understanding and skill development. Seeking gradual progress and improvement is more likely to occur when students frequently do tasks related to what needs improvement, such as writing, making presentations, conducting research, performing experiments, and organizing learning for understanding. Specific feedback that provides students with specific guidance on what they need to do better is important. Showing models of good work to strive for is very helpful. An approach to teaching and learning that savors and supports gradual progress and improvement can lead to the development of a culture and way of thinking that promotes craftsmanship, deeper understanding, and improvement over time.
12. Check for understanding - often.
When I taught many years ago, I was unaware that I needed to frequently check for understanding. This was not good for student learning. This way of thinking has been getting much more play lately, and rightly so. Teachers need to check in frequently with students to see if they are “getting it” – really understanding what they are learning. Many strategies are available for this purpose, such as application oriented math problems, end of lesson summary strategies, such as 3-2-1 (three things I learned from this lesson, two things that were the most interesting, one question I still have); and 10-2 lectures (10 minutes of lecture, 2 minutes of reflection and questions).
13. Create strong culminating experiences and assessments.
Unfortunately, end of unit culminating experiences are often multiple choice-short answer tests. What could be less interesting for a student? What could be less relevant? Should the traditional test be the culminating experience of student work and learning?
Consider developing alternatives to traditional tests, even for just some units. How about a field trip to an art museum at the end of a unit so that students can analyze and write about a specific artistic period in greater depth? Perhaps students should write a position paper about a controversial topic in American History or design an experiment as the culmination of a science unit? How about giving students two or three (or more) essay questions several days in advance of a test time to give students time to prepare outlines of answers, from which one or two are selected to be written during a two hour class period? How about giving students interesting open-book (or even open-research) essay questions? Or what about completing an authentic performance task that demonstrates the ability of students to apply their learning to a new situation? These are much more interesting, relevant, and meaningful culminating assessments.
14. Appropriately use technology as a learning tool.
There is a tendency to talk about using technology today as if it were something to be automatically incorporated into the learning process. The reality is that technology is often hard to use or apply easily to teaching situations. Technology usage often requires a good deal of staff development, and is costly to implement and maintain.
However, technology, when used appropriately, can be an extremely valuable tool that enables teachers and students to learn more efficiently and effectively. For example, simple technologies, such as Microsoft word and powerpoint are useful for encouraging and editing writing and making presentations. The Internet is a wonderful tool to support research, but students have to learn how to use it carefully, skillfully, and wisely for this purpose. Some of the more complex technologies are useful to promote “gaming” and simulations. “Flipping” uses technology to help students learn basic information outside of school so that teachers can focus on “deeper learning” when students are in class. Some technologies that promote individualized learning through highly structured, engaging learning situations are very helpful to students.
Any of these technology tools, and others, should be used when appropriate to the teacher’s goals and to the learning situation. Technology tools should be used for specific goals when they make learning more efficient, but not when they might deter students from using their minds, thinking through a problem, or reading texts carefully.
Teaching is very complex, much more complex than it is made out to be in the press, in government initiatives, and even in State Departments of Educational directives. Good teaching is a moving target – goals, children, cultures, teachers, and conditions vary from state to state, school to school, and even classroom to classroom.
These fourteen ways of thinking about teaching suggest both the complexity of good teaching and the potential common core components that measure good teaching and help teachers improve on what they do. Learning about students, creating a positive learning environment, focusing on both academic and social-emotional goals, building curiosity by focusing on questions, focusing on less content and deeper learning, figuring out ways to engage and involve students, planning both long and short term goals – all of these and more are important elements of an effective teaching-learning process. I hope that an exploration of these components will help teachers and school leaders understand what they must do to improve schools and suggest a way to build a framework for evaluating teaching and improving teaching and learning in the classroom.
An Exercise to Share and Learn from These Fourteen Ways of Thinking
Now that you have read and learned about the fourteen ways of thinking, here is an exercise you can do to help you examine these in greater detail and apply them to your own teaching situation.
Here are the fourteen ways of thinking listed without commentary:
1. Get to know your students, especially how they learn and think.
2. Plan goals for both the long-term and the short term.
3. Include social-emotional learning goals as well as academic goals.
4. Translate learning goals into meaningful, interesting questions and challenges.
5. Teach reading (and other forms of literacy) as inquiry, exploration, and research.
6. Frequently use writing as a key instructional tool.
7. Develop “deeper learning”.
8. Involve and engage ALL students in learning.
9. Bring the outside world into the school and classroom, and the school and classroom into the outside world, and help students apply learning.
10. Know when to maintain a strong structure for students and when to “let go”.
11. Help students to improve, make progress and get better.
12. Check for understanding - often.
13. Create strong culminating experiences and assessments.
14. Appropriately use technology as a learning tool.
Some questions to consider:
This year ISTE put on what appeared to me to be the biggest education extravaganza to date. The number of participants was said to be somewhere between 20 and 22 thousand educators. I never verified that number but based on the food lines it seemed likely to be true.
Of course there was apparently a huge number of connected educators in attendance. I say apparently, because in reality I don’t believe it was so many. Many connected educators volunteer to do sessions. Many are also bloggers. A natural gathering place for them to gather, interact, and network is at the Bloggers Café, or the PLN Lounge. Twitter has added a whole new dimension to these education conferences where educators connected to other educators through various Social Media can meet up face to face. This enables real-time collaboration with people who have had a virtual relationship with each other for a while. Even if there were a thousand connected educators meeting at the Bloggers Café all at once (and there weren’t), It would seem to those gathered that the entire conference was connected. Of course this ignores the 21,000 other educators who were not connected.
I guess my take away for this is that being connected networks you with more people to have a good time with, as well as extend collaboration, but a majority of educators have yet to discover this. One would think that would be a lure for more educators to connect, but of course the only people who recognize these benefits are those who are connected. I imagine most of the people reading this blog are connected as well, so I am probably and again spinning my wheels on this subject.
I found this year’s conference to be a bit overwhelming. To me it seemed that many of the events and some sessions were trying very hard to create an atmosphere that was experienced with smaller numbers from previous conferences. That intimacy however, was lost with the numbers of participants this year. There were some invitation only sessions, as well as paid sessions with smaller numbers that I did find more enjoyable, but again, I attend many conferences and do not view them through the eyes of a new attendee. I might be too critical here.
I loved the fact that connected educators were actively backchanneling sessions and events. Tweets were flying over the Twitterstream as the #ISTE2014 hashtag trended on Twitter. Photos were much more prevalent in tweets than in past years, because that process has been simplified. That picture process has both good and bad aspects attached to it. It is great to see the session engagement. The pictures from some of the social gatherings however, may paint a slightly distorted view of conferencing by educators. It may give an impression that the social events outweighed the collaboration and interaction. The social events were fun, but it was as much a part of networking as any of the conference.
The vendor floor was beyond huge this year. It was quite the carnival atmosphere at times. If anyone would benefit from collaboration at these conferences it would be the vendors. There is a great deal of redundancy in education products. I wish more vendors would take a pass on the bells and whistles of their product and talk more about pedagogy and how their products fit in, as well as how they don’t. That requires an educator’s perspective, and not every product designer seeks that out. Those that do seek that perspective however seem to attract me more than the others.
One vendor had a closed booth with dollar bills being blown around inside. People lined up for a chance to step inside to beat the airflow for the dollars. The attraction was obviously the lure to get folks in, but who paid attention to the product? There were some products that I will address in a subsequent post, which I rarely do. These products were exceptional and should be recognized.
As ISTE came to a close this year, my reflection was that bigger is not always better. I was also mystified by the choices in keynotes. If one was to judge by the tweets about the keynotes, one was somewhat of a miss, one was on the mark, and one left many wondering why it was a keynote at all. I must admit that I did not view the keynotes in the lecture hall, but on screens in the gathering places in the conference. I enjoy the keynotes better when I can openly comment and yell at the screen if I have to. It would seem that I was not alone in these endeavors.
It should be noted that ISTE this year did have people’s Twitter handles on their nametags, an innovation. Of course mine was messed up, but who am I to complain? Now I wish they would take another suggestion and do an unconference, or Edcamp segment in the middle of the conference. This would allow educators to further explore those subjects that they learned about in earlier more conventional sessions. It would also break up the “sit and get” mentality of a conference. It would take as little as an hours worth of sessions.
For as much as we hear that we need and want innovation in education, I would expect to see it first in Education conferences. They are hyped to be conferences led by the innovators in education, but there is little that changes in conferences from year to year. We are still sitting through lectures and presentations with limited audience engagement. We are not yet directing our learning, but attending sessions devised and approved a year in advance. I realize that change is hard and takes time, but our society is demanding that we as educators do it more readily and now. We need to change in order stay relevant. How does an irrelevant education system prepare kids for their future?
Caring connects kids to their school, their teachers, their learning, their families, their communities, to one another and to themselves. Therefore, creating and maintaining a culture of caring in our schools and communities is paramount to effecting real change.
As with any impactful change, creating a culture of caring requires a delicate combination of programs, processes and people. It is simply not good enough to create or purchase a program and implement it. Over the years, packaged programs have proliferated while bullying and mental illness have increased. Schools have developed processes to create safer environments, yet more students are being hurt physically, socially and emotionally. Little attention has been paid to empowering the people in our schools and communities to make a difference.
As principal of a large, inner city school we implemented a very effective balance of programs, processes and empowerment of people that resulted in a very effective school culture in which our students thrived. Bullying was almost non-existent, kids who needed help got it and test scores went up. All of this occurred in a budget model which allowed us to spend funds where needed. We were empowered.
In order to move you to action, here is a selection of our most effective strategies that allowed us to create an award-winning school in which everyone was proud to work and to learn.
1. Student Empowerment
1. Early Intervention Program- Intermediate students self-selected to be part of a weekly mental health support group that addressed at-risk behaviors and was run in partnership with a local mental health hospital.
2. Yoga – Students self-selected to be part of a weekly lunchtime yoga group. One at-risk girl commented that it saved her life.
3. Mental Karate – The entire school was involved in Mental Karate, a program that took them through setting goals and taking action in the areas of Initiative, Discipline, Contribution, Courage and Awareness.
4. United Mentors for Peace - Intermediate students planned activities to create a peaceful school, reaching out to the community and beyond. They created annual peace assemblies, managed charitable fundraising activities, and took responsibility for supporting a safe and caring culture in the school.
5. Peacekeepers – Junior students were trained in conflict resolution strategies and helped resolve disputes in the Primary and Junior yards.
6. Fun Bunch – Junior students were trained to teach and supervise schoolyard games for Primary students.
7. Social Skills group – Identified students were directly taught social/ emotional skills in partnership with a local community center support program.
8. Leadership development – Students of all ages were engaged as lunch monitors, peer tutors, teacher helpers, reading buddies, coaches and referees. They were also engaged in a multitude of service learning projects.
9. Option Program – Intermediate students had one period a week in which they could choose an activity of interest from such things as cooking, chess, hip-hop dance, drama, visual arts, guitar, board games etc.
2. Teacher Empowerment
1.SSafe and caring teaching and leading– All classrooms were safe and caring, free of ridicule, harassment and sarcasm. Teachers understood the importance of creating an atmosphere in which the brain is at the optimal level of arousal.
2. Bi-weekly professional development staff meetings – Staff were trained to differentiate teaching strategies through honoring multiple intelligences, learning styles and current brain research.
3. Shared leadership – Division leaders were empowered to implement programs and process to support their students academically, socially and emotionally.
3. Parent Empowerment
1. Parent Council was guided to develop a Mission and Goals that supported the school’s Mission.
2. Parental responsibility was embedded in the school’s Mission Statement, “To maximize student learning through students, staff, parents and community working together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and shared responsibility.”
3. Parent education workshops were provided.
In addition to the previous empowerment examples we maximized the adult:child ratio of support; ensured that each student had a significant connection with a teacher; focused on connections and relationships; worked within a shared, vision, values and beliefs; maintained stability on our staff and leadership team; became a recognized leader as a Professional Learning Community and ensured that being at our school was fun and rewarding.
I hope this provides you with some useful ideas to move forward in creating a safe and caring culture in your classrooms and in your schools.
Despite his relative anonymity, James Pillans dramatically changed teaching and learning. Pillans, you see, invented the blackboard and colored chalk in 1801.
More than 210 years later, teachers continue to use Pillans' tools. Sure, most have gravitated away from chalk and slate to Interactive Whiteboards and tablet computers, but Pillans' centuries-old invention is holding steady in classes worldwide.
What made Pillans' idea so revolutionary was that it solved a huge problem in a remarkably simple way. Nineteenth century teachers needed a way to share information with students visually (some actually wrote on kids' hands), and the blackboard gave birth to a new visual world for students.
If James Pillans could impact education for hundreds of years with a blackboard, isn't it possible that another ridiculously simple idea can revolutionize education for the next two centuries? Following the Pillans model for change in the classroom, modern education needs a simple solution to a gigantic problem. How about assessment?
For as long as education has existed, teachers have assessed students by placing numbers, percentages and letters on their work. This system has been the norm for so long that it isn't often questioned, but it continues to leave gaping holes in achievement and independent learning. Ask students what they've learned, or tell them to assess themselves, and most will respond with blank stares.
If students can't assess their own learning and understand what they have or have not mastered, this is a powerful problem that must be fixed. The good news is this monumental issue can be rectified with James-Pillans-type simplicity.
Assessment 3.0 is today's blackboard, and it can revolutionize teaching and learning. Best of all, it doesn't require any inventions or manufacturing costs. Assessment 3.0 involves replacing traditional grades with conversation, self-evaluation and narrative feedback using SE2R or a similar model.
SE2R is James Pillans simple
Image from Role Reversal (ASCD, 2013)
After many years of using traditional grading practices, I realized that my students needed more. "A" students were just good at manipulating an outdated system, and "F" students didn't try, because they were convinced they couldn't learn. What if we just talk about learning, I wondered. So, I threw out numbers, percentages and letters and stopped grading anything and everything my students ever did. Instead, I provided SE2R feedback:
This is SE2R. It's simple and can be used with any age in any class and delivered in a variety of ways, including through digital tools and social media. Best of all, SE2R creates conversation about learning.
It's time for a revolution
James Pillans' blackboard and chalk changed how teachers shared information. Isn't it time for us to change how we assess what students learn? Numbers and letters are ineffective. Assessment 3.0, featuring SE2R narrative feedback, stimulates the kind of conversation that inspires independent learning and promotes better understanding of achievement.
Best of all, it's ridiculously simple.
Cross posted at Brilliant or Insane
For many years New Milford High School was just like virtually every other public school in this country defined solely by traditional indicators of success such as standardized test scores, graduation rates, and acceptances to four year colleges. These indicators have become so embedded in the minds of those judging our schools and work that we, like everyone else, worked hard to focus only on initiatives that would hopefully produce favorable outcomes in those areas. If we were doing well we continued down the same path allowing the status quo to reign supreme. The mentality of if it isn't broke than why fix it resonated so profoundly with us that we would not have even considered changing our ways. If results were not what our stakeholders wanted this would then trigger meetings leading to the development of action plans to get us back on course.
For so long schools have resembled a hamster running on a wheel doing the same things over and over to improve sets of numbers. We were no different and had succumbed to a fixed mindset. Every excuse in the book was at our disposal not to change and continue down the same path year after year. Heck, our education system has become so good at maintaining the status quo and enforcing compliance throughout that we and many others have been brainwashed into thinking any other course of action would be foolish. If education is good for one thing it is making excuses not to move forward. There is still an innate desire to sustain a school structure and function that has remained relatively unchanged for well over a hundred years. This is a problem. It was a huge problem for us. We were in a rut and didn't even know it. Luckily change came in the form of a little blue bird that gave me the kick in the butt that I desperately needed back in 2009. Being blessed with an amazing staff, student body, administrative team, and community provided the necessary support needed to move us forward.
As another school year comes to a close I can't but help reflect on the many successful initiatives that have been implemented this past year. It is even more gratifying to see numerous other initiatives that were implemented over the past couple of years flourish. Moving from a fixed to a growth mindset and feeding of the daily inspiration that connected learning provides gave me with the fuel to create a shared vision that eventually became a reality as a result of action. For change to be successful it must be sustained. As leaders we must not only be willing to see the process through, but we must also create conditions that promote a change mentality. It really is about moving from a fixed to a growth mindset, something that many educators and schools are either unwilling or afraid to do. The essential elements that work as catalysts for the change process include the following:
What I have learned is that if someone understands why change is needed and the elements above become an embedded component of school culture he/she or the system ultimately experience the value for themselves. The change process then gets a boost from an intrinsic motivational force that not only jump starts the initiative, but allows for the embracement of change as opposed to looking for buy-in. We should never have to "sell" people on better ways to do our noble work nor rely on mandates and directives. These traditional pathways used to drive change typically result in resentment, undermining, and failure.
This gets me back to the main point of my post and that is reflecting on the many changes that have been implemented and sustained at NMHS. Even in the face of adversity in the form of education reform mandates, Common Core alignment, impending PARCC exams, new educator evaluation systems, loss of funding, and an aging infrastructure we have not only persevered, but proven that positive change can happen with the right mindset. If we can overcome these challenges and experience success others can as well. Throughout the past couple of years we have also seen improvements in the "traditional" indicators of success by mainly focusing on creating a school that works better for our students as opposed to one that has always worked well for us. Here is a short list of some of the changes that have been implemented and sustained:
· Social media use as a communications, public relations, branding, professional growth, and student learning tool implemented in 2009. So many of my teachers are making the choice to integrate social media as a learning tool that I just can't list all of the examples:
I need to stop here, but I think you get the point. We have transformed the teaching and learning culture at NMHS that begins and ends with a growth mindset. The time for excuses, talk, opinions, and fear needs to end if our goal is really about improving teaching, learning, and leadership outcomes. Leadership is about action, not position or ideas that just get pushed around. We continue to push ourselves to create a better school. So what's stopping you?
Did you know this? I had no clue until I went to the Education Innovation Summit in Scottsdale last month. Watch the interview I participated in to hear my take on the future of EdTech and what it means for the education industry.
Here’s a partial script from the vlog interview:
Anjilla Young: Hello, I’m with Suzanne Klein who recently returned from the Education Innovation Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona. She’s going to share what she learned from the conference and how the EdTech industry is booming. Suzanne, what was one thing that stands out that you learned from the conference?
Suzanne Klein: That education is a 7 trillion dollar industry. I knew it was huge, but not that huge! There is so much potential to tap into this. EdTech companies are in a great position right now to not only make a difference in education, but to also get their products on the market and help in a meaningful way.
One thing I find surprising is the fact that people who are not in the education sphere are getting involved in the EdTech landscape. For example, Ashton Kutcher has taken an interest in the funding of EdTech space. He teamed up with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and others to invest $4 million to Panorama Education, a Cambridge firm that seeks to help K-12 schools improve through data analysis. He has also invested in an EdTech company called Clever, which aims to solve the problem of moving student data into any of the applications bubbling out of the high-tech community and how to ensure that the data is accurate and current.
Anjilla Young: You mentioned that education is a 7 trillion dollar industry, but what exactly does that mean?
Suzanne Klein: To put it on a scale, it means it’s 7 times larger than the global mobile industry. That is huge! One thing that we need to be aware of is the change in the industry and how going digital is key for companies in the education field. The future of education is shifting towards digital. Any company that doesn’t follow this will be left in the dark.
It’s a chance to really reflect on our practices and how we are best meeting the needs of schools and ultimately to affect schools in a positive way. To our viewers out there, to learn more about what we’re doing go to our website at http://WriteStepsWriting.com. Thanks for listening and watching!
About a year ago Adam Bellow and I were discussing the possibility and the benefits of doing an Edcamp at the site of the United States Department of Education. Adam had just met with some members of the Department and I was in touch with many of them from the connected educator month committee on which I was serving. Our thought was to have an Edcamp take place in the Department of Ed and have all of the policy makers attend sessions with real, in-the-classroom educators to see, and feel their concerns as educators in regard to what is important in the classroom. We were thinking in terms of #Edcampwhitehouse.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the Edcamp model of professional development, a brief explanation may be in order. The Edcamp model is a grassroots movement for professional development. Educators assemble at a location with no set agenda for PD sessions. The day starts early with a provided breakfast while everyone collaborates. There is usually a large board with session times and room assignments for each session, but there are no session descriptions. That is what the breakfast collaboration is for. As educators’ discussions emerge and develop there are usually two types of participants, those who know about a subject, and those who want to know about a subject. Either type may put up that subject in a session slot. Both the experts and the novices then will have an opportunity to discuss the topic. Edcamps are more about discussion than presentations. The discussions involve classroom experiences both successful and unsuccessful. Each session provides a safe discussion for educators to explore their understanding of any education topic.
Both Adam and I thought that this is what the policy makers within the Department of Education need to hear. This is a great way to put educators into the national discussion of education, that so many educators feel has been hijacked by business people and politicians. So, with the help of some key members of the Department of Education, we got the go ahead. The DOE was willing to provide a space and coordination, but the bulk of the organization and planning were to be up to the educators to complete. To me, that meant The Edcamp Foundation under the leadership of Kristen Swanson. The Edcamp Foundation is a volunteer group that helps organize and support Edcamps around the world. This US DOE Edcamp was a perfect opportunity for their leadership. They took on the project without hesitation.
Since the space at the DOE would have a limited capacity, the attendees needed to be limited as a result. The invitations to all went out on social media to enlist interested educators to enter a lottery for the Edcamp attendance. There was a huge response considering it is on June 6, a weekday. The DOE is closed on weekends. Edcamps are usually a Saturday event. The lottery was held and invitations to attend went out. Many educators at their own expense will be making the pilgrimage.
The Edcamp will take place this Friday. I truly hope that the people or surroundings that educators will encounter at this event will not intimidate them in any way.
We are hopeful that most of the participants will be tweeting out their experience. This entire project came as a result of social media and connected educators. It will be that connectedness that gets the experience and feelings of the event participants out to all educators. I look forward to thousands of tweets and many blog posts coming from this event on Friday. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a statement with what educators do, and who educators are to possibly affect change. It is doubtful the President will show up, but at the very least Arne Duncan, The Secretary of Education, should have some level of engagement.
I often say: To better educate our students, we must first better educate their educators. Friday I will say to better affect change in education, we need first to better affect change in our policy makers.
Our morning staff meeting came to a halt as a staff member shared that she visited Facebook on her phone and saw a memorial post on our counselor's Facebook wall. While our principal brought the meeting to a close, our office manager and I went to the office where I called the family. I made it about halfway through the conversation with family before starting to tear up. The family confirmed that our elementary counselor lost her multi-year battle with cancer that morning. Within an hour, the district had a counselor on campus who coordinated a crisis team that spent all week on campus supporting students and staff.
Below are some lessons I've learned so far about leading through grief.
Public displays of compassion. This goes for both staff and students.
-The crisis team taught me that, if people are interested, a staff tribute can be helpful in the grieving process. Our staff decided to invite the whole school to wear pink in honor of our counselor who passed away from cancer. Coincidentally, our monthly potluck was on the same day we wore pink. Beautiful stories of celebration and hope filled the staff room as everyone ate together and honored our counselor in pink.
-The Giving Tree was one of our counselor's favorite books so one classroom decided to create a giving tree where all students in the school could share what was on their heart.
Everyone brings their own experiences and feelings. It's important to acknowledge this as we all grieve in different ways.
-A student had his head down when I went into the lunchroom and I saw he was crying. As I walked the student to our library, where additional counselors were housed, the student shared his mom passed away from cancer two years ago. There are many stories like this, where students or staff experienced loss. These emotions can be stirred up in times of crisis, and it's important we provide avenues for sharing and support.
-Personally, the day before our counselor passed away, I found out a close relative was diagnosed with the same kind of cancer our counselor had. To take care of myself, I've taken longer walks with my dog and savored more time with family.
Find joy each day.
-I was on the playground as students exited from recess the other day. A classroom job is often "door holder". I noticed a kindergarten student going above and beyond his traditional door holder job to console his classmates. "Hug?" he asked each of his peers as they entered from recess. Most kids took him up on the offer. It's moments like this that provide me with joy each day.
My prioritization of tasks inside/outside of school is still shifting as the needs of our learning community fluctuate. I continue learning each day, and I use this learning to adjust my approach as I lead through grief.
Recently, the editors of Edutopia were considering a theme for their bloggers to blog about concerning testing. In order to keep things timely, they needed to find out when most schools were being affected by standardized tests. It was a reasonable consideration, worthy of a responsible examination of the subject. It was the question posed to the bloggers however, that set me off about our evolved approach to these standardized tests. When is your Testing Season?
Every standardized test has a date or two or three that it is to be administered, but the question was not what are the dates of the standardized tests in your school. The idea that any school would have a “testing season” is enough to drive an advocate for authentic learning to skip taking his scheduled life-saving medications in order to stay on task completing a post about this culture of testing that we have allowed to develop. Every state has its own schedule for tests and a list of grades to take them. New York was at one time considering testing from Pre-K to 2nd grade as well all as the other grades. How does anyone get behind testing toddlers? Testing as it stands now begins in New York at 3rd grade. Here is a site that outlines what each state requires for their Standardized testing. Standardized Testing State By State, Standardized Tests Are Here to Stay
The thing that has really gotten me bothered is this culture change in education. It is no longer about the learning, but rather it is all about the testing. We no longer view the test as an assessment tool of learning to adjust lessons to meet the needs of each student. It has become a means to manipulate data to affect factors beyond that of just student learning. Standardized tests are certainly not the best form of student learning assessment. That seems not to matter however since for whatever the reason, we have had to expand and elevate testing day, or days to The Testing Season.
I remember a conference that I attended a few years ago where a New York City teacher was complaining that his elementary school dedicated an entire month to nothing being taught except for test preparation. The principal of that school monitored the classes to make sure that this strategy was adhered to by one and all. The most recent change in the testing culture is the need to accommodate the tests with all available technology. Some standardized tests are to now being administered via computers. Many schools provide Internet access to their students and teachers solely through computer labs. The tests however, take precedence over learning during “Testing Season” requiring limiting or even shutting down access to these labs in order to prepare for, and administer these computer delivered standardized tests.
I guess each season brings us feelings associated with it. From the season of summer we may feel invigorated with warmth and recreation associated with it. The season of winter brings on good feelings of sharing holidays, and hot-chocolate comfort. From the season of Testing we get stress and anxiety for kids and adults. I guess the season of Testing is not the season about which many poems are written.
Of course teachers will tell you that they are comfortable in setting their students at ease about the tests during “Testing Season”. I often told my students that I had every confidence that they would do very well on any standardized test that they took because their education prepared them for it. That of course was to reduce their stress and build their confidence, but I am glad I did not have a wooden nose. It would have been a dead giveaway.
Today’s teachers are very stress bound when it comes to these tests. The tests have become less of an assessment of student learning and more of a club or Thor’s hammer for teacher evaluation. Of course teachers are stressed and that is generated to the students for the duration of the “Testing Season”, whether or not the teacher intends for that to happen.
If teachers could select students for their classes, crafty teachers would always opt for classes with the slower students. Those are the classes that can show the most advancement in “testing season”, making the teacher a shining star. A great teacher with an outstanding class is cursed and possibly deemed inadequate because kids performing at the very top of the scale will show little improvement. Of course, according to the assessments, it must be the teacher’s fault that kids in the 95th percentile did not move at least five points higher. How can there not be stress and anxiety in the “testing season”?
We may need to research any drop in attendance at schools with stress related illnesses during “testing season”. We do flu shots in the winter season, so maybe we need stress reliever shots in the “testing season”.
Of course pushing testing into a season has had a great affect on the testing industry and all of its requirements. We need to prepare for “testing season”. We need to test in “testing season”, and we need to develop tools and curriculum for “testing season”. The result of all of this is a billion dollar a year industry and we have yet to develop the “testing season” greeting cards.
Maybe we should take a step back and assess our assessments. We do not need this testing season. Tests have grown beyond what they were intended for. They were intended for the teacher to gauge student learning in order to adjust lessons to better meet the needs of students. Tests were never designed to become the goal of education at the expense of actual learning.
This is the part of the post where I should be proposing a thoughtful alternative as a positive spin for this unpopular aspect which has been pushed into American education. Unfortunately, I have no recommendations. I have no ideas that can replace a billion dollar a year idea. Portfolios, individual conferences, and authentic learning projects would all be improvements over standardized testing for student assessment, but they do not provide easily calculated data.
We as a society have allowed business and politicians to corrupt an assessment tool in order to use it as a money-making device for a select few companies. Education needs to be more transparent, but certainly the best people to administer education should be the educators and not business people or politicians. We need to realign education’s goals on learning and not testing. We do not need a season of testing, but a life of learning.
What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #19)
“Dreaming or Awake – Is There A Difference?”
Early in my life, my mom encouraged me to dream. I am not sure if she was teaching me to escape the present or plan for the future or both. Recently, I have been dreaming a lot about life personally and professionally. My dreams have not been limited to the moments of sleep. I have often found myself “day dreaming”. As I have reflected on why I dream, what I am dreaming of and should I share my dreams, I have been left numb by the question, “what if”? As my body lay motionless last night, I found myself questioning was I awake or asleep? Then, I felt a strange sense of peace – did it really matter?
I have learned that dreams can prepare us for the awaken life. It is one thing to dream, it is another to understand the nature of the dream. Without examining the nature of our dreams, they are merely moments in between two breathes. As leaders we have dreams and we try to operationalize those dreams through vision and mission statements, action/improvement plans and our daily work. In education, we often use terms like equity, access and achievement gaps as ways to add context to our dreams. I am not sure we pause often enough to question the nature of the dreams and our actions.
I have a dream that one day our schools will rise up and lead our great nation. Lead you ask, yes lead! For if it is not us, then who shall? Although we the educators know that we are not all created equal, we know it is our job to create equitable opportunities for all our children. This is the true intent of our great nation, access to the dream, the American Dream. I have a dream that my two little boys, my daughter and every child that I serve will one day attend schools where they will not be judged by the AYP cell they are assigned to but by the content of their character and their ability to create their own new knowledge.
I dream that one day educators will open the doors of gifted and talented, honors and other college preparatory curriculum; one day in each of our towns, all students will be able to engage in the richness of Advance Placement and International Baccalaureate; one day in every school house, students will have one adult that believes that they deserve to and can achieve at the highest levels. I dream that we will not place barriers in front of our students and pretend that we are trying to protect them from failing before they have tried.
I dream that one day every hidden curriculum will be revealed, every lesson will be scaffolded, teachers will work collaboratively to provide portals to language, instructional strategies will the topic of conversation around the staff room table and the glory of new knowledge shall be revealed and all students will create it for themselves.
I dream that others will recognize that this is our chance. I dream that others will share the same conviction. I dream that we will all go back to our schools this year and every year until our dreams are our reality. With this conviction we will be able open the locked doors of promise for all students and be able to transform the clattering dissension of our profession into a picturesque web of support for our students. Then we will be able to collaborate together, to learn together, to struggle together, to walk the steps of the capital together, to stand up for access together, knowing that we will all be free one day.
As we wrap up one school year and begin to plan for another, I hope we relentlessly dream and ask ourselves, “what if”. More importantly, what if we the adults relentlessly asked our students to dream, plan and act? What if our students felt safe enough to share their dreams? What if we defined our work by ability to teach students how to learn and facilitated their dreams? What if we shared our dreams with our staff and students? What if…
Finally from, Stella Stuart “Dream - Everyday”
Behind me infinite power
Before me is endless possibility.
Around me is boundless opportunity.
Why should I fear?
There are days when I feel like I am not making any progress. I was having one of these days when I reached out to a good friend and she encouraged me to carry on despite my slump. So, I have decided to continue blogging on the issue that is of utmost importance to me, even before I hone my writing skills to a level acceptable to myself (and the general public) .
I believe that the issue of importance is one of civil rights. Specifically, the rights of all individuals with disabilities, their parents, their friends, the people who support them and their communities. We can look back over the last 100 years and pat ourselves on the back for the progress we have made, but we need to be cognoscente that these are short term wins (Kotter, 1996) and we have a long road ahead.
I tend to focus on the wrongs that are being committed against individuals with disabilities and I am comfortable with the words discrimination, abuse, failure to educate and neglect when we consider many aspects of the care and education of this diverse, heterogeneous population that we identify as disabled, handicapped, presenting with special needs or other labels deemed fitting. However, talking and thinking about the civil right's issues that surround these individuals makes people feel uncomfortable. If we are to be exposed to their realities, it seems we only have the stomach for uplifting stories, usually stories of how a “typically developing” person did something great for someone with a disability. The alternative, an event we find seriously surprising; a person with a disability does something “typical”.
I started a Facebook page for my pending nonprofit Augment Oregon and immediately began to recognize a pattern. When I posted a rant, no one responded by checking the coveted LIKE button. When I posted a quote or link with a picture, a happy smiley picture of a child with or without a disability, I got significantly more “LIKEs” than without. I get that exposing ourselves to the unfortunate realties for others can make us feel sad, this due to the amazing ability we humans have, empathy. And, experiencing empathy when it isn’t a pleasant feeling is something we can tolerate for only so long, in small doses if you will.
I have been fortunate to know many individuals who work with individuals with disabilities and they are so positive and hopeful about the future and the potential impact of their work. I observe them carefully, quite honestly wanting to experience their rosy outlook for myself. But, I have to be true to my own experiences and the need I feel to present my observations despite the fact that they are not always the happy story we want to hear. There is room for both perspectives, the one that celebrates the wonderful events that are occurring and are improving the lives of individuals with disabilities, but also the events that are or are not happening that contribute to a population that has not yet, in my opinion, seen their rights fully realized.
I have a professor who, on more than one occasion said, you are experiencing “culture” when you experience something shocking and no one else around you even bats an eye. More often than not, this has been my experience as an educator in the k-12 public school system and as a member of American society as a whole. I was appalled when Diane Sawyer (whom I respect) said of the Pope, “…he even kissed a disabled man.” Was everyone else watching the news that night appalled as well? Did they even notice? Or worse, did they think kissing a man with a disability was something to revel at? Do we still believe that disability is contagious?
As my husband and I watched a Toast to 2013 on T.V. New Year’s Eve, we watched a story of how a high school basketball coach allowed a teenager with disabilities to play the last few seconds of a basketball game. He shot a basket and scored for his team in the final moments before the game buzzer rang. I want to understand this; he got to play a few minutes of an entire season? That’s it? All the nondisabled people, for lack of a better term, gave up a few minutes and are heroes on the nightly news? I saw the look of pure joy on the student’s face, it was a valuable experience for him, but am I the only one that thinks we can do better? Way better?
I am raising a daughter with special needs. I can create a world that that tells her she was born perfect, just the way she was meant to be. I can include her in every aspect of our lives, I can have high standards for her and I can provide experiences as well as accommodation and tools to help her access those experiences when needed. But, I have to let her walk out our door. To date I have completely failed to get many influential people in her life to support my vision for her. Why? Because we live in a culture that has yet to respect the value of every individual. People with disabilities are victims of abelism (Hehir, 2005), a phenomenon that is often subtle and hard to capture in the moment, but it is there, a duplicitous form of discrimination imposed on those with disabilities by able bodied or “typical” persons, often resulting in unnecessary barriers laid in their paths.
My hope in blogging about the civil rights of individual with disabilities and the realities of abelism is to change what we see when we encounter people with disabilities. We can challenge our preconceived notions, we can base our beliefs on education and research and the inherent value of every person, but have to be willing to see, first.
Hehir, T. (2005). New Directions in Special Education: Eliminating Abelism in Policy and Practice. Campbridge, MA: Harvard Educational Publishing Group.
Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Harvard Business Press.
As I was picking up my Hawaiian shirts from my local dry cleaners last week, I was approached by a former student of 30 years ago, who managed to recognize me all these years and extra pounds later. He mentioned a few of the memories that he had of our student/teacher time together and then offered his view of education today. It was soon apparent that he felt that at least half of the entire student population in America was graduating school with a total inability to read anything. He stated and restated his very firm belief several times during our brief conversation. It was apparent to me that changing his mind would not take place at that moment in that parking lot, so I headed off with a simple disagreement, but not really challenging his view of education.
This encounter caused me to start thinking about other perspectives people might have on education today. I travel extensively in education circles and engage people in conversation about education on a regular basis. I am starting to believe that when it comes to what people believe, or don’t believe about education has little to do with facts. It seems to be more about who has the ear of the public in order to say things loud enough and often enough regardless of facts. Sound bites seem to be framing the education discussion in terms of taxpayer perceptions. Politicians and Tax Reformers seem to be the loudest and most persistent voices in the discussion.
I then attended the Education Industry Summit held by the Software and Information Industry Association (www.siia.net/education). It is the premiere conference for leaders in the education technology industry. This organization sponsors, encourages, and mentors companies that are education technology innovators. It is by all means an excellent organization.
My personal takeaway from this conference however, was a glimpse of how the perspective on education is viewed by the people in this industry. They are constantly surrounded by tech, so they view all education in terms of technology. They are rich with facts to support their beliefs. They talk about the impact their products will have on a technology-rich environment in education. They have charts and diagrams in PowerPoint presentations, as well as professionally produced videos to support their product’s entry and impact into the world of education.
What vexed me about this perspective was that I did not recognize the education system that they described in a majority of their presentations.
There are many schools with a culture that supports technology and innovation, but I question whether it is a majority of schools. Technology in education has been introduced in bits and pieces as it developed. Few schools had systematic plans for integration. Many were required to have what were called five-year plans, but five years in technology is a lifetime. Dog years don’t even come close. Many schools are playing catch up in this age of technology. Integrating new tech-driven methodology into a system steeped in 19th and 20th century methodology is not going to be accomplished overnight, or in some cases over a decade. We have many schools trying to teach their kids for the future while relying on methods and technologies of the past. Too many schools do not have the mindset or culture to support systematic conversions to the latest and greatest innovations of technology. These points are not being made in power point presentations, or professional videos of the industry people. They discuss the impact of their technology on students, but ignore the impact on teachers.
One would think that educators would have the best perspective on a view of education and many do. Their view however is determined by their teaching experience. There is a vast difference in perspective when talking to an urban teacher as opposed to a suburban teacher. Rural teachers have a completely different view. There is a big difference between schools of poverty and schools of affluence. How can we ever address the solutions to the problems in a standardized way when the problems are so diverse? How can we have a national discussion on education when the problems for the most part exist on a local level? How do we listen to politicians, profiteers, tax reformers, education reformers parents, students, teachers, administrators, and concerned citizens while each has a different motivation and view of education? Should each of their views carry the same weight? Will it ever be possible to find common ground between the likes of Diane Ravitch and the likes of Michelle Rhee?
Before we decide on the changes maybe we should reconsider the needs. Before we went to standardized testing, maybe we should have determined some basic standardized professional development. Maybe in reflecting on how we approach teaching on a national level, we could be less concerned with what we teach. The emphasis might go from what kids learn to how kids learn. If the national focus was on creating learners instead of test takers, we might make a more effective difference. If our educators rededicated themselves to learning as models and mentors, we might see significant change in a system long in need of updating. It would take a commitment to professional development. It would seem more likely to affect a significant change in our students, if we could first affect a needed change in their educators. Committing to educating educators to the needed changes in methodology and pedagogy as a priority in modern education.
The next time my Hawaiian shirts need to be picked up from the dry cleaners, I should ask my wife if she would please help me out and pick them up.
In Part I I argued that we can’t actually measure learning, the best we can do is infer learning from behaviour demonstrated over time. I pointed out that most of the measurement approaches I have seen used by teachers and schools are poor quality or are based on anecdotal observation that does not allow students to be CLEAR about what is being measured and thus not be responsible for their learning (they become passive rather than active learners).
If we are to develop students to be active learners then our systems and processes should be designed to encourage and empower a learner centred or learner driven approach. As pointed out at personalizelearning.com learning looks different at different stages from teacher centred to learner centred to learner driven. Active learners take responsibility for their own learners and are able to become highly skilled in what is now known as 21st century skills.
In this newsletter / blog I want to focus on using rubrics as one tool to assist in formative assessment and developing learner centred learning.
If we are to move students to a learner centred mindset then a rubric becomes a formative tool first and foremost (and can be used as a summative tool by the teacher). The purpose of the rubric is to distinguish a skill / concept or product so that it becomes distinct for the learner.
Distinct (adj): “recognizably different in nature from something else of a similar type”
So what makes something recognizably different from something else?
You need to be able to articulate what it looks like as well what it is NOT like.
Human beings do this all the time unconsciously as we grow up. It is part of how we come to understand language. This is a chair. This is not a chair but a couch. This is the colour blue. This is not the colour blue – we call that red.
What something looks like or NOT like also grows in depth as you develop your capacity and gain mastery to make something distinct. This colour is not blue but sky blue, or aqua or royal blue. This is foot stool that can be used as a chair.
Finally, to be able to make something distinct for someone you need to be able to communicate the nature of the distinction in language they would understand and is appropriate to their level of knowledge and understanding. You wouldn’t start talking about colours as master artists would to children with little or no background knowledge of colour. So the language one would use is always appropriate to the people you are communicating with.
What this means in designing rubrics and formative assessment
Given the above discussion let’s make formative rubrics and formative assessment distinct.
1. A strong formative rubric progressively unpacks and makes distinct what the skill, concept or product looks like to the learner
I have found that teachers know anecdotally and from personal experience of interacting with learners what the different levels of a skill, concept or product look like – it is in many respects how they come up with a marking schema. In the rubric on questioning below I worked with teachers from Foundation through to year 3 to come up with a rubric that would capture – as concretely as possible – what they identify as the progressive stages of development in their learners ability to ask questions. This rubric is by no means complete but you can quickly see that the statements are all concrete aspects that one can hear or see happening as learning is occurring.
Aspects of Questioning
Question or not
Open or Closed
Fat or Thin
Ability to respond to questions
Can make comments with teacher prompting
Is able to form a question but sometimes may not be relevant
Makes relevant comments with teacher prompting
Asks relevant questions
Uses questions to get more information
Makes relevant comments and concrete suggestions
Asks open-ended questions
Uses prior knowledge in asking a new question
Uses vocabulary of topic
Uses questions to clarify understanding
Asks fat questions
Asks questions that expand the conversation
2. A rubric by itself is insufficient – it must be supported by discussions and examples which model the different levels
A strong rubric is supported by examples which model the different levels and continue to make the skill, concept or product distinction. In the above rubric a teacher would need to define what an open (and closed) question is, what makes a comment or question relevant, what is a fat or thin question, how to ask questions that clarify understanding, etc. If the learners are producing a magazine then you would need to have a range of different magazines available and shown to the learners to discuss how the rubric relates to different aspects of the magazine. .
In the process of identifying what, in reality, the skill – concept – product would look like or NOT look like the teachers would be articulating the possible approaches and strategies they would be using to progressively develop the learners.
For example, some of the ways identified by the teachers I worked with on the above rubric were:
• Encourage learner questions that begin with – who, what, when, where, why?
• Highlight different and interesting questions asked by learners
• Prompt questions – what do you want to know?
• The learners only get to ask 2 questions in a session (so need to think about them)
• 5 Whys
• Use a Wonder-wall
• Saying the information you have heard as forming next question
• Explicit teaching of open ended questions
• Reference the rubric in class as learners ask questions
3. A rubric is a tool to enable students to drive their learning and develop their capacity and mindsets such that they see learning as a progression towards mastery
Notice how the rubric above is written in positive language applicable to the age group. Rubrics develop the mindset that learners think from. I am interested in developing learners to be meta-cognitive and intrinsically motivated not extrinsically motivated by marks. We want to develop a personal best culture, or in other words, a learning culture that encourages students to put in effort and “compete against themselves” to develop and grow.
As Jim Knight pointed out:
“The trouble with deep learning is that it messes with our identity. In their book, Difficult Conversations (Penguin, 1999), Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen define identity as “the story we tell ourselves about who we are and what the future holds for us” (p. 112). It’s a lot to ask to change the story we tell ourselves about who we are. That kind of learning is often painful, and frankly, we’d usually rather avoid it.”
The more we take away the conversations of good vs bad, better vs worse, and right vs wrong and focus on learners demonstrating their progress in a skill, concept or understanding the more we will build the growth mindsets that Carol Dweck and others identify as critical to developing life-long learners and performers.
The next two steps along the path of mastery are to co-construct rubrics with the learners and finally have the learners construct the rubrics themselves. These are demonstrations of the learners reflecting on what constitutes progression of skills and how they could demonstrate evidence of progression.
With regard to progressive formative assessment, the rubric can become a tool which the learners use to see how they are progressing and they can now self-assess and reflect more effectively. Teachers can use the rubric as part of learner observations. If the teachers have a class list with the specific skill statements across the page they can tick off each time they see a student demonstrate the skill. This approach stems from – we can only get an indication that learning has occurred if the behaviours are demonstrated over time.
For other interesting reading:
Is it from one off tests? Is it from their performance in rich learning tasks? Is it from reflection at the end of term as you do your reports? Is it from keep a track of what your students submit?
How do YOU measure if learning has occurred?
In most school systems reporting processes require teachers to assign grades or some number measure to indicate children have reached particular knowledge, understandings, or skill standards.
But does it REALLY indicate that the learner has understood the concepts, has the skills, or even can use the knowledge they have gained?
My opinion is that you can’t actually measure whether or not learning has occurred. Not until we have the technology to measure the changes in the pattern of neurons and their linkage to one another in each and every individual can we have any definitive idea of whether learning has occurred – and it still may not represent the learning WE want them to learn!
In reality, we are guessing whether or not a learner has “learnt” something. Some teachers may better than others at guessing. Some teachers and schools have more rigorous approaches to guessing and some don’t. The best we can do is, as an indicator that learning has occurred, is if the student demonstrates a particular behaviour OVER TIME. We then can say that that behaviour indicates they have reached a particular stage of development in that skill or understanding of the material that was covered. This assigning of an interpretation to particular demonstrable behaviour is the BEST we can do at assessing learning.
This is consistent with what Jim Knight in a recent ASCD post pointed out:
“We can experience learning in two ways: as surface learning or deep learning. When we experience surface learning, we make minor adjustments or try something out for a while, but we don’t take significant steps forward. Deep learning, on the other hand, is learning that changes our assumptions about how we do what we do. Deep learning gets to the core of who we are, and because deep learning leads to profound change, it really does make a difference.”
But let’s get real here … are you as a teacher or your school set up to work out whether a student has demonstrated a particular behaviour over time? I have found in working across 300 schools around Australia that very few schools are even thinking from that place – let alone have organised their systems and processes to be able to measure learner behaviour over time. Fewer still have the unpacked what particular behaviour around the attainment of specific learning goals could look like at progressive stages.
I am writing this to challenge an underlying assumption I have seen held in many schools and by many teachers about what their assessment is telling them. I am NOT saying that you are doing it all wrong – but it is worth exploring the underlying assumptions we hold as educators and educational organisations about what and why we assess. In many ways this line of thought has been sparked by a recent discussion that Dylan Wiliams and David Didau have been having about Formative Assessment. You can read more here, here and here about what they have been debating. It is worth reading just to start thinking.
You may notice that I am having a little rant in the process of writing – part of this stems from several discussions I have had with different teachers at different schools recently and in the past (Why do we have Grades).
In my view, if we are to assess for learning we first need to have a clear articulation of what that skill, knowledge or understanding would look like when the learner demonstrates it. In many cases teachers have a fair idea of what it looks like anecdotally. The more experienced and expert a teacher the more they know - by seeing it. Yet I don’t find that this ‘anecdotal knowing’ is converted into clear statements that are available to other learners (whether they are teachers or students).
What are I do find mostly are summative rubrics with generalized broad statements being used as “formative rubrics” with the hope that the students (and any on lookers) will understand what is meant. For example this aspect of a rubric a teacher created to assess a magazine produced by Grade 3-4 students:
Labelled and Formatted images were included in each section
Appropriate, labelled and formatted images were included in each section.
Appropriate, well-labelled and well-formatted images were included in each section.
If I was a student looking at those rubric statements above I would be confused as to what would be “appropriate”, “well-labelled” and “well-formatted” images. What is written does not make anything distinct for me.
I spent a little time with the teacher who wrote the above statements to actually get clear about what she saw – physically on the page - in the magazines her students created that would have her rate the student at the level of needs improvement, good and excellent. The revised rubric now looks like:
Labelled and Formatted images were included in each section
· Chosen images are appropriate to the material in each section
· Labels on image described the image and elaborate on a point in the text of that section
· Image is formatted on the page in a way that makes the page esthetically pleasing.
Notice that we have unpacked what the higher levels of labelled and formatted means in a more accessible way. Appropriate now refers to the subject of the material in each section. The teacher would still have to distinguish particular words used in the rubric, she would still have to model and have examples of what each stage would look like during her classes but the rubric is developmental and much clearer to someone who is not that particular teacher.
As a piece of homework for you …questioning is one of the critical thinking skills that is key to the development of 21st century learners (or independent learners). If you are a primary / elementary teacher I invite you to unpack what questioning would look like at different levels from Foundation (Prep) through to Grade 6. If you are a high school or secondary teacher unpack what Questioning looks like from Year 7 to 12.
In the next newsletter / blog I will get more into how good formative rubrics can be used as one tool in the process of supporting student learning as well as how teachers can unpack what a skill or understanding looks like for the purpose of formative assessment (or assessment for learning) – I will use Questioning as an example for this.
The Common Core Writing Standards are shifting the landscape of writing instruction, articulating rigorous new expectations and emphasizing newly redefined text types. Amidst this sweeping change, educators, publishers, and providers of professional development are scrambling to understand the types of writing that students have to master for college and career readiness: narrative, informative/explanatory, opinion, and argument.
Perhaps the biggest change for most writing teachers is the shift toward opinion and argument writing. Despite what you may have heard from some “experts,” page 24 of CCSS Appendix A makes it crystal clear: “Opinion” and “argument” are not simply new words that mean “persuasive.” These three words identify separate, distinct writing concepts.
Let’s begin with a basic definition for each. According to the Common Core, “persuasive” is not a text type; that is to say it is not a “design” or a “build” for composition. Rather, persuasion is a goal or a purpose for writing. Authors attempting to persuade an audience rely primarily upon credibility and emotion, often leveraging the reader’s sense of self-interest. In a nutshell, persuasion is generally accomplished by changing the way someone feels.
Argumentation is different. While the assertion of a specific argument can certainly be a purpose for writing, and while an argument can certainly change how a reader feels about a topic, an effective written argument also has distinct characteristics that set it apart from other writing forms. These characteristics define the text type, and, according to the Common Core, they can be observed and directly instructed. An argument begins with a claim. A claim is an assertion that the writer intends to prove is valid. A claim is a specific type of thesis: an opinion that is to some extent objectively defensible (This is the best type of computer for people who travel). A well-constructed argument advances the claim using reasons (It is durable), examples (I have dropped it many times, and it still works), and evidence (Consumer reports gives this model a top score for durability). Notice a key difference between examples and evidence: Evidence tends to be factual information gleaned from sources more informed than the writer himself.
According to the Common Core, argument writing instruction is supposed to begin at about 6th grade. Notwithstanding the recommendations of the Common Core, it is highly advisable to begin argument writing instruction when students demonstrate that they are cognitively ready to think a bit more abstractly (to think more “outside” their own experience). With many students, this will occur long before 6th grade. So in accordance with best instructional practices, teachers must observe and assess carefully, determine the developmentally appropriate moment to begin argument writing, and differentiate to meet the needs of students working at different levels of readiness and proficiency.
So what are we supposed to be teaching before argument instruction begins? According to the Common Core, opinion writing. This is simply a less sophisticated form of argument writing. It begins with an opinion statement and then supports it with reasons and examples. Opinion writing is often characterized by the lack of an objectively defensible claim and/or a lack of evidence to support the reasons and examples. But opinion writing and argument writing are not entirely separate from one another. These two text types exist on a developmental continuum, so it is possible for writing to exhibit characteristics of both simultaneously. From an instructional perspective, it is less important to identify the type of writing than it is to move students incrementally along the continuum from opinion toward argumentation. As writers develop, their compositions will gradually become less opinion-oriented and more characteristic of a true argument. For example, a first grader might render the opinion, “I like ice cream.” A seventh grader might argue about the same topic beginning with the claim, “Ice cream is unhealthy.” In both cases, the writer takes a position on the topic, but the first grader’s assertion (opinion) is far more subjective. The second example is more typical of a claim that might anchor a written argument, and it is more defensible from an evidentiary perspective.
Now that we have discussed the essential differences between persuasion, opinion, and argument, we must recognize their interplay in authentic “real world” writing. Think analogously of any car commercial you’ve watched recently. The tag line is probably an opinion, but in some cases, it might be a claim. Reasons to buy the car are provided, and visual examples are likely demonstrated by actors on the screen. Many car companies also cite evidence (J.D. Power and Associates award, Car and Driver’s 10 best list, etc.). But the advertiser also spent a lot of money in an attempt to establish their credibility, appeal to your emotions, and influence you to act in your own self-interest. So the commercial you’re thinking of probably had characteristics of both persuasion and argumentation…like many other “real world” forms of communication.
This begs a simple question: If persuasion, opinion, and argument often blend in the real world, why teach them separately? There are two simple answers. First, in order to effectively blend these concepts, students have to master each of them first. To do so requires explicit strategy-based instruction, and many of the proprietary strategies for each form are distinct. Second, the Common Core Standards emphasize the opinion and argument text types for success in college and career. Why? College and career require written expression that is ideationally compelling—writing that argues based upon reasonableness and proof. And because it’s easier to persuade than to argue, students often are better at the former than the latter. From an academic perspective, argument is more challenging. It requires a deeper level of understanding that comes from analysis, research, perspective-taking, and anticipation of counterclaims.
To summarize, persuasion, opinion, and argument are distinct from one another. For this reason, they require strategy-based direct instruction for student mastery. But this does not mean they exist in mutually exclusive silos. Talented writers develop a commanding mastery of each and then blend them expertly to address specific purposes and audiences.
This post originally ran May 7 on SmartBlog on Education and, here on the Zaner-Bloser Blog, is the first in a series of blog posts about the writing text types and how they have been redefined by the Common Core State Standards. Subsequent posts in this Decoding the Text Types series will explain the new narrative and informative/explanatory writing text types and tackle many more of the misconceptions that are out there.
—James Scott Miller, M.Ed., Zaner-Bloser Senior Instructional Consultant and Consulting Author, Strategies for Writers