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I keep reading the “dreadful” news that American students don’t compare well to students in many other countries on test scores, that our scores are woefully behind students in other countries, and that our students are not being prepared for the future as compared with students in other countries!
I find this a strange way to think about America’s educational system. In other spheres, we rarely compare ourselves to others. Is our medical system as good as others? Of course! We think of ourselves as unique and the best in the world in developing and using technology! We tend to think of ourselves as “special” and “different” in most areas, and make very few comparisons to other countries. We generally look at our own strengths and problems as a way of making judgments about how well we are doing. We most often find our own unique solutions to the problems that we face.
In this context, how should teachers, educational leaders, parents, and the general public think about American education? Should we all use a single set of standardized tests to compare ourselves to others at home and throughout the world? Or should we develop a unique concept of American education focused around American ideas, values and strengths? If we were to consider the “specialness” of America, its unique qualities, and build an educational system around those areas, what would it look like? How do we make our educational system “fit” with our unique qualities? What would we expect from teachers and our leaders? How would we know if we were succeeding?
Let’s take a stab at it. Here is my list of many of the unique qualities of American society and what I think are the implications of these strengths for building a strong American education system:
The importance of knowledge and “understanding”. From its beginnings, knowledge and understanding have been a critical part of American society. Benjamin Franklin set a high standard in developing, disseminating, and searching for knowledge and understanding. The American system of mass education for all Americans assumed that it was important for everyone to become literate and build a basic knowledge base. Andrew Carnegie promoted the development of public libraries so all could have access to knowledge and information.
Educational Implications. Access to and a focus on broad-based knowledge and understanding for all Americans should be an overall goal of American education. In today’s “knowledge explosion” world, a significant knowledge base should be coupled with the lifelong learning skills that will enable all Americans to continually learn and grow in their knowledge, information, and understanding.
Constitutional government around democratic values. The development of American democratic values – separation of powers, the Bill of Rights, one man, one vote – are one of the most unique characteristics of American society. We take these rights seriously and have over many years developed strengthened and improved them.
Educational Implications: A primary educational goal in today’s world is to insure that all our students understand the Constitution, its development, and its role in American society. All students should understand the conflicts that developed around it, changes and adaptations that have been made, related court cases, and its primary role in American society today.
Active Citizenship. A corollary to Constitutional government and democratic values is the role Americans play in the American political system. Americans today rarely sit back and accept government’s role in American society at any level. We tend to keep up with issues and problems and form strong opinions about what should be done (or not done) to solve them. We join a variety of groups and organizations dedicated to actively pursuing what we believe in – from environmental protection laws to a strong military. We actively engage in improving government, and expect a certain amount of honesty and competence among our government officials. We also expect basic services – safety, road repairs, security, and the like – to be provided efficiently.
Educational Implications: When studying American history, students should learn how in all eras a variety of individuals, groups and organizations promoted different causes and advocated for governmental policies to support them. Through a strong current events program, students should have the opportunity to continually examine and analyze the many issues that confront us today. Students in their high school years should be encouraged to become involved in causes that they believe in, discuss and write about their diverse views, debate issues that face us, and listen to, read about, and analyze the varied views and arguments of others.
Pragmatic problem solving. America has always been a land that has prided itself on pragmatic, practical problem solving. This “roll up your sleeves” characteristic began with the Colonists, was demonstrated when the Constitution was written, and is an important value throughout American history. Today it can be seen in the way businesses collect data and solve problems[i]. While our National government today is more ideological and less pragmatic, pragmatic government has always been an important thread running through governmental policies. Even FDR’s New Deal consisted of a lot of very pragmatic efforts by government to solve the problems of the Depression!
Educational Implications: Students should practice pragmatic problem solving in order to develop alternative solutions to the issues that face us. Developing classroom rules is one way. Conducting interviews to collect data is another. Conducting scientific experiments and building scientific problem solving skills is another. Providing students with authentic performance tasks that require hands on problem solving is also an excellent way to promote these skills.
Upward mobility, success, a better life. The Declaration of Independence focused on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as an ideal for all Americans. Millions of Americans came to America’s shores to search for a new life free from persecution and filled with opportunity. Education has always been one of the most significant vehicles for reaching the “American dream” and for upward mobility.
Educational Implications: “Equal opportunity” education as a route to “success” and achievement has played and today plays a very important role in American society. Schools are asked to create a culture of high and challenging expectations, share knowledge and information, and develop skills and attitudes that will help to improve the lives of Americans and develop individual talents and interests.
This means that we should commit ourselves to insuring that ALL schools – urban, suburban, rural – should provide quality services that include a full and complete curriculum in all subject areas, small class sizes, up to date technology, strong extra curricular programs, quality professional and curricular development, counselors and libraries, and so on. Additional services should also be available in those areas with high poverty levels and strong needs.
Individual development, growth and responsibility
America values individuals who take personal responsibility for their lives! We admire individuals who overcome obstacles, work hard, continue to improve and learn, don’t give up on themselves. We expect people to persist, show “grit” and determination, and overcome failure. We support the idea that everyone should have the opportunity to develop individual talents and strengths, and encourage difference among students.
Educational Implications: Schools should figure out ways to help students develop individual personal responsibility over time. Helping students learn to be persistent, learn from failure, stay on track, and see effort as important for success should be an important part of the curriculum at all levels, especially in those areas where children need this type of help and support. Students should have the opportunity to participate in multiple types of experiences that enable them to discover and develop their interests and talents.
Invention and creativity
America has always been a society that supported new ideas, innovation, and creative thinking. Americans invented a whole new way of thinking about government in the formation of its Constitution. Consider just the latest manifestations of this thinking – social media options, the desktop computer, mp3 players, tablets, search engines, hybrid and electric cars, solar energy, just name a few.
Educational Implications: Schools should be places where students learn to think creatively, come up with original solutions to problems, invent. Special elective courses might be developed that examine the role that invention, innovation, and creativity played and plays in American society. Students at all levels might learn creative problem solving strategies and techniques. Project based learning strategies might be used to encourage students to solve problems creatively.
The promise of science and technology
Throughout American history, science and technology have been thought of as a way to improve people’s lives. Science and technology achievements have dramatically changed our lives for the better, and will probably continue to do so in the future. Agricultural science thrived in rural America and paved the way for huge increases in crop yields, better water management, and so on. Inventions such as the cotton gin, the electric light bulb, the steam engine, and mass production techniques were critical to the prosperity and improvements in American society. Nobel prizes are regularly bestowed on America’s scientists.
Educational Implications: Science and technology should play a much greater role in educating American students. Strong high quality programs in these areas should begin in pre-school and include an understanding of the scientific method, core concepts and theories in science and the evidence that supports them, involvement in science competitions, and opportunities to creatively think about scientific and technical achievements. A big push should be to integrate science and technology with math and engineering throughout the curriculum, as in the STEM subjects
American artisans, from individual craftsmen to the design and building of the Model-T ford, have been a stalwart factor in American society.
Educational Implications: “Craftsmanship” should be emphasized in American schools. Craftsmanship is not doing well on tests – rather, it is focused on high performance levels, whether it be for writing an essay, participating in a discussion, creating a mural, doing a presentation, or acting in a play. [ii]
Tolerance for diversity, difference, pluralism.
One of America’s unique strengths is its continuous movement towards greater tolerance, diversity and respect for difference. Hard work and effort by many courageous Americans has resulted in the collapse of slavery, the significant reduction of anti-semitic, ethnic and racial prejudice, increased civil rights, and the movement for gay and lesbian rights.
Educational Implications: With the world’s boundaries shrinking through instant worldwide communication, global travel, global trade and multicultural corporations, educational programs that explore cultural diversity and tolerance both within and outside of America are important for living in a multicultural world. Student self-development programs that promote tolerance and reduce prejudice towards others should also be a critical part of the educational experience.
Competition and Collaboration
Both competition and collaboration are important values in American society. Competition is at the heart of the American capitalist system, and our competitive economic system has created products of excellence at relatively low cost. Collaboration is also important, especially within corporations and businesses, in order to bring together the best minds to maintain and develop economic success.
Educational implications: Our educational culture should support both competition among students to be the best, as well as cooperative ways to learn and grow together.
Voluntary service to others.
CNN has created a process to discover and share information about “heroes” that provide voluntary service to others; this yearlong process, culminating in a two hour program rewarding the ten best “heroes” for their work, correlates closely with American values. Many Americans freely give both their money and their services to help others – this is part of the great American tradition.
Educational implications: Schools should promote this American value by organizing opportunities for students to provide community service to others, and to learn from their service. Many schools already have community service opportunities for their students.
What teachers, schools and districts can do…
When education is based on America’s unique qualities, values and strengths, a paradigm very different from one based on improving standardized test scores emerges. Based on these qualities, here are some things that teachers, schools and districts can do:
We need to begin to measure our success in educating our young by how well we implement educational practices and programs based on America’s unique qualities and strengths, not by comparing American student’s standardized tests scores against other country’s scores. Teachers, schools and the outside community can judge success by how well students “understand” and apply content, read widely, write and communicate well, learn how to do research and problem solve, develop an understanding of American democracy and what it means to be a good citizen, learn about current American and world-wide issues and challenges, become interested and engaged in STEM subjects, think creatively, develop an interest in many activities and their talents through participation in both core and extra-curricular programs, complete high quality work, develop individual responsibility traits, volunteer for community service, and so on.
These criteria suggest that individual schools, teachers, and educational leaders might want to think differently about what makes for successful educational experiences, and build alternative activities and programs into classrooms and schools to support American excellence. They also suggest that governmental policies, built around standardized test scores, are currently headed us in a very limiting and wrong direction as we try to improve education and prepare our students for living a 21st century world. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go in creating an educational system that builds on what is unique about and important to American society, and in using appropriate assessments to judge when education is successful.
[i] For example, see a recent article in the New York Times, February 15, 2014, Intel’s Sharp-Eyed Social Scientist, that examines how Intel fosters research and collects data for improving product development.
[ii] For further insights into the role of craftsmanship in American education, see Ron Berger (2003), An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann publishers.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, Understanding by Design trainer, author, consultant, and former Professor of Education at Temple University. Many of his commentaries can be found on ASCD Edge. If you are interested in further examining ways to improve teaching and learning and help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, go to his website: www.era3learning.org
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. All Rights Reserved.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative Has a New Twitter Handle
ASCD's Whole Child Initiative switched its official Twitter handle to @WholeChildASCD. Themore than 15,000 followers of the old @WholeChildAdv do not have to do anything to keep following the initiative’s Twitter account; current followers have automatically been moved to the new handle. In addition, individuals trying to contact ASCD under the old account will be directed to the new Twitter handle: @WholeChildASCD. The initiative encourages whole child enthusiasts to follow the new handle to stay up-to-date on whole child issues and partner activities. Anyone who has questions about the twitter handle should contact Kristen Pekarek, ASCD’s whole child project coordinator.
Sign on to the Global School Health Statement
Schools have always played an important role in promoting the health, safety, welfare, and social development of children. Progress has been made in policy and program effectiveness. However, the trend of establishing initiatives as sector specific—or sector isolated—has affected long-term sustainability of approaches. The global evolution of education systems to suit the needs of the 21st century presents both a need and an opportunity for greater sector integration. Ultimately, there is a need to focus on the development and growth of the whole child and develop better ways to integrate health and social programs within education systems.
In response to the World Health Organization’s Health in All Policies (HiAP) initiative and recent HiAP statement (Helsinki 2013), education leaders invite representatives from the health and other social sectors to lead a revised partnership with education. This partnership uses a capacity-focused and systems-based approach to embed school-related efforts more fully into the core mandates, constraints, processes, and concerns of education systems.
ASCD and the International School Health Network are now inviting individuals and organizations to sign on to the global school health statement. Learn more.
Can’t Wait for #ASCD14?
How about some free sessions from the 2013 ASCD Annual Conference to tide you over?
ASCD Members Approve Proposed Changes to ASCD’s Constitution
ASCD members recently voted to approve several changes to ASCD’s Constitution: clarifyinga quorum for Board of Directors for voting purposes at the Annual Meeting; changing the start date for newly elected officers and members of the Board; and changing the ASCD membership requirement for applicants for Board positions. Contact Governance Manager Becky DeRiggewith any questions.
ASCD Emerging Leaders: 2013 Recap
Check out our recap of all the amazing things ASCD emerging leaders did in 2013. We’re looking forward to some great things in 2014 as well!
ASCD Leader Voices
Throughout January at wholechildeducation.org: Personalized Learning
How do we help each student succeed? One promising way is to personalize learning and put each student at the center of her learning experience. Broader than individualized or differentiated instruction, personalized learning is driven by the learner. Ensuring personalized learning for all students requires a shift in thinking about long-standing education practices, systems and policies, as well as significant changes in the tools and resources. To address students’ abilities, interests, styles, and performance, schools need to rethink curricula, instruction, and technology tools to support giving learners choices and schools flexibility.
Personalized learning has been described as learning that takes place “anywhere, anytime, and anyplace.” More importantly, it has the promise to ensure equity, engagement, ownership, and achievement for each child, in each school, and in each community so that she is college, career, and citizenship ready and prepared for success in our global, knowledge-based society.
Download two Whole Child Podcasts discussing personalizing learning for students—one is a special one-on-one conversation between professor and author Yong Zhao and ASCD’s Sean Slade, and the other podcast has a panel of educators featuring guests Jennifer Eldredge, a Spanish teacher at Oconomowoc High School whose district is a member of the regional Cooperative Educational Service Agency #1, which is committed to establishing personalized learning as the prevailing approach in southeastern Wisconsin; Andrew Miller, former classroom and online teacher and current education consultant, ASCD Faculty member, National Faculty member at the Buck Institute for Education, and regular ASCD and Edutopia blogger; and Beth Sanders, a high school social studies teacher at Tarrant High School in Alabama who is also the cofounder and codirector of Youth Converts Culture and was named an Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013 and 2013 Teacher of the Year for Tarrant City Schools.
Something to Talk About
ASCD Invites Educator-Driven Conversation with the ASCD Forum and #ASCDEdSpace—ASCD announces two new ways for educators to shape teacher leadership. From now through April 11, 2014, educators are encouraged to participate in the ASCD Forum online via the ASCD EDge® social networking community and in-person at the 69th ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show. Read the full press release.
ASCD’s Newest Professional Development Publications Support Effective Instruction—ASCD announced the release of three new professional development titles for educators. As educators face increasing pressure on assessments and testing, they will find support for structured teaching, self-regulated learning, and assigning and assessing 21st century work in these new professional development publications. Read the full press release.
ASCD Announces Updates to Free EduCore™ Common Core Implementation Tool—ASCD announced new features available on its free Common Core implementation tool ASCD EduCore™. For the new year, the updated EduCore website features simpler navigation and expanded resources. Read the full press release.
ASCD to Live Stream 21 Sessions from 2014 Annual Conference and Exhibit Show—ASCD will live stream 21 sessions from the association’s 2014 Annual Conference and Exhibit Show. The live stream option offers global educators an accessible and affordable alternative to attending ASCD’s 2014 Annual Conference. Read the full press release.
ASCD Joins Instagram as @OfficialASCD—ASCD has joined the social network Instagram under the username @officialascd. ASCD’s Instagram profile will show educators worldwide a behind-the-scenes look at ASCD, while providing free motivation and professional development through pictures and videos. Read the full press release.
ASCD Releases Four New Professional Development Publications for the New Year—ASCD released four new professional development titles for educators. In light of pressing issues facing educators today, such as improving stagnant Programme for International Student Assessment scores, implementing the new Common Core State Standards, and improving teacher effectiveness, these four new ASCD publications offer educators support with getting to the root of academic and behavioral issues, working with English language learners, developing effective school rules, and teaching effectively. Read the full press release.
ASCD Expands Emerging Leader Program to Serve More Young Educators—ASCD is pleased to announce the expansion of the ASCD Emerging Leaders program. The two-year Emerging Leaders program is designed to prepare younger, diverse educators for potential influence and ASCD leadership. The expanded program now enrolls more educators, inducting a larger membership class than ever before, and includes an Emerging Leaders Grant opportunity that will award selected participants in their second year of the program with grants of up to $2,000. Read the full press release.
Along with my schedule of social studies classes, I also serve as an advisor for fifteen students once a week. Through advisory I spend time looking at their grades, checking in with their lives, and mostly building relationships that are often lost between teachers and students in high school. While I love the chance to have such a close relationship with a handful of student, it seems like a week does not go by without one or more of them asking me about why they have to study this subject or another. “Why do I need to take Calculus?” or “why do I need biology when I am not going to be a biologist?” For a long time, I would simply tell them that learning math, science, english, and history were all part of what made them well rounded students, able to succeed in college and beyond. Recently, I came to a different conclusion.
With a continuing pressure from many groups to push the idea of making students successful in the 21st century employment market, to focus on STEM, and to teach classes that have a direct and measurable economic impact, social studies are often neglected. It seems as if in the short time students have in school, they could spend their time much more effectively learning computer programming, or physics, or calculus than “soft skills.” As a recent New York Times article by Gerald Howard stated:
We live in a time when college enrollment in the humanities is declining precipitously, in good part because majoring in such subjects seems unlikely to result in gainful employment in a strapped economy.
Yet the social studies themselves allow me to answer these recalcitrant students. It is the social studies that answer the why question in education. Social studies are the reason why we learn everything else in school. It is through the social studies that we learn a practical application of everything else that we study.
When we study science, we are preparing to understand the things like climate change, deforestation, and desertification that we look at human geography and current world issues courses. When we study math we are learning about principles and equations that allow us to understand government debt, economic crises, and future trade issues as they come up in world history and economics classes. When we study english and look at literature, we are gaining a deeper appreciation of the lives and views of people that we come across in our classes and the rest of our lives. While the science, math, and english courses provide the tools we need to understand our world, it is the social studies classes that provide us the laboratory space to apply them to the world around us.
Without these labs of citizenship, our students will be unprepared to lead the change that will be called for in the future. Instead of getting practical experience guided by experts deeply committed to their field, they will be set adrift in the world and need to learn fast without the resources to do so. As social studies teachers, we must defend our work as the birthplace of citizenship.
Many people believe education must have an direct economic impact, and that there needs to be a return on investment that is clear and tangible. They focus on STEM because it will prepare students for the jobs of the future, but they neglect the fact that we will want more than just workers in the future. We live in a democracy, which requires more than just workers, it requires engaged citizens willing to take charge and lead their country forward. If we neglect to train actively engaged citizens, we will have a country of people who know how to take orders and do their jobs, but no one able to lead and question if those job should even be done. Social studies courses are where we learn to ask the questions needed to sustain democracy.
While I used to tell my advisory students that they learned math, science and english because these subjects made them well rounded students, I have now changed my response. Now, when I am asked the same question I answer, “so you can be successful in your social studies classes.”
One year ago, Jesse Lewis went to school and entered his kindergarten classroom. According to his mother and friends, he was a happy six year old who loved life and had a radiant smile. He loved horseback riding. Following the events that took place on December 14, 2012, Jesse's mother left the school and went to her mother's house. While she gathered her thoughts, she noticed her son's handwriting on a chalkboard. The chalkboard read "Nurturing, Healing, Love." These words, scribbled on a chalkboard in a six year old's handwriting, became the inspiration for Scarlett Lewis to write a book titled, "Nurturing, Healing, Love: A Mother's Journey of Hope and Forgiveness." 100% of the proceeds from sales of this book will be donated to the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation.
While the nation remembers Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Newtown community this weekend, I want to take a moment to remember Jesse Lewis. I never had the privilege of meeting Jesse, but I can tell he was a student who loved school and was a great friend to his classmates. As an education blogger, I often write about the whole child, teaching students citizenship, and the importance of a positive school climate. The world will miss all that Jesse had to offer. However, in six short years, he was a positive light in his community and he continues to inspire teachers and administrators. We know that every school in the world has a Jesse who is creative, curious, passionate about learning, and wants to have a positive impact. We have to tap into each student's talents and passions and help them see how they can make a difference in the world. Through the book that Ms. Lewis wrote, Jesse continues to make a difference in the world.
On this day, I choose to celebrate Jesse Lewis. From now on, December 14th will be a rememberance day for me. On behalf of the Hillsborough Elementary School (NC) staff, we remember Jesse Lewis, the teachers, and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We remember this tragic day in our nation's history and we think of your school community often. We know the important role you have in preparing students for College and Career Readiness and we pause to remember the Sandy Hook students, staff, and families this weekend.
Recently, our elementary school designed a Learning Commons. The Learning Commons is an extension of the media center. We remodeled a traditional computer lab, with straight rows and desks. School staff replaced the desks and computers with student friendly furniture, carpet, a futon, neon signs, and a space that encourages the 4 Cs (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity). Laptops and iPod Touches will be used in the new space. Students will be able to have Socractic Seminars, create videos, mentor younger students, and more.
According to Linton (2012), a Learning Commons must meet several criteria such as the following: the space must be flexible, open, wireless, comfortable, inspiring and practical. Recently, I gave some parents a sneak peek at the new Learning Commons. One family asked, "When do you think all of the classrooms will look like this?" This is a powerful question for a parent to ask a school administrator. I did not need to share the theory behind the room or distribute journal articles about learning space or instructional strategies. This parent immediately understood that the new room looked like the real world. She said, "Children don't recognize desks and metal chairs."
How Is Your School Creating Classrooms That Are:
What does a flexible classroom look like? Furniture that is flexible allows students to work in different groups or teams throughout the day. The teacher has placed students in charge of their learning (November, 2012). Procedures are in place to assist students with staying on task, yet meeting the learning goals in their own way. While this may look much different in an AP U.S. History class than it does in a first grade class, I have seen flexible furniture and grouping at both levels.
Open spaces are unconfined. When you walk in the traditional classroom, it is difficult to walk around the classroom. The classroom furniture is bulky and heavy to move. One look at the furniture would tell you that the furniture was designed for different educational goals. I read a great article this week by John Kotter, Change Leadership guru. Kotter (2013) wrote an article that describes the difference between Knowledge Workers vs. Knowledge Networkers (Forbes, 2013). When you visit software companies, website design studios, corporate headquarters, and modern university libraries, you will find open spaces. Clients and co-workers are inspired to collaborate with one another based on the open space. When you look at classrooms in your school ask, "Does this space encourage Knowledge Workers or Knowledge Networkers?" As Kotter described, the workforce is seeking Knowledge Networkers. If your school claims to prepare students for College and Career Readiness, then we should redesign classrooms to look like the real world.
Wireless classrooms are beyond the control of the classroom teacher. Gone are the days of going to the back bookshelf to look up your answer in a World Book. A classroom with three computers is helpful, but a wireless classroom opens new doors for teaching and learning. There are issues with chat rooms, blogging, and searching the Internet for appropriate content. However, this is where teaching Digital Citizenship is important. A wireless classroom is like the real world for most students. Have you ever seen a two year old in a shopping cart at the grocery store? Chances are the child was playing a game or using an app on a SmartPhone.
This is the most difficult part. Unless you are building a brand new school, you probably don't have the funds to purchase new furniture, lamps, or accessories. Our school received a $2,000 Matching grant from our PTA and the Board of Education. The funds allowed us to purchase dorm room-style furniture, a used futon, lamps, cardboard cut-outs of Star Wars and Monsters U characters. The furniture and the accessories are in neon colors, which is in style. The room looks like the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo, but a little louder. The cheapest accessory we purchased was international clocks. We purchased wall clocks for $4 per clock. Each clock is set to a different country and time zone. The center clock is a neon clock and we paid $20 for the center clock. It reads HES - Eastern Standard Time.
Teachers are great at finding bargains. You will also be surprised how many families will donate items or support you with creating a comfortable space. Recently, a parent donated five large pillows to our new room. Another parent went to Wal-Mart and was able to secure a $100 gift card to purchase additional items. Garage sales, Craig's List, and Going Out of Business Sales are additional ways you can create a comfortable classroom. I struggle to imagine how we could fund another classroom with a $2,000 renovation, much less every classroom. However, I know it can be done.
Inspiring students is easy. Teachers do this everyday. If you follow the other guidelines listed in this article and referenced by Linton (2012), you will create a more inspiring classroom. What inspires students? Neon colors, a graffiti wall, art, collaboration, technology, a green screen, interacting with students in other countries, blogging, Twitter, The 1970's, music, a lounge theme, zoo animals, student created posters, video games, challenging puzzles, books, e-Readers, and multimedia are examples of things that students find inspirational. The easiest way to find out what inspires students is to ask students what they would like to see in a classroom. Let students design the learning environment. Once you design a space that meets the students' needs and preferences, you may be surprised at the change in student performance. When you are blogging or reading the news at home, do you put your feet up in a chair? Do you sit on the couch? Do you drink a cup of coffee and sit on the back porch? We do our best thinking when we are relaxed. Students can collaborate, communicate, create, and think critically when we/they design inspiring spaces.
There is no need to turn your classroom into a theme park, purchase a flat screen tv for all four corners of the room, or take out a student loan to redesign your classroom. In 2000, I observed a middle school English Language Arts teacher who purchased four lamps for her classroom. She paid $25 total for the four lamps. The lamps were mood lighting for the classroom. Some teachers use motivational quotes in the classroom. Practical is difficult for teachers, because teachers are constantly spending their own money to support teaching and learning.
I recommend that you start small and redesign your classroom in phases. Can you afford dorm-room furniture this year? If you cannot afford 25 chairs, can you afford three dorm-room style beanbag chairs? Music is another way to change the mood and feel of your classroom. I have seen an elementary teacher effectively use milk crates with pads on top for student seats. The seats create a collaborative setting when they face each other. Another teacher used children's beach chairs. Beach chairs are low to the ground. How many people went to the beach this summer and bought beach chairs? These chairs are often sold in garage sales or placed by the curb, following the vacation. There are several ways to redesign your room. Once again, ask the students to design a dream classroom with the existing furniture.
Teaching has changed. I see instructional strategies that are inspiring and I see teachers working hard to integrate technology across the curriculum. Mathematics and science are not taught the same way that they were twenty years ago. Teacher collaboration and the use of common formative assessments have also improved teaching and learning in the United States. Teachers and administrators are using Twitter as a way to learn about new instructional strategies and are communicating with educators around the world. Education is changing at a rapid pace. One thing that is often overlooked in education is the learning space. We need to look at our schools and ask, "Is this classroom flexible, open, wireless, comfortable, inspiring and practical?" As the parent asked me, "When do you think all of the classrooms will look like this?"
This is the fourth year I have been part of a summer reading program which ditched the traditional assignment for a more connected approach. Utilizing a tool, like Schoology as we have, to provide a platform for ongoing communication regarding the reading has had a truly transformative effect on a traditional assignment.
I recently returned from Hunterdon Central’s Holocaust Overseas Study Tour. Our group of twenty students and four educators traveled to Czech Republic and Poland to visit Terezin, Lidice, the Warsaw Ghetto, Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was a transformative experience for me as an educator, parent, and citizen.
I thought I would be prepared, at least intellectually, for what I would see on our trip. I grew up in a city with large Jewish and Polish populations. From my earliest years I heard the stories of neighbors and close family friends who had survived Nazi camps. Beginning in the first grade I was exposed to annual Holocaust education programs. As a social studies teacher I taught about the Holocaust for over a decade. Each camp is a visceral confrontation with the worst depravity known to humanity. All I can say is that you don’t really know the enormity of the Holocaust until you go and visit the sites.
I hope more educators launch programs like Central’s Holocaust Overseas Study Tour. Holocaust education is citizenship education. The benefits are not just historical knowledge of the Holocaust. It is an opportunity to reflect upon what it means to have rights as a citizen and a reminder that we must be eternally vigilant to protect human rights.
The inscription on the mausoleum at Majdanek in Lublin, Poland reads “let our fate be a warning to you.” The twenty students on the trip who come from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds were in a word – inspiring. Their desire to study the Holocaust and return to present to their peers and the community about their experience is at the heart of everything we aspire to instill in students. Tonight, our students will share their experiences from our trip and bear witness at the Flemington Jewish Community Center.
The current requirement that public and charter school students demonstrate their proficiency through standardized, top down tests has in many schools narrowed the curriculum, increased sterile test-prep classroom activities, and focused the public measurement of school and student success narrowly and imperfectly around a few traditional tests. This “test-centered” focus makes it more difficult for many schools to educate and assess students so that they are prepared for a world with exploding amounts of knowledge, fundamental changes in technology, and the new skill sets required for successful careers.
By contrast, a “learning-centered” focus starts with establishing meaningful, purposeful educational outcomes for a 21st century world, such as preparing students for both lifelong learning and citizenship, focusing on the development of key skills for a new era, and customizing learning in order to develop each student’s talents, interests and abilities.
Based on the above learning centered outcomes, here is a checklist of potential characteristics and qualities that we might expect to observe in classrooms, schools and districts:
√ A conscious effort to develop positive learning attitudes and values, such as curiosity, wonder, responsibility, motivation, persistence, effort makes a difference, and collaboration.
√A “deeper learning” curriculum in all subject areas, including the arts and social studies, that help students build focused networks of core background knowledge and understandings about the world around them.
√Inquiry based learning approaches that engage students in learning and support the development of critical learning skills, such as questioning and problem finding; reading for understanding; processing information and data; many types of writing; research and study skills; logical, inductive and creative thinking; discussion and presentation skills.
√Preparation for citizenship through rigorous, engaging, interactive history, geography, current events, and service-learning experiences.
√Customized learning opportunities that develop individual interests, talents and strengths, as when students can choose from an extensive array of classroom, school, curricular and extra-curricular activities and electives[i].
√ Research projects, field trips and other experiences that help students connect to “real world” events, activities, and individuals.
√ Internships and Internet course options for high school students that expand student horizons.
√An accountability system that uses multiple types of assessments to determine student progress and success[ii], such as writing of all kinds, research projects and performance tasks, essay tests, self-reflections, and plans for the future. Traditional tests are only a small part of the assessment process. Student portfolios – collections of student work - become part of a multi-faceted growth and evaluation process.
√Technology in the service of all of the above that supports students as they conduct research, process information, develop and write papers, collect work in electronic portfolios, create on-line presentations, conduct simulations, contact outside experts, and the like.
Does your classroom, school or district have a test-centered or a learning-centered approach to teaching and learning? Are the above components in place in your classroom-school-district? Not all of the checklist may be appropriate for your own situation, so feel free to adapt, change and add as necessary. Use this guide and checklist as a catalyst for your own thinking, discussion, and planning.
Many will say that these ideas are unrealistic in light of the current emphasis on standardized tests, state standards, and the Common Core standards. My view is that a systematic learning-centered education will provide a long-term vision of a good 21st century education that will be a framework for educating students for many years to come. With a meaningful and purposeful learning-centered framework, students will be well prepared for standardized tests, programs will satisfy Common Core standards requirements, and we will be ready for any other regulations and changes that come down the pike!
We can only hope that, instead of a test-centered approach, “learning-centeredness” -defining and implementing a set of 21st century student learning outcomes, assessments, and practices - will become the predominant educational focus for governments at all levels, the educational community, and the public at large in order to think about, define and plan for educational excellence in the future.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, ASCD author, school volunteer, and Understanding by Design trainer. You can read more about this learning centered approach to education in a new age at his website: www.era3learning.org
[i] Thematic schools, such as schools for the arts, sciences, engineering, business, culinary arts, and the like, would be likely to customize according to their themes.
[ii] This broadened accountability system suggests a different way for individual classrooms, schools and districts to judge success and achievement. For example, school superintendents might present a more complex picture of accountability to the public and school board by providing examples of the types of student work completed at different levels (average, excellent, and poor, with percentages of each), examples of books read by students at different levels, sample self-reflections, student survey data, research paper examples, and student presentations. The same broad-based data might also be presented by schools and individual teachers. While this data may be harder to collect and summarize, they should give a much better picture of student success and achievement.
Many of us have heard the expression, “Too much of a good thing is bad for you”. It is no wonder that when people, groups, or organizations take things to the extreme, that misconceptions come about. Additionally, not every person is acquainted with every other person’s work. For example, I don’t know everything that a doctor does, so therefore, if the doctor is prescribing a lot of medication to patients, it may or may not be warranted, despite what my perception is around prescribing the medication.
Assessment is no different, and honestly, to some degree, standardized testing has earned itself a bad name. I’m not saying that I am a huge supporter of these types of tests, but with anything, they have their place and I suppose if utilized appropriately, could have some added value. For the general public, there is clearly not enough understanding about the types of assessments that provide educators information about student performance. Perhaps that is the first place to start.
Summative assessments have been likened by some educators, as an “autopsy” because of the finality of their administration and results. These types of tests, like so many high stakes state tests, often times are administered near the end of the year and by the time the results come back, do not offer educators a lot of time to go back and reteach or change instruction. Generally, these tests are for policy makers, who use the results to drive policy. Now, for some districts and states, these tests take up a small amount of time and schools work hard to use the information garnered from them to change instruction for the group that had taken them and also determine what they may do differently regarding instruction for the students coming to them. Other states use as many as 30 days to administer state driven tests, which seems to be the extreme and erodes from the amount of teaching time that classroom teachers have to engage with students.
Formative assessments, on the other hand, are likened to “check ups” because they are periodic, not final in nature, and provide teachers and instructors the opportunity to check in on student understanding and change the nature of their teaching before finally assessing students. They provide more opportunity for teachers to determine where students have clarity, and where they have gaps in understanding. Additionally, these formative assessments also are much shorter in length, and can be done quickly in the classroom with the teacher or team of teachers using results to quickly adjust teaching so to affect learning outcomes for students.
Universal screening tools are just that; screening tools. They provide an indicator that something might be needed on behalf of the student to help them be more successful. They are quick in nature, and usually administered across groups of students to determine if further probing may be needed. Some of these tools may be used to “progress monitor” children to see if changes in instruction produce changes in student learning.
In all three assessment scenarios, I always think about that expression, “Too much of a good thing is bad for you”. Massachusetts is a very MCAS driven state, with results being extremely public and along with other states, penalties being tied to lower than expected results for aggregate and disaggregated groups of students. While I do not believe in “teaching to a test”, I do believe in the following:
1. States need to be sure that their curriculum frameworks are at the LEAST, aligned to those national standards that have been designed to help students meet with success after leaving school (K-12).
2. School districts need to review curricula and ensure that they are not only aligned to state and national standards but that they are rigorous and engaging for learners.
3. Leaders in schools need to ensure that the district curricula is not only taught, but that structures are in place for those students that do not meet the standards, so that they have an opportunity to be retaught in a way that helps them reach the standard (RTI).
If the above three things happen, then in fact, teachers are teaching to the standards, which students should have mastered and then they are only needing to have some teaching around test taking strategies.
In the end, it really isn’t about the test, and I wouldn’t advocate teaching to one either. Additionally, that test is just one snapshot of a student’s performance and therefore, the formative assessments a classroom teacher gives, if aligned to the standards, shows a student’s performance over time and may indeed show a more robust picture of what kids know in regards to the standards.
Districts and states need to be smart about balanced assessment systems and not lose sight of the teaching that needs to take place with students. That teaching does not only mean academic standards, but citizenship, pro social skills, and all of the other teachable moments that help our students be well rounded, global citizens. While many of us may not like standardized tests, good practices help ensure that they aren’t the “standard” of how we assess our children on a regular basis.
Returning from spring vacation to a new month I am reminded that as a schoolteacher the beginning of a new month means more than simply flipping the calendar. It signals the time to erect another pillar of our growing character.
Elementary school children around the nation are gathering in their schools’ gymnasiums for the monthly ritual of introducing a new character trait from Character Counts. In many schools one of the Six Pillars of Character (respect, responsibility, honesty, caring, citizenship, trustworthiness and fairness) will be introduced with a video or skit. Students will then in some cases make posters or banners to adorn the school walls and advertise the value of the trait. Teachers will give token attention to the character trait in the classroom by reading a picture book or doing some other isolated activity to highlight the trait of the month. At the end of the month the same school children will reconvene in the gymnasium to see who was selected as best demonstrating the character trait of the month.
Sadly, that is the state of character education, or social emotional learning, in many schools today. In fact, this article explains these two approaches among others. Even sadder, when presented with the idea of beginning to infuse a comprehensive social and emotional learning program into the existing curriculum many teachers at those same schools will reply, “No thanks, we are already doing that.”
Now let me be clear about one thing: I am in no position and have no motives to neither endorse nor reject Character Counts as an effective character education program. It is simply that Character Counts seems to be ubiquitous in schools, including mine. What I do reject, however, is the method by which many schools use Character Counts as their best attempt at teaching social and emotional skills. We can (and must) do better than simply mentioning and celebrating these virtuous traits once a month.
In a landmark meta-analysis of social and emotional learning (SEL) programs published in 2011 the authors found that effective SEL programs include “processing, integrating, and selectively applying social and emotional skills in developmentally, contextually and culturally appropriate ways.” Furthermore, “Through systematic instruction, SEL skills may be taught, modeled, practiced, and applied to diverse situations so that students use them as part of their daily repertoire of behaviors.” The four practices recommended in the study create the acronym SAFE. From the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL) summary of the findings:
Effective programs and approaches are typically sequenced, active, focused, and explicit (S.A.F.E.), meaning they:
Clearly, there is a stark contrast between a comprehensive SEL program as described in the meta-analysis and the manner in which many schools today are using Character Counts for teaching students the social skills necessary for a productive life inside and outside of school. We as teachers must drop our “we’re-already-doing-it” attitude and start doing what students and the rest of society needs us to do—put forth a wholehearted effort in teaching social and emotional skills in our schools. That will be cause for real celebration.
36 Things Every 21st Century Teacher Should Be Able To Do
1. Select the right platform to communicate.
Whether you choose a text message, email, social media message, Skype session, or a Google+ Hangouts depends on who you need to communicate with and why—purpose and audience. So whether you’re sending an email to a parent when a phone call is necessary, or responding in a closed Google+ circle,choosing the right platform is everything.
2. Send large files.
Email won’t always work. You can use Evernote or dropbox; yousendit or SugarSync; a blog or a YouTube channel. Whatever you’re sending, a teacher in 2013 should be able to get it there quickly, and with minimal hassle from the recipient.
3. Take a screenshot on PC, Mac, and mobile devices.
Hit the Print Screen button near your number pad on a keyboard on Windows. Push down volume rocker and power buttons simultaneously on iOS and Android devices. Command-Shift-3 on Mac OSX.
4. Appreciate memes.
Know what it means to be Rick Roll’d, the difference between a fail and an epic fail, why Steve is a scumbag, and who sad Keannu is. You may not care, but your students do. Even if you choose not to speak their language and instead prefer the king’s tongue, you can at least understand what they’re saying, lol.
5. Explain how and why to use technology to those who don’t use it.
Not everyone loves technology. Not only is it not necessary for learning, it’s not even the most important part of learning (how did Socrates every get along without twitter?) That being said, it can indeed transform learning given the right instructional design and learning model. Communicating this to others that may not use it is increasingly important as a network building strategy and as a tool to be used locally to change culture.
An RT as an olive branch.
6. Use digital media in light of privacy, copyright, and other legal issues.
7. Communicate clearly.
Tone is lost when you type. Know this and pre-emptively address is with clarity, choosing the right platform to communicate, and even smiley faces if you have to.
8. Search for, install, organize, use, and delete apps.
This is dead-simple, but you never know.
9. How to create, open, use, and share a variety of filetypes.
10. Help students share files.
Students need help “turning in” digital work. Digital portfolios help, as can blogs and social media platforms. Learning management systems can too. Whatever you use, help them figure it out.
11. Subscribe to and manage YouTube channels, podcasts, learnist and pinterest boards, and other dynamic sources of digital media.
Self explanatory, yes?
12. Create and maintain digital portfolios.
Of your own work, and for your students. The tools, habits, and strategies to do it well are accessible to anyone in the 21st century. You know, especially if you follow any blogs that cover this kind of thing.
That doesn’t mean you have to blog, but blogging is the among the best ways for students to survey, combine, and share digital media. You may not have the energy—or desire—to blog, but to effectively teach your students, you should know the basics.
14. Share learning data with students.
Sharing is easy. Sharing visual and digestible data not so much. More on this one below on #34.
15. Support students in managing their online “brand.”
And this starts with what you model–your visible social media profiles, Google search results for your name. That means a professional image, and no cliché quote from Ghandi in 24 point yellow font.
16. Manage your own social media and internet use.
It’s a tool, not an end. Self-manage accordingly.
17. Plan around a lack of technology elegantly.
Not all students have access. Do all that you can to give students that lack it a similar experience.
18. Delineate the difference between academics and entrepreneurial learning for students.
And in a way that doesn’t completely undercut academic learning, but rather contextualizes it.
19. Troubleshoot stuff that breaks.
Be MacGyver with a keyboard. If the Wi-Fi signal drops, the app freezes, or the password just won’t take, have a plan.
20. Skim and process large quantities of information.
Otherwise you’ll drown in the very thinking and resource stream you’re trying to benefit from. A powerful combination to use here? An RSS reader like Google Reader connected to GetPocket.
21. Use the cloud to your advantage.
Offline access. Automatic syncing. Push notifications on apps. Writing and composition. Use the cloud.
22. Model digital citizenship.
To model it, we have to agree on what it means. We’ll talk more about this one soon, but for now, these resources should help.
23. Casually name-drop reddit.
Reddit is a downright cultish community of active and intelligent forum users that are addicted to socializing everything. And it’s awesome. If you don’t use it, try to mention it here and there as if you do (#streetcred), and when students ask just smile and nod your head a lot.
24. Support students in finding their own voice.
It’s not as simple as “band, books, or cheerleading” anymore. With visibility comes nuance. Now we have facebook groups of cheerleaders who are left-handed and prefer Fiji water over Dasani 50,000 members strong. Luckily, technology can step in and help–drawing, music, acting, writing, a charismatic YouTube channel; it’s now unnecessary for any student to be anonymous and isolated.
25. Research effectively.
And then model that effective research for students constantly in highly visible ways.
25. Use formal or informal learning management systems.
Whether you use a formal LMS, or just setup a Google+ Circle or community, either can help frame your curriculum for students and parents.
26. Leverage the relationship between physical and digital media.
What is the relationship between the app, the YouTube channel, the podcast, the play, and the poem? This is something you need to figure out–especially the English-Language Arts/Literature teachers among you.
27. Highlight the limits of technology.
If we don’t understand both the micro and macro impact of technology–the good and the bad–we’re doomed as a species to be completely overran by it. Sounds dramatic, but it just might be true.
28. Connect students with communities using project-based learning.
This can be one of the most powerful things you do, as it moves the learning from sterile classrooms to authentic audiences.
29. Model the value of questions over answers.
30. Understand how play leads to learning.
Play is not a whimsical recreation, but a zen-like cognitive resonance that rips learning out of the hands of well-meaning adults and seeks to self-direct children through experiment, fail, and try again.
31. Use Game-Based Learning effectively.
That doesn’t mean to just play video games, or make students play them then ask them awkward questions about their experience, but to understand how video games support both academic and authentic learning.
32. Curate functionally.
What to save and how to save it? Great questions. And what kind of process do you have to keep from hoarding digital resources and actually use all the crap you save? An even better one.
33. Record, process, mash, publish, and distribute digital media.
Digital media is likely the future of learning. So, begin the transition.
34. Visualize learning data for students.
This is different than just sharing an alphanumeric digit–this is about knowledge, progress, and the right data and the right time that is packaged in a highly-digestible way.
35. Connect with other educators both in person and online.
Don’t be a twitter diva; don’t be a Luddite. Find a blend.
36. Personalize learning.
To genuinely and fully personalize learning for all of your students in a typical K-20 public school or university is impossible (unless we have different definitions of personalized learning).
And that’s why this is last.
Because of the requirements of No Child Left Behind and the current emphasis on implementing the Common Core standards, reading and math are given priority time and attention in many, if not most public schools and Districts. Due to these circumstances, there is relatively little priority given to teaching and learning science. We frequently read in the media about the importance of science in today’s 21st century world, yet there is little emphasis on creating comprehensive, high quality science programs at all levels, pre-school through high school. It is rare to find coherent, active learning, inquiry based science programs at the pre-school and primary grade levels. Many teachers at the elementary level indicate that they have limited time to include science activities in the curriculum. High quality science programs emphasize active learning through inquiry strategies, investigation, hypothesis testing, experimentation, and science projects, but in too many middle and high school science classes, the key science program ingredients are the use of textbooks as the primary science resource, coverage driven teaching and learning, and traditional multiple-choice, short essay tests. Other priorities, time limitations, lack of attention, fragmentation, a traditional coverage based focus – all conspire to reduce the effectiveness and excellence of science programs in most schools and Districts.
Here are one dozen reasons why we must counter these trends and find ways to implement high quality science teaching and learning for all our children at all educational levels:
1. Science is interesting, important, meaningful, and motivating.
Science questions provoke interest in the mysteries and wonders of the natural world. Students learn to think about important questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? How does life exist? Why do things grow? Learning science provides students with an understanding of its massive contributions to everyday living and the comforts of life. Science programs provide an important avenue for helping students to develop a passion for inquiry and a better understanding of the world around us.
2. Science career opportunities will be important in the future.
High quality science education experiences develop scientific talents and interests. Good science programs interest, motivate and encourage students to prepare to work in the growing science-related professions, as scientists, health care professionals, technicians, and other science-related fields.
3. Science promotes democratic thinking and values.
Science teaches children to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking in order to resolve problems. Conflicts in science are resolved peacefully through discussion, argument, further investigation and the collection of evidence. Scientists learn to “disagree without being disagreeable”. Thoughtful criticism is the norm, not the exception. The expectation is that, as Einstein once said, “critical comments should be taken in a friendly spirit”.
4. Science builds positive lifelong learning habits, behaviors and attitudes.
Good science programs emphasize the value of inquiry, encourage curiosity, and reward persistence and patience. Students learn to focus on science as a series of mysteries. They learn how to develop and explore interesting questions. They learn to solve problems and answer questions by taking small steps, being persistent, having patience, and overcoming adversity. They learn that finding “truth” is often messy and inconclusive. Students learn that successful achievement and learning often require trial and error, making mistakes, even failure. In other words, science teaches habits, behaviors and attitudes that support self-directed, autonomous, lifelong learning.
5. Science enhances creativity and imagination, tolerance for and adaptation to change
High quality science programs encourage students to ask “what if…?”. Students learn to explore open-ended questions, to consider alternatives that are “outside the box”, to invent and test creative solutions, and to try to solve problems in different and unusual ways. Science teaches students that change and adaptation is part of the nature of learning and growing by testing new ideas and adapting to changing circumstances.
6. Science teaches that knowledge is “tentative” and that knowledge, theory and explanation are all part of the learning process.
Too many students come away from school thinking that that knowledge is fixed and immutable (especially if it comes from a textbook) – that there is always a right answer. A study of Galileo’s or Einstein’s discoveries help students to see that what once was thought to be “correct” turned out to be wrong, that scientific knowledge needs to be tested, studies need replication, and theory is only an empty idea until there is data to support and explain it. Good science programs teach students that knowledge is frequently tentative and changing.
7. Science develops critical intellectual skills.
Science fosters the development of critical thinking skills that carry over to learning other subjects and daily living. Through science, children learn to carefully observe (What do you see happening to this plant as it grows?) interpret and hypothesize (Why do you think this is happening?) conduct experiments (How can we prove it?), see different perspectives and points of view (What are different points of view about why this happened?) analyze (What are its component parts?) synthesize (How does this all fit together into a pattern? What are the connections and relationships?) and draw conclusions (What are our results? Conclusions? Why?) Students learn how to create an argument with supporting evidence to justify a point of view, to question opinions that have little backing to support them.
8. Science builds reading and “learning to learn” skills.
Good science programs build strong reading skills! As students investigate physical forces, chemical reactions, biological growth, or the solar system, they also learn how to read a variety of science resources, understand new concepts, build vocabulary and background knowledge, and learn the language of science and science inquiry. The investigation skills they learn – defining problems and challenges, searching for and processing information, thinking critically and creatively, drawing conclusions and applying learning, and communicating with others and explaining results - are a significant part of the “learning to learn” skills they will need for college and future careers.
9. Science helps students to learn and apply mathematical thinking.
Math is the language of science. As students learn science, they learn that mathematics is an important tool to help solve real problems and questions. Measurement, number manipulation, and proportional thinking are critical tools of science. As students “do” science, they learn how to collect and analyze data, form patterns, develop spatial and geometric relationships, and apply many of the higher level and complex math systems to scientific problem solving.
10. Science enriches learning in other subjects.
All subject areas benefit when a student understands science concepts and ideas. For example, science concepts are helpful for understanding historical forces, technological and social changes over time, and current issues and concerns such as global warming. Science problems can be used to help students understand and apply statistical analysis. The arts are integrated into science through graphic designs and drawings that complement learning about scientific and technological principles and innovations and provide visual demonstrations of learning. Science concepts are intertwined with understanding healthy living habits and good nutrition.
11. Science develops teamwork skills.
Through science, children learn how to work together to investigate, test hypotheses, interpret data, and draw conclusions. As they work together, they learn to understand and tolerate difference and diversity. They learn how teamwork contributes to significant learning. Science can also contribute to making schools safer and more peaceful by teaching students how to work together and resolve conflicts.
12. Scientific understanding is critical for good citizenship in a 21st century world.
An understanding of science, science concepts, how science arrives at results, and science research is critical if students are to become intelligent citizens in a democratic society. An understanding of today’s complex issues, concerns, challenges and problems require an understanding of scientific principles, concepts and ideas. Global warming is the most obvious, but others include what to do about atomic waste, how to get clean water, agriculture and food issues, health and illness, hurricane damage prevention, energy issues, automation and robotics.
High quality, inquiry based science programs motivate children and provide them with intellectual skills and positive attitudes and values that help them to succeed in school and in life. Science learning raises and examines critical questions and promotes understanding about the natural and physical world, and provides students with inquiry and investigation skills that will encourage a lifetime of learning. They increase interest in a subject that is of considerable importance to the development of highly educated citizens who understand critical issues for the future and to student preparation for well-paying science-related careers. Good science programs help students learn to work together and to learn methods that help them resolve conflicts peacefully.
Teachers, Boards of Education, superintendents, principals, the community at large, and governments at all levels – all need to make a commitment to support and develop high quality science programs at all levels, including pre-school. There are many ways to do this – for example, to widely share and discuss these dozen reasons on why it is critical to develop strong science programs, to adopt high quality science curricula at all levels[i], to develop teachers’ science knowledge and skills, to train teachers on how to incorporate high quality science experiences into their classrooms, to involve local science organizations in promoting and fostering high quality programs, to apply for funds to implement and support high quality science programs at all levels, and, ultimately, to develop competent science educators in every school and at all levels.
Every child should have the opportunity to participate in a strong, coherent science program. It should be priority for a 21st century world education. Science education can have a powerful impact on children and learning, and it can make a significant difference in the lives of children. What it takes is understanding, commitment, dedication, passion, persistence, and hard work over time.
[i] Curricular programs that meet the high quality test include active, kit based elementary science programs such as FOSS (http://lhsfoss.org), secondary programs such as Active Physics (http://its-about-time.com/htmls/ap.html), and the adoption of teaching methods that promote active learning and support science understanding, such as those created by Eric Mazur at Harvard University (http://mazur.harvard.edu/education/educationmenu.php).
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, Understanding by Design trainer, author, consultant, former Professor of Education at Temple University, and former Director, Curriculum/Instruction Services for the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. If you are interested in examining additional ways to improve teaching, learning, and curriculum in order to help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, go to his website at: www.era3learning.org
American educators are big advocates for the "Workshop Model." Elementary schools throughout the United States begin each morning with Reader's Workshop and Writer's Workshop. Math Workshop is starting to become more prevalent, since the workshop model makes sense and seems to support student understanding. With a required number of minutes for each workshop model, social studies has been squeezed out of the curriculum in many elementary schools. As I have recently observed the benefits of the workshop model, I have reflected on what the "Social Studies Workshop" would look like in a K-12 classroom.
Possibilities for Social Studies Workshop:
One of my favorite resources for Social Studies Workshop involves reading, writing, analyzing, drawing conclusions, and communication. K-12 Social Studies teachers need to take adavantage of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Document Analysis Worksheets. OMG! Worksheets? I know, I dropped the 'W' word. You may cringe at the term worksheet. These interactive forms will help students develop the critical thinking skills that they need as they continue to advance through school and become an informed citizen. These are the skills that I use when I visit a museum, attend a Broadway play, read the news on an app, review a tweet about a political issue, compare three news reports, process what my co-workers heard on NPR, try to make sense of a current event, or make an informed decision.
The Social Studies Workshop has a place in every K-12 classroom. The skills that are learned in a high-quality social studies classroom can shape how a student views the world. We still need critical thinkers, problem solvers, communicators, researchers, collaborators, elected officials, community leaders, digital citizens, and change leaders. Social Studies deserves a place in the curriculum and adults should push for more social studies throughout the K-12 experience. You can call it workshop or you can call it preparation for life. This is not your social studies classroom, where you memorized key dates, events, leaders, and major rivers. This is the social studies classroom that students need. Consider what you would add to my list. What would a Social Studies Workshop look like at your grade level? What are the benefits of a Social Studies Workshop, modeled after a Reader's and Writer's Workshop?
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-mail newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Why You Should Attend the Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy
ASCD’s Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy (LILA), one of the association’s most unique experiences for educators, provides participants with the opportunity to learn from some of the nation’s leading education thinkers and policymakers in a much more personal setting than the usual conference. Register for LILA now to take advantage of the conference’s hands-on format so that you can gain the skills and knowledge to make a difference.
LILA takes place January 27–29, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Read on for some of the features that set this conference apart.
Space is limited and the registration deadline is fast approaching! Register for this premier legislative conference today and check out the conference agenda as well as the registration and travel information. Questions? Contact ASCD’s policy team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New ASCD Policy Points on Sequestration and Education Now Available
Learn all you need to know about sequestration and its consequences for educators and schools in the latest issue of Policy Points, ASCD’s newest policy publication.
Sequestration, the 8.2 percent deep, across-the-board cuts to nearly all federal spending, will happen in January 2013 unless Congress acts to stop it. For education programs, this means a loss of more than $4 billion in federal funding. Unless lawmakers act soon, the potential loss of educator jobs, programs, transportation, and key school services could have a devastating effect in every state.
Policy Points explains how we got to this point, outlines what sequestration means for education, and shares action steps that educators like you can take to help stop sequestration. Take one of these steps today, and urge your federal lawmakers to stop sequestration before time runs out and our nation’s students are forced to pay the price for Congress’s inaction.
Check out the new Whole Child Tenets document
The Whole Child Programs Unit within Constituent Services has released a new copy of the whole child tenets document (PDF). In addition to having an updated design, the new layout allows users to see connections between the indicators that describe a tenet, and their correlating components, which were also identified for the ASCD School Improvement Tool. We hope users will find the new format more user-friendly as you work with schools, districts and states to support a whole child approach to education. We believe it to be the most comprehensive way to help educators in the field understand the real scope of a whole child approach.
Emerging Leaders Featured inASCD Inservice Blog Series
In an effort to highlight more educator voices on the ASCD blog, we recently initiated a series of Q&A sessions featuring ASCD Emerging Leaders. Learn more about 2012 Emerging Leader Daina Lieberman and 2011 Emerging Leader Doug Paulson.
Florida ASCD Leader Post Featured in ASCD Inserviceand Core Connection
ASCD asked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states. In the first post of the series,Florida ASCD President and Emerging Leader alum Alina Davis writes about the challenges and successes that Florida has had with CCSS implementation. This post was also featured in the December 5 issue of ASCD’s Common Core e-newsletter, Core Connection.
Please Welcome Montclair State University to the ASCD Student Chapter Program
ASCD is pleased to announce that Montclair State University has been accepted into our ASCD Student Chapter Program. The student leaders are enthusiastically planning recruitment events and other activities for the coming semester. To learn more about ASCD Student Chapters, go to www.ascd.org/chapters.
ASCD Leaders on ASCD EDge
Check out these great posts from ASCD leaders on the ASCD EDgecommunity site. Please read, comment, and share!
ASCD Can Help Support Your Common Core Efforts
Are you interested in having a session presenter or keynote speaker on Common Core implementation at your next event? ASCD has resources and assistance available to state affiliates that will help to inform your members and educators about implementing the Common Core standards. ASCD’s recent reportFulfilling the Promise of the Common Core State Standards: Moving from Adoption to Implementation to Sustainability illuminates activities educators at all levels can undertake to successfully implement the Common Core State Standards across the nation. The report and its implementation recommendations have already been successfully presented at events held by Utah ASCD, Ohio ASCD, and North Carolina ASCD. If you are interested in learning more about these opportunities, e-mail Efrain Mercado, lead strategist for the Common Core State Standards, at both email@example.com andConstituentServices@ascd.org.
A Progress Report on Teacher Evaluation
Teacher quality is the most important in-school factor influencing student learning and achievement. Research shows that students with high-performing teachers can progress three times as fast as students with low-performing teachers and each student deserves access to highly effective teachers in every subject. In turn, all teachers deserve a fair and accurate assessment of their skills, how they perform in the classroom, and how they can improve. Teacher effectiveness is dependent on accurate and fair evaluations, based on multiple measures, including—but not solely based around—their students’ performance in the subjects they teach.
If the ultimate goal of teacher evaluation is to improve student performance, what should evaluators look for? Read more on the Whole Child Blog.
In November, we looked at the current teacher evaluation landscape. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Mike Blakeslee, deputy executive director and chief operating officer of the National Association for Music Education, a whole child partner organization and member of ASCD's College, Career, and Citizenship Readiness Coalition; Bryan Goodwin, vice president of communications at McREL, based in Denver, Colo.; and Cindy Weber, superintendent of Durand Area Schools in Durand, Mich. Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read this month's newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
ASCD’s Educational Leadership also focused on fair and effective teacher evaluation in its November issue, featuring articles by Robert J. Marzano, Charlotte Danielson, Tony Frontier, Thomas R. Hoerr, Carol Ann Tomlinson, and other experts and practitioners. Topics, research, and commentary include peer review, classroom observation, value-added measures, school district examples from across the United States, and lessons from South Korea.
Something to Talk About
· New Professional Development Resources from ASCD Support Problem-Based Learning, Differentiated Instruction, and Common Core Implementation—ASCD announces the release of a series of new PD In Focus® videos, as well as two PD Online® courses. These new resources focus on supporting educators in implementing problem-based learning, differentiated instruction, and the Common Core State Standards. Read the full press release.
· Thomas Armstrong Presents Strength-Based Model for Teaching Learners with Special Needs in New Book—ASCD is pleased to announce the release ofNeurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life by seasoned educator and best-selling author Thomas Armstrong. This new professional development book is available in paperback and e-book formats. Read the full press release.
· ASCD Authors Headline 2013 Annual Conference Pre-Conference Institutes— ASCD announced the pre-conference session lineup for the 2013 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show, being held at McCormick Place in Chicago, Ill. The three-, two-, and one-day Pre-Conference Institutes will be held March 13–15 and offer intensive learning experiences on curriculum, instruction, assessment, and more. Read the full press release.
· Atlanta Public Schools Select Digital Solutions from ASCD to Support Professional Development Goals—Atlanta Public Schools (APS), serving more than 51,000 students in the greater Atlanta, Ga., metro area, has become the latest school system to select digital solutions from ASCD to meet theirdistrictwide professional development goals. Read the full press release.
As a follow-up to our 9 Characteristics of 21st Century Learning we developed in 2009, we have developed an updated framework, The Inside-Out Learning Model from TeachThought.com
The goal of the model is simple enough–not pure academic proficiency, but instead authentic self-knowledge, diverse local and global interdependence, adaptive critical thinking, and adaptive media literacy.
By design this model emphasizes the role of play, diverse digital and physical media, and a designed interdependence between communities and schools.
The attempted personalization of learning occurs through new actuators and new notions of local and global citizenship. An Inside-Out School returns the learners, learning, and “accountability” away from academia and back to communities. No longer do schools teach. Rather, they act as curators of resources and learning tools, and promote the shift of the “burden” of leanring back to a more balanced perspective of stakeholders and participants.
Here, families, business leaders, humanities-based organizations, neighbors, mentors, higher-education institutions, all converging to witness, revere, respond to, and support the learning of its own community members.
The micro-effect here is increased intellectual intimacy, while the macro-effect is healthier communities and citizenship that extends beyond mere participation, to ideas of thinking, scale, legacy, and growth.
The 9 Domains Of the Inside-Out Learning Model
1. Five Learning Actuators
2. Changing Habits
4. Self-Initiated Transfer
5. Mentoring & Community
6. Changing Roles
7. Climate of Assessment
8. Thought & Abstraction
9. Expanding Literacies
The Inside-Out Learning Model Central Learning Theories & Artifacts: Situational Learning Theory (Lave), Discovery Learning (Bruner), Communal Constructivism (Holmes), Zone of Proximal Development & More Knowledgeable Other (Vygotsky), Learning Cycle (Kolb), Transfer (Thorndike, Perkins, Wiggins), Habits of Mind (Costa and Kallick), Paulo Freire, and the complete body of work by Wendell Berry
One of the joys of my retirement years is the ability to pick and choose schools that I decide to consult with and work in as a volunteer. Since I live in Philadelphia, I also feel as if I am helping to support public schools that work with urban children who often live in difficult circumstances. Two of these schools, the Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice and the Science Leadership Academy, are very special schools, both dedicated to helping students learn and grow around an important theme, and providing multiple opportunities to promote their themes in engaging ways.
Imagine how surprised I was to learn that a new and wonderful book, Embracing Risk in Urban Education, by Alice E. Ginsberg (2012: Bowman and Littlefield Education) features these two schools, along with two other Philadelphia schools.
Why is “Embracing Risk” in the title? In an interesting twist, Alice Ginsberg turns the concept of risk on its head. She argues that, instead of eliminating risk from schools by “regulating, standardizing, scripting, and quantifying” what we do in schools, we should try to develop schools that embrace risk by enabling students to “…experiment, disagree, … assert their individuality, test assumptions and question data”, essential qualities for a 21st century world and a democratic society (p. 3). The book then describes four Philadelphia urban schools and sample teaching examples that, in her view, “make space for children to explore the unknown” (p. 4), to learn how to inquire, collaborate, foster social justice, and build patience, sustained commitment, and cooperative, responsible leadership (p. 10).
What is special about these four schools? Briefly, Science Leadership Academy is a public high school committed to inquiry, creativity, project based learning, and experimentation. It has gained national attention for its willingness to try new approaches to teaching and learning, its emphasis on five core values, and its commitment to authentic learning. The Folkarts Cultural Treasures School (FACTS) is a K-8 Charter School in Philadelphia’s Chinatown that embraces the cultural values, identities, knowledge, wisdom and languages that students bring to the school and incorporates these into all learning. The Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice is a public high school that promotes peaceful methods of solving problems, and emphasizes conflict resolution, social development, ethical behavior, citizenship, service, and leadership. Finally, the Wissahickon Charter School is a K-8 school that promotes a ‘discovery approach’ to all learning, and has an environmental focus that includes a working garden, a healthy lunch program, and student access to environments such as woods, lakes and mountains that are not ordinarily accessible to urban students.
In short, these schools have unique and common features that “embrace risk”, such as purposeful, meaningful, thoughtful missions and goals, open-ended inquiry and project based learning, student reflection, relevance, empathy, experiential learning, community connections, literacy in a broader sense than just the ability to read and decode, and multi-faceted assessments that go well beyond the traditional multiple choice, right answer standardized test.
Although the book is ostensibly about urban education, all educators can learn from its key ideas, school and teaching examples. I urge anyone who is interested in further understanding the core concepts embedded in the book, the nature and character of these schools and model teaching examples, and what they imply for a 21st century education, to read this book. You will not be disappointed. The concept of “embracing risk” that is explored on many different levels; the lessons from, characteristics, and distinct qualities of these four schools; and the personal qualities exemplified by students who graduate from these schools need to be thoughtfully examined and considered by all educators as we prepare our children for the challenging, complex, confusing, and risky world of the future.
Elliott Seif is an educational consultant, author, member of the Understanding by Design cadre and the ASCD faculty, and a contributor to Educational Leadership.
It is always heartbreaking to hear of another teenager being driven to suicide by relentless bullying. At the risk of sounding old fashioned, what is the world coming to?
When did we pass the tipping point of treating others the way we would want to be treated? When did we stop caring not only about others but, more importantly, ourselves? When did we give up? How can we re-engage everyone in creating a culture of caring, kindness, respect and shared responsibility?
As a school principal for almost 30 years, I saw my students change. At first there were many shared beliefs and values that had been instilled at home. As time went on these shared understandings became fewer and fewer. Students came to us with a wide range of basic beliefs and values. There were few shared understandings about right and wrong. Students were increasingly guided not only by their parents but by peers, traditional media and social networking.
Although schools and school systems typically have something in their mission and vision statements about citizenship, well-being, and respectful cultures, actual implementation is inconsistent. Because school culture is difficult to measure, we tend to focus on bullying as the issue. We want to stop bullying but we don’t plan to create cultures in which bullying is no longer the norm or even a rite of passage.
A safe and caring school culture emanates from well-defined beliefs and core values based on a foundation of caring for all. Safe and caring school cultures don’t just happen, they are consciously developed and nurtured. In creating safe and caring school cultures, we must focus on building connections and fostering relationships — in real time and face-to-face. Developing positive relationships with a variety of people encourages respect for diversity and helps prevent prejudice.
The last school of which I was principal had this very diverse population. We had special education classes for students with behavioural, emotional and intellectual challenges, deaf and hard of hearing students, and gifted students. We had English and French Immersion programs. We served three public housing projects and students from over 50 countries. Through concentrated effort, we created a culture where all students felt respected and valued and bullying was minimal.
We started by doing student surveys about how safe and cared for they felt at school and what we could do to make things better for them. At their request, we implemented a reporting system through which students of all ages could report being bullied or someone else being bullied. The students filled out brief reports and placed them in boxes located throughout the school. They could choose whether to identify themselves or not. This got them used to reporting bullying. When the students found that their reports were being acted upon with sensitivity and in a timely manner, they began to report openly, trusting that things would get better, not worse.
We provided many opportunities for our diverse population to build connections with one another. Grade 7 and 8 students from each of our programs were cross-grouped once a week for our Option Program. Students would choose from such diverse offerings as cooking, board games, guitar, hip-hop dance, magic and Ping-Pong and then worked alongside students with a wide range of difficulties, abilities, talents and backgrounds. All students were encouraged to form and take part in Service Learning groups where they would work together to make a difference in their local and global communities.
The vast majority of our students felt totally engaged in school and connected to their teachers and fellow students. They felt like they were doing something important for themselves and others.
You don’t stop bullying by zero-tolerance policies, criminalizing it, or saying “no” to it. You stop it by creating cultures and communities where people feel connected to and respectful of one another. In schools, children need to be encouraged to show respect for others and learn how to work together in order to become responsible citizens. Our at-risk students have the highest need for belonging and inclusion yet are the least likely to have that need satisfied. We need to fix this. We can fix this. At my last school, we did fix it.
We must understand that we have passed the point where education is just about curriculum and even learning skills. It is about developing the whole child. This isn’t social engineering, it’s a social imperative if we are to get back from the brink of a bullying, win-lose society.
Teenage suicides and bullying are a call to action, not a call for more research and rhetoric. We have access to research studies in anxiety, depression, bullying, resilience, suicide and learning done by extremely qualified people and organizations. We know what we need to do. We need experts, politicians, educators and parents to work together to create a better future for all of our children.
Carol Hunter is the author of Real Leadership, Real Change and a retired Ottawa-Carleton District School Board principal (impactleadership.ca).
My article was originally published in The Ottawa Citizen, October 22, 2012.
Preparing Students for College, Career, and CITIZENSHIP: A Guide to Align Civic Education and the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects was developed by the Los Angeles County Office of Education in partnership with the California Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools. The guide provides K-12 educators with instructional practices that strengthen civic learning and history education while at the same time meeting the reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language Common Core State Standards. As we move forward to prepare students for success in college and career, this guide will help us prepare students for the "third c" - citizenship in the 21st century.
The guide is free and downloadable at http://www.lacoe.edu/CurriculumInstruction/HistorySocialScience.aspx under the column labeled "Resources". Click on the title: National - Preparing Students for College, Career, and CITIZENSHIP to download.
Introduction: Is good art measured by multiple choice tests?
“Art Portfolios are a powerful tool for artists to showcase and improve their work.
It’s hard to imagine what we would do without them.”
Imagine if, in art school, students took multiple choice-short answer tests to assess their knowledge of art instead of having student artwork showcased through portfolios and critiquing the actual work of artists in order to improve their work. Would that make sense? Of course not. Artists would leave schools like that in droves, because traditional tests would not be helpful in assessing the quality of their artwork or in helping artists become better at their craft.
In the same way, much if not most of what we are trying to accomplish with students today cannot be assessed by traditional tests. Do traditional tests help us evaluate how well students are able to write coherent papers? Do research? Complete projects? Think creatively?
This commentary argues that, in today’s world, there is a critical need to shift from a “traditional” test model of measuring student success to a portfolio model built primarily around real student work, designed to assess whether students have developed competence in learning and using critical 21st century skills.
Why we need an alternative assessment model
The most commonly used assessment tool in the United States today is the “traditional test” (TT), consisting primarily of multiple choice, short answer and short essay questions. TT type questions are still the core components of State and National standardized tests, which are often used as a high stakes requirement for high school graduation or admission into college. Results on these tests are the scores that get published in the newspaper, and are often the only measures used by the public to judge student proficiency and school success. Middle and high school teachers primarily use traditional tests as the main method for determining their students’ classroom success.
Unfortunately, TT’s have limited value in assessing important knowledge and skills necessary for 21st century living. They are good for determining whether students can recognize facts and identify information correctly, but not whether they can define and describe key concepts and explain them, organize their thoughts coherently, and build connections and relationships among diverse sets of information and ideas. They are good for measuring whether students can find information from a text and make low-level inferences, but not whether they can read a long story or informational text and synthesize information and ideas on their own. They can measure whether students are able to write short essays, but not whether they can put together persuasive arguments, write an analysis of historical events, write long and interesting narratives, or write long, coherent essays and “term” papers. They can measure a student’s ability to apply learning to new situations, but with significant limitations. They are generally easy to grade, but the limitations of computerized grading systems prevent complex analyses of student work.
How and what we assess determines what is the primary focus of our teaching! An emphasis on TT’s guarantees that our primary educational focus will be on remembering and recognizing key facts and information, on developing low-level inference skills, and on producing simple written products. But a major problem with the use of TT’s is that many of the key, critical “learning to learn” skills and personal development characteristics necessary for living in a 21st century world often get short shrift. They just are not considered important enough to be measure by assessments that “count”.
Assessing for lifelong learning
In this changing, confusing, complex world, with information overload and a rapidly changing job market, all students need the critical skills necessary for continuing their learning after high school. More students will be heading off to some form of a college education in order to take their place in the job market of the future. Most good jobs will require (and even today require) continuous learning and retraining. Citizenship in this politically charged, complex democratic society will more and more require a conceptual understanding of global as well as national issues, and the ability to continually find, evaluate, and thoughtfully analyze information about current events.
In other words, high school graduation should be thought of as the beginning of learning, not the end. When students graduate from high school, they should be prepared for lifelong learning by demonstrating their competence in using five lifelong learning skill sets:
Ask good questions, define problems and challenges (curiosity);
Search for and process information and data (informationand data literacy);
Think logically and creatively (thoughtfulness),
Draw conclusions and apply learning to new situations (application),
Communicate effectively (communication).
In addition, given the complexity of the 21st century world and the bewildering array of options and choices confronting each individual, students need to begin to discover their individual talents, strengths, interests, and goals.
TT’s don’t adequately assess lifelong learning skills
Unfortunately, these five key skill goals, along with the self-development goal described above, can’t be adequately measured by TT’s. For example, the ability to ask good questions is best assessed by observing how well students can develop “driving” questions for projects[i], brainstorm and choose essential questions at the beginning of a unit, or ask good questions during a class discussion or recitation that help to clarify a concept or extend understanding.
Thorough assessment of information and data literacy skills is often determined by observing students as they search for information and data, asking students to compare and contrast multiple types of information in a venn diagram, having them explain why some resources are better than others, and by asking them to summarize and synthesize multiple sources of information and data. Extensive research projects are a good way to both teach and assess information and data literacy skills.
“Thoughtfulness” is often measured by how well students can perform in pro and con discussions and debates, participate in interpretative discussions, write persuasive arguments in favor of a point of view, develop “academic” papers on a topic, and demonstrate their ability to use creative thinking strategies to solve problems.
Performance and complex problem solving tasks, project products and presentations, self-reflections that provide students with the opportunity to summarize learning in their own words, and written essays are the best assessments of a student’s ability to draw conclusions and apply learning.
Assessing writing and more writing, speaking and more speaking, and non-verbal communication opportunities are the best ways to measure effective communication. Discussion, oral presentation, and writing rubrics are the most common methods used to assess communication skills.
And, finally, assessing whether students are developing their own interests, talents, strengths, and goals requires continual self-reflection on the part of the student, observations of individual progress, and the creation of individualized goals and plans for the future. Projects and activities that demonstrate the development of student talents and strengths are a critical part of this learning, and some schools enable students to develop interests through the use of “passion projects” and/or senior projects in which students develop research projects, field experiences, and presentations around major topics of interest.
Building a portfolio assessment system
In order to demonstrate progress and success in achieving the lifelong learning skills cited above, every teacher, every school, should create student portfolios that include multiple types of assessments –discussion observations, many types of written work, performance tasks, oral presentations, self-reflections, and even TT’s. Self-reflections also help to determine whether each student is learning about his or her passions, interests, talents, and goals.
Students also need periodic opportunities to share portfolios with adults from outside the school who listen to their explanations and analyses, ask clarifying questions, and help them to better understand their progress, goals and future directions.
Beginning the process
Some of you may already be using portfolios extensively. But odds are that most of you are using portfolios only occasionally or not at all.
If you’re not using multiple assessment portfolios, it’s easier to get started than you think. If you are, consider how you can enhance and expand their use. What student writing are you already collecting from students that might be placed in portfolios? What other forms of student work? Are there results of projects that might be included? Written reports? How might you better observe your students during discussions and write a quick summary of student participation? Do your students place frequent self-reflections on both learning and personal reflections Do you already have folders of student work that might become collections that illustrate growth over time? That showcase the best of every student’s work? How can you use the five skill sets and self-development framework as a way of building significant portfolio assessment collections?
Much of the work of both collecting and sorting portfolio work can be placed into the hands of students. Students can form the habit of placing their work into portfolios. At designated times, students can be asked to purge their portfolios and showcase only their best work. Periodic self-reflections can also be placed into the portfolios that indicate how students feel about the progress they have made and goals for the future. This way of handling portfolios also supports the development of self-management and self-reflection skills.
In today’s digital age, it also becomes easier and easier to find and create the appropriate tools that enable students to build customized portfolios K-12. A good multiple page scanner that costs about $400 is a beginning. Many websites are available to get you started[ii].
What’s critical is that, as an individual teacher or educational leader at a school or district, you organize your classroom, school or district to start or extend the use of portfolios as a way of assessing critical 21st century skills and personal development goals. It requires the will to do it, rather than any special skills.
If portfolios of student work can be collected by many teachers at the same grade level or teaching the same subjects, then teams of teachers together might spend some time together reviewing the work and agreeing on sample models of excellent, good and poor work. These models can be shared with students and also analyzed to determine the characteristics of work at each level. Such time is well spent and adds rigor to the process of collecting and improving student work!
Also, if you are a principal or superintendent, consider how you might collect and share portfolio assessment data and examples of student work at Board meetings and with the general public, to begin to wean the community away from solely using test scores as the instruments to best measure school and district success!
You may also be surprised at the results – many of your students might actually improve their standardized test scores because of their higher level of academic work, rigorous training, self-management, and critical skill development!
Portfolio collections of multiple types of assessments and self-reflections, not standardized, traditional measures of achievement, are the true determinants as to whether our students are ready for future challenges in a 21st century world. Once in place, they can be used to assure that our students are prepared with the critical knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors necessary for living and learning in today’s and tomorrow’s world.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, Understanding by Design trainer, author, consultant, former Professor of Education at Temple University, and former Director, Curriculum/Instruction Services for the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. If you are interested in examining additional ways to improve teaching and learning, and help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, go to his website at: www.era3learning.org
In education you must understand that you need the support and foundation from the community and the parents. The school is a part of the community therefore the relationship can either make or break you as a leader. The school influences the community in three traditional ways citizenship, intellectualism, and vocational preparation. Some people dont understand that parental involvement has a major impact on student achievement. The roles of the teacher and parent in curriculum planning are expanding in education because it is very important to include the parent/guardian in the student’s educational foundation, goals, and achievements. If the foundation of the parent-teacher relationship is not established in the beginning of the students’ educational journey it will be hard to keep the student on track. As a leader you initially have to find many ways to keep the parents engaged finding ways to reach out to them. Connecting to the parents is just as hard as engaging the students in some of the lower economical areas. I have found myself making house calls in the neighborhood just to get a better understanding of the students’ actions and why the parent is not in full communication with the teacher. As a leader there will be many times you will have to go above a phone call to reach the parents and get them to understand the importance of their involvement.