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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.
Recently, I was told by a teacher that she doesn’t have time to teach digital citizenship because she has to cover too many other content-specific standards. I get it... the Common Core-state tests-AP/IB/SAT/ACT Madness eats up so much of our time. Still, there is no excuse for allowing students to enter into the digital world without a toolkit for not only safety but also success. Beyond that, there is such a wide range of options for truly integrating digital citizenship objectives that the argument given by teachers who claim a lack of time is simply unfounded. Here are a few ways we all can bring digital citizenship to our classrooms seamlessly.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
ASCD Governance Updates: Constitutional Changes and Candidates for Office
ASCD Members Approve Proposed Constitutional Changes
ASCD members voted to approve a set of proposed changes to the ASCD Constitution; the results were certified by the independent audit firm of CliftonLarsonAllenLLP. The approved changes will result in
· A smaller Board of Directors over the next four years.
· An increase in a Board member’s term from three years to four years, effective with the 2013 elections.
· Election of a President by Board members, rather than the general membership, beginning in 2015.
· The creation of an ASCD Forum, effective by the end of 2012.
· Dissolution of the Leadership Council, effective immediately.
Please contact Becky DeRigge if you have any questions about the vote.
Slate of Candidates for the 2012 ASCD General Membership Election
President-Elect (one-year term):
Marc Cohen, Md.
Nancy Gibson, Ill.
Board of Directors (one position available, two-year term):
D. William Dodds, Ill.
Judith Zimmerman, Ohio
Board of Directors (two positions available, three-year terms):
Jennifer Lewis, Australia
Matt McClure, Ark.
Pam Vogel, Iowa
Meet the 2012 ASCD President-Elect Candidates
In 2012, ASCD members will elect the President-Elect, who will serve a three-year term on the Board of Directors as an officer of the association: one year as President-Elect, one year as President, and one year as Immediate Past-President. This year, ASCD held the 2012 Meet the President-Elect Candidates Forum at its Annual Conference in Philadelphia, Pa. The event allowed interested members to pose questions to each candidate and to get better acquainted with their credentials to make a more informed election decision.
Members will vote on candidates from September 1 through October 15, 2012. To help inform your vote, view the video of the session, which begins with opening statements from both candidates and is followed by their responses to each question. A PDF transcript of the forum is also available. In addition, be sure to keep an eye out for the September issue of Education Update, which will include biographical information on the candidates in the General Membership election as well as instructions on how to vote.
Please Welcome New Affiliate Executive Directors
Please join ASCD in welcoming the following individuals as they begin their new roles as ASCD affiliate executive directors:
Kevin Kjellerup, Florida ASCD
Rex Anderson, Nebraska ASCD
Patricia Miller, New Mexico ASCD
Valerie Kelsey, New York State ASCD
Daniel Craig, Oklahoma ASCD
Richard Nilsen, Pennsylvania ASCD
Lynne Baty, Utah ASCD
Please note the following interim contact until the affiliate has a new executive director:
Massachusetts ASCD: Cynthia Crimmin, affiliate president
2012 Emerging Leaders Featured in the News
Check out these news pieces featuring 2012 ASCD Emerging Leaders:
Farewell and Thank You to Outgoing Affiliate Executive Directors
It is a time of transition for many affiliates, as new affiliate presidents-elect and presidents began their terms on July 1. At the same time, several affiliate executive directors have recently transitioned out of their leadership roles as well. ASCD would like to take a moment to thank these leaders for their years of work and dedication in the affiliate executive director role, striving to ensure that each child in each community is healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged. You will be missed!
Kim Pearson, Florida ASCD
Mary Forte Hayes, Massachusetts ASCD
Sue Anderson, Nebraska ASCD
Judith Tanner, New Mexico ASCD
Tony Mello, New York State ASCD
Wayne Beam, Oklahoma ASCD
Jim Warnock, Pennsylvania ASCD
Amanda Calton, Utah ASCD
Past OYEA Cadre Members Share Their Thoughts on ASCD Inservice
Check Out the Whole Child Summer Professional Devleopment Blog Series
Through the end of August, the Whole Child Blog will be running a summer professional development (PD) blog series. This free series provides whole child resources that educators can use to gain further insight on implementing a whole child approach. The first post, "Your Summer PD: Successful School," provides readers with an understanding of what successful school sites are doing adn the steps that they can take to build and sustain a whole child culture.
Thirteen Huffington Post Education, Parenting, and Health Bloggers Joint Post In Support of the Whole Child
ASCD Whole Child Programs Director Sean Slade joined Martin J. Blank, Sam Chaltain, Peter DeWitt, John M. Eger, Larry Ferlazzo, Jenifer Fox, Shaun Johnson, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Jennifer Peck, Kate Quarfordt, Jim Taylor, and Jill Vialet to write the blog post entitled “In Support of the Whole Child:”
"We are at a crossroads in this nation regarding the direction that public education will take in the coming decades. Do we ffocus on a curriculum that concentrates on a few core subjects or do we gain an appreciation for how public education can develop all aspects of the child to teh benefit of each of them as well as society in general? Do we place test preparation ahead of actually educating our children and test scores ahead of broader and more holistic approaches to evaluating students' competencies? These questions lay at the heart of the current debate about the future of public education in America." Read the full post.
Something to Talk About
Teaching and Leading Conference Hosted by ASCD Coming to Atlanta in October—ASCD is bringing its Fall Conference on Revolutionizing the Way We Lead and Learn to Atlanta, Ga., October 26–28, 2012. Read the full press release.
Free Resources from ASCD Offer Professional Development Opportunities All Summer—This summer ASCD has again made available to educators of all levels a wide variety of free professional development resources. Read the full press release.
New Coalition Promotes College, Career, and Citizenship Readiness—A broad new coalition, led by ASCD and joined by more than two dozen national education organizations, has been formed to better advocate for school programs beyond reading, math, and science. Representing a wide array of subject areas, the members of the College, Career, and Citizenship Readiness Coalition are working to advance the concept that a comprehensive education in all core academic subjects, including physical education and health education, is necessary to prepare graduates for college and careers. Read the full press release.
AETN, ADE Renew Partnership with ASCD Providing Effective Professional Development to Educators Across Arkansas—The Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) and Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) have renewed their partnership with ASCD to provide effective, digital professional development opportunities for Arkansas educators statewide. Delivered through the ArkansasIDEAS (Internet Delivered Education for Arkansas Schools) professional development website, ASCD’s professional development courses cover topics such as Common Core State Standards implementation, differentiated instruction, integrating technology into classroom instruction, and other critical subjects and competencies. Read the full press release.
New DVDs from ASCD Explore Unpacking Common Core State Standards and Effective Supervision—ASCD has created two new professional development DVDs. These new releases feature the groundbreaking work of leading education experts and empower viewers to implement Common Core State Standards using the Understanding by Design® framework and apply the art and science of teaching to effective supervision. Read the full press release.
ASCD Announces Free 2012 Summer Boot Camp Webinar Series—ASCD announces the 2012 Summer Boot Camp webinar series. Assisting educators at all levels around the globe prepare for the 2012–13 school year, ASCD’s free summer boot camp comprises nine informative webinars on a variety of topics that shape classrooms worldwide. Read the full press release.
Ongoing professional development is critical in today’s world, with its new technologies, new practices for teaching and learning, the need for students to learn new skills and the importance of continuous curriculum development and renewal. As never before, all students need to be highly educated for college, career, and citizenship, and teachers need to continually improve on how they can help students get there.
Given the need for continuous improvement and lifelong professional growth, it is unfortunate that “summers off” is still thought of as sacrosanct in most school districts and by most teachers. Most school contracts still call for teachers to have the entire summer off. Extra pay incentives seem like the only way to get teachers to be part of a professional development program in the summer, but extra pay for summer work becomes less and less likely in today’s fiscal climate. Yet the summer is the only period of time during the year when teachers can explore new ideas, new approaches, and new practices without interruption.
In Philadelphia, where I live, many schools have serious problems, issues and challenges that require rethinking of teaching strategies, new approaches to motivating students to learn, and new ways to use technology. Yet the teachers’ contract calls for no professional development during the summer!
So I would like to call for a profound change in thinking about the summer, and hope that, sometime in the near future, as part of their regular contract, all teachers will agree to devote several weeks of professional development during the summer in order to help them to be better teachers during the school year. The several weeks need not be firmly fixed in time and place. Teachers might commit to two-three weeks of professional development during the summer and fulfill their commitment in many different ways.
Here are ten powerful ways that teachers might devote time in the summer in order to improve teaching and learning:
These are just some ideas of activities that might be including in summer professional development. Let’s hope that, sometime in the near future, summer professional development will be the norm, not the exception.
(Elliott Seif is an educational consultant, author, member of the Understanding by Design cadre and the ASCD faculty, and a contributor to Educational Leadership. You can find this blog and others, along with numerous resources and weblinks that promote a forward looking, 21st century educational approach, at: www.era3learning.org)
[i] Lesson study is a professional development process designed to systematically examine and improve teaching practice. Teachers work collaboratively on a small number of "study lessons" in order to plan, teach, observe, and critique the lessons. For more information, go to: http://www.lessonstudy.net/
[ii] For example, see A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Cocepts, and Core Ideas, available through the National Academies Press, at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13165
[iii] For more information on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) model, go to: http://www.p21.org/
Elliott Seif is an educational consultant, author, member of the Understanding by Design cadre and the ASCD faculty, and a contributor to Educational Leadership. You can find this blog and others, along with numerous resources and weblinks that promote a forward looking, 21st century educational approach, at: www.era3learning.org
Jim Collins is one of the best organizational development/leadership gurus, frequently writing about what makes organizations great. His well-researched books about what it takes to become good and great organizations have a wealth of tips and strategies to help make all organizations great.
All educators – superintendents, principals, teachers, even Board members-- can learn a lot from his most recent book Great By Choice[i]. Collins and his writing partner, Morten T. Hansen, compared seven businesses that are very successful with seven failed businesses in the same fields, in order to discover the reasons for success or failure. These included the Southwest Airlines (successful) and PSA (unsuccessful); bio-engineering companies Amgen (successful) and Genentech (unsuccessful); and insurance companies Progressive (successful) and Safeco (unsuccessful). This is a book well worth reading – here I will just summarize some of the major points, suggest how they might apply to schools and teachers, and also suggest four activities that educators might do to move teaching, schools, districts towards greatness over time.
Surprisingly, Collins and Hansen did not find that successful businesses and their leaders are more creative, visionary, charismatic, ambitious, blessed by luck, risk seeking, heroic, or prone to making big, bold moves (p. 18). What they did find is the following:
Great businesses have “level 5 ambition” coupled with fanatic discipline.
The leaders and people in the highly successful businesses translate their high ambitions, egos, self-images, and intensity into creating “something larger and more enduring than themselves” (p. 31). Translated into educational terms, great educational leaders, teachers, and organizations have lofty aims – to educate all children for success in a 21st century world, to make sure that every child can read well by the end of the year (first grade teacher), to prepare every child for citizenship in a democratic society (social studies department, district), and so on. But what helps to translate this high, “level 5” ambition into reality, what distinguishes successful from unsuccessful companies, is not their goals but their fanatic devotion to the implementation of their SMaC (Specific, Methodical, and Consistent) recipe –a set of “durable operating practices that create a replicable and consistent success formula” for implementing their goals. SMaC is the “operating code for turning strategic concepts into reality, a set of practices more enduring than mere tactics” (p. 128). In simple terms, the SMaC recipe are the key organizational “ingredients” that will get them to their goals. They also include “not to do” practices. Once established and understood, they are pursued with consistent, fanatic intensity and devotion over time. Changes to the recipe occur only when it is clear that the specific ingredient does not help lead to the implementation of goals. In the book, the authors include a number of examples of SMaC recipes from successful companies, well worth examining as models and samples.
Unfortunately, very few schools, districts and teachers develop clear, explicit outcomes and SMaC recipe ingredients that they consistently, day in and day out, devote their energies to implementing. One that does is High Tech High, a charter school in San Diego, California. The school has developed a clear set of goals and a SMaC recipe that it implements it with fanatic discipline built around four design principles – personalization, adult world connection, common intellectual mission, and teacher as designer. As the school says on its website: “The design principles permeate every aspect of life at High Tech High…”.
Another school with lofty goals and a SMaC recipe for success is Science Leadership Academy, a public high school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The school adheres to five core values – inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, reflection, and a set of specific ingredients to help get there, such as flexible schedules, the use of “Understanding by Design” as a planning tool, project and performance based learning in all classes, continuous professional development, authentic connections to outside resources and organizations, and a graduation capstone project focused around the five core values and a strong interest of the student.
My own thinking about a vision and a SMaC recipe for a 21st century world education focuses on three broad outcomes – preparation for lifelong, continuous learning; citizenship; and the development of each student’s interests and talents. The specific recipe for implementing these includes the development of a rigorous, meaningful curricula in all subjects, devotion to teaching five core skill sets; a focus on student work as a key assessment tool; continually assessing student growth and progress; teaching using interactive, project and problem based learning; customizing learning through many learning choices and options within and after school; creating service learning opportunities; and applying learning to real life situations and contexts. I would also include: don’t pay much attention to standardized test results – they don’t really help you improve your school![ii]
Activity #1: becoming a level 5 ambition - SMaC recipe educator! What are you devoted to? What are the your key, enduring goals and learning outcomes that will make a significant difference in your students’ lives? What are the characteristics, qualities, and “ingredients” of your classroom, school, district that will help you to implement your goals?
Together with others in your school or teaching teammates, create a set of high, far reaching goals and an SMaC recipe for yourself! If you lead a school, bring people together to create clear, explicit goals and ten specific qualities-features-characteristics that will promote excellence. If you are a teacher, bring together your co-teachers to develop a set of clear and explicit student learning outcomes and a SMaC recipe based on those outcomes. Commit to working on making these happen and improving how these occur in your school, district, or classroom over time.
Great, highly successful businesses implement a “20 mile march” approach to success.
Successful companies discipline themselves to pursue their goals and core values-recipes for the long haul. Through good times and bad, they worked to make sure that their goals and recipes for success stayed in place, got better, improved. The focus on these goals and recipes were long term, and often stressed the discipline not only of learning how to deal with difficulties and downturns, but also of making sure that there was a gradual movement towards improvement. For example, these businesses did not “sprint” towards the finish line, but marched a mile at a time towards improvement and success.
Collins and Hansen use two attempts to be the first to reach the South Pole to illustrate the 20-mile march approach to success.. Both Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott began their trek to the South Pole at about the same time. Amundsen adhered to a regimen of traveling 15-20 miles a day, in both good and bad weather. (sometimes not traveling if the weather was particularly bad). In other words, even on really good days, his team only went 17 miles in order to avoid exhaustion, and on bad days, they still tried to travel 15-20 miles unless the weather was extremely bad and made travel impossible. Scott, by contrast, would drive his team as far as they could go on good days, and complain about the weather on bad days. “According to Roland Huntford’s account in The Last Pace on Earth, Scott faced 6 days of gale-force winds and traveled on none, whereas Amundsen faced 15 and traveled on 8. Amundsen clocked in at the South Pole right on pace, having averaged 15.5 miles per day” (p. 82). It took Scott a month longer to reach the South Pole than Amundsen!
In educational terms, the 20-mile march analogy to highly successful schools and classrooms means that they don’t suddenly become great. They work to get there slowly and gradually-- one step, one mile at a time. Sometimes they may be forced to move back one step, or to move forward more slowly, but then they resume their gradual march towards the finish line 20 miles down the road. The deeper the crisis, the more gradual they must move towards success. They also don’t rush to get there fast, knowing that the mile sprint is a recipe for disaster.
For example, some years ago, a comprehensive inner city high school in Philadelphia, known for its chaotic school culture and climate, got a new principal. Over a period of several years, this principal gradually changed the culture of the school, creating a more positive and much less violent culture. The next step was to use this positive culture to improve learning and achievement among its students. Unfortunately, the district administrators did not understand the need for gradual improvements and the 20-mile march in order to reach achievement goals. They replaced the principal because the school wasn’t moving fast enough towards higher test scores! Needless to say, this considerably set back the school and its march towards success.
The KIPP (knowledge is Power Program) charter schools primarily operate in urban cities across the nation. KIPP has five pillars that are their “core set of operating principles”: high expectations, choice and commitment, more time, power to lead, and focus on results (their SMaC recipe). What KIPP seems to also have is a commitment to the 20-mile march. KIPP schools are constantly working to improve what they do. They have annual conferences to share successful programs and approaches. In Philadelphia, where I live, the KIPP data are “transparent”, so as to allow everyone to see their results and to understand the challenges they are facing. One of the reasons KIPP has grown so large and successful is their 20-mile march approach to success.
Activity#2: Become a 20-mile march educator! Is your school-district-classroom on a 20-mile march towards improvement? Or does it operate with “sprints” towards the finish line? Do you constantly think about ways to get better results, and make small changes to help you get there? Or do you introduce big new ideas and approaches every year? Do you struggle to implement better teaching and learning through collaboration and sharing of good ideas, or each year introduce big staff development programs with whole new ways of teaching and learning? Is the curriculum improved through systematic curriculum renewal processes that regularly refine and improve the curriculum?
How can you plan for a 20-mile march towards your goals and learning outcomes? What steps can you take to make gradual, cumulative improvements? How can you learn more about what steps are appropriate over time? And how can you avoid getting sidetracked, giving in to the distractions that take you away from moving towards your goals.
Great businesses are empirically creative, first firing bullets, then cannonballs.
Another difference between businesses that failed and those that succeeded was that failed businesses tended to latch onto new ideas and immediately put them into practice without gaining evidence as to their promise or considering how to implement them with precision and accuracy. They often grew too quickly. They were too ambitious! For example, they often tried to implement too many new ideas at one time, or to implement an idea without taking into account the necessary organizational changes to make it work. They often took on too much debt by buying businesses that ultimately failed; put a new innovation on the market too quickly; expanded into other markets without the expertise to make it work. On the other hand, successful businesses, when they learned of a new idea, tended to pilot it; try it out in a number of settings to determine if it was workable, hold back until there was some data to support its promise, develop the internal organization to put it on the market successfully and with high quality. Successful businesses tended to try out (fire bullets) in a number of directions before deciding on one or more to “go big with” (fire cannonballs). They reduced the risk of implementing new ideas and made it more likely that they would be successful.
Unfortunately, educators often fire cannonballs without first firing bullets. “This year’s new thing” is often a common cry among teachers, and “this too shall pass” a common refrain. Instead of piloting a number of different programs and options, determining which seem to be successful in a particular setting, taking the time to implement it over a period of years until it’s done right, sticking with an innovation long enough to determine if it works or not, districts and schools often latch on to “This Year’s New Thing”, asking everyone to use it, even if it doesn’t fit into a teacher’s approach or even if a teacher has an already successful program, expecting its successful implementation in a short period of time, and then moving on to the next “This Year’s New Thing”.
Activity#3: Become a “firing bullets, then cannonball” innovator! Given your goals as a district, school, or teacher, what practical approaches are working for you? What results are you getting from your program? What’s out there that MIGHT improve student learning with the context of what you already do? (bullets to try). What are others doing that seems to be working? What might you (and others) pilot? How will you know if your pilot improves learning? What evidence would help you decide?
After pilots and trials, the collection of empirical data, what should you choose to “run with” (the cannonballs) and work on for a long period of time that you think will truly make a difference in outcomes?
Great Businesses have “productive paranoia”.
Imagine that you go to the beach on a beautiful, warm, sunny day. But, while you are enjoying lying in the sun, here’s what you are thinking: What if it gets cold? What if thunderstorms appear on the horizon? How will you handle these possibilities? Are you prepared?
Great businesses think this way. They have what Collins and Hansen call “productive paranoia”. They are always considering the negative possibilities, the risks and challenges that might occur, even in good times. They tend to keep more dollars in reserve, take fewer risks (at least risks that don’t have some empirical evidence to support the risk), prepare for down markets, consider all the negative things that might happen along the way, and take these into account as they attempt to move forward. They avoid moving in a direction that has too many possible negative outcomes, puts too much on the line, unless they are prepared for a negative result.
Similarly, great schools and teachers also worry about negative possibilities: what to do if some students are not learning using traditional methods; how to make sure students learn the really important skills; how to handle the negative effects of implementing a new and expensive innovation; what to do if the community decides not to support higher tax assessments; how to reduce the budget in good as well as bad times; how to make sure that schools, teachers, and students get what they need to improve learning. They don’t spend a lot of money on expensive ideas unless there is considerable evidence that they will pay off. They consider as many negative factors as they can when faced with a possible opportunity that seems too good to be true!
Activity#4: Become productively paranoic! What can go wrong? How can you prepare for it? Think about the things that can go wrong as an educator. How can you prepare to make sure that, if these things occur, they will minimally disrupt your school or classroom program?
According to Collins and Hansen, what does it take to build a great, enduring organization? The answers are surprising. It takes a clear vision, clarity on the ingredients that will operationalize the vision, the discipline of a consistent march towards implementing the ingredients, trying out and testing many new ideas before implementing a few, and always looking over your shoulder at what might go wrong in order to be prepared for negative consequences and outcomes. It takes a slow and gradual accumulation of many successful actions, inputs, and activities to create successful organizations, schools, districts, and classrooms.
The four activities described above should help schools, districts and individual teachers and leaders take stock of their goals, daily operations, innovative approaches, and strategies for improvement that should help all to improve on what they do over time. Read the book Great by Choice and the other books by Jim Collins to find out even more ways to be better at what you do.
[i] Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen (2011), Great By choice. New York, NY: Harper Collins publishers.
[ii] For more information about these goals and recipe ingredients, go to: www.era3learning.org