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School staff focus on curriculum alignment, differentiated instruction, professional development, college and career readiness, standards, and academic interventions. Is it possible that schools can lose their focus on customer service? Customers include families, community members, and all guests who visit the school website or schoolhouse.
Customer service involves the front office staff, classroom teachers, teacher assistants, custodians, counselors, and all staff members. How are customers treated when they enter your school? Ask your school staff, “What does it mean to go the extra mile for the customer?” Do families feel like the front office staff answers the phone in a professional manner? Do teachers fire off emails when they are upset with students or parents? How do schools analyze the way they are treating customers?
Six Ways To Pour Some Sugar On The Customer:
The school website is the new front door. Families and community members make a judgment about your school before they arrive in the front office. Is your school website customer friendly? If you have a focus on technology integration, does your school website look like it was created in 1990? Does your website offer a welcome message or invite families to visit the school? If Open House was the biggest event between 1980-2000, then the school website opens your school to more than the all of the guests who attended Open House during that 20 year span. Your school is connected with the world. What kind of message are you sending? Would a family in Florida view your site and want to buy a house in your community, based on the information and message on your website?
Customer service involves phone skills, email etiquette, communication skills, and the way the customer is treated when they spend time at your school. Which restaurants come to mind when you think of outstanding customer service? Have you ever had poor customer service at a hotel? Have you ever visited a church and felt like none of the members knew you were in attendance? Customer service is easy to identify, especially when we are the recipient of poor customer service. When families have a bad experience at your school, they will spread the word throughout the community and through social media. As communities build more charter schools, private schools, and home school organizations, customers will walk rather than talk.
The media may promote your school once or twice a year. Administrators and teachers can promote the school on a weekly basis by posting on a school or teacher blog. Pictures from field trips, class projects, community service, guest speakers, and student awards can assist in communicating with families. Most blogs allow for families to forward the message to their family and friends via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Blogs also allow for two-way communication. The traditional method of communicating with families was a flyer in a second grade student’s backpack. With a blog, the school can communicate with families and families can post comments or ask questions about the event before their child arrives home.
Several schools host a Principal’s Coffee Hour once monthly. There is usually a topic that the principal or a guest speaker shares with families. The highlight of any Principal’s Coffee Hour is the time that families are able to share their opinions, ask questions, and brainstorm ways to support all students. Coffee Hour provides a monthly time for two-way communication. Parents will provide you with their opinions and they will feel respected because the school provided a forum for adult conversation about their most prized possession, their child. How is your school promoting two-way communication with families and stakeholders?
Twitter allows home-to-school and school-to-home communication. Families can receive updates from the school. While Twitter may not work for all families, it is a great tool. Most schools see social media as one form of communication. The sign in front of the school reaches some families, the school website reaches others, and a flyer may still work for families without a computer or a Smartphone. The reason I feel like schools should consider Twitter is because it allows families to forward or reply to each tweet. If you have ever been in a relationship with someone you realize the importance of two-way communication. A strong relationship between families and school staff will improve your customer service and customer satisfaction.
As the number of people with Smartphones increases, your school should consider a school app. “Smartphone vendors shipped 216.2 million units in the first quarter of 2013, which accounted for 51.6 percent of the worldwide mobile phone market” (Bean, April 16, 2013). If the school website is the new front door in 2013, then the school app may be the new front door of the future. An app can combine all of the items highlighted in this article. A school app may not be nice to have, but the next step in your communication and customer-service plan.
Most schools have a professional development plan, school improvement plan, and a curriculum map. I have rarely seen a school’s customer service plan. When it comes to service, if you fail to plan you may be planning to fail. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, said, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” There are only two kinds of schools; those with outstanding customer service and those without outstanding customer service. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank the customer service at your school?
Questions for School Staff to Consider
1. Does our school provide outstanding customer service?
2. What are our weaknesses? What action steps do we need to take to improve?
3. What are the characteristics of outstanding customer service?
(Share your own experiences in school and non-school settings)
4. What can we measure every 18 weeks (semester) to analyze our efforts to provide customer service?
5. Do we have a school plan outlining what customer service looks like?
(Think Chick-fil-A; It doesn’t matter if the manager or a teenager provides you with service. There is consistency within and across stores).
A common saying about schools is that schools are a reflection of the communities they serve, but communities are complex. Schools by nature are a complex interplay of social, cultural, economic, political, and symbolic capital unable to be bound or directed by simple directives such as legislative mandates. Schools should try to use the complexity of the community to envision an even better community than the one that exists. The edge of the community, the unsure boundary, the frothy-foamy conversation between organic fractals of human existence gives complex systems the capacity for innovation and organizational learning (Fels, 2006; Stacey, 1996).
Equilibrium-oriented systems want to control disorder to move toward stability which limits energy crossing into the system so they act as ‘closed systems’ to keep energy from escaping. These systems apply negative feedback and other controls for order resulting in “strict policies, rigid hierarchies, resistance to change, and maintenance of the status quo” (Gilstrap, 2005, p. 58). In contrast, self-organized behavior reaches a steady state on its own while still remaining ‘critical’ in that it is barely stable (Waldrop, 1992). This is a fine point created by tension along the continuum.
Stuart Kauffman believes human organizations that are too structured or specialized do not allow agents to learn beyond the traditional processes for performing a job. On the one hand, if no one has clearly defined roles, the organization is chaotic without progress. The organization wants a balance of agents having a common purpose with the ability to adapt to the behavior of other agents in the organization. Complex problems can be solved at the edge of chaos because of the redundancy, loose couplings, blurry but present hierarchical roles, etc. Organizations that can evolve processes to bring in an increasing flow of energy move to the edge of chaos where they can solve complex problems and gain a competitive advantage to anticipate the future in order to survive (Waldrop, 1992).
Chaos by itself doesn’t explain the structure, the coherence, the self-organizing cohesiveness of complex systems…complex systems have somehow acquired the ability to bring order and chaos into a special kind of balance…called the edge of chaos where life has enough stability to sustain itself and enough creativity to deserve the name of life…The edge of chaos is the constantly shifting battle zone between stagnation and anarchy, the one place where a complex system can be spontaneous, adaptive, and alive….learning and evolution move agents along the edge of chaos in the direction of greater and greater complexity (Waldrop, 1992, p. 12, 296).
These zones along the edge are similar to boundary conversations discussed by Bruffee (1999) where constant struggle determines what will shift to center and what will be marginalized. This gives new meaning to the phrase “on the cutting edge” of education. With no room to move in either direction, or you will no longer be on the edge, all you can do is move along the edge to stay on. “Systems function best when they are at the ‘edge of chaos’, poised between too much rigidity in the face of change and too much change in the face of achieved progress” (Levin, 2002, p. 12). Education needs emergent boundaries to allow work to be done and to keep systems from freezing up or flying into chaos (Church, 2005).
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.
I have seen a blaze of anti-Common Core sentiment sweep through certain states. These groups that are protesting the Common Core are counting on you not doing your own research and thinking about the Common Core in-depth. There are several FALSE claims you will hear in relation to Common Core that you need to think about. You can verify this at www.corestandards.org.
First, the Common Core is not a national curriculum. The full name of Common Core is “Common Core State Standards” (aka CCSS) meaning they are benchmarks we want our children to achieve, but how to achieve them is left up to individual states and local communities. Many, many companies are competing for schools’ dollars by offering diverse and varied curricula if schools don’t want to write their own. The feds are not driving Common Core for implementation or for assessment.
Second, the Common Core does not dumb down the curriculum (the same people claiming we are dumbing down the curriculum also gripe that we are introducing difficult concepts too early—which is it?). On average, we see rigorous standards applied 1 year earlier than we were applying them under the Missouri Grade Level Expectations. Missouri has consistently had the 2nd and 3rd most rigorous state achievement test (MAP) in the nation and now we see an even more rigorous test coming next year. In fact, we just piloted the Common Core assessment in the district and students and teacher alike commented on how much harder the test was than the MAP. One question I saw was substantially different than the MAP test. On MAP, a kid would be asked a math problem and then given a set of choices: A, B, C, or D. On the Common Core test, I saw a 5th grader answering questions that went something like this, “Suzy was given the following math problem.” A word problem followed. “Suzy read the problem, formed a plan to answer the problem with six steps.” A numbered list of 6 steps followed. “Suzy got the following answer which was wrong. Find which step in Suzy’s method was wrong, explain why, and correct her answer.” Folks, a kid has to think a lot deeper to answer that type of questions than a multiple-guess test.
Third, there is a lot of other mumbo-jumbo being tossed around, but opponents keep piling up argument after argument against it until you aren’t even sure what they are referring to anymore. The argument expands to gripe about socialism, anti-Christian movements, abortion, tracking, cost, and I don’t know what else. But those things are other policy and legislative concerns that activists are lumping in with Common Core because they don’t understand it.
In a nutshell, here is a Common Core kindergarten standard:
RF.K.2(a): Recognize and produce rhyming words. The standard then recommends “Halfway Down” by A. A. Milne and “Singing Time” by Rose Fyleman although districts can use “Mary had a Little Lamb”, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, or any other district approved literature. The concept can be further developed through artwork, song, science, math, and vocabulary. The curriculum is developed at the local level while the assessment will be used to determine if a student can indeed recognize and produce a rhyming word.
Let’s try another one in 3rd grade:
RI.3.9: Compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic. The standard recommends “Sarah, Plain and Tall” and “The Storm” although districts can choose any literature they want to have students compare and contrast. By the way, this is something we were trained heavily in during my doctoral program in order to conduct academic research…and here it is in 3rd grade Common Core!
L.5.5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. Exemplar texts include “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “The Little Prince.” Informational texts include, “Who is Neil Armstrong?” and “Women Explorers of North and South America.” If we don’t like any of those, we can choose any literature we want.
Can you feel Obama’s fingertips reaching for your children’s minds yet? If you are confused where the socialist agenda is, I’m with you. But then again, no one has shown you what the real standards look like. Any standard can be written to reflect local control, with local lessons, local activities, and local formative assessments. The board will approve any curriculum that is generated by our own local teachers and reviewed by our own local administrators, myself included.
Finally, there are some real nice components of Common Core that I want to point out:
Reading is broken down into Literature, Informational Texts, and Foundational Skills. Writing, Speaking, Listening, and Language are strands of the standards. Reading and writing aren’t just isolated to classic works, but standards are given for reading to be taught in Social Studies classes, science, and other technical subjects.
Here is an example of the “Integration of Knowledge and Ideas” in grades 9 and 10. Standard RI.9-10.9: Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”), including how they address related themes and concepts. These are four powerful, patriotic, truly American pieces of history that our kids should be grappling with. The teacher moves from the “sage on the stage” lecturing about what these pieces mean to the “guide on the side” helping students hold democratic readings and discussions about what these authors may have intended and what they were dealing with from a historical context. Students must “delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.”
The Common Core State Standards are designed to provide a framework of standards that are Internationally Benchmarked, rigorous, and broad enough to allow states and local boards of education create a locally controlled curriculum designed to meet the needs of local children. Go to www.corestandards.org and read through the standards to see for yourself. Nothing is perfect. Education is a practice. Common Core is another step forward in that practice. It isn’t evil, destructive, or anti-American. It is an opportunity for people with an axe to grind to use it as political smoke and mirrors to advance their own agenda. Don’t let the smoke get in your eyes.
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Five aspects of complex systems help define internal structure. Internal diversity keeps the system flexible. Redundancy keeps small fluctuations from rippling into chaotic, destructive change. Decentralized control allows innovation and creativity to emerge from the complex interactions between diverse agents. Organized randomness keeps the system moving along cohesively without limiting where it will go. Neighbor interactions keep the system in check in relation to the environment and local fitness peaks (Davis et al., 2006).
Structure is important to complexity because “a hierarchical, building-block structure utterly transforms a system’s ability to learn, evolve, and adapt” (Waldrop, 1992, p. 169) by giving systems an opportunity to move subsystems around to increase complexity and creativity without having to try out every possible combination of agents and schema. Order is a byproduct of structure through routines and clear structures, rules, and procedures (Marzano et al., 2005). The structure itself is “influenced by social, economic, and political factors; created and socially constructed; learned; and dialectical” (Church, 2005, p. 48). Practices are determined by structures as well as construct structures (Swartz, 1997). Reflective practice gives individuals and groups the iterative vehicles to change complex organizational structures.
Despite the structures present in complex systems, “it is not possible to separate complex adaptive systems into neat categories based on whether and where selection is operating. In most systems, selection is manifest on multiple interacting scales” (Levin, 2002, p. 4). Structure cannot be permanent because agents reorganize themselves in response to internal and external stimuli so that renewal is continual (Fels, 2006). Complex systems can move along a continuum ranging from order to chaos with complexity sitting at the edge of both simultaneously (Waldrop, 1992).
“Since the boundaries of complex systems are difficult to determine, it is impossible to draw tidy lines between these organizational layers” (Davis & Simmt, 2006, p. 296). Fuzzy boundaries in the school as a complex system are especially evident when talking about differences in social class, the curriculum of a school, and the schemas used in the school community (Barr & Parrett, 2007; Lareau, 2000; Weiner, 2006). The unique sociocultural capital of diverse social classes determines alignment of groups of agents with the capital present in a school. “School practices and assumptions emerging from the deficit paradigm often hide student and teacher abilities” (Weiner, 2006, p. 1). Deficit thinking comes from either the recessive schema of the marginalized system or the dominant schema of the legitimate system depending on the context the school currently finds itself. The curriculum itself emerges from and as part of the emerging, iterative structures of the school community with “formal, informal, and even ‘hidden’” aspects (Barr & Parrett, 2007, p. 141).
The subsystems of complex adaptive systems are the legitimate and recessive systems with agents interacting according to schema with dominant and marginalized parts respectively. Paradox exists multi-dimensionally as well at the system, agent, and schema levels. Ordinary management techniques drive legitimate processes while the recessive system requires extraordinary management. Stacey (1996) claims that the boundaries of the legitimate system are “clear-cut” while the recessive system’s boundaries are “fuzzy”; however, the fact that the legitimate system is aware of and ignores much of the activity of the recessive system makes the legitimate system’s boundaries fuzzy even if they are less permeable than the recessive system.
The legitimate network in an organization plans enculturation and avoids surprises by using the dominant schema to control interactions keeping them linear (uniform, conformed, repetitive) resulting in proportional response to stimuli, balanced input/output, and in the end, the system equals the sum of its parts. The recessive system, a subsystem of the legitimate system, can also stop renewal and maintaining stability by resisting change; however, changes to the legitimate system are actualized through processes in the recessive system. Efficient legitimate systems are stable with the equilibrium to actualize the mission of the organization. The recessive subsystem’s schemas lead to diversity in the system which is an integral part of complexity and “comprises all social and political interactions that are outside the rules strictly prescribed by the legitimate system” (Stacey, 1996, p. 290). Conversely, power is relative and can exist in either the dominant or marginal ideology. Social change can be brought about by activating power and negotiating interests in the margins (Watkins & Tisdell, 2006).
In complex systems, team-based units allow for structure without being overly so through redundancy in the form of organic fractals. Teams exhibit characteristics of open systems with permeability and high information flow; nonlinear responsibilities and interests; self-referencing knowledge and redundancy; organic in the self-selection of members; and share vision, culture, and meaning as possible strange attractors (Gilstrap, 2005). Creativity also resides in the redundancy that teams allow “for the repetition of different ideas and experiments in slightly different ways, and…means that the organization will be more resilient in the face of inevitable failures” (Stacey, 1996, p. 280).
The principal acts as the recognized leader of the legitimate system; however, leaders operate as participants in the recessive system helping contain anxiety in the face of change through urgency and assurance at the boundary while observing processes in the organization. Leadership shifts from ordinary management in structured times to extraordinary management in phase transitions as the school moves along the continuum between order and chaos (Stacey, 1996).
After watching the Jeff Bliss’s, viral video, as well as the remix of it, created to popularize the event even more, I was almost moved to do a reflective post on the subject. After viewing a number of supportive blog posts for the Bliss position I kind of backed off thinking that I was off base in my position. Then I read Why the Jeff Bliss story makes me want to quit by a fellow English teacher.
The end of the academic year has all teachers stressed out. After giving one's all for a year, and having it come to an end, hoping all along for the success of the students, leads one to question much of what had been done during the year, and even why it was done. When I first saw the Bliss video, I saw a kid being asked to leave the class for whatever the reason, and the kid trying to get back at the teacher. The kid began to use an attack that echoed the focus of many educators seeking to reform the system with the same rhetoric. Without knowing anything of the student, I determined he must be active on social media and had an interest in what was being said about the change in education. This was some evidence of intelligence. I also felt that everyone would see this teacher as the “devil teacher” responsible for all the ills of our system. There is probably some accuracy to both of those descriptions but I think neither is a reflection of the whole truth in this situation.
As a retired teacher I encountered many rants from students that I removed from class for disruptive behavior. What is different in this instance is the addition of social media and the educator’s perceived opposition of the position taken by the student. This was further advanced by the teacher's negative responses to the student's critique. All of this recorded and published to the world in You Tube Celebrity.
I was moved by the frustrations of the blogger who feels overwhelmed with the on going blogging, reflection, and discussion in social media about all of the turmoil in education. Much of this is flamed by the mindless, senseless and poorly planned reforms put forth by non-educators. I am not arrogant enough to think only educators can intelligently reform education, but the general feeling among educators is that the reforms are being mandated with very little educator input. That is the most frustrating part to many educators who are being targeted and maligned even by fellow educators. Educators seem to be circling the wagons and shooting to the inside.
Most educators are doing what they have been trained to do, or what is supported by their school’s culture. I hate the fact that so many teachers use the work packets to present material, but that again is what is supported by the system that they must work in. We need to improve our professional development and be open to more relevant teaching methods, employing more relevant tools for learning, as well as more relevant attitudes toward student-centric learning.
My friend and colleague Lisa Nielsen is a great student advocate and passionate education reformer. We have collaborated on a few very popular blog posts. I do not fault her for taking the side of Jeff Bliss in his rant against his teacher. Bliss made a convincing, and passionate speech against an outmoded method of teaching that stymies our system of education every day. I hope Lisa continues to follow her bliss (not the student) in supporting students in education reform. I would only hope that an “us and them” mentality does not dominate the discussion of education. There is no group more in favor of positive education reform than educators. We must keep in mind that educators are also products of the same education system that we seek to reform. They should not be the targets for the reform; they are in fact victims of that system as well. In order to educate our students, we need to first better educate our educators, and continue to educate them as part of their job. To be relevant educators, we need to be relevantly educated. That implies continuous education in a computer-driven, continuously developing culture.
I would hope that this blogger was not discouraged by the reflection and conversation going on about education reform. We need more educators involved in the discussion that has been hijacked by business profiteers and politicians. There is a planned assault on public education. We need more educators adding their voices to the needed change. We need educators to tell other educators that it is okay to give up methods of the past, that are not working in today’s system of education. It is a question of permission, as opposed to confrontation. Educators are all in favor of kids succeeding; it is but a question of how to accomplish that goal. I would encourage this blogger to hang in and continue to speak out.
If the post by this English teacher moved me, others may be moved as well. That is a skill that is not mastered by many and it is a powerful tool for change. We need more educators stepping up and speaking out if we as educators are to take back the discussion that we left to other less qualified people to dominate.
Arne Duncan recently gave a speech at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting. In the speech he emphasized the importance of non-cognitive, or social and emotional skills stating, “We know . . . that the development of skills like grit, resilience, and self-regulation early in life are essential to success later in life.” He later continued,
Ultimately, a great education involves much more than teaching children simply to read, write, add, and subtract. It includes teaching them to think and write clearly, and to solve problems and work in teams. It includes teaching children to set goals, to persist in tasks, and to help them navigate the world.
Duncan’s words were not all that surprising considering his own U.S. Department of Education had just released a publication titled “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century” a month earlier. Surprising or not, it is always good to hear that there is a push (with some real muscle behind it) for teaching these skills.
Duncan didn’t stop with simply promoting non-cognitive skill development, however. Instead, he went on to suggest,
. . . testing experts need to further expand the range of assessments in the years ahead by developing better, reliable, and valid assessments of children’s non-cognitive skills. This is the next frontier in assessment research—and it is hugely important to me.
I would love to see assessment experts work with schools and districts to develop more reliable, meaningful, and easy-to-administer assessments that help us understand whether we are teaching the non-cognitive skills that predict students’ success in college, careers, and life.
The whole idea of assessing non-cognitive skills is an interesting proposition in and of itself because it would require all teachers to actively teach these specific skills. It becomes even more interesting, however, when we realize that something must be done as a result of it. The reality is that just as with academic skills, an achievement gap will exist for non-cognitive skills. In fact, it’s already there. In Washington State the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS) revealed that only 74% of students demonstrated the characteristics of entering kindergartners in the area of social and emotional development. Kindergarten readiness in the area of cognitive development (which includes problem solving) was only 71%. Furthermore, similar to academic skills, these so-called soft skills become more sophisticated as one gets older. For example, whereas the ability to work cooperatively might mean simply joining in a game of tag for a kindergartener, it could mean building consensus for a project idea for a middle schooler. Therefore, the gap that exists in kindergarten will only widen unless intensive interventions are done.
This begs the question: If a student has low academic skills and low non-cognitive skills, will one be given priority in terms of time and resources?
This commentary examines criteria for selecting effective curricula and instructional models in a 21st century world, and also provides eight examples of relatively unknown yet powerful curricula-instructional programs that should be considered for adoption.
In the same way that it is hard to build a building without an architectural blueprint, so too it is hard for a teacher to be effective without strong curricula-instructional frameworks. Curricula/instructional frameworks lay out the goals, methods, strategies, approaches, assessments, and resources needed for successful teaching and learning. The better the framework, the more likely will be the sturdiness of the foundation and the effectiveness of instruction. The more that curricular-instructional models available to teachers are consistent with the goals and practices of the teacher and school, and the needs of students, the more likely it is that teaching will have good results.
Just imagine how an architectural blueprint influences and affects the construction of a building. Building construction based on a poor design may make it difficult to walk from one part of the building to another, make communication among building occupants difficult, make furniture arrangements impossible, make lighting too dark or too light, make the building safe or unsafe. In the same vein, a poorly designed curriculum may lead to too many unclear, vague goals that do not match student needs, include too much to teach, limit “deeper understanding” of a subject, teach the wrong skills, provide few connections between its different parts, have little meaning for learners, foster passive learning, and make alignment of content among teachers and grade levels difficult. When teachers work from poorly designed curricula and instructional frameworks, they have to work very hard to redo the curricular and instructional practices encouraged by these frameworks, and many times powerful learning is difficult if not impossible to create within the given framework.
What are the components of successful curriculum/instructional frameworks for teaching in a 21st century world? Some framework characteristics might include:
Teachers, schools and districts need to regularly review their curricular programs in order to update them and create programs more attuned to this new age that we live in. Ultimately, this will make a huge difference for children in this new age.
The following curricula and instructional models exemplify powerful “21st century” program elements built around many or most these criteria. You are probably unfamiliar with most or all of them. They, and programs like them, should become familiar to educators and achieve greater use throughout the educational community.
NOTE: Many of their descriptions are adapted from the program’s website.
1. LITERACY DEVELOPMENT
SERP-Word Generation for the Middle School
SERP - Word Generation is a research-based, highly motivating “vocabulary” development program for middle school students designed to teach words through language arts, math, science, and social studies classes. The program consists of weekly units, each of which introduces 5 high-utility target words through brief passages describing controversies currently under debate in this country. The paragraphs are intended to help students join ongoing "national conversations" by sparking active examination and discussion of contemporary issues. The target words are relevant to a range of settings and subject areas. The cross-content focus on a small number of words each week will enable students to understand the variety of ways in which words are related, and the multiple exposures to words will provide ample opportunities for deeper understanding.
The Word Generation program is designed to build academic vocabulary, i.e., words that students are likely to encounter in textbooks and on tests, but not in spoken language. Interpret, prohibit, vary, function, and hypothesis are examples. Academic vocabulary includes words that refer to thinking and communicating, like infer and deny, and words that are common across subjects, but hold different meaning depending on the subject, like element and factor. Both types of academic vocabulary are likely to cause problems with comprehension unless students have been taught how to deal with them.
For more information, go to: http://wg.serpmedia.org
For information about other SERP programs in development, go to: http://www.serpinstitute.org/2013/
Other literacy development programs you might want to examine:
Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) http://www.cliontheweb.org
Reading and Writing Workshop: http://readingandwritingproject.com/about/overview.html
100 Book Challenge: http://www.americanreading.com/products/100bc/
Touchstones discussion Project: http://www.touchstones.org
Jr Great Books Program:
2. CREATIVE THINKING
Design Thinking is a structured approach to generate and develop new ways to solve difficult problems and challenges. Design Thinking starts with a challenge, and then works through a series of steps to help find creative solutions to the challenge, such as empathy, interpretation, brainstorming and choosing alternatives, building models, and planning for implementation. The process can be used to help solve school challenges or world-wide challenges. It includes learning additional skills such as finding reliable information, developing surveys and questionnaires, and building interview skills. It can be adapted to be used with students at all ages.
Other creative thinking programs you might want to explore:
Creative Problem Solving: http://www.creativeeducationfoundation.org
The Future Problem Solving Program: http://www.fpspi.org
3. POSITIVE ATTITUDES, VALUES, AND COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Champions of Caring: Journey of a Champion Middle and High School Programs
The Journey of a Champion Middle Grades curriculum is a year-long course of study divided into 4 modules. It promotes academic excellence, character development, service-learning and citizenship. The curriculum is a catalyst for encouraging caring, thoughtfulness and good judgment through service and civic participation. Students gain civic engagement skills as they design community and school service projects. Civic skills developed include:
The Journey of a Champion High School Program is a character education and service-learning curriculum for students in grades 9-12. Through this program, students learn how to act as responsible, caring and involved citizens who respect themselves and others and succeed academically.
Journey of a Champion invites students to learn about and reflect on the challenges they and their contemporaries face. It places those challenges in a historical context and leads students to develop strategies and skills that will help them confront those challenges. The journey "destination" is students creating and planning sustainable service and civic participation. The curriculum affects positive change in students by:
For more information, go to: http://www.championsofcaring.org
Other programs to look at:
Second Step: http://www.cfchildren.org/second-step.aspx
4. ECONOMICS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE)
Entrepreneurship education is a tool that can equip young people to not only start businesses and create jobs, but also to be opportunity-focused, flexible employees ready to fill existing jobs.
NFTE fosters the creation of entrepreneurship skills, businesses and the development of an adaptable, driven and opportunity-focused workforce that ultimately promotes economic stability. External research has shown that NFTE graduates start and maintain businesses at substantially higher rates than their peers. Other research findings indicate that students develop:
Working with schools in low-income communities where at least 50% of the students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, NFTE targets young people who are at risk of dropping out of school, and helps them graduate with their own personal plans for success. The program, Highly Academic, is a semester or year-long class with a NFTE-certified teacher who guides students through one of the curricula: Entrepreneurship: Owning Your Future or Exploring Careers for the 21st Century. Lessons include the concepts of competitive advantage, ownership, opportunity recognition, marketing, finance, and product development - and all tie back to core math and literacy skills. Lessons include field trips, games and experiential activities. Classes regularly have guest speakers. Students are paired with coaches who help students work on their business plans, and business plan competitions are judges by local entrepreneurs and business people.
Each young person who takes a NFTE class works toward completing a business plan, then goes on to present and defend it in a classroom competition. The winners of these competitions go on to compete in citywide or regional competitions, with the hopes of reaching our annual national competition.
For more information, go to: http://www.nfte.com
Other Economic-Entrepreneurial Programs:
General information about entrepreneurial education programs can be found at: http://www.entre-ed.org
Information about Economic and Financial Education resources can be found at: http://www.councilforeconed.org
5. INQUIRY-BASED SCIENCE
Full Options Science System (FOSS)
Science is an active enterprise, made active by our human capacity to think and “search for the truth”. Scientists value open communication, investigation, and good evidence for drawing conclusions. Scientific knowledge advances when scientists observe objects and events, think about how they relate to what is known, test their ideas in logical ways, and generate explanations that integrate the new information into the established order. Thus the scientific enterprise is both what we know (content) and how we come to know it (process). The best way for students to appreciate the scientific enterprise, learn important scientific concepts, and develop the ability to think critically is to actively construct ideas through their own inquiries, investigations, and analyses.
The FOSS program was created to engage students in these processes as they explore the natural world. FOSS program materials are designed to meet the challenge of providing meaningful science education for all students in diverse American classrooms and to prepare them for life in the 21st century. Development of the FOSS program was, and continues to be, guided by advances in the understanding of how youngsters think and learn.
FOSS K–6 is a complete program consisting of 26 modules for self-contained elementary classrooms. The components exclusive to K–6 are
FOSS Middle School components consist of nine units for students and their teachers in departmental science grades 6–8. Each unit requires 9–12 weeks to teach. The Middle School program includes the following five interconnected components:
Two components that apply to both FOSS K–6 and FOSS Middle School are the FOSS Assessment System and FOSSweb.com.
For more information, go to: http://www.fossweb.com
Other programs to consider:
Active Physics: (high school): http://its-about-time.com/htmls/ap.html
6. CONCEPTUALLY-ORIENTED MATHEMATICS
Cognitively Guided Instruction
Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) is a professional development program that increases teachers’ understanding of the knowledge that students bring to the math learning process and how they can connect that knowledge with formal concepts and operations. The program is based on the premise that children throughout the elementary grades are capable of learning powerful unifying ideas of mathematics that are the foundation of both arithmetic and algebra. Learning and articulating these ideas enhance children's understanding of arithmetic and provide a foundation for extending their knowledge of arithmetic to the learning of algebra.
CGI is guided by two major ideas. The first is that children bring an intuitive knowledge of mathematics to school with them and that this knowledge should serve as the basis for developing formal mathematics instruction. This idea leads to an emphasis on working with the processes that students use to solve problems. The second key idea is that math instruction should be based on the relationship between computational skills and problem solving, which leads to an emphasis on problem solving in the classroom instead of the repetition of number facts, such as practicing the rules of addition and subtraction.
With the CGI approach, teachers focus on what students know and help them build future understanding based on present knowledge. The program aims to improve children's mathematical skills by increasing teachers' knowledge of students' thinking, by changing teachers' beliefs regarding how children learn, and by ultimately changing teaching practice. In 1996, CGI was extended into the upper elementary school levels to assist first through sixth grade teachers in integrating the major principles of algebra into arithmetic instruction.
There is no set curriculum. Teachers use the CGI framework with existing curriculum materials, or they use CGI principles to help develop their own math curriculum.
For more information, go to: http://www.promisingpractices.net/program.asp?programid=114#programinfo
Other math programs that might be considered:
Project Seed: http://projectseed.org
Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP)(High School): http://mathimp.org/general_info/intro.html
7. SOCIAL STUDIES/CIVICS PROGRAMS
Social Studies School Service
Social Studies School Service offers teachers, K-12, a variety of alternative and unique materials, programs, and curricula for social studies at all levels. The materials have been developed for the many aspects of social studies – government, history, geography, and civics – and often are interdisciplinary, incorporate conceptual understanding, develop research skills, big ideas and essential questions, and use data-based test questions (DBQ’s), performance tasks, and multiple readings. Catalogues of available materials are frequently sent out and shared.
For further information, go to: www.socialstudies.com
Other social studies/civics programs to consider:
Teacher’s Curriculum Institute social studies programs: www.teachtci.com
Center for Civic Education: http://new.civiced.org
Zinn Education: http://zinnedproject.org
A History of US: http://www.joyhakim.com/works.htm
The Choices Program (Middle and High School): http://www.choices.edu
8. STEM (SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, MATHEMATICS) PROGRAMS
Engineering is Elementary
EIE consists currently of twenty STEM units designed for the elementary grades. Each EIE unit ties in with an elementary science topic and is meant to be taught either concurrently or after students learn the appropriate science content in life science, earth and space science and physical science areas. Each unit has five “lessons” (lessons can be more than one day).
The units attempt to combine learning in a science area with engineering concepts. Engineering projects integrate other disciplines. Engaging students in hands-on, real-world engineering experiences can enliven math and science and other content areas. Engineering projects can motivate students to learn math and science concepts by illustrating relevant applications. They foster problem-solving skills, including problem formulation, iteration, testing of alternative solutions, and evaluation of data to guide decisions.
Learning about engineering increases students' awareness of and access to scientific and technical careers. The number of American citizens pursuing engineering is decreasing. Early introduction to engineering can encourage many capable students, especially girls and minorities, to consider it as a career and enroll in the necessary science and math courses in high school.
For more information, go to: http://www.eie.org/
Other STEM examples:
Engineer Your World: http://www.engineeryourworld.org (high school)
Project Lead the Way: http://www.pltw.org (high school)
Some Final Thoughts
Every school and district should have some mechanism to help staff members regularly review the many available potential curriculum and instructional programs and approaches, and to select those that provide students with opportunities based on the criteria suggested at the beginning of this commentary, such as focused, meaningful goals; targeted key skills, attitudes and values; multiple formative and summative assessment options; a focus on deeper learning; and active student engagement and inquiry.[i]
The programs listed above are only some examples of the many powerful curricula and instructional options that are often neglected and put into place too infrequently in schools and classrooms.[ii] Many others that meet the criteria cited above and match 21st century goals should be considered. Through continual review and renewal, every District should move towards having a set of powerful curricula and instructional programs, tied to appropriate staff development training, that help prepare students to live in a 21st century world.
We also now have the technology to develop curriculum review websites, comparable to Amazon’s book service and reviews or TripAdvisor’s travel site that rates hotels and bed and breakfasts in all parts of the world. The website should include a comprehensive set of curriculum programs, all reviewed by experts and rated by users. Such a site would provide educators with data that would be helpful in a curriculum review and renewal process.
[i] For additional information about curriculum renewal criteria and strategies, go to www.era3learning.org, then to resources, then to curriculum renewal, and then to the article by Elliott Seif, Reconfiguring Learning Through Curriculum Renewal (unpublished).
Each Sunday afternoon there are five Topic questions posted on a poll to determine which will be selected as that week’s #Edchat Topic. There are two #Edchat discussions each Tuesday on Twitter, so the top two topics selected by the poll become the topics of the chats. The number two choice goes at noon, Eastern Time, and the number one selection goes at 7 PM, Eastern Time. The larger audience is the 7 PM Chat. If you did not know it before, I am the person responsible for making up the #Edchat Topic questions that are voted on each week. I admit that I do have favorites each week, but, more often than not, they are not the favorites of the voting public. This week it was a little different. I actually had two favorites, and fortunately for me, they were the chosen topics for the chats. I found both yesterday’s #Edchat discussions thought-provoking, and very much in need of public discussion. The topics were very much connected as well.
#Edchat is very much an open, public discussion by educators from around the world. Ideas on each topic are presented from various points of view as we discuss the varied topics in education each week. As in any public discussion, a person may pick and choose those ideas that suit his/her needs and in this case, educational philosophy. Sometimes it is a new idea, and other times it is validation of what is already being done. Since it is a discussion using Twitter as the platform, most of the participants are educators who are somewhat familiar with technology and social media. As a generalization they tend to be a collaborative group, more progressive in their approach to education, and open to the use of technology as a tool for learning.
The other day I engaged an educator who described himself as a 20th century traditionalist educator (my words). He said that he participated in #Edchat so that he could know his “Enemy”. When I called him on this, he informed me that “Enemy” was in quotes in his tweet. I guess that was to make it humorous, but there is much truth in humor. The point here is that most of the participants are striving to move from the methods and pedagogy of 20th century education to a place that we have not yet found. It is also a great help when authors and experts on these various topics join in on the Chats giving clarity and direction in their areas of expertise. Many of these thought leaders are connected educators.
Usually the #Edchat question is a singular interrogative. The Topics this week had more than one part in the hope of generating more discussion. The noon Chat Topic: What is the BIG Shift in education that everyone is looking for? Is there one big idea that can positively affect education? If not why? Of course there is no single idea because education is too complex for an easy fix. A point lost to most politicians and business people. The question, I thought, would prompt the chatters to present and promote their best and biggest idea.
From the folks I engaged in conversation on this topic the overwhelming objective was support of student-centric as opposed to teacher-centric lessons. The shift being from Direct instruction, and lecture to problem-based, or project-based learning. The teacher would no longer be the content-delivery expert filling the empty vessels of students, but rather a mentor, guiding their learning direction rather than mandating it.
The 7 PM Question: Children are anxious learners in the early grades of education. What are the factors that turn kids off to learning, as they get older? This #Edchat started slowly. I hate when that happens. My biggest fear in doing these chats is that there may come a time when nobody responds to the question. Going into moderator mode, I broke the topic down, and peppered the chatters with a series of smaller questions to loosen them up. That worked which immediately calmed me down. It was like the priming of an old well. It took a minute to get it going, but it came on strong.
Words that popped up with those who I engaged were curiosity, authenticity, and ownership. What I took from it was that students at a young age are curious about learning because it is all new and exciting. It is also relevant ant authentic since what kids are learning enables them to participate in more stuff as well as society. However, some reach a point where they think they have as much as they need and the curiosity is gone. The direction however continues providing to them things that they no longer want to engage in. They do not own their learning and cannot direct its direction to things they would like to learn. If this occurs in a student, it comes at different times for each student. Some teachers saw it on the elementary level others in Middle school where hormones play an even bigger role. The point here is that it happens to many students.
Engagement in learning is the goal of education and the ability for students to own that learning and for it to be authentic, and relevant was a theme for this #Edchat. Again it came down to the teacher being the guide or mentor and not a content delivery person directing content to kids who don’t see it as relevant or authentic. They prefer to create content instead of memorizing it. They prefer to use content instead of regurgitating it on a test.
Both of these #Edchats led me to the same place. For kids to be engaged in learning it will be more effective if they own it and direct it. Teachers can always guide the direction and, as content experts, they have the capacity to do so. Teaching kids how to learn, and how to continue to learn, is more important than whatever content the curriculum tells us the students should know for a test. If we can use their interest to promote our content, fine. If our content doesn’t interest students at all, then what do we do?
#Edchat is not the best method to introduce people to online chats for the first time without preparation. It requires some knowledge and a little strategy. If you are interested, this may help: #Edchat Revisited. If you are interested in viewing the past #Edchat discussions, we have archived the last several years here: #Edchat Archives. If you do not have time to read, you can download a podcast analysis of several of the #Edchats from Bam Radio Network, and The #Edchat Radio Show. #Edchat is one of many education chats. It was started 4 years ago be Shelly Terrell,@shellterrell, Steve Anderson, @web20classroom, and me,@tomwhitby. It was not the first chat, but it is the most enduring, and it has spawned many, many others.
Soon millions of school children will be celebrating the last day of school and the start of summer vacation. For many children this will entail family trips, swimming and camping out under the stars among other quintessential summertime activities. Yet for many children from low-income households it will mean summer school—half days back at school for remediation in math and reading in an attempt to thwart the dreaded, but very real “summer slide.”
These types of summer school programs have their roots in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and its most recent reauthorizations as the No Child Left Behind Act. Included in these acts is Title 1, which provides funding to close the achievement gap for students from low-income households. It’s a good thing, too, because it is well documented that there is a direct relationship between household income and academic achievement. Specifically, students from low-income households have lower levels of academic achievement than their more affluent peers. In addition, students from low-income households show a larger decline in reading skills over the summer than their middle-class counterparts. While remedial summer school programs have been shown to have a positive impact on students’ knowledge and skills, a large achievement gap still exists between income groups.
In further addressing the achievement gap, schools would benefit from broadening the scope of their summer school programs to include social and emotional skills. In fact, social and emotional skills become even more important during summer school because it is largely directed at children from low-income households. Research shows that students from low-income households are the very students that need social and emotional skill development the most. Similar to its effect on academic performance, household income is directly related to a child’s social and emotional development. That is, children from low-income households are at a greater risk of having weaker social and emotional skills than their middle-class counterparts. Strong social and emotional skills, in turn, have been linked to improved academic achievement. Therefore, the achievement gap persists because low household income negatively affects not just academic achievement alone, but also social and emotional skill development. Therefore, summer school programs unintentionally maintain the achievement gap by ignoring social and emotional skill development and only targeting one contributing factor of the achievement gap—academics.
If many of our students from low-income households will be spending their summer days in school instead of in ways that mirror our visions of idyllic summer days; let’s at least commit to make their learning as idyllic as possible. To truly make a difference for these students and reduce the achievement gap, social and emotional skill deficiencies need to be addressed along with academic deficiencies. Then, summer will become a bit more ideal.
Over this last year I have been fortunate to have been sent to many education conferences on behalf of SmartBrief in pursuit of content and guest bloggers forSmartBlog on Education. It is a dream job for a retired educator and an education blogger. The intent is to always keep the educator’s voice on SmartBlog authentic and relevant. In that capacity, I have attended and conducted a multitude of workshops on various education topics. Since I am no longer in the classroom, and have no need to apply what I learn about current teaching methods in a classroom setting, I often attend these workshops as an observer, or even a critical observer in some cases.
In conference after conference, and workshop after workshop I have observed successes and failures in the methods employed by presenters to get their material across to their audiences. Of course my biggest criticism is that too many presenters view the people in the room as audiences, and themselves as some sort of entertainer. Of course a successful presenter is part entertainer, as is any teacher, but more importantly, he or she is there at a conference workshop to educate educators and that is a primary goal. For that goal to be met presenters might be better served thinking of the people in the room as learners, and employ their best skills as an educator. In fairness to most presenters, the best do just that.
Much can be learned as an educator by watching what works with a bunch of teacher/learners. Of course there are some who would argue that these are adult learners and shouldn’t be compared to kids. I used to think that as well, but I am not as sure, after all that I have observed.
I found one of the best explanations of adult learning in this article: “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit.
According to the article Malcolm Knowles an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”.
Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:
After considering these principles and observing many of them first hand at these professional conferences, I started to wonder if the reason why these same principles do not apply to kids, at least on the secondary level, is because we prohibit them from happening in our education system. Do we limit our students learning by blocking access to the very things that motivate us as adults to learn?
Can Students be self-motivated and self-directed? As adults some might say we are “pursuing our bliss” therefore, we are self-motivated and self-directed. Are our students bereft of bliss, or are we blocking out their bliss?
At the more successful conferences providing adult learning environments I have observed many things that aided the learning of adults. The best conferences provided Internet access for all. This enabled adults to use varied and sundry laptops and mobile devices. I still revel at the memory of a room full of learners listening to Chris Lehmann at the Educon Conference as he placed notes on a white board. When he was finished with his illustrated point in the conversation, 40 adults stood up and took a picture of the whiteboard with their mobile devices (mostly cellphones) for later reference. Student classrooms might have over 40 students in them but how many are allowed to take pictures of the teachers’ notes?
Of course the resounding positive comments from any of these learning environments is that there is a love of the conversation, as opposed to the lecture. That is common at Educon and it is the mainstay of the most successful Edcamps. Of course that conversation method is not the focus of teaching kids. Most educators focus on direct instruction and lecture as the mainstay for their lessons.
Then there is the cry from a multitude of adult conference learners that they hold teacher-presenters in the highest regard, because they are authentic. They have been in the classroom, and have paid their dues, so to speak. When real classroom teachers talk about education, it is relevant and real. This is a common sentiment among adult conference learners. I guess that relevance is important to the adult learner. When it comes to the kid learners are they even given a smattering of relevance or are we steeped in curriculum some of which may have been around since the mid 1900’s?
Of course the biggest outcry from adult learners at conferences comes when they are subjected to PowerPoint presentations that are text-ladened and read to the learners word for word by the presenter. This is the most egregious of mistakes and often the initiator of an exodus by the adult learners from the room. What alternative do kid learners have given the same set of circumstances?
Maybe as adult learners we need to take a look in the mirror before we resume our role as teachers for kids. In the final analysis, I do not think that there are differences in the way we learn as adults, or kids, but rather the differences lie in the opportunities afforded to learn. If we respected kids more as learners, they might be more self-directed and motivated in their learning. If they are allowed to participate in their learning, they might take more ownership. What learner wants to own something that is not in his, or her interest to own? If we can understand better how we learn best, maybe we can alter how we teach to be the best.
What I Learned Lately (WILL #6)
In education, this time of year is often filled with a sea of unknowns. Educators are continuously battling the complexity of mixed interpretations of budgets, staffing needs, legislative mandates, and emotional conversations regarding graduation, remediation and promotion. Intertwined throughout this turbulence, are individual and collective celebrations of the social emotional and academic growth of our students and staff. Days filled with safe and healthy environments where students, staff and community support, engage and challenge themselves minute by minute.
During this time of year, I personally struggle to find inspiration. I am often engaged in activities that leave me perplexed. Personally, I struggle to see how these discussions, debates and our activities that help our students. Rather, these conversations appear to be dominated by personal interests by "Hope Thieves". These “thieves” are robbing the resources (time, money, and add barriers) that are designed to support our students hopes and dreams.
From these experience I have learned that I should not be "surprised by being surprised". I am often struck by the intense high that I get from new discoveries in the human spirit. I know I should not be surprised by the magic of those that I humbly serve with. However, when I am awaken to those "Hope Heroes" around me, I am elevated to new heights. Like many heroes, we may never know their motivation and or identity. Let me tell about a few "Hope Heroes" that recently, I heard about.
One of our student, Zachary, was facing the brick wall of our states standardized testing requirements. Zachary had already been accepted to College and is eligible of a scholarship. One hero spent hours upon hours combing through files to identify multiple measures to ensure that Zachary, a student of poverty, graduates from high school and is able to access their dreams by going to College.
One of our moms was battling domestic violence and was facing the reality that she needed to run with her family support in order to provide stability and safety for herself and our students. One of our heroes, worked behind the scenes to counsel, support and develop an action plan for this family. The result was nothing more than amazing. Our family was able to stay in the area, in safe place and our students were able to remain in their schools and not lose any learning time.
This week I was lost, I stood still. What I saw was the examples of heroes flying around me. In between the two breathes that I took, I realized life takes place.
Finally from Hemingway - From Whom the Bell Tolls:
Help me, O Lord, tomorrow to comport myself as a man should in his last hours. Help me, O Lord to understand clearly the needs of the day. Help me, O Lord, to dominate the movement of my legs that I should not run when the bad moment comes. Help me, O Lord, to comport myself as a man tomorrow in the day of battle. Since I have asked this aid of thee, please grant it, knowing I would not ask it if it were not serious, and I will ask nothing of thee again.
I recently participated in what might possibly be a one-time experience for an educator, an education conference in Las Vegas. Of course that probably doesn’t hold true for Nevada educators. Solution Tree Publishing sponsored the Leadership Now Conference in Vegas. It was a Quality event with high visibility speakers keynoted the event.
The speakers at the event were Solution Tree authors and each was a leading expert in their area of expertise. They were also all affiliated with the Marzano/DuFour group. This was a big showing of the PLC at Work institute. For the most part I happen to be a believer in most of what they preach, so I was quite happy with the topics presented.
Of course the backbone of most of what was discussed was the idea of collaborative learning communities within individual school districts. I love the idea and I believe in the concept that collaboratively we all benefit more in learning and teaching. I do find the idea of stopping that collaboration at the district level somewhat limiting however. We need global networks of collaboration. We should not stop at the borders of our own school district or just the network of a group of paying participants of some larger group. Collaboration through social media is free and global. We need to explore and use it to our best advantage as educators and as students.
The First keynotes by Robert Marzano and Richard DuFour lasted an hour and a half each. They were lectures with text-ladened slides to keep the audience (learners) on track while laying out the research and philosophy of the grand plan. There was a printed and bound compiled text of the presentations along with worksheets for the learners. I actually weighed it. It was THREE pounds.
The highlight for me was the keynote by Sir Ken Robinson. He did a keynote that covered many aspects of several of his TED Talk videos. Although I heard much of it before, it meant more live, presented in sir Ken’s unique blend of humor, irony and common sense. This was a vast improvement over the last time I saw him at ISTE with a disastrous panel presentation after what seemed like a ten-minute keynote. In contrast to that, Sir Ken’s Solution Tree retrospective presentation was one to remember.
The workshops following the keynotes were again 90-minute lectures with text-ladened slides that corresponded to the three-pound, bound, text workbook. The material covered in the workshops was essential. The research seemed sound. It was all a common sense approach to the complicated problem of education reform. Each workshop was a clear presentation of how we might best approach what we are doing now in education with what we might be doing even better.
I only wish that they applied the same amount of time, research, and development to their methods of teaching and presentation as they applied to their subject material. First rule of PowerPoint: Don’t read from text-ladened slides to the audience, even if it is from a book written by you, the presenter. To do such a presentation differently is not going to be an easy task and it will probably take several iterations of a presentation to eliminate so much text from slides, but it will help the learners or should I say audience. Although there is a certain element of entertainment in education presentations they are designed to inform and teach. That means the seats are filled with learners and not audience members.
The workshop leaders of the workshops that I attended were wonderful, knowledgeable, and experienced educators. Leaders included: Rebecca DuFour, Tammy Heflebower, Timothy Kanold, Anthony Muhammad, Phil Warrick, and Kenneth Williams. The workshops that were most striking and helpful to me however, were the workshops of Anthony Muhammad. He dealt with changing the culture of the school in order to affect any meaningful change in the structure of the school. I found him to be a shinning star in a room full of stars. He was dynamic, engaging, and most of all gave out meaningful ideas to deal with the real changes for education reform with the most “elephant in the room” problems. He later gave a rousing, closing keynote.
The low point for me anyway came when they had the panel discussion at the end of the sessions of the second day. It was not very well attended by the participants of the conference. The panel was made up of the key members of the Marzano group. Of course the lead panel members gave the longest answers. It was the questioning of the panel that struck me to be rather archaic in our world of technology. The audience was asked to write questions on a piece of paper that would be picked up and delivered to the moderator. There was no microphone stand for open questioning. There was no hashtag back channel screen. The moderator was not monitoring an iPad for questions. I guess this was made difficult because there was also no Internet service for the conference, which should be a mainstay of any education conference.
Criticisms aside, I found this to be a very informative conference. I wish it could have been live streamed to the many connected educators who were following the conference hashtag over the three days. I think the Marzano approach to collaboration and addressing the whole system in order to affect change is a sensible and sound approach. I would simply love to see an updated methodology in their approach.
Social Media Week is one of the two New York events that inspire me and inform my perspective on developing curriculum. The New York Comic Con is the other. While they may seem tangential at first glance to classroom teaching and curriculum design, they actually offer a model of and insight to creating moving narratives which I believe drives effective learning.
It was at a Social Media Week session two years ago that I learned about Timehop. Timehop is a social media service that places your tweets and wall posts into an historical context. On any given day, you are sent a reminder of what you tweeted and posted on the same date last year. This includes news items you retweeted and shared. When you compare what you tweeted a year ago to what you tweet today, you have the beginnings of an autobiographical narrative (a personal history).
Currently, Timehop only presents you with an account of day-to-day social media activity. What I am hoping to see somewhere down the line is a "timeline" feature. I am certain there would be some meaningful classroom applications, if Timehop users were given the option to view day-to-day activity over multiple days, weeks, months, and even years.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend as many sessions this year. I was particularly disappointed about missing the Cowbird workshop. Cowbird describes itself as a "community of storytellers". I like to think of it as a great online anthology of flash non-fiction filled with examples of folksy wisdom and lazy Sunday observations over coffee or tea. Cowbird is definitely meeting its goal of building a "public library of human experience".
I particularly admire Cowbird's resistance to video and hope it continues to ask its community to take the time to contemplate the pictures and sounds (the individual components of video) and text they chose to tell their stories with. There is a risk of forsaking these individual pieces when composing directly in video.
Cowbird offers classroom teachers in the age of Common Core a powerful tool to create personal narratives. It also provides teachers with a way for engaging in informational texts especially in "Integration of Knowledge and Ideas" where in eighth grade students are tasked to "Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea."
Happily, I managed to attend the "gsummitX - Gamification in NYC" presentation with Gabe Zichermann from Gamification.co. In the classroom, teachers understand that playing games is an effective way of engaging students. However, with the rise in the number of free online video games and the increased portability of traditional console games, students are much more sophisticated edutainment consumers than we Generation X'ers were with our Colecovisions and Commodore 64s.
Gabe was speaking from a Sales/Marketing perspective when he stated the challenge of retaining consumer attention. However, I don't think you need to stretch your imagination too hard to see how even with the onslaught of educational online video games that student attention retention can still be a challenge for teachers.
Gabe made several interesting comments during his presentation. First, he stated that gamification is a process not a product (Sound familiar?) It's what those who favor a constructivist approach to education believe. He then said that (I'm rephrasing slightly) games allow players to play with the limits of the reality of their jobs. In classrooms, this might mean games allow students to play with the limits of the reality of their... classrooms? subjects? tests? school? community?
Writing about Jane McGonigal's TED presentation, “Gaming Can Make A Better World” I suggested a game that addressed the school dropout crisis. The role playing games that Jane has worked on fit well into Gabe's statements on gamification. In creating a game that challenges students to solve the real world problem of dropping out, the challenge would be to convince the player to find value in the rewards and prizes. There are plenty of good commercial games available but also an equal (if not overwhelming) amount of bad video games. And there are instances where a game comes highly recommended but the player does not see value in continuing it.
In a recent meeting about student behavior the discussion turned to spring fever and the stress students take on as state testing approaches. A colleague shared an experience that reminds us all that it’s not just students that feel the stress of state testing or the anticipation of summer. The teacher was working with her students on writing conclusions, a skill they had been honing throughout the school year. With the state test approaching, it was time to review and practice. When asked to write a conclusion, students acted like it was a foreign concept. The teacher’s reaction, however, was anything but foreign to those of us in similar positions: she lost it. The usually calm and considerate teacher ripped into the class, “What do you mean you don’t know how to write a conclusion? We have been working on conclusions all year! You have to be able to write a conclusion!”
Listening to her regret her uncharacteristic outburst it reminded me of similar scenes in my classroom recently. Her call for all of us to be aware of how the stress and excitement of the season affects our behavior drove me to think about how social and emotional skills are equally important for us as adults as well as students. Here are a few ways teachers can benefit from CASEL’s five SEL competencies:
Self-awareness: As teachers we must maintain our awareness of how we are feeling. As the above story highlighted, this time of year is ripe with emotion: the stress of state testing (especially in an age of increasing accountability based on test scores), the excitement of summer vacation and general exhaustion from a long, hard-fought year.
Self-management: Once we identify our emotions we can begin to manage them effectively. For example, in stressful times perhaps a lunchtime walk in the fresh air might be a better use of time than grading that lingering stack of papers. If we are aware of our emotions we can also anticipate situations in which they could lead us to uncharacteristic and undesirable behavior. During moments of extreme frustration in the classroom we need to regulate ourselves so students are not the target of our unleashed emotions.
Social awareness: We also need to be cognizant of what our students are feeling. They also feel the stress of state testing and, depending on a student’s homelife, the anticipation of summer brings uncertainty and anxiety rather than excitement. We simply must be able to walk a mile in our students' shoes.
Relationship skills: During these strenuous times we must maintain positive relationships with our students. More than ever (even though they would probably never tell us) they need us. They need us to listen, they need us to connect with them and they need us to be there when they need help.
Responsible decision-making: By paying attention to all the above we will be in a position to analyze the probable outcomes of our actions and make decisions that truly respect our students.
As the pull of summer and anxiety brought on by state testing increase, let’s remember that social and emotional skills are critical, not just for our students, but for us as teachers as well. By practicing and modeling positive social and emotional skills we can all end the year on an upbeat note without losing our cool.
The Economist article, "In praise of misfits," lays out the business-related benefits of what the author calls "creatives," "anti-social geeks," "oddball quants," and "rule-breaking entrepreneurs." While the entire article is well worth the read, we have pulled out a few quotes to help frame the idea that we should work tirelessly to help our school system to support these "misfits." Rather than treat their uniquenesses as deficits, we would do well to build on their actionable strengths and affinities -- qualities that are proving to shape our present, and will surely impact our future. From the article:
Recruiters have noticed that the mental qualities that make a good computer programmer resemble those that might get you diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome: an obsessive interest in narrow subjects; a passion for numbers, patterns and machines; an addiction to repetitive tasks; and a lack of sensitivity to social cues.
Similar traits are common in the upper reaches of finance. The quants have taken over from the preppies. The hero of Michael Lewis's book “The Big Short”, Michael Burry, a hedge-fund manager, is a loner who wrote a stockmarket blog as a hobby while he was studying to be a doctor. He attracted so much attention from money managers that he quit medicine to start his own hedge fund, Scion Capital.
The article goes on,
Entrepreneurs also display a striking number of mental oddities. Julie Login of Cass Business School surveyed a group of entrepreneurs and found that 35% of them said that they suffered from dyslexia, compared with 10% of the population as a whole and 1% of professional managers. Prominent dyslexics include the founders of Ford, General Electric, IBM and IKEA, not to mention more recent successes such as Charles Schwab (the founder of a stockbroker), Richard Branson (the Virgin Group), John Chambers (Cisco) and Steve Jobs (Apple).
All that said, however, there must be balance between the "creatives" and what the article refers to as, "The Organisation Man," or the "'well-rounded' executives." The writer goes on to explain,
Where does that leave the old-fashioned organisation man? He will do just fine. The more companies hire brilliant mavericks, the more they need sensible managers to keep the company grounded. Someone has to ensure that dull but necessary tasks are done. Someone has to charm customers (and perhaps lawmakers). This task is best done by those who don't give the impression that they think normal people are stupid.
All of this hints at the need for the real career-ready skill of knowing simply how to get along -- to not just tolerate differences, but to appreciate and leverage these differences as opportunities to innovate and become more than the sum of our parts. Our learning communities can be (and already are) incubators of the social relationships that, in part, define a student's path beyond graduations, for better or for worse. What if we were so bold as to decide that each student is a learner, learning changes lives, learning happens in different ways, and learning empowers, and therefore we need to ensure that each student feels the work of schooling matters to them and that their strengths and affinities are not only valued, but embraced and employed as essential to the success of the community? Do we need to wait until these "misfits" graduate and enter the workforce to change the following?
Those square pegs may not have an easy time in school. They may be mocked by jocks and ignored at parties.
Because, after all,
. . . these days no serious organisation can prosper without them. As Kiran Malhotra, a Silicon Valley networker, puts it: “It's actually cool to be a geek.”
We, as educators and advocates of all students, have the power to change this trend. There is no need for students to wait until adulthood to find that their strengths matter, and no research suggests this is in the best interest of students, especially those "creatives, oddballs, and/or square pegs among us.
This post was originally published on the All Kinds of Minds blog.
Not every student needs to prepare for a Google-like workplace. And, as popular as STEM is presently, most students don’t want to become software engineers or scientists. But every student, in any job, will collaborate as a member of a team. I once talked with a student who told me he wanted to be a Fed Ex driver. “Just drive around and deliver things,” he said, “No teamwork there.” I urged him to look at the handheld device carried by every driver—the one that communicates with a worldwide network and plugs the driver into a global team.
Every student needs to be prepared for that environment, partly for employment opportunity, but mainly because the deeply embedded mental model of learning and creating as an individual process is obsolete. No one, any longer, can isolate themselves from someone else’s knowledge base, and collaboration has shifted from its earlier incarnation as a social networking skill into the chief way in which we talk to one another in order to get things done. Powerful collaboration is driven by incisive communication—and out of that process come the very best expressions of innovation, creativity, and critical inquiry. In other words, collaboration is now the foundational 21st century skill.
Thinking that students are ‘naturals’ at this is a fallacy. High performance collaboration requires training and the development of key personal skills. For teachers, two initial steps will help launch this process. First, reframe the conversation by using the terminology of ‘teams,’ not group work. Think of your favorite sports team and now call them a ‘group.’ Feel the difference? Teams focus on accountability and commitment; they form for a purpose and operate through norms and shared expectations.
Second, import and adapt the high performance principles common in the work world to teams in the classroom. This requires time, good coaching skills, a relentless focus on the quality of interaction between students, and a set of team tools, including contracts, rubrics, and exercise. But the payoff is noticeable. Once students form teams over an extended period and begin to collaborate well, they learn more, get better at teaching others, produce more powerful products, and enjoy the process. Here are ten principles that can help you design high performance teams:
Thom Markham is a psychologist, school redesign consultant, and the author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for inquiry and innovation for K-12 educators. To download the tools mentioned in the blog, go to the PBL tools page on the website, www.thommarkham.com. If you can’t find what you need, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every morning before work, I stop by Yahoo with the intention of checking my email—and only checking my mail. Without exception, this is what happens: In the half second it takes me to move my cursor over the email icon and click, it’s all over. Suddenly, I find myself halfway into an article entitled “Nike pulls poorly timed t-shirts from stores.” “How did I get here?” I think to myself as I polish off the last paragraph of an article about Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. Of course I never want to read these articles, but the power of an enigmatic, well-written headline can get me to read just about anything.
So what can teachers learn from the power of a well-written headline and how can they harness it for engaging students? Here are a few ideas we gleaned from one of our favorite authors and educators, Dr. Richard Curwin. We highly recommend checking out his blogs here.
Headlines always use teasers. Teachers should too.
Regardless of what you teach, try beginning each lesson with some sort of provocative statement—something that will make your students go, “huh?”
Which of these two questions do you think would work best for engaging students?
You went with the second one, yes? How about these two questions:
We bet you went with the second question both times. Why? Because Jay-Z and Keyboard Cat are interesting. At first glance, they also seem completely unrelated to the essays you asked your students to read. This will not only capture their curiosity, it’ll force students to think critically to make a connection. Here’s another tip for engaging students that comes courtesy of Dr. Curwin.
Use Compelling Questions
Have you ever forgotten the name of a song, a book title or even someone's name and spent the whole day trying to remember it? It was under your skin, so to speak, and the need to remember was compelling to the extreme. The same is true when you begin a class with a question that creates a compelling need for students to know the answer. This strategy is based on the principle that questions should come before answers. Typically, teachers give information and then ask questions about it. Hearing the question first, especially a great one, radically increases the need to learn the information just to find the answer. Great questions have these things in common:
Here is a sampling of compelling questions that teachers from various content areas have shared with me:
Questions like these begin your class with energy, excitement and most importantly, a desire to learn.
Photo credit: Adam Sundana at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cukuskumir/