Authenticity- Learning and Assessment

Many of us are asking what the school of the future should look like–what experiences students should have, how we can assess, how we can make sure the students learn the state and local curricular objectives, what experiences are crucial,  where it should happen, how technology plays a role, and the questions we have go on and on and on…

Many research studies have shown the importance of relationships in learning, and recent ones speak to the importance of the one between teacher and student.

My personal belief is that students are a lot more competent than we ever give them credit for, and sometimes all we need is to do is get out of their way.

I am a Gifted Resource Teacher. In my division, that means we have a lot of leeway in the services we provide our students.  For good or bad, it means I can really individualize and provide a lot of unique experiences to my kids, since I’m NOT locked into a core subject, for the most part. I am responsible to make sure they are challenged, and they grow in all areas–not just their area of strength or the subject I am working with them at a specific time. I do teach a 3rd grade and 5th grade math class 4/5 days a week, but even those classes can be flexibly scheduled, and because I teach the highest performing kids (who are not all identified kids) I can compact the curriculum and still have time to support kids as they  pursue their passions.

At the beginning of the year, I gave my kids wikis and some of them moved, in January, to blogging as well. It is amazing to me to see how they are using the various media and to see what I am learning about them through the  freedom and latitude I give them in these venues. I am learning more about them through this work than I could have ever imagined–I am seeing what they enjoy in their lives outside of school, how much they are motivated to learn, how much they challenge themselves, how much initiative they show and I am discovering what topics and activities truly draw out their passion!

I have become involved in a child’s struggle as she watches a beloved horse begin to slip downhill from a battle with cancer. I listen to her fears and show my compassion for her impending loss.

I am intrigued by another’s grappling to explain thinking processes clearly as she attempts to describe her fascination with and understanding of math through “math tricks.” She also maintains a fictional writing blog called “Duck In for a Story.”

I see leadership in some students  in the wikimail exchanges I read–skills I generally do not see visibly in school.

I watch a young man aspire to become part of a parent’s passion as he begins an independent study on Shakespeare in 5th grade.

I am amazed at just how GEEKY some of these kids are and how fast they figure out how to embed videos, create Google polls with Google forms and analyze the responses they get in spreadsheets.

I support them as they they ask to figure out why we are having such an unusually cold and snowy winter.

I have a 10 year old girl who wants to know how computers work on the inside–even to the differences between laptops and desktop machines.

I have another who is enthralled with the digital fabrication lab we have, wanting to create a 3-D eagle that really can fly. (She is trying to decide whether she wants to major in physics in college or become a veterinarian, as she writes passionately about her riding on her “Horsin’ Around” blog.)

My 8 yo third graders have created an Earth Protection Club on a wiki–their description of it says, “The Earth Protection club is about saving the earth and ways to clean up the earth so we can have a better place to live!” They talk about protecting endangered animals and getting together to clean up the environment. I believe these are pretty hefty goals for very young children!

I only have 2 who are heavily into gaming–but as they share code to play the games better across their wikimail, I realize again how much we underestimate  students’ abilities, how much the rote learning opportunities provided in school must bore them.

Yet, many of my kids said to me yesterday  (after returning to school from nearly a two week closure of schools due to weather) that they were so happy to be back and they hoped we got to keep coming to school. When I asked why, a HUGE part of their wanting to be back was the face to face social interactions and the mentoring and support they receive from intelligent others. They KNOW they don’t know everything, nor do they know HOW to learn everything they want to learn–and they want that support to learn and understand deeply.

And, as for assessment, I DO know what my kids know and need to learn in much of their assigned grade level curricular areas.

Exploring all of this UNASSIGNED work the students do OUTSIDE of school,  I can clearly talk with parents and the students about the strengths and weaknesses they have in the areas of literacy.  I can make lesson plans and personalize the lessons to individuals or small group to target the skills they will be tested on in the state writing tests they will take in a couple of weeks.

Yes, it takes time for me to look through the work they do.

Yes, some are more motivated than others to produce on the web in these areas.

Yes, the work is not done on any particular timeline that fits MY schedule.

BUT the student work is authentic, it engages them in real world topics,  it gives them choice, allows for novelty and variety and they learn from one another as they explore what others are studying and we share, discuss and delve into their projects together in class. (See the Schlechty Center’s work on engagement.)

It IS powerful learning.

It IS powerful engagement.

It is NOT compliance.

And, we are all confident they will pass the tests with flying colors.

Big Paradigm Shifts

Several weeks ago, Matt Guthrie and I decided to pre-load #Edchat with entries on our blogs. Last week Chad Sansing and I did the same. They each call it the pregame show, so I’m going to begin to use that language as well. 🙂 In the conversation on my blog about grading, though, Matt Townsley stated that, “Allowing new evidence of learning to replace the old is a big paradigm shift.” Since then, I have been thinking about the big paradigm shifts we need to undergo to really change our schools.

I  lived Educon last weekend, participating in some amazing conversations.  I encourage you all to go to the Educon site and live through the conversations vicariously, and join in any way you can. I’ve also been exploring some Edutopia links (thanks to a tweet I read sometime this past week) and am also involved in an online eTeacher course through my county while I’ve basically been at home snowbound!

So I’ve had lots of time to think, reflect and the question I’ve been thinking about since Matt’s comment is

What are the big paradigm shifts that need to happen for education to be most meaningful for students?

In the past week or so, lots of people way smarter than me have put proposals out there based on Educon conversations or Twitter interactions or life experiences. Some of the suggestions I have seen include

  1. Teaching kids HOW to think, rather than “to think critically.” (Thanks to Kevin Washburn.)
  2. Students graduating with a resume rather than a transcript (Thanks to Ken Bernstein)
  3. The link between inquiry and care-Chris Lehmann’s reflection from Educon
  4. Teachers encouraging their students to evaluate them ( (Teacher Gets A Report Card from Deven Black)
  5. from a new hashtag #rbrc (rubric without the vowels)
  • Students designing assessments for learning
  • Students designing their own learning plans
  • Students creating rubrics
  • Students pursuing their passions and being taught how to do so (research, etc.)
  • Community supported inquiry–learning from each other

A visual from Kathy Sierra that I found from reading Pair-aDimes for Your Thoughts from David Truss

6a00d83451b44369e200e54f7eb7638834-800wi

Then, in my Edutopia reading, I saw this:

“Today’s students will enter a job market that values skills and abilities far different from the traditional workplace talents that so ably served their parents and grandparents. They must be able to crisply collect, synthesize, and analyze information, then conduct targeted research and work with others to employ that newfound knowledge. In essence, students must learn how to learn, while responding to endlessly changing technologies and social, economic, and global conditions.”

Okay, I don’t think the people I interact with on Twitter and #Edchat would argue too much with that statement. I think all the parts and pieces listed above it could fairly easily be included in learning experiences that allowed students to do the things listed in that quote. I also think about my student who clearly showed MY emphasis when she made a “Cool Math Words” page on her wiki–look at the first word.

So, I proposed the following question to #EdChat :

What should be the essential learnings that students get from attending school?

(and maybe “attending school” should be “our lessons” so it would read

“What should be the essential learnings our students get from our lessons?”)

I’d like to see what others think and what you’d add to that quote.

And, beyond that, what would lessons look like if we designed them so that they clearly showed what we value in education?

‘SNOW WAY (to keep up with #edchat!)

Dear snow: Back off. Thanks, Chad

was a tweet from a friend of mine today.

AMEN!  I have had MORE than enough!  It’s Wednesday–we haven’t been to school this week, and this weekend they’re calling for even MORE snow!   AAGH. . . enough complaining.

Last night’s Edchat was WILD. . . I used  tweetgrid to follow it–ahem–to TRY to follow it–and could not even begin to read that fast. Is it time to morph it?


Last week Matt Guthrie and I tried to have what he called “pregame” conversations on our blogs, and we hoped postgame conversations would occur as well. Both of us got a fair number of responses on the blogs (curriculum overload and grade fog) and I believe it DID make a difference in the chat.  This week Chad Sansing and I tried it with the top two topics and while folks read both, not much conversation occurred this time on the blogs. (
Chad’s and mine)

Last night (or yesterday at noon), several folks discussed perhaps keeping the same topic for two weeks to allow for those “after-the-fact” revelations we all have, or to have an opportunity to respond to the thoughts we didn’t catch the first time around. That told me I’m not the only one feeling overwhelmed by this fast-paced, furious spate of great thoughts flowing.

BUT, on the other hand, others were saying they loved the fast and furious pace– one person even tweeted me and said that’s why she loved Edchat–and that she would love to have this buzz from her faculty room.  (Wouldn’t we all–but, for me, a bit more slowly so I could think about my wording some as I responded!)

Yesterday, I saw some folks in the edchat stream on my Tweetdeck get in a snit about edchat being all about technology (which I don’t see it being.) They were saying it’s worthless if it doesn’t address education (which it certainly does, IMHO). I’m not sure where they were getting their info. . .

So, all that having been said, obviously #edchat is valuable.  Obviously, people are looking for the conversations.  Obviously, the conversations cause reflective thinking and, according to edchat comments, further change, BEYOND the chat.

A HUGE thanks goes to Jerry Swiatek for archiving the chats so folks can go back to them, and Tom Whitby and Shelly Terrell for organizing them, and Steven Anderson for setting up the polls each week! If you have more questions about Edchat, see Tom Whitby’s recent post explaining it.

So, my questions are:

Is there a need to change the format to allow more actual conversation to occur rather than a fast spate of comments and people either retweeting with a quick YES! or responding to one sentence declarations?

If people choose to blog about the topics, could we have a place on the archive wiki to post our blog addresses WITH the topic it addresses so folks could have further reading? OR, would that be better on the PLN ning, as Matt suggested last week?

Could/Should we do a topic two weeks in a row?  Would that help?

Is there a better tool to use than Twitter for conversations such as we are looking at having with a large group of educators?

And, last, but certainly not least, am I trying to improve something that doesn’t need improvement?

Would love to hear your thoughts. . .

Reformational Evolution

As Educators what do we do to further educational reform?

That’s one of the #edchat questions for this week, and today I got this tweet from @GardnerCampbell: Re-reading Papert’s “Why School Reform Is Impossible.” So, so deeply resonant for me. http://www.papert.org/articles/school_reform.html

So, here’s my preload for tomorrow’s #edchat:

First, I think we need to examine what we mean by educational reform.

Many of us talk about needing to switch the emphasis in our schools from “teaching” to “learning”.  It’s not about what we teach, it’s about what the students learn—we can no longer say, as in the cartoon, “I taught it, he just didn’t learn it.” We can no longer absolve ourselves of responsibility—thus the data-driven instruction movement, the need for PLCs, the growth in RTI movements.

Many educators are talking about student ownership of learning. . . Students do so much of it OUTSIDE of school on their connected tools—they stay connected whenever they are NOT in school and are constantly engaged—perhaps playing games, perhaps interacting with friends, perhaps building websites or blogging or constructing and creating new materials, apps or even devices. How do we move that engagement, that initiative, that drive into our schools?

Many of us talk about needing to restructure our learning spaces—that it no longer meets the needs of today’s learners.  We need collaborative spaces—but we also need the caves, the watering holes, the fireside gathering places for the many different kinds of learning that needs to occur at various times.  We need openness and light, we need materials to tinker with and fiddle with and play with to energize our brains and allow the creativity to flow.

Brain research shows that “sittin’ and gittin” doesn’t do it for best learning. We also know that we are not supporting our students to learn profoundly, understand deeply and think critically and creatively with many of our current structures in place. Both teachers and students feel stifled in the current culture of schools.

Having recently read Papert’s  “Why School Reform Is Impossible,” I must say I agree with him that reform is NOT the same as change, and I believe we need more than reform. In the world of today, we need a different idea of what school, teaching and learning is and should be.

Today’s students bring to us a very different type of sophistication about learning and researching and sifting and sorting information than did the students of the 1800s and even the 1900s. Am  I saying they come to us proficient?  Of course not, but they do come with strategies and experience–and we need to honor that while shaping it to be more efficacious. The knowledge students often bring TO the table is much greater, having been indoctrinated into the world of science and history through TV offerings like the Animal Planet, the History Channel, Discovery Education, National Geographic, interactive web sites and the ability many have to travel so much more easily.

However, while many educators recognize the need to do something differently, we often bemoan the systems that keep us from doing so. The culture of schooling as it has developed from the early 1900s to today is a culture not easily changed. Papert describes the system of schooling as one that has “developed harmonious and mutually supportive — mutually matched forms. There is a match of curriculum content, of epistemological framework, of organizational structure, and …of knowledge technology.” When we try to change one of those, the other “matches” in place pull us back into line and that makes the whole structure much more resistant to change.

However. ..

We know that powerful changes in nature often come about, not though deliberate design, but by evolution. So instead of thinking about how to change schools, about how to reform them, suppose we look at how we can help speed up the evolution of them—the metamorphosis of them into the learning places we want them to become?

So, let’s look at what Papert says:

“the shift from a stance of reform to a stance of evolution does not exclude active intervention, but the role of the change agent becomes less like the architect or builder and more like the plant- or animal breeder whose interventions take the form of influencing processes that have their own dynamic.”

Computers—whether they be in the form of cell phones or iPods or laptops- are becoming more ubiquitous and students come to us knowing a LOT about the world around them and a LOT about how they can learn more. Teachers can leverage that ability to help students become even more sophisticated learners at even earlier ages than ever before.

“As ideas multiply and as the ubiquitous computer presence solidifies, the prospect of deep change becomes more real. Their day-to-day work with computers will be the seeds from which it will grow.” (Papert)

One of my Twitter friends today DM’d me: I’d like to see Tweets be about HOW to effectively use tech not IF we are using or SHOULD be using tech.

We need to start sharing lessons where the technology is transparent  and the learning deep. Papert speaks to students being able to use computer simulations at an early age—even elementary- to understand concepts such as a parabola.

Suppose “imagining an alternative mathematical education in which the typical activity begins with and consists of creating, modifying, or controlling dynamic computational objects. In this context the parabola may be first encountered by a child creating a videogame as the trajectory of an animal’s leap or a missile’s flight; here, the natural first formalism for the parabola is an expression in a child-appropriate computational language of something like “the path followed when horizontal speed and vertical acceleration are both constant.” “For children who have acquired true computational fluency by growing up with the dynamic medium as a primary representation for mathematical thinking, I argue that it would plausibly be more concrete, more intuitive, and far more motivating than quadratic equations.”

Suppose we provided elementary students “an entry into rigorous mathematics and science” through the activities and experiences we provided?

Suppose we began sharing how we do that in our isolated classrooms, our outlying schools and we make a repository of those reformational lessons somewhere?

Suppose we continue deep conversations we begin over Twitter, at conferences like EduCon 2.2 and we REALLY began thinking about how to offer, as Papert suggests, “an example showing a different content, different style of learning, different epistemology, and a different medium all matched to one another and to a form of school structured without curriculum or age segregation.”

Suppose we allow that to evolve as we provide rich experiences for our students, invite their expertise in, and allow them to use those tools they use so well outside of school?

Suppose we create the conditions to simply let the rich diversity of our students’ knowledge and abilities play itself out inside of those brick and mortar buildings we call school?

If we paint those pictures and build those structures, will school evolve more quickly into powerful cultures of thinking, inquiry and capacity building for profound –and playful–learning?

Grade Fog? Or Effective Grading?

This morning, @MattGuthrie and I were talking about how fast and furious #edchat goes and how we wish we could preprime the pump with some thoughts to get people thinking more deeply ahead of time. We decided to take it on–he wrote about question # 1 (With an overloaded curriculum, what should be emphasized and what should be eliminated?) and here are some thoughts on question # 3-Should the current system of grading be outlawed and replaced with something more “21st Century?

A caveat:  The following post is created from notes I took in a talk given by Carol A Tomlinson, a brilliant educator and differentiation guru that I am lucky and blessed enough to call my friend and colleague. The stories are mine, the brilliance is hers!

There are some pieces of and questions about the grading puzzle that I believe teachers may not even consider.

  1. The power of grades to impact students’ lives creates a responsibility in giving grades.
  2. In what ways do our current grading systems motivate struggling readers to persist in the face of difficulty?
  3. Is there an opportunity for struggling learners to encounter excellence in grading?
  4. Do grades teach our brightest students to struggle in the face of difficulty?

So, what keeps us going as learners? If we experience success as a learner, then it may be something we want to keep doing.  If we need to put forth too much effort, then perhaps we quit.  (I can’t imagine trying to light a bulb 1000 times, as the poster says Edison did before he succeeded!)  The success to effort ratio needs to be in balance for learners to WANT to keep going.  If success is heavier, then learners learn to be lazy.  If the effort is heavier, learners tend to give up.

Here’s my personal story on that one: I know a kid who, in 4th grade, bright, but LD as one can be, started becoming a reader that December–took books EVERYWHERE, read all the time, discovered authors–and was reading on grade level. Family pulled him OUT of SPED for literacy, and the teacher was supposed to transition him into the regular classroom. However, he didn’t do his Accelerated Reader tests, so got an F on his report card in January. When Mom went to see the teacher, she literally said to Mom–“What grade do you think he should get?  I’ll change it to whatever you want.”  The kid has struggled through school and at the F, quit reading–his words were “why should I try?  I can’t do anything right.”  He STILL has not regained that attitude of wanting to read. . . and this is several years later.

There is truth in the saying success breeds success.  When one invests in learning and finds success, then one is more likely to repeat that risk. BUT, for other students, year upon year of “not good enough” results in lack of effort, and a seemingly uncaring attitude. I’ll say again, though, as I did in my last post, that I simply don’t believe students come to school saying to themselves, “I want to be a failure today.”

So, the big questions become:

What role should grades play in regards to the success to effort ratio?

and

Can we do anything to moderate the negative effects of grading?

Let’s think about some people in real life who get judged on their performances every day they work—like sports players or musical performers, and look at how they learn as we think about some key principles of effective grading:.

1. It’s unwise to overgrade student work.  Coaches don’t grade practices—the judgement comes in at the game—or at the recital!

2.  Why would anyone think grading a pre-assessment is wise?  That’s what‘s supposed to give us information as to what to teach and how to group.  Why grade someone on something they are ABOUT TO LEARN?

3. I’ll say it again—Coaches don’t grade practices, so why over-grade ongoing assessments?  Students need opportunities to practice, analyze work, and learn from errors in a safe context.   The formative assessments given should be just that—formative—not final grades.

4. Use summative assessments as primary data for grading. Grades should be reliable over time, meaning that the results of any given test on the standard would be relatively the same for the same kid.

5. Grades should be based on clearly specified learning goals.  Is the learning target clear?  Do students clearly understand what they need to know, understand and do?

6. Grades should be criterion-based, NOT norm-based.

In norm based grading systems, the human factor suffers:

a.) There will necessarily be winners and losers competing for scarce rewards.
b.) The implications for learning environments are predictably negative.
c.) The outcomes for both struggling and advanced learners carry high negatives as well.

Students should be striving to reach the standards that have been set for them to learn, not competing against classmates for the top part of the bell curve.

In norm based grading systems, clarity of communication suffers:

a.)  A could be the “best worst”

b.)  C could be “knows the stuff but doesn’t look so great compared to others”

In norm-based grading systems, confusion and lack of clarity reign as no one really knows what that A or C really mean.

So what do those key principles look like in practice?

1. Data used for grading MUST be valid and measure what we intend to measure –mastery of the material.

Grades we give MUST be free of grade fog.  In a standards-driven classroom, how can we take points off for talking in class, or students not putting their name on the paper, or not finishing several homework assignments??  Those types of requirements can be dealt with separately, but must not be confused with the student’s understanding and mastery of the content.

2. Grades should be given later in the learning cycle rather than sooner.

If we are doing our job, the students SHOULD know more as the semester goes on—so earlier misunderstandings should not be part of a grade that shows (or doesn’t show) final mastery. IF, in the end, the students show mastery, why grade them down for earlier mistakes?  Isn’t our goal for the student to master the material?

Again, crucial to remember is: The power of grades to impact students’  lives creates a responsibility in giving grades.

3. When it’s time for report cards practice 3-P grading
Students, parents and others deserve to know the extent to which the learner has learned agreed upon goals. Using SINGLE letter grades with no clear meaning is an issue. We should perhaps be giving three grades—or three ways of reporting:

*Performance (based on criteria and performance standards)
*Progress  (progress/improvement)
*Process (work habits, effort, attitude)

Shouldn’t all learners know the material, show progress and growth, and know what to do when they don’t know what to do (have strategies)? If those are our goals, then, why are we not reporting—and students self-reporting– on each and every part of the three Ps??

I believe these grading practices ARE contemporary. . and yes, the system many teachers use SHOULD be outlawed, but it’s not about outlawing grading–it’s about grading–or reporting–or assessing–or giving feedback– responsibly and effectively!

Post Script (and post-edchat):  I ‘m not sure anyone is saying we should keep grades.  I  am saying it is a reality of most of us and IF we have to do it, until the system changes, we should do it responsibly and not pull in all those foggy facts of talking in class, doing (or not) homework, neatness, names on paper, etc. as part of the summative grade. Those go in another area–process or maybe even progress, depending on the prior conversations.

It absolutely IS, as Will says below, all about what you can do with what you know, NOT the grade. We need to be moving towards that faster in schools.

It IS , as Chad says below, about leveraging inquiry to help students design and participate in authentic, personally meaningful learning opportunities.

It IS, as Karen says, about coming to common understandings about grades (while we have to use them.)

It IS, as Michael says below, about students owning their own competency and learning.

It IS, as Matt reminds us, about “big paradigm shifts.”

But mostly, for me, right now, it’s about getting all of us as educators to talk about grading practices, to wrestle with it, to challenge each other’s thinking, to share great ideas, to work together to figure out how to give feedback and assess well and SHIFT those paradigms so children don’t go through experiences like the kid cited above.

You guys sure have made ME think, and for that, I thank you mightily!

Matt Guthrie (@mattguthrie) and I started this topic and his blog on overloaded curriculum to pre-load the conversation at #edchat and make it deeper, not just occurring in 140 characters.  I think we succeeded. We hope you’ll continue it at the Educator’s PLN ning–or somewhere.

What Would You Like To Read? Part 2

Boy, when I asked what people would like to read about, I got lots of suggestions. So I began my book chapter.

I began my book chapter.

And I began my book chapter.

(Yeah, I was having a hard time focusing on one idea.)

So, I wrote 6 pages,, called it “Transformation,” and sent them to Darah.

(I did title my email subject line as “I know this is long, but. . . ” and give him permission to cut as needed.)

But I still felt bad I didn’t/couldn’t focus, and I also knew that everyone else’s had been 2-3 pages, so I felt like I was being Miss Piggy, taking up so much reading real estate.  So, continuing to ponder all the ideas my Twitterfolk had shared,  I slept on my guilt and lack of focus.

And I slept on my guilt and lack of focus.

And I slept on my guilt and lack of focus.

Until I came up with another idea and wrote 3 pages this time, called “The Creation Generation.”  It begins like this:

Many words have been written about Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and now Web 3.0, delineating the use in each era as consumers, producers and now collaborators. What our current students have gotten out of their use of technology, though, is that it is easy for them to create—a wiki, blog, a photo mosaic on Flickr, an online presence through sites such as Club Penguin and Webkinz for younger students and Twitter and Facebook for older ones. Heck, we even have students as young as 10 building applications for technologies such as the iPods. Students not only see the web as interactive, and their world as connected (through their phones, texting, chatting, Skypeing and even their DS and PS2 game devices), but they also see it as directed by them—they control how they use it to a great degree.

In this chapter-to-be, I cite  Ira Socol, David Cushman, and Larry Cuban, but I won’t steal any thunder from Darah’s book by posting that writing here. I will tell you, though, that both Ira and David have blogs worth reading, and the influence of me reading their thinking WILL show up in my blog thinking.

But, for those of you who made suggestions–many of which I attempted to incorporate into ONE writing–THAT, I will post here. . . but in bits and pieces, so you don’t have almost THREE THOUSAND words to read in one go.  AND, I offer my sincerest thanks for the ideas.

To begin, this paragraph is for @maryjanewaite who said, “I’d like to read how kids view schoolwork, teachers, technology and use that valuable kid info to change how I do my job” and sort of for @jasondeluca who “would want to read… where are we now? and… where should we be going with use of technology?” (More to come later, Jason!)

A 2001 contest for children to describe “The School We’d Like” clearly showed that “teachers and pupils all over the country (UK) realise that the system is outdated, that it does not allow decent expression of the values of creativity and independent thought that are needed in the new post-industrial world,” said John Clifford. Furthermore, “It proves yet again that young people are not a problem that needs to be corralled and curfewed, but an incredible rich resource of wisdom and creative thinking that we should learn to listen to.” See below for a children’s manifesto of what the schoolchildren of Britain would like to see in their school. The most poignant quote for me was a HS student’s: “Education should not close children’s eyes to the wonder of learning as it presently does, but should give children the opportunity to feed their mind and never get tired of life before theirs has even begun.”

We, the schoolchildren of Britain, have been given a voice. This is what we say:

The school we’d like is:

A beautiful school with glass dome roofs to let in the light, uncluttered classrooms and brightly coloured walls.

A comfortable school with sofas and beanbags, cushions on the floors, tables that don’t scrape our knees, blinds that keep out the sun, and quiet rooms where we can chill out.

A safe school with swipe cards for the school gate, anti-bully alarms, first aid classes, and someone to talk to about our problems.

A listening school with children on the governing body, class representatives and the chance to vote for the teachers.

A flexible school without rigid timetables or exams, without compulsory homework, without a one-size-fits-all curriculum, so we can follow our own interests and spend more time on what we enjoy.

A relevant school where we learn through experience, experiments and exploration, with trips to historic sites and teachers who have practical experience of what they teach.

A respectful school where we are not treated as empty vessels to be filled with information, where teachers treat us as individuals, where children and adults can talk freely to each other, and our opinion matters.

A school without walls so we can go outside to learn, with animals to look after and wild gardens to explore.

A school for everybody with boys and girls from all backgrounds and abilities, with no grading, so we don’t compete against each other, but just do our best.

At the school we’d like, we’d have:

Enough pencils and books for each child.

Laptops so we could continue our work outside and at home.

Drinking water in every classroom, and fountains of soft drinks in the playground.

School uniforms of trainers, baseball caps and fleece tracksuits for boys and girls.

Clean toilets that lock, with paper and soap, and flushes not chains.

Fast-food school dinners and no dinner ladies.

Large lockers to store our things.

A swimming pool.

This is what we’d like. It is not an impossible dream.

‘I know money doesn’t grow on trees and if every school had all these things it would cost thousands of thousands of pounds. But even if one of my ideas was just thought about being made a reality I’d be happy.’ Nicole Rennick, 11.

‘But most important of all was not the fact that the headmaster had ordered the equipment, but that he had listened.’ Holly Mackenzie, 11.

Remember this was written in 2001. I think today, students would STILL ask for a beautiful, comfortable, safe, respectful, flexible, relevant school for everybody, where everybody listened and everybody’s voice was heard.


Mimicry-Ya Got That?

As I’ve been working on thinking about “LEARNING”  for the project at Thinking About Words Through Images,  my camera has been my constant companion at school.  That’s not unusual, for me to pull out my camera and snap pictures of my students working, but the difference is that I have told them WHY I am taking pictures and some of what I am thinking.  I have shared the link to that wiki, and it’s been interesting–knowing that I am collaborating with educators from all over the world seems to have had an impact on my students. I notice them commenting on each others’ wikis more, offering strategies in class more explicitly and asking each other questions that imply accountability to the community (like, have you finished your  geometry wiki page, I’ll call you tonight to remind you to bring in your iPod, etc.)

But, I wonder– am I seeing these things more because I am looking for specific instances of learning to photograph?

I have learned a lot in the first week of January, trying to take pictures of “learning.” First, it’s HARD trying to capture a still picture of the active learning in which my kids engage. I find myself wanting to describe the pictures, to explain what’s going on, to share the amazing thinking I see in my kids. While the images can capture some of what is going on, I need words as well.  I find myself posting my lessons (both adult and student ones) to the web, describing what happened and what I was hoping to happen. It’ll be interesting to see what I think and how I’m looking at the world through the lens of my camera at the end of the month.

What else I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter what age kids are, they still mimic their teacher.

In teaching kindergarten, one of the funniest things to watch was when kids were in “free choice” time and they chose to play school.  I would hear my words coming out of their mouths, just as in housekeeping, I would hear their parents’ words.  It was eye-opening in both situations, and I often changed the ways I worded things based on the feedback I received watching my kids mimic me. (In parent conferences, I often told parents I wouldn’t believe half of what their kid told me about them if they’d promise me the same–because we ALL know that age also has a very active imagination!)

Yesterday was a hoot–the mimicry happened with fifth graders. In my class, when students are explaining their thinking, I often play confused so they have to be more explicit in their explanation and they learn how to explain their thinking more logically, sequentially and in depth.  I check for understanding with the group listening frequently by stopping the explainer periodically and asking the group things like, “Do you understand what s/he is saying?”  or “Did you get that?”  or “Does everybody know what s/he means when s/he says. .. ?”   I guess my most used is, “Did you get that?” Kids in my class don’t hesitate to ask for more explanation because this is part of our day-to-day conversations, AND they see me model confusion and asking clarifying questions.

Ms. White, Tzstchr

In a lesson where these pictures were taken, I was playing my confused self.  I had been taking pictures, but sat down at a table to probe a student who was making an assumption she shouldn’t have been making. Setting my camera on the table, I began asking the child to show me her thinking. After several minutes of interaction, another student picked up my camera and began taking pictures of our interactions. I paid no attention to that and continued with my questions.  She put the camera down, and throughout the next 5-10 minutes, several students took turns picking it up and taking pics as others gathered around to hear the conversation and support the child being questioned if they could. watchingThe pictures they got were pretty good (I had to leave out two because they have students whose pictures may not be put on the web.)

However, the funniest part was Toria taking over the explanation for the child I had begun with and explaining to me the way she saw to work the problem.  (She describes class on her wiki page, MathIDidToday.)   She was showing me her way, and I made her do it three different ways, apparently not understanding each time. (I asked her to, NOT because she didn’t get it, but because she was so adroit at thinking flexibly, choosing various shapes and changing her approach and modeling descriptive language for the others watching.)  By the third time, she was getting a wee bit frustrated with my lack of “getting it”, so she finished and, (truly) standing up, with a hand flourish, asked,  “Ya got that?”

The class erupted in HOWLING laughter. . .that’s why they all left with the red faces Toria describes!

UPDATE: the kid who picked up the camera first just wiki-mailed me and asked if I had ever figured out whether S4 was half of S5 (which was the problem we were working on that’s described in this blog.). I wrote her back this message:

Hanna, I’ll share a secret that you cannot share.
Please read this: http://tzstchr.edublogs.org/mimicry

PW

Her response back to me was simply priceless:

wow that is so cool i have never known but i did notice that you ALLWAYS didn’t get what we were telling you

The Magic of Computing

This morning Scott McLeod tweeted:

We're not showing and teaching kids the magic of computing.

We're not showing and teaching kids the magic of computing.

He was citing a quote from an article in the NY Times, that was discussing computer classes and how they center on programming to the exclusion of “explain{ing} the steady march and broad reach of computing across the sciences, industries, culture and society” which includes letting students use tools they use out of these traditional settings, such as “e-mail, text-messaging and Facebook.”

Now, I don’t know if he was agreeing with the statement, “We’re not teaching the magic of computing” but if he was, I disagree. In any case, I disagree with the statement.

On Sunday, one of my 3rd graders went to a play with his family and then wrote an unassigned and unsolicited review on his wiki.  It was a GREAT step for this kid, so I quickly added a cluster map to his wiki and then tweeted the link out to my followers, asking folks to visit. Not only did I get some great comments on his wiki, but people retweeted me

Picture 4 Picture 5 Picture 6

(Thanks @beckyfisher73, @mbTeach, @Raysadad, @langwitches, @rkiker, @MsBisonline, @TweetsfromMrsB and anyone else who RT’d it!)

Within 24 hours, the wiki got almost 100 hits from 6 of the 7 continents!

Owenvisits

Now, these stats are the talk of my kids on wikimail-and the phone–this morning.  And, these kids are all 7-11 year olds. When these kids see that Owen’s wiki has been viewed by people all over the world, does ANYONE think they are not going to believe that writing and publishing on the web is magic?

Even the people who helped me front load this ClustrMap were thrilled with the responses:

Picture 7

My kids are already creating content–both self-chosen and assigned–on their individual wikis. They are using the wikimail that wikispaces offers to communicate with one another inside and outside of school. They are participating with tools in a Digital FABLAB.  They are using and taking home iPods, and reviewing apps they are using on those devices. Students in our school use tools like Voicethread, Skype, and  Scratch and we have a teacher who comes in twice a week BEFORE school to help kids with their online fantasy football leagues. Our students participate in online projects with other elementary students, and our fifth grade is using Edmodo for many classroom assignments. I believe our students ARE experiencing the magic of computing–and envisioning possibilities–in many ways.

When kids say to me,

*”Ms. White, can I text my Dad to see if I can stay after school for the digifablab workshop?” (one that was aimed at TEACHERS!) or,

*”Are we going to use the Silhouette machine in our 2-D geometry unit?” or

*”May I begin our Civil War wiki over spring break?”

our elementary students ARE learning the magic of computing!

And, I am NOT in the only school doing things like this–online projects, Skype, Voicethreads, blogs and wikis are in widespread use among the teachers in my PLN. These may not be widespread practices in all schools, but I believe the pockets of innovation are growing, and the evidence is mounting that these tools are worthwhile and helpful, and beyond that, critical to helping our students live in THEIR world. Students today are learning that digital tools can be used for creation, and not just regurgitation.

Maybe we could be painting these pictures faster, or better, or in a more efficacious way, but you know what? People should be careful about making blanket statements such as the one that began this post (made by Ms. Cuny from the National Science Foundation), AND perhaps folks in positions such as hers should get out in schools more.

Your thoughts?

Shifting Frustrations

WOW!  I had a busy week last week attending two conferences (VASCD and VSTE) and working with a student who presented at a UVA mini-summit on children’s engineering. Learned lots, have a ton to think about, but wanted to share my story about my substitute in the context of trying to teach differently and help my students learn differently.

So I left my gifted students lesson plans on their wiki. I often do this in class and so they are used to it, and very self-directed with it.  I left sub plans that said each day they would have the same routine–two kids go get 4 laptops for 12 kids, they split into groups of three and work through the math tutorials on the designated pages listed here:  Crozet 5th Math 0910.

I had also carefully designed a growing dependence on doing it online, that you can see in the plans. I felt pretty good about leaving my kids doing this–they were studying content they needed some review on, but could also handle independently in groups.  I had set up the routine so they were doing activities familiar to them, and the sub had little to do. In fact I said in my plans, “You will simply have to monitor that they stay on task.” I left her NO teaching, NO homework, NO grading, just behavior monitoring of  HIGHLY motivated, well-behaved kids.

The sub experience was a disaster.  In trying to be helpful and do school as she knows it, she changed  my lesson plans substantially to the point my kids began wiki-mailing me the second day from their iPods, complaining. They were not allowed to work collaboratively, the online activities were changed to worksheets, and they had no time to do the higher level thinking pieces I had left in my plans–so they spent three days doing worksheets on skills where they needed only some review.

My principal and I have had conversations about whether to get a sub when I need to be out, knowing that subs cannot run my classroom as I do. However, I also realize that as a resource teacher when my kids are unexpectedly back in the classroom, it does cause some issues for the classroom teacher, so we have hesitantly decided to get me a sub.

I am going in Monday asking for NOT getting me a sub.  My kids would have been better off in their own classrooms, using the classroom computers to follow the directions on the wiki quietly in the back or corner of the room. They would have been self-directed, gotten the work done, thought about the skills at a high level in evaluating themselves and their own learning, and been monitored by teachers who KNOW them!

PLUS, if they are allowed to work like this in their own classrooms, perhaps I can, as David Truss suggests in his post, Shifting Education,  “Nurture your colleagues like you nurture your students in your class.” I can nurture through examples–because I KNOW the teachers will look at the wiki.  I KNOW they will monitor what the kids are doing and perhaps get some ideas for their own classrooms! And, I also know they will see their kids being more self-directed than they see in their classrooms, because they are not allowed to direct their own learning there.

For an example of how I am trying to help students better understand learning processes, see an independent study group’s work for this week at The Four Question Strategy wiki.

Perhaps, if I set kids up in their classrooms to do “real” work, as described by Chris Lehmann in his recent post, “Shifting Ground” teachers will have new pictures painted for them of the possibilities in school.  Perhaps teachers will begin to understand that “It is time to stop thinking of school as preparation for real life and instead show students that the time they spend in school can be a vital and enriching part of their very real and very important lives.” (Chris in Shifting Ground).

Perhaps, then, my style of teaching and honoring kids’ desires to direct their own learning will spread beyond my classroom and teachers will shift to “take advantage of tools to help them and their students find their way.” ( a slight rewording from David Truss)

Do We Send Him to K or Wait a Year?

Last night @JonBecker and @BeckyFisher73 were tweeting and mentioned me, so I joined their conversation. Jon is struggling, as so many parents do, with whether to enter his son in Kindergarten when his age says he can go or wait a year. He’s tweeted often about his son, so I know a bit about his behavior in some situations.

I have spent over half of my career teaching early childhood, with 17 years specifically being in Kindergarten and/or First Grade or a K-1 combo (MOSTLY K). I have a Master’s in Early Childhood from the University of Virginia that I got in the early 90’s when they actually had an Early Childhood department. I am now a Gifted Resource Teacher and have taught in 6 different elementary schools in our division, from the smallest and poorest performing (at the time) to ones who are extremely advantaged (i.e., the principal can pretty much ask the parents to fund anything and someone will write a check) to ones who are succeeding in all traditional measures to ones with diversity and ones with little diversity.

So, when Jon tweeted that he was looking for opinions, I certainly have one, as I usually do.  🙂

In a series of tweets broken into 140 characters, poor Jon had to read over time as my slow connection allowed me to post.  Here’s what I shared (with some minor additional explanations sometimes):

Let me just say that young boys often enter at a disadvantage…sometimes due to teacher bias and/or inexperience, or traditional school expectations (the not-so-hidden curriculum of sit down, be quiet and listen) which is not only inappropriate, but getting worse and expected more in the schools I’ve seen. I counseled my daughter in law to NOT enter my grandson, an August birthday, into Kindergarten when he was just barely 5, but she did and he’s still struggling…not necessarily ONLY because of the early entrance, but also because he’s a gifted LD kid. He’s one of those who has only had the LD part worked with and most teachers do not give him a chance to show the brains because they can’t get past his disability–or worse yet, the label. He’s an incredibly frustrated kid who hates school, but loves learning OUT of school.

Jon’s next question: but what if I’m like every other parent and think my child is Uber-gifted “academically?”

Fact is, Jon, your kid has the rest of his life to learn in school-like situations. Do you push him into a system we, as educators, KNOW doesn’t typically meet the needs of the extremes, or do you enjoy him and make sure he gets to be a kid as long as he can before having to face the brutal realities of the world out there at age 5 or 6? Another fact is MANY parents are holding their kids out, so the age of kids in a grade is not only a wider span, but often has more older kids. So, if you enter a young one on time, he may be almost 2 years younger than some in his class. And, what do you do now for his uber-giftedness?  Can you not do that another year and let him grow socially into being comfortable with his emotions and other kids in more able ways?

Another fact is that gifted kids DO grow asynchronously and often their emotions are way behind their intellect–one of the challenges of parents of gifted kids is to remember that their ability to reason and talk and think at a high level is the anomaly-their behavior is often RIGHT ON TARGET for their age. When they temper tantrum or cry or act like a baby out of jealousy of a new sibling, they are simply acting their age. Parents often struggle when the kid talks so much like an adult, or can handle their own in a very sophisticated discussion but then acts in other situations like–OMG–a KID!

(Others joined the conversation here and the rest is a conglomeration of tweets to Jon and others, (with slight modifications to allow for context) and additional thoughts I have had since last night.)

It is CRUCIAL that early childhood teachers be nuturers FIRST and academians second–but GREAT academians who can meet those emotional needs WHILE fostering or extending a love of learning. MOSTLY you want an Early Childhood teacher who dwells on competence rather than deficits. They simply have to recognize the strengths of kids and make that public daily in ways that support the kid, and allow others to see those strengths as well.

Too many times kids, especially active young boys who don’t do the hidden curriculum well, get constantly fussed at for not sitting quietly, for asking questions out of turn, for blurting out answers, for fiddling with stuff, and those constant reprimands from the teacher say to the other kids that this kid isn’t smart. Think about it–isn’t it a sign of intelligence when one WANTS to engage, when one wants to ask questions, when one is so involved in the conversation that conversational turn-taking falls by the wayside, when one is constantly looking and fiddling with the stuff in one’s world to figure out how things work? Well, some K teachers–heck, some teachers in all grades–see their job as one where they are supposed to teach kids to play the game of school and learn how to sit down, shut up and listen. In many schools and most Kindergarten situations, kids are expected mostly to learn how to conform to the teacher’s (and parents’) traditional expectations for school behaviors.

Well, you and I both know smart people often DON’T conform. When that brilliant child needs that question answered and perseveres to ask it, s/he may get put in time out–or a safe spot–or sent away from the group for interrupting or not listening, or not doing what the teacher asked him/her to do. When that happens, tears may come as the kid is outraged at the injustice and/or may be hurt (crushed!) at the exclusion from the group. (Gifted kids also have an exaggerated sense of justice and fairness, too-and situations like this only amplify their outrage.) When other kids see that kid go to time out, or be fussed at constantly, or cry, they recognize these are NOT appropriate school behaviors–and no matter what the circumstances, the child who may be simply TRYING to engage is seen by others as perhaps a “bad boy”, a “crybaby”, “not smart”  or worse.

That’s why I say the teacher has to recognize strengths and display them publicly.  I can chastise my 5th grader in one moment for his misbehavior and in the next talk about WHY I perceive him shutting others out, explaining to the group that he’s involved in his own thinking and input from others may not allow him to work out HIS thinking just yet.I honor HIS style of learning while showing him he may need to adapt his behavior NOT to say “Shut up and leave me alone” to say “I need a few more moments to think, please. Can you be quiet and let me think?”

I spoke all the time to my K kids about how we are not in school by ourselves, but part of a group, so the conversations HAVE to involve turn-taking–and sometimes all of us will blurt out because of our excitement or enthusiasm, but it can’t happen all the time. I point out the REASONS behind the behavior and WHY some conformity is necessary. I speak to why I am asking the kid to leave the group–NOT because I am kicking him/her out, but because I need a few minutes to get the others going on something before we can have a private conversation. (Reread my first two blogs, “Why TZSTCHR? (Teasiest Teacher)” and Rules-Schools Have Too Many!” to see other ways I deal with shaping behaviors while respecting individualism.)

As parents,

As grandparents,

As people who LOVE our kids,

we all want to see our children grow up in happy situations, in places that will be safe emotionally and that will allow them to grow and stretch intellectually. Fact is, school is an institution and the social mores and groups determine (more often than not) which path we take in school.  Give your child the best chance by NOT sending them emotionally insecure to begin with–by enrolling them when they are ready and have the adaptability skills to handle the social/interactive piece of school and the various interactions they will encounter–and that includes traditional situations, various cultures, new situations, schedule changes and evolving routines. You can always push a bit later for the academic needs to be met, but let him/her grow, adapt, learn how to settle in a bit and adjust first. The social needs, for a young immature child, are paramount right now.

PS–the gifted teacher in me HAS to add, “Just don’t let go of the academic needs forever!”