Teachers as Taskmasters

You might want to read Tom Woodward’s Bionic Teaching and Michelle Bourgeois’ Milibo’s Musings response before reading my thoughts on both of those. Part of the background conversation also happened at Tom’s Bloom’s and Technology Pyramid, Mike Fisher’s Digigogy blog, and Visual Bloom’s and Bloom’s rubrics as well.

Tom and Michelle have been thinking about a teaching/learning challenge for a while. Initially Tom’s idea was “Pimp My Lesson Plan” and it turned into a challenge based on the “Iron Chef.” Having gotten a comment on the challenge on Tom’s blog, Michelle responded and tweaked the challenge potential a bit. Here’s my two cents to add to their challenge.

We all know it’s not necessarily  JUST about the lesson plan, or the hook, or the activity, but about a combination of all of those things that will allow people to put good ideas out for others to use, and that will engage students in important work. When thinking about engaging students in activities that support “higher level thinking” I think about at least the following 3 facts:

  1. We can quantify rigor and relevance, but we experience issues when trying to quantify relationships. As we examine tasks and attempt to “judge” or “rate” them, we must keep in mind that relationships between student and teacher may make what might look like a less meaningful task important BECAUSE of the relationship.
  2. Being mindful of Phil Schlechty’s Working on The Work is crucial to the development of tasks that are likely to lead to student engagement.
  3. When an observer can see at least three of the 8 qualities of engaging work in a learning activity, then 80% of the time students self-report being engaged.

Thus, a learning activity not only has to be tied to good teaching, to the three R’s (rigor, relevance and relationships), and to worthwhile content, but also engage the students in quality ways.

Michelle described two scenarios where students were clearly engaged and the learning activities were built around the objectives for learning. Teachers were thoughtful about how to engage students so that interest was high, interactions between students were heightened and students received feedback throughout the activity. Teaching was centered around the task, which was clearly tied to the learning objectives. Teaching to the task is a GOOD thing!

Tying together the components of what John Antonetti calls “The Engagement Cube” is what I believe is critical to setting up learning opportunities that do what Tom and Michelle (and Mike Fisher and I and @beckyfisher73 and @mwacker and @barbaram and a bunch of other educators) are thinking about as we engage in these conversations around quality education.

The Engagement Cube

Like the title of this blog, I say teachers must be MASTERS of task-making. I do not mean in the traditional sense of the word, as in making sure the work gets done, but as in MASTERFULLY crafting tasks. These tasks should be ones that engage, teach, allow for diversity of thought, stimulate creative juices flowing, and evoke a proud sense of accomplishment. They may even take on a life of their own, resulting in students taking the task to places the teacher may never have envisioned. Through rich tasks that demand rigor in thought and performance, that elicit cooperation and teamwork, students may also discover a passion for the subject or the discipline as well.

I hope my thoughts add TO the conversation and don’t detract from what Tom and Michelle are trying to encourage. These two educators have challenged other teachers to craft great lessons and share them.  Let’s support that challenge and collaborate to create some incredible tasks!

What’s the Rubric for “Pencil”?

A HUGE thanks to Becky Fisher (@beckyfisher73 on Twitter) who helped me think through this blog and who gave me words when mine got stuck in a quagmire of thoughts.

This is a blog collaboratively written. (The “I statements” about being a K teacher are mine.  The brilliance elsewhere is hers! :-))

I don’t think anyone would argue John Grisham or J.K. Rowlings being an accomplished writer.  (If you would, just pretend you think they are great as you read this blog!)

So, let’s think about the rubric for “pencil” or whatever tool they use to do their writing and apply it to their work.

There is absolutely no doubt that we teach “pencil” in school.  As a Kindergarten teacher, I have to show students how to hold it correctly so that their little hands don’t get worn out.  I look out for ergonomically sound practices, so no one is crooking their wrist to cause carpel tunnel syndrome or an achy wrist.  I pay attention to how tightly they are holding it and try to loosen up those kids who are squeezing it for all it’s worth. I watch to see if their grasp is hiding their writing as they write, so they can see how the letters are written  I adjust their grip to make sure they are not holding it too high or too close to the tip. ALL of these things are criteria I use to judge whether a child is using the pencil correctly and most efficiently.

However, by about 7 years old, most kids are using a pencil efficaciously and teachers no longer teach “pencil.”  Instead, our focus now centers on the mechanics of writing, with content being the most important piece. We teach spelling, grammar, usage and mechanics, but what the student has to say is where the majority of our efforts fall. In writing workshops we do mini lessons on word choice, voice and storylines.  We talk about beginnings and endings, suspense building, conclusions, and how to build a good story.  We talk sequence and logical progression as we also encourage creativity and individual voice within student writing.  No longer do we center on the tool they use, as our emphasis is the learning they do about how to craft a great product.

When we think about John Grisham or J.K.Rowlings, do we care WHAT they write WITH?  Do we care if they use a pencil or an old typewriter, or a word processor? Don’t we care most about the product, the book, the STORY?

We have talked about a “developmental continuum” for developing a writer’s craft for years.  We assume the skill of “pencil use” or whatever the tool is as we look at bigger skills and concepts like voice and word choice. How can we look at “Digital Bloom’s” more like the way we look at “writer’s craft” and less like the way we look at “pencil”?

What skills we choose to put on a continua of skills speak to our vision for technology – either changing what kids do or changing how they do it.  What is bigger than how. Why not develop our continua around what?  What does it mean to “collaborate across cultures”?  Do we really care if this is done with a wiki or Google Docs?

The fact that we are looking at continua of development is important, and the fact that this conversation is happening in a number of places–on Twitter, in the wikis, at Paul R Wood’s deck in Texas, in other places we don’t even know yet–with educators from ALL OVER THE WORLD- is even MORE POWERFUL.  As we craft the rubrics for a Digital Bloom’s Taxonomy together, the impact in our classrooms will happen collaboratively and perhaps similarly across cultures, across gender, across SES, across race, across all kinds of boundaries we normally don’t cross with assessment tools.  The way things are assessed affect what gets taught, so let’s make these the best we can!

Join us at Blooms Rubrics to add your voice (and see the Bloom’s blog page to see yet another blog on “Testing the Pencil” by Tim Holt)

Until next time,

Paula