Beyond the Assessment Institute…

This is cross posted at the Cooperative Catalyst.

I do think words matter. (See a previous post here.) I think how we define words matter and it’s important to have common definitions, language and belief systems when working together and sharing kids.

Joe Bower ended his post today with a quote from Socrates about the beginning of wisdom and defined, “…assessment as a process where the teacher and student work together to nurture a desire to go on learning…” That made me wonder…Is that how I would define assessment?  Is that how YOU would define assessment?

I KNOW it’s not how many teachers would define assessment. This summer, I’m going to participate in a professional development opportunity in my county, one we call the CAI (Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction) Institute and the topic is assessment.    Two of the outcomes are supposed to be:

  • A shared model for a process of assessment among stakeholders
  • Develop knowledge and skills for participants in assessment:
    • process
    • task and item creation
    • leadership

So, clearly the leaders of this work see assessment as a process.  But, is it a process “where the teacher and student work together to nurture a desire to go on learning” as Joe says?  Is it a process to find out what is known and unknown?  Is it a process to define future steps for learning and evaluate past actions? Is it all of those and more–or less?

Will teachers leave after three days with new skills in assessing? Will we have an opportunity to define assessment and come to a common understanding of the purpose of assessment? Or will we simply go back to our schools and continue to do weekly multiple choice tests to see what kids have learned in math, or drill kids with online programs like Spelling City and Accelerated Reader to define what they know and don’t know?

In looking at this year’s purpose of the CAI Institute, will we change our practice and how will we know whether it has made a difference? Will the representative teachers chosen to go then return to their schools and share what they learned to make changes in more teaching practices? Will we see language shifts in talking about student learning?  Will “item” mean a multiple choice question and “task” mean a real world one? Will we spend time on developing common language and exploring beliefs and building on current understandings to deepen knowledge and experience? Will there be opportunities to really delve into the work of creating high quality assessments that will make a difference in classrooms and in students’ lives? Will students see a difference in how they are asked to show their learning, or will worksheets still abound?  Will principals allow that to occur or will they be the leaders who set guidelines that drive a change to deeper ways of assessing?

HOW will the Institute be set up to forge common beliefs, to change the language we use in describing student learning and to refine assessment literacy to move beyond traditional methods to ones that make sense to the learner?  How would you set up a workshop like that?

What advice would you give the people who are setting up this opportunity, and how would YOU structure my day to have the biggest impact on students when we return to our schools to share what we’ve done?  How would you ensure that this three day institute would actually change what teachers and students do in school?

No Fiction? Grant Wiggins, What Were You Thinking?

Because of reading fiction with 5th graders, I had a student write this after reading Grandpa’s Mountain:grandpadrop

The Park did something wrong to do something right. It wasn’t black or white, right or wrong. It was shades of gray. ThinkQuest has made me think for myself. Now I don’t think what other people want me to think, I sort it out myself.

(from “Our Stories” on What Price This Mountain?)

About a dozen years ago I was teaching 4th grade and had to teach about the Civil War. The kids had to know some specific battles and the basic issues for the state test, but that wasn’t what worried me about teaching it–it was how to teach it to 9 and 10 year olds without the blood, guts and gore of teaching about war. I think about that a lot because I’m a softie who cries at anything, and I also have nightmares easily when I hear about cruelty–and I didn’t want to cause my students either nightmares or tears!

When studying the Civil War, I decided to teach the idea of conflict through the book, Across the Lines , which is a point/counterpoint between two young boys.  One is a slave who chooses to escape in the craziness of the master’s plantation being overrun by the “Yanks” and the other is the master’s son, who has always considered the slave his friend, without realizing the condescending attitude he held toward his “friend.”


Because of reading the  fictional Across the Lines with students, I had a young Jewish student state in class that he, too, was nervous about learning about the Civil War and all the blood and horror it might include, but he really liked the way we had studied it, through books.  He went on to say something like, “When we began, I thought I knew what the Civil War was about–it was about slavery and I knew that was wrong.  But now that we’ve studied it, I know it was about more than that–it was about state’s rights and the federal government’s right to tell states what to do, and it was about more than slavery. I understand now that slavery was complicated, and it wasn’t just black or white. It really is shades of grey.”  (He is currently in college studying politics, fully intending to go to Washington and make a difference.)

(Both classes had been reading historical fiction novels by Carolyn Reeder, and one of her books is called Shades of Grey.) These are NOT isolated responses–read the other students’ thoughts on “Our Stories.”

The other day my Superintendent, Pam Moran, tweeted : “U of Mich study shows today’s college students: 40% less empathy than 20-30 yrs ago.”

Would you say my students had no empathy?  These groups are currently in college or freshly out.

Come on, Grant Wiggins–admit there’s a place for both fiction and non-fiction, and realize great teachers can do great things with a great piece of fiction.  We teach WAY beyond the fiction in the book.

Framing Your Environment

A while back someone asked this question on Twitter:

How do you frame your environment with resources to help students learn? Is it an enabling environment? What does it enable students to do?

Other times, I have seen people asking:

How do we arrange our classrooms or what kind of physical spaces do learners of today need?

In thinking about the optimal environment for learning, I am not sure we need to be thinking physical spaces. In fact, Will Richardson states, in the blog, A New Era Of Learning.

In networked, global classrooms, we learn in ways that physical-space classrooms can’t offer. We’re self-directed, inquiry- and passion-based learners who are finding our own teachers and classmates, writing our own curriculum, and learning anytime, anywhere, with anyone. It’s a learning environment that looks little like what happens in physical space classrooms

I’m thinking we need to be talking and working with the emotional environment–about the trust and support we seek out and provide ourselves for our own learning opportunities, and how we do that.

Look at these two examples from adults about the power of the people with whom they interact and what they count on in those interactions:

The Follis Files–space for a newish teacher to collect and reflect and, Tania Sheko’s Brave New World.

Will has recently been writing and sharing about Allan Collins’ and Richard Halverson’s new book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology. He describes how they note that access to technology has the potential to change education as we know it.

They frame a compelling case that we are entering a third era of learning, one of lifelong learning that is replacing universal schooling, which replaced apprenticeship. And they argue that the “seeds of a new education system” are already taking root, one that builds on the potential of technology that will ultimately leave schools with a “narrower role” in learning.

Will goes on to cite Collins and Halverson as suggesting that

despite the growth of access to technology in classrooms over the last 10 years, schools rarely allow technology’s transformative potential out of the box. In general, schools either condemn the technology, focusing on risks rather than rewards, or they co-opt it, using it in ways that leave fundamental curriculum and pedagogy unchanged, or, finally, they marginalize it, allowing teachers to create “boutique” programs but never changing “the very fabric of education.”

I agree. I think we have so underutilized the potential of the technology in our classrooms–sometimes because we simply can’t think out of the box, sometimes because we don’t know what will happen and perhaps are afraid (or unwilling) to lose that control, sometimes because the network or computer isn’t set up to be user friendly, and part of it may be that people don’t have a picture in their minds as to how it could work or could look. Not only have we not used technology to transform education,I think many of us haven’t opened up our schools, our classrooms and our own minds to transformational learning in any kind of structured way, so that we can begin painting those pictures for ourselves and others. We have absolutely got to start having the open conversations mentioned here, and open our minds to transformational learning for ourselves, sharing how we go about that–then think how we can support our students in building those experiences.

Perhaps all teachers should experience unfettered learning…perhaps all teachers should decide upon something to learn and design their own assessment and develop their own path instead of following the “one size fits all” PD lemmings.  How well would this go over with your teachers, principals, and school boards?  If we don’t have confidence our adults can do this AND our adults don’t have experience doing it, how can we possibly move in that direction with students? Teachers have been conditioned to rely on someone else (principal or district) to provide PD when, in reality, we should and could provide our own.  Maybe it’s less about a “digital divide” and more about a “learning divide.”

Will speaks to that equity issue in his blog post as well, citing,

older students will be more and more able to carve out their own educational experiences, whether these are online classes, games, technical certification programs, or something else. Halverson and Collins warn that this raises huge concerns around equity and social behavior.

How are you framing YOUR learning environment? How do you do it for your students?  is it equitable?  is it equitable in a transformative way?

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


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.

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?

Parallel Play or Collaboration?

I am struggling with something I think many of my PLN folks are thinking about. . .and that’s HOW to improve our work, HOW to change what happens in our schools, and HOW to meet the needs of contemporary learners. Ben Grey introduces himself on his blog this way: My name is Ben Grey, and I am but one of the many. The many who are looking for change. The many who are engaging in dynamic discussions. The many who think there could be more to the way we engage education. I am also on that quest.

Dean Shareski wrote a post “My Big Fat Brain Dump” and he talked about how education conferences need to change to meet the needs of those of us struggling with these kinds of thoughts. Ira Socol Jen Wagner, Scott McLeod, Will Richardson, Becky Fisher, David Truss, Liz B. Davis, Michael Wacker, Miguel Guhlin, Paul R Wood, Scott Merrick, Jon Becker, Mike Fisher, Michele Bourgeois, Tom Woodward, John Mikulski and a multitude of others have written or talked about this topic of change in many ways.

Today , I received a tweet with a link to a YOUTUBE video by a 17 year old about  The iSchool Initiative. Kids can paint these pictures. Why aren’t we educators better at doing so for each other?

Here’s MY backstory: I have been using wikis with kids for two years now–really bright kids, really motivated kids, really thoughtful kids who WANT to learn and do well.They love having the opportunity to work on wikis and clearly “get” the potential! (See wikiworld.)

But my wikis–THEIR wikis– are pockets and pools and islands of isolation. . . They’re examples of parallel play at best, NOT collaboration. As the teacher, I own that outcome. I didn’t do enough ahead of time, I didn’t set up the structures, I didn’t paint the pictures for kids so that the work NEEDED collaborative efforts and so I didn’t get it.

I participated in several online, “collaborative” wikis this year as well. One was where we shared our writing based around a common text. Another I created, (And To Think) where kids also shared products around a common text/author, Dr. Seuss. Again, these I see as parallel play.

I skyped with several classes this year–about the Dr. Seuss wiki, about our state of VA– and found it fascinating to watch kids’ reactions to talking to other kids from “far” away. However, the interaction was bizarre. . very traditional, in that kids raised their hands to talk or ask questions, teachers (on both sides, including me) were CLEARLY in charge, and most interactions/questions were designed ahead of time. Again, parallel play in my mind, NOT collaborative.  I OWN these behaviors and outcomes, as, again, I didn’t do enough ahead of time, I didn’t set up the structures, I didn’t ask enough questions of my skyping teacher friends to make these experiences more than that.

So, I’d like to see models-and asked last night on Twitter “I’m wondering what is the most interactive /interdependent KID authored/written/produced wiki you know? Examples?”

I got no responses.


I got several DMs or replies from folks asking me to share the results of my request, so here it is.

NO one named a truly collaborative kid wiki.

So where are they?


@ellsbeth sent a couple of links this AM: “look up gaming wikis like & Kids contribute.”

What do you think?