Wiki Work

Recently someone asked for wikis to share in a wiki presentation, and thinking about how to explain mine, I decided it would be easier just to blog about them.

The first one I’d show is Potatoes, Pumpkins and Plenty More which is a wiki fourth graders put together to make their learning transparent to the classroom teachers while reading a couple of Megan McDonald’s books. The setting of both books is the early 1900’s and both books begin with grandpa telling the grandson and granddaughter a story of when he was young.  The story ends with a set-up for the next book and the kids clamoring for the story, but grandpa says something like “Not now.  That’s another story for another day.”

When I asked the kids if they wanted to make a wiki based on these books, they immediately wanted to write the third story in the series, which Ms. McDonald  never published. So some began composing while others immediately went to the wiki and began making new pages.  Two students began creating a dictionary page for  The Potato Man and when two others saw that, they asked if they could then do one for The Great Pumpkin Switch. Of course I said yes.  Without prompting, kids created an author page, a character page, and then an opinions page showed up!

But the most incredible thing to me were the stories the 4th graders wrote. The stories were filling up this wiki, though, and so we decided to move them to a separate wiki and connect that one to this one. One student’s Lucky Penny story amazingly captured Megan McDonald’s style and even set up yet a fourth story at the end of her writing!  Thus another wiki, the Brown Box Stories was born. Another student went down a different path and suggested yet another connected wiki, the one called Plenty More.  A great piece of this work for all of the students was the amount of self direction and creativity they showed.

Wiki #2 is one I created as part of a collaborative lesson these same fourth grade teachers and I planned together. The name of this one is “When is an estimate close enough?” In this one, I wrote up the lesson we planned to do together and set up additional pages  for them to use later when back in their classrooms.  On the resources page is an estimation calculator that is fabulous!  There are also videos about how to estimate in specific situations. It’s worth showing a teacher-created wiki.

And, wiki #3 would be either Nicolas’s wiki, specifically his iPad Review pages or the Crozet LED Kids wiki, specifically the report pages from each group. Nicolas is a self-directed learner who “gets” social media and how important the connecting piece of that is. One could spend hours studying the work he has done on his wiki in the two years he’s had it, and the quality is pretty sophisticated for a young man who wrote it as an 11 and 12 year old. This is an independently designed and created wiki.

The Crozet LED kids shared the process they followed while participating in a contest that was aimed at middle and high school kids where they were the only elementary kids designing an LED project. The honesty and the forthrightness is refreshing and they clearly understood how to show what they know. It’s about making learning transparent and sharing.

Kids truly never cease to amaze me. Their willingness to work hard on stuff that matters, to share their thinking and to support each other to create quality work is simply astonishing to watch and support.

Holy Cow!

This post was begun in early November, 2010 and finished in late December.

I’m a smart person. I come from a smart family. I have always gotten clear messages from my family that intelligence and learning is valued. I was told by my mother that I could be anything or do anything I wanted to in life if I simply put my mind to it, and I believe that mostly. I enjoy challenges, brainteasers, puzzles and conundrums.  I like asking hard questions and fiddling around with possibilities.  I look for patterns and relationships in my world and love the big picture conversations that come my way.

BUT. . . . when I became a gifted teacher–or more accurately, a teacher of gifted students–I began to question just how smart I was.  My kids are so much smarter than me, and the parents of some of my students blow me away.  Just two examples:

I have a parent who is incredibly smart and he and I enjoy talking and sharing ideas and thoughts about his two very talented kids–and we always move on to big picture kinds of things, the world in general, education in particular, and lots of just general stuff that intrigues one or the other of us. The other day I was showing him a game we have done in math so he could play it with his son, and the minute I finished sharing the instructions, he said something that showed he had a deep understanding of the math behind this game intuitively and immediately. The quickness of his grasp of the big ideas and the depth of understanding in the minute details of the math was simply mind-blowing.  I sincerely was bowled over by the fact he got so quickly what I had taught and only come to through playing the game I had taught my kids.

Then, today, I was teaching divisibility rules to my 4th and 5th graders. I taught the rules for figuring out if a number was divisible by 2 and then by 3, and then showed them how easy it was to figure out whether a number was divisible by 6 from knowing the rules for 2 and 3. We then talked about how to tell if  number was divisible by 5 (it ends in  a 0 or 5) and  someone asked, what about 4?  I honestly drew a blank, so I told them I couldn’t remember and asked them to try to figure it out while I googled it. By the time I had done that and printed out a copy (so I could review the rest before tomorrow’s lesson), I had many kids with very reasonable hypotheses.  However, one kid had it down. . .she said (in words, with no lists, no drawings, no numbers written down) that in any 2 digit number if the first number was odd, then the ones place had to be a 2 or a 6, for the number to be divisible by 4.  Furthermore, if the 10’s digit was even, then the ones digit had to be 0, 4 or 8 for the number to be divisible by 4. (She’s 11.)

I had to write it down to see her pattern.  I chose to use a stem and leaf plot so the kids could begin to see real uses for it (It WILL be on the state test after all.) As I wrote it on the board for all to see, I realized the brilliance of her response. I realized she had seen a pattern in about as quick a moment as had the adult earlier in the day. Class was almost over, so we didn’t have time to talk about it much–but I left it up so we can tomorrow. The thing that really got me, though, was the fact that after school I called two of the three fifth grade teachers in to see her thinking and one didn’t get it, and the other was blown away–“Holy Cow!” were her exact words…

And “Holy Cow” is right…I have MANY students who think like that girl and that Dad…yet for the majority of their day they sit in  regular classroom and do exactly what everyone else does, being given the same directions. Yet the one that worries me is the teacher who didn’t even understand what the kid was doing and thinking. . .how can she recognize when the kid needs extension and some other work than the regular classroom work? This speaks to the need for gifted kids being in classrooms with teachers who have either had some support knowing how to work with gifted kids, or who are simply smart as heck themselves–because smart people can recognize the different kinds of thinking gifted kids do.

How do we restructure our classes, our schools, indeed, our very world so that the talents of our children do not get wasted?  How do we set up life experiences for all children so that they are constantly growing and thinking and being challenged instead of marking seat time until they can do what they want to do? How do I help my classroom teachers see the need for something else for children who learn faster than the speed of light, who think differently and who need more than marking seat time?

Holy Cow, we have a lot of work to do–the system as it exists doesn’t work for so many–so what will you do to change it where you are?

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.

Planting… or Uncovering… Brilliance

“Planting Brilliance” is a phrase I first heard in a post by Ben Grey. After thinking about some conversations with some of the teachers in my school, I’m thinking it’s more about uncovering brilliance. Or maybe it’s about building faith in one’s own brilliance.

I grew up in a household where I was told (in an era of stay-at-home Moms) that I could do or be anything I wanted to, if I just put my mind to it. That was from my Mom.  My Dad always said he didn’t care what I did, as long as I did my best and did something I loved. There was never a question as to whether I was going to college, although Dad hadn’t graduated—he met my mother in college, they fell in love, eloped, and he went to work and just never finished—but we kids always knew he was smart, just as we knew our mother was, too. I grew up in a home where parents believed in the power of an education, and were supportive of schooling—and also learning. My mother and I spent many Sunday afternoons (after church and cleaning up from Sunday dinner) playing Scrabble with a dictionary between us. We paid no attention to the time rules—the goal was to find new words, interesting words, and to make the most points we possibly could. I don’t remember a winner or loser—or caring about that—it was the pursuit of words that was the goal.

When I became a teacher, I was much like Ben describes in his post—“We step through the door on that birth of our career with thoughts that we will change the world. Or many tiny worlds.” but then reality set in and I found out not all kids had been taught to believe in themselves. It didn’t take me long, though, to figure out that many kids just needed someone to believe in them for them to believe in themselves. I also had been punished enough as a kid for being a rule-bender, a limits-pusher and a question-asker that I wasn’t interested in being a yeller or a punisher, so kids quickly figured that out about me. I ignored a lot and didn’t give them the attention they were seeking—yet I did give them good kinds of attention. I think my joy of learning, my love of books and my generally happy attitude was somewhat contagious to kids and caused most to want to try in my classes.

However, I also realized a long time ago that I would have kids in my class that I didn’t immediately connect with—or worse yet, that immediately made me bristle for some reason. The fact is that if I catch myself feeling like that with a kid, I consciously make an effort to be one on one with that child as much as I can. I invite them to have lunch with me.  I ask them to run errands to the office. I ask them to hand out or collect papers, or be line leader.  What I discovered (again, long ago) is that when I am with a kid one to one, I find ways to connect with them. I discover their interests or humor, or sadness, or something that builds a connection between us. . . so that we are no longer at odds or strangers to one another.

As an adult, I’m realizing now that that was kind of what happened with my 6th grade teacher—I just didn’t connect—ever—and I don’t think she ever tried to connect with me. What a shame—I’ve never forgotten her—first name of Pocahontas, and the Indian native, Pocahontas is one of my distant relatives. Could have been quite an opportunity to connect, but instead I remember her because we didn’t. I only remember one other first name of a teacher and that’s because he connected with me academically and as a human being…he used to pass the bus stop each day and on rainy/cold/snowy days he’d give my brother and me a ride to school.

John Dewey says we are there to help find “out the conditions of the environment and the kinds of activities in which the positive capabilities of each young person could operate most effectually.” (John Dewey.p 139) Pocahontas didn’t do that.  Mr. Arrington did. I am trying to, and I look every day to try to uncover brilliance or build a child’s faith in his or her own smarts. Challenge them, give them success and then raise the expectation… and then challenge them again. Teaching is not just about sharing knowledge, it’s about being human and helping kids feel smart and finding their own strengths. The more they know about themselves–about how they learn, how they think, what they enjoy and don’t enjoy, the more prepared they’ll be to learn throughout life and find their niche–or niches. So many times we simply don’t allow students to show us their brilliance.. .so the next time you feel your hackles rising at something a child did, stop yourself from responding immediately  and then ask him or her to have lunch with you today. Watch the situation deflate and enjoy the company at lunch! See if you can help uncover some brilliance!

Solid on the How, Struggling with the What

Yesterday I participated in the Reform Symposium as a keynote speaker. I’m not quite sure what distinguished keynoters from presenters, but it was pretty cool presenting virtually and having an audience of over 100 people that participated with questions and comments. Their intereaction in the chat made my ability to share much more powerful and I appreciate every one of you who were there. You have certainly made me think more deeply as I read your comments and questions. Not only did I reflect with you then, but I am continuing to reflect on  the what and why of my work with students’ wikiwork.

I shared the work my kids have done on wikis and blogs and talked about the reflecting I was doing on that, the questions that guide me into a new school year, and the concerns I carry as well. I celebrated what my kids have done, as they far surpassed anything I could have imagined as we began. Some of their wikis are creative, some are creative acts of curation and all model communication in some way. All of them are connected.  All of them are personal. All of them contain passion and work worth doing.

Yet I’m NOT satisfied with what we’ve done and I am struggling with how to set it up this year to help students rigorously pursue inquiry. I am constantly thinking about how to help them work and worry and struggle with complex content that stretches them and causes more questions and more inquiry.

Having worked with wikis for three years now, in both structured and unstructured ways, I have seen students show passion around the projects they design.  I have seen intricate projects and ones with little depth. I have seen collections of pictures, or videos, or games, or game codes, but little curation going into those collections.  I have seen some collaboration, but much more parallel play online–the collaboration often happens in my classroom as they collect and post. I have certainly worked with them on the technology and understand the pedagogy of using technology, but something, in my opinion, is still missing in how they work with their wikis. It’s NOT just the issue of parallel play versus collaboration as I spoke to over a year ago.

I know they haven’t collaborated outside of our school much with other kids. When I have set them up to participate in online projects, though, it has only been parallel play, and not true collaboration. I decided to back up– back into my school to work on collaboration there first. I was thinking of Ryan Bretag’s comment in the parallel play post about pedagogy, about kids needing to be taught collaboration skills. So, I watched, prodded and led this year to help kids learn a TON about online courtesy and communication. They learned how to allow others to work in their space and be diligent about the need to monitor it. They learned to ask questions others would be interested in answering on their polls as they became more aware of their audience. There was a tremendous sense of serious play, feelings of power over their content, and a sincere belief that people would read what they wrote as they found their voice and developed niches for themselves–or struggled to do so. I aiding in building their readership by tweeting out links to their wikis, by inviting my colleagues into their conversations, and by blogging about their insights and incredible creativity and commitment to the work.

Are these pre-collaboration skills? Because I work with elementary students, is part of my quandary because my kids need experiences with collaborative activities and they need ways of understanding global connections and audiences??

As I begin to plan for this next school year, I am struggling with my learning objectives for getting kids to work with wikis.  Our county has a goal that we will “prepare all students to succeed as members of a global community and in a global economy.” I am attempting to do that by enlarging their view of the world. I am attempting to do that by helping them learn about publishing in a global community.  I am attempting to do that by helping them become aware of digital citizenship and their digital footprint. So, is letting them have pretty free rein over the content on their wikis okay, or enough, or should I be tying it more to the designated content for their grade level?  Your thoughts?

A Challenge to ACT (and be your best!)

I have two weeks off this summer and this is the second day of the first week. Yesterday I stayed plugged in all day to Edubloggercon East, listening, learning and interacting and today I plan to produce. I want to blog, I want to move and I want to do something other than look at a computer.

It’s a busy week for me to have off–the Discovery Education Network Leadership Council is meeting near Boston. The Building Learning Communities Conference is happening in Boston. Both are gatherings where  many people I know will be sharing, tweeting, streaming and I can be learning much of the time. There are many other conferences going on as well that people in my PLN are sharing and tweeting about daily. It’s a GREAT week for me to have few personal obligations.

So this morning, Steve Dembo, @teach42, quoted Chris Dede as saying: The biggest challenge for educators is to reinvent the educational system of the 21st century. – Dede #denlc10

Then, Mary Beth Hertz, @mbteach, responded with: not sure we need to reinvent anything. Some things ARE working! We just need an upgrade.

Yesterday in an Edubloggercon East (#ebce10) session, there was a conversation about Rethinking/Renaming 21st Century Education.

I’ve been reading and blogging on the Cooperative Catalyst blog for months, and recently, I’ve read Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology and Seth Godin’s Linchpin. I’ve watched people at ISTE10 and on #edchat call for action, not words, any more.  People are saying it’s time to act and stop talking about acting. However, agreement about what specific actions to take seems to be lacking–or seems, at least, NOT to be pervasive.

Well, let me suggest some specific actions we should all take in all of our schools.

1. I don’t think changing schooling is about an upgrade, or about what IS already working, or even about reinventing, reforming or transforming. The big thing everyone seems to agree about right now is that schooling does not equal learning and what we’re doing in most schools today does not meet the needs of today’s learners or today’s world.

We have to agree on what kind of learning is important for our students and for us and act on that! Learning for life is not rote, but about deep understanding and questioning through inquiry, analysis and reflection. It’s about building habits of mind that allow and support learners to transfer learning across disciplines and situations to be adaptive and creative in complex situations. Deep learning occurs NOT in a vacuum, but socially, with others, so teamwork, collaboration, leadership and people skills are crucial to develop.

So, if what we want is learning that builds skills that transfer to new situations, we simply have to examine HOW we support learning for our students.  Doesn’t matter where that support happens, or when that support happens, but HOW it happens.

2. Seth Godin talks about two kinds of schooling:

Type 1. You can take a class where you learn technique, facts and procedures.

Type 2. You can take a class where you learn to see, learn to lead and learn to solve interesting problems.

The fact of the matter is that we’re always going to need some type of school and school building for young students. Early childhood is crucial for setting the stage for later learning, since it’s generally  in grades k-3 that students learn the basics–reading, writing, mathematical thinking and socialization skills. Once they have developed some building blocks of those how-tos, and a questioning frame of mind, then

We need to figure out how to provide our learners the second kind of schooling as much as we can, and act on that, strategically providing our students multiple opportunities in a group to figure out a problem, struggle to solve the problem and mess around with complex issues and make sense of  and offer solutions or changes to them.

Here’s where it gets tricky in my mind, as allowing students to do that does not look orderly, and often looks like chaos. It’s messy, it’s riddled with failures (cause that’s what we learn most from) and it does NOT look like a teacher standing lecturing in front of a room full of students.Thus, administrators have to understand what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how to help us get better at it through THEIR supporting OUR learning. Again, inquiry, analysis and reflection is important to any learning–including all of the adults!

3. The daily work students do must be engaging, involving the 8 engaging qualities of work described here: Teachers as Taskmasters

Like the title of that blog post, 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.

We need to observe carefully what students do in multifaceted and difficult situations and have deep understanding of their work and act on that to help them develop strategies for knowing what to do when they don’t have an immediate solution.

This ties in with the “struggle to solve the problem” in suggestion #2. David Berliner, who has done tons of research on “experts” talks about expert learners “knowing what to do when they don’t know what to do.” So, as we teach and support our students learning to find and solve problems, we also need to carefully observe what they do to help them make connections to multiple modes of strategic thinking, critical friends, and knowledgeable others who can help them get beyond a temporary stalemate. We also need to understand our content, knowing how to scaffold students for deeper understanding and next steps in specific processes.

4. It’s not just about OUR analysis of the quality of the work, but the students’ command of their depth of understanding as well. THEY are the ones who need to be able to explain their understanding, comprehend how much they know and don’t know, and be able to describe next steps for their own path.  It’s about students understanding that the questions many times are much more important than the answer and that the process we follow to get to where we do is usually much more informative than the answer.

We need to act to do rich, sophisticated assessment that clearly matches our  objectives, gives specific, timely and regular feedback on both student work and student learning, and provides rich descriptions and analyses of that work and learning that others (admins, parents, other students, etc.) understand.

When we report to parents, we simply have to practice 3-P reporting, where we share, and students self-report on

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

(See Grade Fog? Or Effective Grading?)

You know what?  The four specific actions (green sentences) I suggest aren’t new ideas. I’d bet Aristotle, or Plato, or even Thomas Jefferson, would all agree they are simply good education–or good “schooling.” I’d bet many of you learned them in your preservice classes, or in the freefall of your first few years of teaching.  What’s different is the hamstringing NCLB has done to us, what the state multiple choice tests have done to us, and the fear to which we have succumbed to NOT do what we know is best, and what’s been in many of our hearts all along. What’s different is the tools we have to do these things, and the ways we can manage them. So my challenge to you is simply this–let’s all go act on these four things and use all of the sophisticated tools we have at our disposal to do so. Let’s teach our students, interacting with them and all of our peers with all of our heart and soul and with every ounce of knowledge, art and craft we have to provide rich, incredibly engaging, and amazing learning opportunities for them. Let’s share what we do, (any ideas how or where?) and show the world we really don’t need those multiple choice tests to document our students’ learning and provide them the experiences they need to save our world from the mess we’ve made for them.

And, for a related post I wrote in May, go here.

IWBs in 140 Characters

Recently I’ve seen some some discussion about IWBs (interactive whiteboards) on Twitter.  Having been coming and going sporadically in Twitter for quite a while now, I don’t really know the issues being talked about–I have just picked up that there is a yeah, “we’re for them” group, and a “no, we’re not” group. The latest comment I saw was @Tom Whitby’s tweet, “Plz read & comment: My Latest Post: IWB’s Help or Hurt? #edchat #education #edtech”  to which I responded,”@tomwhitby An IWB is inanimate… it’s what the teacher does with it that makes a diff–and helps or hurts what? #edchat #education #edtech

So,in reading the tweets referencing IWBs, I can’t help but think about one of my early experiences on Twitter–where @Betchaboy (Chris Betcher, from Australia), asked for IWB stories for a book he and a friend were writing.  🙂   I contacted him and offered to share a story-and it was indeed printed in the book, The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution.

With the intent of getting involved in the conversation, I’m reposting it here as I sent it to Chris in October, 2008.  As I recall, it was somewhat edited in the book, but don’t have the book here with me to check.

Students may like the “interactivity” of IWBs, but the communal engagement of using them is most powerful. Typically, students fill in the blank or answer closed questions on IWB notebook activities teachers find or create, with the IWB simply being a big touchscreen where kids compete to show they know the correct answer. As I plan, I search for ways that the technology changes the task or increases the depth of how the task is understood or completed. I also consider the potential for thoughtful conversations.

Influential activities I use involve co-editing or co-creating a product to meet specific goals. Many teachers I work with use “Editor in Chief” where students read, edit and (sometimes) recopy in their best handwriting the edited text. When “Editor in Chief” is done on the IWB, students observe peers modeling their thinking about the mistakes made and how to correct them. I often see an increase in intellectual risk-taking as students become willing to share in order to have a turn to use the IWB.  They actually clamor to edit!
Discussing student strategies and options for revision are also much easier than when students simply read their text aloud, describing what they did. The IWB allows for
and promotes engagement through a variety of learning modes.

Another powerful activity involves teaching students summarizing and notetaking, a high yield strategy identified by Robert Marzano. My students examine a text (often wikipedia entries, so we can explore authenticity and accuracy) about a historical event, such as “. . . the importance of the American victory at Yorktown.” (VA SOL Virginia Studies 5.c)

We display the Seige of Yorktown wikipedia text on the IWB, with 2 students having airliners.  The rest have their textbooks/laptops and history journals. I like the airliners (a wireless slate connected to the display computer through Bluetooth technology) because, with the slate, students control the IWB from wherever they are in the room.  Working from their seat puts the emphasis on the text on the IWB, not the person in front activating the board.

As everyone silently reads the text, they note vocabulary that may be an issue for or interesting to them. Students without airliners attempt to condense the text into one sentence or main idea. Concurrently, one “airliner pilot” is using colored pens to mark up the text on the IWB as the second pilot watches. The goal is to make learning and thinking transparent, and the use of the IWB facilitates this by allowing students to see what other students are doing, AS THEY ARE DOING IT. As students finish their independent work, they, too, watch the first pilot who is using the airliner and IWB to make their thinking transparent.

We probe why pilot #1 did what s/he did, and others naturally chime in to describe their process. When we have finished probing, we all contribute as pilot # 2 attempts the same two tasks (with more information and having had instruction), now synthesizing and evaluating everything that has been said and done to this point. Doing this twice supports another of Marzano’s strategies, reinforcing effort and providing recognition. Working, thinking, talking and learning together, we encourage each other to provide recognition for work well done, as we comment upon, agree or disagree and improve our understanding of essential content and effective summarizing. The way we use the IWB is integral to this process of thinking and collaboration.

We then reflect upon condensing the entry into one sentence, discussing the efficiency, effectiveness and support for understanding that provides. Marzano’s research shows that students should substitute, delete and keep some things as they use the basic structure of the information presented. Using the IWB allows us, as a group, to work on the structure of the text, comparing and contrasting our first activity of a “one sentence summary” to collaboratively creating a more effective summary.

When students share their processes and strategies, other students hear what they are looking at, paying attention to and the connections they make as they read and work.  Sharing this “thinking about their thinking” provides models for less experienced students to note that successful summarizers pay attention to things such as text features, the connections a reader makes (whether it be self to text, text to text, or text to world, etc.) and the vocabulary in the text so that they can use it or find synonyms as they restate the material in their own words.

Students learn to question what is unclear, seek clarification and analyze a text/topic to uncover what is central, restating it in their on words. Using the IWB to scaffold students observing, talking about and reflecting upon their own process supports deeper understanding. As we finish this lesson by collaboratively creating a clearly stated summary of our text, students noticeably show their increased understanding of summarizing, and we all acknowledge that having the IWB as a tool helped tremendously!

There are some other great examples in the book, so if you can get your hands on it, it is worth reading.

Now, having said all that and describing some ways to use an IWB well (I think), let me say I don’t use one in my classroom. It’s simply too hard to go get it, set it up and plan out how to use it in powerful ways. I prefer to use the SmartBoard notebook software with my airliners and an LCD projector hooked to my computer–no need for the big board, or the time it takes to get it and set it up..  🙂 I also think it promotes the sage on the tage rather than collaboration and I prefer hands on work in small groups. I also think we can do a lot of what I’d think of doing with other tools online that are just as good, more easily accessible and not space hogs. So, I guess I’d have to join the group I referenced above that says “no, we’re not for them.”

Now, catch me up and challenge my stance.  Please.

Passionate Learning

Yesterday I drove one of my students into town to have a guided tour of our data center.  You see, he had a question about me using a VNC from school to show him stuff on his home computer.  (I have NO CLUE what  a VNC is.  I mean, I understand the concept he’s getting at, but I couldn’t answer the question he was asking.  However, I could connect him to someone who did.)

I had him send his question to our central office person for instructional technology, Becky Fisher. She, in turn, invited him to a tour of the data center and arranged for one of the folks in her department to lead it for this amazingly bright 11 year old.  I was honored to watch the exchange between this kid and the tour guide.

You see, my kid is one of those who doesn’t want to play school, and who stands out in the classroom as somewhat defiant, although he isn’t trying to be. He simply can’t understand why school can’t be a place where he can learn what he wants to learn and he questions the status quo constantly. He wants to pursue his passions in school as well as out and he can’t figure out why he can’t have some time in school to do so.

As an 11 year old, he has learned, though, to shut his mouth and not ask questions sometimes.  He has learned that to NOT lose his ability to have precious moments of free time for his passions, he has to spend time doing rote activities that don’t help him learn much many times. He has learned to play school.

He is writing code and creating his own computer games and has been for years.  He has an intuitive understanding of mathematical concepts and is truly one of the brightest kids I have ever taught–or in some cases, gotten out of his way so he could learn. He stops by my room every morning to touch base and make sure he can have extra time in my room each day.  He comes to my room every recess and lunch to have his own time for learning–to have a 40 minute piece of the day where he can pursue his passions–and I truly just stay out of his way most of the time, watching or asking questions to get an idea of what he is most recently creating. He asks to stay after school so he can work on his own ideas.  He spends hours and hours at home on his wiki, and is the most prolific wikikid I have. His silent leadership has caused me to have at least six kids in my room for lunch each day who are working on THEIR wikis and asking the leader questions OR who are playing his games and giving him feedback on them. They point to his wiki on theirs. By providing him an avenue to pursue his passion and let him bring that into school, he has gone from a classroom loner who was perceived as odd to a leader among his peers.

But, back to the tour…

Becky arranged for a former Murray High School student who is now our Systems Manager to give my kid the tour.  She says Robert is the most brilliant person she has ever met.  I believe her.  Becky was one of the teachers who opened Murray over 20 years ago. (Murray  is our alternative high school, a Glasser school of choice, as well as one of four charter schools in the state of VA, and is described as a school that “honors your heart and respects your mind.”)  Robert attended Murray after Becky had moved to central office, so they never knew each other in that venue.  He says, though, that while she was never formally his teacher, she has taught him much, as she initially gave him his entry into the world of our technology department as a student intern during his senior year at Murray. I have watched Robert grow in the 10 or 12 years he has been with the county as he has moved from his first support technician job right out of high school  to being in charge of all of our technology systems as a 30 year old. Becky and I deliberately wanted Robert to lead this child through the tour, as we knew they would be intrigued by each other.

Robert was amazing with this 5th grader. We had scheduled an hour and Robert gave more than that.  Robert gave this child his undivided attention and answered every question. The child SOAKED UP Robert’s explanations of the server room, the movement of packets of information through our system, and the details of how the redundancy of our system protects our work. He was so excited to be there, and Robert was just perfect as a guide–giving great detail so the kid was fascinated, but not too much so the kid was overwhelmed.  Robert shared reasons and the WHY behind some of the decisions made about our data center and the set up.  He gave enough information that the kid was totally engaged for the entire time. The most powerful piece for me, though, was the last ten minutes or so, where Robert and my kid talked about school.

You see, Robert doesn’t like to play school either, and he ended up at Murray because he was looking for an alternative to traditional high school, where he could learn what he wanted to learn. He was willing to do what was asked through the curriculum, but only if he could show what he knew in reasonable ways and not through doing pages and pages of redundant worksheets as homework. Murray met those needs and allowed him to create his own path of learning through our school system.  He described to my kid how he went from making Ds and Fs in the traditional high school to As and Bs at Murray.  As he described his path through our school system, he often used words my kid has used to describe school and his desires. Again, my kid SOAKED UP Robert’s words–but this time it was hitting him on a very personal level.  This time, those words came from a very successful person who struggled through school as my kid is–but who found a path that allowed him to pursue his passions while playing school.

My kid said in the car that he would love growing up and being like Robert-he would love to have a job like his.  Robert is an idol for this child.

Connecting gifted kids who struggle to survive in traditional school settings to successful adults who survived that system is crucial to give them hope.  My kid has that model now, thanks to Robert. I’m not sure Robert will EVER understand the impact he has had on this one kid with sharing his time and his story. MY whole purpose of this trip was to give my kid hope–hope that he will survive the next 7 years and manage to hang on to his passion for learning.  Thanks partially  to Robert, I think he will.

Sparks of Learning

Recently I have read a series of other people’s posts and websites that have helped me realize  that we, as teachers, often sit down, roll over and play dead when we should be questioning, expressing our opinions, trying new ways in our classrooms and sharing with our peers. WE are the experts in our jobs and we should be educating parents, students and our administrators NOT to expect the same thing we have always seen or done in schools.

I have NEVER had a parent say  to me, “I don’t want my child learning the topics s/he is interested  in and learning to read and write in real contexts.”

I have NEVER had a parent say  to me, “I don’t believe you can see what my child knows and doesn’t know about reading and writing by looking at their writing (blog, wiki, etc.)  as they read and write in real ways.”

I have NEVER had a principal say to me, “Your students are so animated and alive with excitement about learning every time I come into your room. PLEASE STOP MAKING THEM  FEEL THAT WAY!”

You see, I began as a primary teacher.  I became a primary teacher because a saleslady discriminated against me as a child, and when it happened, I decided right then and there I would grow up and work with children and NEVER treat them the way that  saleslady treated me. I am not the only one who has had a childhood experience shape their views about education.

As  a primary teacher, one constantly has to be teaching social skills and showing students HOW to learn. In the primary grades, it is all about processes–learning to read using many strategies, looking for patterns and relationships in math and numbers in our world, doing science as scientists do,  studying history through stories and books, and writing about what we were studying.

I am NOT a cog.

I NEVER believed in being a widget myself.  I have never believed in producing my students as widgets. I refuse to believe that teachers are SUPPOSED to be widgets or create them.  (Read The Widget Effect for more info.)

I recently had a friend share that her son had told her he believed “teachers were people who were unable to get jobs as dictators.”

I am not a dictator, either.

I believe, instead, we DO need to be cheerleaders at times and that we need to also be important to our students–which means we need to cultivate a caring, respectful relationship.

I believe we know what is best for our students and that we buckle under to pressure NOT to do that, in the name of standardized tests, raising state test scores, time  issues, access problems,  and a myriad of other things that interfere with us following OUR passions.

I’m not going to roll over and play dead anymore. I am not going to sit by quietly while my Board of Supervisors and school board make budget cuts that will kill some of the best parts of our world class school system.  I am not going to watch programs be decimated by the economy without a fight.

I am going to become a gladiator for my kids, for my colleagues and for myself.

I am going make sure EVERYTHING  I do looks, feels and sounds like who I am as an educator–an advocate for the children.  I am going to do so with all of my heart and in ways that impact upon others’ hearts, so that they too will feel the call of leading the learning in ways that matter in our division and in our world.

I am going to share my kids’ passions with our school board–with our money guardians–and with my students’ parents.  I am also going to share their words  and their ideas as they share them with the world as to what they want THEIR school to look like and be.

Will you join me and follow your heart in your classroom, your school, your interactions with students?  Will you plan a lesson or series of interactions for tomorrow that will light a fire in some reluctant student and help them want to come back?  Then, will you share that lesson, that idea, that spark with a colleague to ignite them as well?

Let’s BE the experts and begin to lead from the heart, from the classroom, from the base as we build a quality way of doing business that does NOT kill curiosity, wonder and willingness to problem solve and figure things out. Let’s build that love of  learning we all dreamed about when we first began OUR trek into the world of school.  Let’s make sure the people who make the decisions that impact our very essence understand the effect their decisions have upon our future. . and our students’ future.

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.