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?

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.

THE State Writing Test

Our state writing test is coming up in early March and the tension around it is beginning to rise. Our fifth grades departmentalize, so one teacher teaches writing every day, and the others integrate it into Science and Social Studies some, as well as address it in Literacy and Math as they can, so these kids have gotten lots of practice with writing.

What I see, though, from many of the kids, is quite a bit of this:


In spring of 2013, our writing test will be online, so that all students will do it on the computer. Our teachers have questions about this decision:

Is it best for all kids? Don’t some of us prefer the actual act of writing–pen to paper-to feel that flow of thoughts?  Are we handicapping those kids by forcing them to tell their story through a keyboard?

Will this decision force keyboarding lessons? How fast should kids be able to type?

What about all of those articles that talk about how fast kids can text?  Is this even something we have to worry about?

What about the kids who do NOT text?  Is there an equity issue we need to address?

Will they be allowed, or not, to use a spellchecker? (If integrating contemporary tools, why not utilize the full functionality–is the test on writing or spelling?)

Will the font be fixed, or will they be allowed to use text features as part of their composition (such as bold, underline, italics, etc.)?  They can do that with their handwritten texts, so why not with ones using technology?  They will probably be allowed to use spacing and indenting, so why not the full menu of text features we teach?

But, in the bigger scheme of things, why are we even considering these mechanical kinds of questions about the tools of the word processor?

We have access to the features our state will test through a program called Perspective (formerly NCS Mentor).  Here we can learn about scoring, access anchor papers to show our kids, understand the scoring domains and rubrics, and actually practice scoring actual compositions submitted by real fifth graders.

We can spend a ton of time helping kids understand the process, the scoring domains, rubrics and anchor papers.  Would our time be better spent with kids writing? Some say yes.

I think that our third graders ought to be exploring the access we have to this kind of information.  I believe that when kids clearly understand the expectations and have seen examples–both good and bad–and know the rubrics by which they will be judged, they can more clearly write for the prescribed audience–in this particular case, the test scorers. In this case, the state has provided a reasonable tool by which we can do this kind of teaching. Why not use it–and not just right before the test? Why not make it an integral part of our instruction as one more tool in our arsenal?

However, isn’t the real question this:

Wouldn’t it be better if the state just allowed us to police ourselves and examine our student writing portfolios to see if they can construct a well-organized composition?

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!

What’s Working? Conversations!

This post was originally entitled “We Need To Ability Group” but after listening to the NBC Town hall on September 25, 2010 @johnccarver had the idea of asking “What’s Working?” on Twitter. I suggested we all go write a blog about what’s working and share them with the hashtag #educationnation. Here’s mine.

My 4th and 5th grade teachers are thinking reflectively through grouping, response to intervention and providing enrichment an quality learning experiences for all kids right now. They’re thinking though pre-assessments, flexible grouping and ways to differentiate that meet many different kinds of learning needs.

On Thursday, several of us were having a conversation about some of the issues we face when adding a SPED teacher and Gifted teacher into the mix. Both grades have math at the same time, and scheduling and flexible grouping brings many challenges. One of the teachers said, “We just need to ability group!”  and I responded, “Ability group, or achievement group?”  The teacher nods and says, “Yeah, I meant achievement group.”

The third teacher is looking at us quizzically, and I said, “There’s no way we can truly know the real ability of these students–we can only speak to their current level of achievement. We don’t know what these kids are capable of, giving the right situation and opportunities, so how could we possibly group that way?  If we say “these kids are the bottom kids,” then what do we doom them to believing about themselves? And what are we saying to parents about the potential of their children?”

She then nodded and said, “Oh, I see what you’re getting at–achievement grouping and NOT ability grouping–we all need to use that language as we talk about just how we’re going to meet the needs of all of our children!”

It’s not JUST about the language, but also the beliefs…and helping folks be aware of the beliefs they may accidentally portray by words is important. We haven’t decided just exactly how we’re going to split up the kids… but as we do, I know at least three of us will be thinking about the differences between achievement and ability as we talk.

Words do matter. When teachers confuse the language, how do we help parents understand education? Achievement and ability are two different things–let’s make sure we don’t confuse them, or use them interchangeably!

Related Posts by DJakes:

Words Matter

Words Matter: Game Changer

Incidental Learning #2

This post is a continued reflection of me going  into a Kindergarten class to do a series of lessons on graphs and wondering about the incidental learning K kids are doing while I’m in there.  The set up for this series of posts can be found here or here, I cross posted it.

So on Thursday, I went and introduced myself to them with a book called “Once Upon a Time”  where “A boy and his parents move to a new house where it seems there’s “Not much to do. / Not much to see.” As the book continues, the boy remains by the cottage, but familiar faces begin to dot the landscape: a golden-haired girl chased by three bears, a trio of pigs each toting a bundle of different building materials. Young listeners acquainted with classic nursery rhymes will quickly recognize the game and begin searching for their favorite characters.” (The quote is from Amazon’s review, and the picture below is from Amazon as well.) I was using it to see how well-versed the kids were about what are supposed to be familiar stories for young kids, so I wanted kids to call out and I wanted to see how many could name the characters as they entered the pictures.

onceuponatimeIt was hilarious–kids were giggling, fidgeting, talking to one another and the teacher and I were just howling with some of their comments. It was also a hit–the kids couldn’t wait until I returned the next day to help them tell a story with “just dots and lines.”

So the next day I came back, read a fairly traditional rendition of The Three Little Pigs (Paul Galdone’s verison) and then I pulled out the paper where we were going to make a line graph and tell our story with “just lines and dots.” I modeled doing the worksheet shown here, and we then sent all of the kids to their seats to make their own story to take home.  What an eye-opener–just ask any teacher what they can see when you ask K kids to do a worksheet on the 17th day of school when you’ve just done it in front of them. You can see the kids who have preschool experience who have learned to “play school” well–they want to copy yours exactly.  You can see the kids who have little experience with writing… you can tell the kids who know how to line items up well and those who don’t get that detail…you can see names written (or not) and as they work together, you can clearly see kids who need support.

So I’m standing by a table with several kids who are struggling to do the dots and lines and I’m helping them along.  This activity isn’t set up to see who can do the worksheet perfectly, but to help us see who gets the concept of lines going up and down to symbolically represent high and low feelings of fear in the story.

As I was helping one child, two boys at the other end of my table began the “he wrote on my paper” call outs. I moved to lean down beside the closest one to me and a third child also said it, pointing to the boy beside her. (I’m beside a black kid, looking across the table at two white kids.) I immediately turn to the boy beside me (to stop his continued tattling) and  as I do so, I think to myself, “Dang, what are they thinking with me talking to the black kid first?”  I KNOW how kids watch everything the teacher does and read into it… so I’m now thinking,”This is a predominantly white school, and many of these kids haven’t much experience with other races. Are they reading into my looking to the black kid first that I think he’s guilty when the two white kids aren’t? I know I did it because he was closest and I can have a semi private conversation with him if I need to, but they don’t know that. What can I do to take any possible stigma away here?”

So I say, “How did you feel when he wrote on your paper?”  The kid is STILL saying “He wrote on mine first” and, looking at the other boy,”You did it to me first.” He was clearly trying NOT to be the first one in trouble, and staking his claim as simply doing back what had been done to him. I literally leaned forward more so he could no longer see the other boy and repeated, “How did you feel when he wrote on your paper?” He stopped cold in the middle of another disclaimer and looked at me.  I asked it again, and he and I both were conscious of the whole table watching and listening. I repeated my question again, adding, “Did it feel good?  Did you like it when he wrote on your paper?” He simply shook his head no. I then backed up so the two boys could see each other again and asked the white boy how he felt–did it make him feel good when his paper was written on. He also said no. I then asked him if he meant to make the other (black) kid feel bad.  He said no.  I then asked the kid beside me if he meant to make the other (white) kid feel bad, and he said no.  I completely ignored the girl who had tattled, as my goal was NOT to get into who did what when.

I then looked at both of them and said, “If you didn’t mean to make the other boy feel bad, please think of that next time you start to write on someone else’s paper–think how you’ll make them feel.”  And I backed off and went back to the kid I had been helping. They looked at each other and then went back to their own papers.

I hope they learned it’s not about placing blame.

I hope they learned I really don’t care who started it.

I hope they learned it’s about how you make someone feel.

Shaping behavior in a classroom is ALL about how you make them feel.

And when teachers shape behavior, we have to be cognizant of ALL the nuances–what kids might be learning incidentally if we always look to certain children first, or if we always choose certain children to be our helpers, or if our messages are not consistently about taking care of each other and not making others feel bad.

Shaping behavior in a classroom is all about how you make them feel.

Once Upon a Time, I WAS That Newbie

Every year, at the beginning of the school year, I remember my first year in Albemarle County.  I remember it for a lot of reasons, but as our tenth day of school approaches, I remember back to when I was a newbie and I got a job AFTER school started–so the 2 established classes of 30 got to each lose 10 kids to my new class. The teachers were what I call Crozetians–which means they had been here, they knew the community and families and school volunteers and all that other stuff that good teachers know about the culture of their school. So when I was hired, the principal gave me a few days to set up my room while school was going on and I got to learn my way around a little.

I was excited to begin with the kids.  (There’s a skunk story in there, but I’ll save it for another time.) I was getting 20 4th graders and had done student teaching in 4th grade, so I felt like I knew a bit about what I was doing. Plus, I was young, confident, enthusiastic and idealistic (none of which I’ve lost, except the young part!)

I have a good memory, but as any of you who teach know, when you’ve done it for a while, the years somewhat blur together. I remember which grade I taught someone in, but probably not the exact year. However, I bet I could pretty much name almost every, if not every, kid in that class, it made such an impression on me. You see, the two teachers had total control over which kids they put in my class.  I got ten from each of them. Yep, those of you who are veterans can suspect which ten I got from each classroom.

It took me until about January to have enough experience with the other two classes through sharing math and reading groups to realize my homeroom class make up was quite different from the others. I had no gifted kids–had some bright ones, but NONE of the top kids in the grade level. I knew the resource teacher well, as she worked with quite a few of my kids. I had a disproportionately high group of free and reduced lunch kids. I had no PTO officer parents or regular school volunteers in that class. I had two kids who were stepbrothers–one’s father had married the other’s mother and the families were NOT friendly to each other. (Did these two veterans TALK to each other about the kids they gave me????) I had the kids who everyone in the school knew because of their behavior. (I still have a vivid memory and picture in my mind of one boy in line jumping up to touch the clock on the hall wall and it falling and shattering all over the floor. THAT was fun to go report to the principal as a first year teacher.) I quit sending home book orders–I never even got the minimum order, while the others classes collected hundreds of points each month with their orders. When we went on field trips, I had to scrounge for parents to join us–the other classes always took some of my allocated parent seats, as I couldn’t fill them.

But you know, if you looked at those kids on paper–reading groups, past scores, etc.,–the classes looked relatively even.  It was the cultural knowledge–the things we teachers think about as we get a new class each year to label it in our minds as “easy” or “good” –or not–that made mine different.  It’s the community things–parents who volunteer, families who are known to support their kids at home or not, parents who buy from the book orders, kids who work hard or who have a work ethic or not, talkers/chatterers, socially adept kids (or not), behavioral issues, combos of kids to put together or not, kids who eat heathily –or who are overweight and prone to teasing–and on and on.  The two veterans had to have known what they were doing when they gave me the combo of kids they did.

I had a great year with those kids anyway.  I loved them–they were my first class in this school system and they laughed with me as I learned how to run a classroom, and they cried with me–especially as I read aloud “Where the Red Fern Grows.” (I’ve NEVER read that book aloud again–I’m too quick to tears reading sad things!)  They let me teach them and they taught me. My principal let me individualize my math program and they worked through the book at their own pace, so I had plenty of time to work with kids who needed it.  These kids reacted to my enthusiasm, my forward thinking and my love to become a really cool group of kids. That’s one of my favorite groups ever, and I love hearing about what they are doing now. In fact, I get to have kids of those kids in my current school sometimes–and two years ago, I had the kid of that boy who broke that clock. . . we laughed about that incident because he remembered it too!  He remembered me NOT yelling at him, but just saying something like, “Oh, Johnny.  Please go get the custodian before someone gets cut.” Previously one of his favorite ways to get attention, he said he never tried to jump up again. He just hadn’t thought before of the potential consequences of his actions.

I’d like to believe that teachers don’t think either about what giving a newbie teacher a hard class does. I’d like to believe it isn’t deliberate. But every year, when the tenth day approaches and I know schools in our district will be hiring some teachers to take overloads off of some grade levels, I worry about those teachers coming in and what kind of class they’ll get. I hope they’ll get a fair shake, but I worry they won’t. Why do we do this to our own?  Why do we do this to teachers new to our school or our grade, or our community??

We teachers are our own worst enemies sometimes.

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.