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?

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.

What Kids Take Away From Our Lessons

Many of you know I have been complaining on Twitter lately about all the snow we’ve had–over 50 inches in a state that has about 18″ in a normal season–storms of 1-2 FEET where we normally have 2-4 inches at a time. . . I’m really tired of it!

But, it’s been an interesting ride to see how many of my kids have gotten on wikimail and tried to interact with me or work on their wiki on our snow days.  Several have actually written and asked if there was anything they could do for school, so I set up an assignment for them this morning.  We’ll see what happens with that!.

I got a REALLY cute wiki mail this AM.  I have my mail set up so that when I get a wikimail, it flashes in the bottom right corner of my desktop.  If I’m on, I respond right away.  So this morning, I was working on a blog when a kid began interacting with me. On about the 6th exchange, he wrote: “So it’s really true you respond within seconds.”

The other night I had two girls at a sleepover asking me questions about some links I had sent out.  Realizing they really wanted to think, I sent one of them the following email: (My words are in purple)

Remember about two weeks ago when I was telling you something and you asked me if it was going to be on the test and when I said no, you said, good, because I don’t understand it? And you weren’t willing to push through to get it? And I told you I couldn’t believe you said that?

An online friend of mine, Scott McLeod, blogged this today:

“Just tell me what to do”

Seth Godin wrote toda
y that:

People are just begging to be told what to do. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think the biggest one is: “If you tell me what to do, the responsibility for the outcome is yours, not mine. I’m safe.”

I think another big reason is that most people spent at least 12 years of their life being deeply socialized in the “just tell me what to do” model.

We know that schools strongly emphasize compliance in the name of order and discipline. We know that the fact-regurgitation model that still dominates schooling mostly leads to the student mentality of “Just tell me what to do to get a B,” rather than “Inspire me to follow my passions and interests and learn more about this on my own.” We shouldn’t be surprised when our graduates take that mentality with them into higher education and/or the workplace.


Now read this:

Here’s my question:

What would be on YOUR resume from Crozet?


(I did exchange several wikimails helping them understand parts and pieces of the Edurati article and telling them to skip parts of it.)

I totally expected something content driven. After all, I have taught these kids off and on since they were in first grade. These are smart kids, used to me posing hard questions and asking them to reflect on their learning.  I currently have them for math every day.

However, this is what I got back from one, the next morning, after the friend had gone home:

in my resume, I would say…
1 I have learned to work better in a group. (I can do it better than when I started at Crozet)
2 I have learned to exept (accept) whatever someone throws at me.
3 I have learned that ALL teachers have different ways of teaching, and some of them I like, and some of them I don’t like.

I have learned…
4 You should NOT have a boys table or a girls table, no matter what you think.
(My rule-they can choose seats, but have to be gender mixed at the table.)
5 Everyone thinks differently, and you should listen to what other people think, to here (hear) what they think. (Why they think the question is wrong or right).
6 Laugh at your mistakes.
7 There is ALWAYS more than one way to work the problem.
8 Make learning fun.

Here are some of the ones that I thought of.

5th grade student

Pretty insightful, hm?

Would love to hear your thoughts. . .

Big Paradigm Shifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Then, in my Edutopia reading, I saw this:

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

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

So, I proposed the following question to #EdChat :

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

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

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

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

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

Wondering, Questioning and Learning

red sky at morningred sky at morning

Red Sky at Morning, Sailors Take Warning. . . Red Sky at Night, Sailors’ Delight

Why is that, I wondered?

and then,

How much of
learning is wondering?

As I began the Thinking About Words Through Images 365 project this month, I was watching my kids and taking pictures of things we did in school. However, as the month went on, the weather in VA is SO unusual this year, I found myself thinking about what I was learning about it instead. I don’t have one picture to show my ‘vision’ of learning this month, but instead, felt like I wanted to describe the things I had learned and wondered about based on our weather. So I decided to document that instead.

We have about 5 acres, part of which does not “perk.” That part also has an artisan well on it. In the summertime, it is sometimes impossible to mow part of the bottom field because it is so wet. We’ve gotten cars and boats stuck going down to the big shed!

Our land also slopes down from the mountain (Afton Mountain, part of the Blue Ridge), so when it rains heavily, we always have water coming through our yard and also racing down the ditch beside our road. During the month of January, I was amazed to see the wet weather streams freezing over, and also surprised I could see them so well defined in the snow. I don’t remember seeing them ever before so clearly in the winter.

In December, we got over 2 feet of snow, and then it stayed VERY cold (for VA in the winter) for over a month–so literally, a month later, we still had snow cover from that Dec. snow. Watching snow stick around and melt over time caused me to questions some aspects of snow and water that I’d never had opportunity to wonder about before.

So here goes,

my wondering. . .

I heard on the radio that westward facing slopes were going to get upslope snow showers. I wondered why only westward facing slopes get them.


As I rode to school this month, I also noticed that westward facing slopes were not melting as fast as eastward facing slopes.


Here’s a perfect example of the unevenness of the melting. It’s NOT a case of where the sun shines.


Why would morning sun not melt the snow like afternoon sun?

Why would upslope showers happen to the westward facing slopes?

(corollary–How could I get kids to ask these same kinds of questions?
Would sharing my series of pictures help them wonder about the natural world
and ask those questions in school?)


Then I noticed that our wet weather streams were staying MUCH wetter than normal, and that it was so cold parts of them were freezing over.

icydrivewayPractically the whole month water ran across our driveway.

Was it the melting snow out of the mountains?


It got so cold the whole stream would freeze over at night and then thaw during the day.

How could running water freeze?

IMG_8043.JPGEvery morning I see this view out of my living room bay window, but only some mornings are red. That made me think of the old saying quoted at the top of this page.

Red sky at morning, sailors take warning;

Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.

What’s the science behind it?



The red goes away SO very fast.

And then, on the way to school only red wisps of clouds are left.

But it’s not just clouds–several days later I noticed the mountain.

These are NOT fall colors, but instead the sunrise on the mountain. I saw this about a week after documenting the red sky on the way to work.


Why does ONLY the side of the mountain  look red? Why not other stuff  the sun is lighting?

This is the same mountain from the end of my driveway, and I began to wonder about reflections and refractions–


Why does it look like the sun is catching the trees on fire?

And why do the colors change?


Just riding to school, it looked like the mountain was going through the fall leaf color change-on fast forward.

About halfway through the month, I realized I was often looking at the weather  on the mountains nearby and I began wondering about student learning about weather–just what they really understood about fronts, winds, heat rising and falling, what things like fog, sleet, and hail really were, and I wondererd if my curiosity and picture taking could impact them. I haven’t tried it yet–We’ve missed too much school due to the weather!



This picture was taken about 4 PM on my way home. With my initial glance, I thought it was snow on the mountain,

but then I realized it wasn’t snow.


Zooming in, I realized it was fog in the dips and valleys on the side of the mountain. I hadn’t noticed this ever before, and I’ve been driving this road for 30 years.

Why does the fog settle?

Why in this way, today?


THIS is snow on the mountaintops–near Wintergreen Ski Resort, VA, over a month after the snow fell in December.


So, in the following pictures, three days after our day off  for localized flooding,

is all of this water just runoff,

or are they each separate wet weather streams?

IMG_8146…. IMG_8143 IMG_8144






The big wet weather stream is still showing as it was beginning to snow February 5, 2010.
How long will it remain visible before the snow covers it?





So, the upshot of this page is that in looking at the world around me this month and thinking about learning, and taking pictures during the weird weather we’ve had, I am now thinking about what part wondering plays in learning.  I wonder how we encourage questioning in school. How or when do we give kids time to pursue what they are interested in learning? If we put provocative pictures around our rooms, around our schools, around anywhere the kids will be, will they look at them and wonder, or will they be like me as a kid and NOT notice details?

What will it take for us to help kids be observant and wonder?

Would an exercise like this work, where they have to take pictures of a concept for a while?

What Would You Like To Read?

Today I tweeted this out:

I need to write 2-pg paper about schools/technology… ideas? Audience could be anyone-probably mostly educators. What would you want to read? about 9 hours ago from TweetDeck

Here’s the backstory:

So, Let’s Start Writing…..

Collaborative book writing project set to begin.

I volunteered to be one of these writers and am just getting to it.  (Darah graciously is still accepting submissions, so if you’d like to join in, feel free to email him at the email listed in his blog entry.)

And got these responses (newest first):


mwacker @paulawhite 2 ideas, 1) how can tech reduce gender/SES gaps in education 2) protocol/checklst around designing differntiated lessons w/ tech


tperran @paulawhite I would like to read stories from teachers who have effectively integrated a variety of technologies into their instruction


hotei @Linda704: @paulawhite How about how you use Twitter, etc to expand your learning? Agreed!  about 6 hours ago


psbenson @jackiegerstein: @paulawhite projected educational techonology trends for 2010.  about 6 hours ago


johnsonmaryj @paulawhite Hints for keeping up with educational applications of technology? Or what educators on twitter are talking about?  about 8 hours ago


pammoran @paulawhite I’m interested in how tech reduces distance bet learner & learning from 1:25 teach/stu to 1:1 w choice theory focus  about 8 hours ago


teacherspirit @paulawhite What about a paper about digital citizenship?  about 8 hours ago


mmiller7571 @paulawhite re: you paper… I think my teachers would like to hear a success story of integration from 0 to success, practical ideas  about 8 hours ago


dlaufenberg @paulawhite re: you paper… I often like the idea of embracing failure as a topic…


jasondeluca @paulawhite would want to read… where are we now? and… where should we be going with use of technology?  about 8 hours ago


jackiegerstein @paulawhite projected educational techonology trends for 2010.  about 8 hours ago


flourishingkids @paulawhite would want to read about how to use tech in my classroom when limited by resources available or how to get grants for new tech  about 8 hours ago


maryjanewaite @paulawhite I’d like to read how kids view schoolwork, teachers, technology and use that valuable kid info to change how I do my job  about 8 hours ago


pimathman @paulawhite Maybe articulating difference between technology for technology’s sake vs usefulness in learning  about 8 hours ago


irasocol @paulawhite choosing technologies which transform  about 9 hours ago


cmt1 @paulawhite Schools/tech – mentioning all the 21st c literacies that should be pa of the learning landscape  about 9 hours ago


gardenglen @paulawhite I’d like 2 read how & why tchrs have stdnts use technology (as pedagogy tool)  about 9 hours ago


Vonluck @paulawhite Twitter and/or cell phone use in the classroom might be interesting for MS HS teachers, paper on PLCs/PLNs would also be great.  about 9 hours ago


sraslim @paulawhite how about Cushing Academy and their 70 e-readers?  about 9 hours ago


Linda704 @paulawhite How about how you use Twitter, etc to expand your learning?  about 9 hours ago

Obviously I am not an expert on most of these, but a lot of them DO ask for personal experience or opinions.  So, given these (or another topic of YOUR choice), what would YOU like to read?

Shifting Frustrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Losing Our Minds

Everyone should read Deborah Ruf’s book, Losing Our Minds.  Not only does she do an EXCELLENT job of describing giftedness in many different ways, but she also describes different KINDS of giftedness and different ways of meeting those needs in the classroom.  She addresses push in and pull out models, the need for independent studies and when that isn’t necessary. She really makes the delivery of services for meeting the various needs of gifted kids just make sense.

I also love the book, “Young, Gifted and Black,” by Theresa Perry, Asa Hilliard III, and Claude Steele, as they describe the cultural and democratic aspects to be considered when looking at educating blacks in America.  They make the point that REALLY we have only been experimenting democratically with truly educating African Americans for a short period of time. MANY folks, as African Americans were “integrated” into society in the 1900s –and many still today–question the mental capacity, the intellectual competence of black people, looking at historical academic achievement as “proof”. This book argues that “since learning is fundamentally contextual, there are extra social, emotional, cognitive and political competencies required of African Americans precisely because they ARE African Americans.” (See Ira Socal’s recent post, Crossing America: An Education for a better explanation than I am giving here.)

BUT, what brought this topic to mind is a recent article, “No Gifted Minority Left Behind” in the Richmond (VA) Times that @JonBecker and @mwacker (Michael Wacker) posted.  Our county is currently (as many are) examining the discrepancy between membership group populations and enrollment in special programs such as Gifted, Special Education, Advanced Placement/Honors courses, technical programs, etc.)

So, I asked Michael and Jon: Do you believe that just because say, 70% of your student population is white, 70% of your gifted (or SPED) population should be?

Their responses included the following comments and questions:

becker@paulawhite no, but we should be within a much tighter confidence interval than we are now; extreme disproportionality is problematic.

Me-> 2 years ago our Gifted Advisory Committee did a study on that discrepancy, Jon, and my school was the ONLY one near to that tight confidence interval. However, it isn’t anymore, as I moved schools, and the GTs who came after didn’t continue ID of minorities. (I’ve now been gone from that one 5 years and the kids I identified are mostly gone.)

wacker@jonbecker @paulawhite agreed, its not that clean, but it is an issue, has anyone addressed cultural bias in the tests themselves?

becker@mwacker @paulawhite yes, and most LEAs have moved away from a single test for ID purposes, but that hasn’t made much of a difference.

Me->BECAUSE most people still look at the test score (no matter what test) as most important–behaviors and class work is incidental, and the one snapshot test “MUST” be more valid.

wacker@paulawhite @jonbecker do you use a triangulation data collection method for determining giftedness? Is it just one test or a B.O.E.?

So I responded:

Part of the discrepancy in identification IS cultural in that (and this goes back to my K blog) some cultures ENCOURAGE movement and calling out. Have either of you ever been to a southern black Baptist church? Calling out, responding aloud in group, NOT raising hands and moving is all part of their ritual–so ESPECIALLY kids with those experiences have to be indoctrinated to the hidden curriculum of school (sit down, be quiet and listen)–and teachers see those active, calling-out kids as “misbehaving” so therefore, they CAN’T be really smart. GTs often aren’t aware of cultural differences in behaviors, and most teachers DEFINITELY aren’t!

In fact, I go looking for those calling out/active kids cause it’s a GREAT sign of engagement.

I have a 5th grader right now (NOT minority)whose behavior has interfered with ANY teacher seeing his absolute BRILLIANCE…cause he refuses to “play school.” He wants to learn and he wants his questions answered–and he wants to know WHY he has to do stupid busy work, so he constantly challenges the teachers, which gets him sent to a safe spot. I’m trying to get them to give him a laptop AT the safe spot and see what he does with it. He recently embedded a WHOLE middle school math book on his wiki so others could read it and learn “as much as I did.”

I have another, a 2nd grade minority girl who did the most sophisticated sort of dominoes last year in a class lesson–when I pointed it out to the teacher, her response was “she must have copied.” This year’s teacher is noticing her novel responses.

Then, Samantha Melvin joined in:

melvinauthentic differentiated learning can only take place with authentic differentiated TEACHING –so glad you are sharing this!!

Me->Teachers have to understand that it is not about assembly line work or making everyone part of a melting pot, but separate and distinct individuals with specific strengths and passions. It’s not about conforming but honoring and providing opps for differences and personal strengths to be used and grow.

YES!  about process, not product! Amelvinre we giving them the skills they need to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways? (serving the individual learner)

Great question! Here’s where (IMHO) tech plays a SERIOUS part and meets a HUGE need!

So, when you read the article, what do you think?  ARE we leaving no gifted minorities behind, or are we losing our minds?


I stole that title from this post: Jon wrote this post a year ago, and it is one we need to keep in front of all of us educators at all times.  It’s not about the tool, it’s about the learning!

So, in that vein, let me say that I have really, really been wanting to engage in conversations about important learning episodes where technology is used/needed, but is also simply a tool to support the engagement, learning and skill improvement that is occurring. Too many times we find a cool tool and then force the learning into the use of the tool.

As @bengrey says (,

bengrey We absolutely must stop focusing on teaching technology and move instead to learning through it.10:09 PM Oct 2nd from TweetDeck

So, does it help to have sites like “iPod Ideas” or “Ways to use Wikis”?  Or should  we instead be talking about and sharing specific ways to teach fractions and decimals or quotation marks or the seven continents? Okay, maybe that’s too skill-driven–too centered on minute discrete skills…

So,  would it help for us each to post a favorite/best carried out/most-learning-happened lesson for others to see and learn from? Okay, maybe that’s too activity driven…

Do we want to share websites that help us craft amazing essential questions, or enduring understandings or desired outcomes?  Or is working on those too cerebral for many of us? (Do we use those in our lessons?)

We do a lot of “just found this” on twitter, and people have bookmarked and favorited THOUSANDS of websites on social bookmarking sites like Delicious and Diigo–but how often do we go back to those? (I’ll be honest here–organization of things like this is NOT my forte–I learned a LONG time ago I could just ask my colleagues things like, “What was that site that allowed you to put text in and then it would turn the words into a visual representation of the words used in that text?” and 5 people would respond “” within 24 hours or shorter. . . so why spend my time maintaining a website of links, when there are people who enjoy doing that?) Instead, I remember the names of people who do that well already–@jacatlett, @kellyhines, @keisawilliams, OR I utilize the brain of all brains, IMHO, @mtechman, who, if she can’t immediately name it and the URL or doesn’t know exactly where to put her finger on the resource you’re asking about, will hunt until she finds it, because she enjoys the SEARCH and the joy of being successful at finding it!!

For Melissa, It’s not about power–or getting recognition for being the one who found it for you–it’s about successfully providing a service she sees as necessary and that a teacher/librarian does for people. It’s about using the technology to do her job and do it well, and be helpful at the same time. She’s intrinsically driven to help people find what they need. Melissa does what Ben talks about–she learns through the use of technology ALL the time, and then shares that knowledge with us all on Twitter.

So if I really, really want to engage in conversations about important learning episodes where technology is used/needed, but is also simply a tool to support the engagement, learning and skill improvement that is occurring, I guess I’ll start by sharing some of MY stories and seeing if anyone reacts to them. Anyone want to share theirs, too? If so, tag it with #sharing on Twitter.  🙂

World Peace Game-And An Example Of Big Picture Thinking

Week before last I listened to an interview with a teaching friend, John Hunter, about the premier of a documentary being made around him and a game he invented called World Peace. (See the You Tube Video here: John Hunter explaining his World Peace game. ) John is  a gifted resource teacher in my division and he described his job as one where he “sets up a situation so students have to stumble through the unknown and discover for themselves how to do it.”

His game is one that has evolved over the 30+ years he’s been teaching and he clearly is a teacher who doesn’t mind the students being in control of their learning. Heck, he even talks in this interview about supporting that, and that once the game begins, it is out of his hands. John is an amazing teacher, thinker and colleague and it’s a great pleasure to work in a system where I have relatively regular contact with him, even though he’s in a another school. If you are in Charlottesville, VA on February 21, 2010, please attend the premier of this documentary at the Paramount Theatre. I guarantee it will amaze and astound you and give you food for thought.

In this interview, John also speaks to the ease/relief/ability to be this creative because he works with kids who have already learned the minimum state standards, so they can explore these bigger questions of life. I think all gifted teachers have some of this feeling in us. Because of the students’ abilities with whom we work, we DO have more latitude in what we teach in many situations. That’s both a good and a bad thing.

It’s good because we can meet these very, very bright kids at the level at which they think without them being slowed down by thinkers who may not make the intuitive leaps they do, who may not have the background of information they do, and who may not have the confidence to challenge them as they think aloud. This experience isn’t about elitism, but about allowing students the opportunities to think with others who think at their speed, at the depth they do, and who question the world as they often do.

It’s bad because all teachers do not feel they have the latitude to teach this way with all students–to explore big questions of life and tie their lessons into essential questions that support students making those connections between topics, between concepts and between understandings that are universal and that deepen their understanding of the world.

I have a teacher in my  school, though, who is attempting to teach to that level with ALL of her students in math. This teacher has developed a structure that is based on the ideas behind the “Daily Five” in literacy. She has created a pie, divided into three pieces, which, after brainstorming with several folks, she decided on the categories Becky Fisher (@beckyfisher73) suggested, which were strategy, fluency and numeracy.

Of course these overlap, but by looking at each of these each day, and helping kids thinking metacognitively about these skills, they become more aware of their mathematical thinking and in turn, become better at it. She devises a set of three problems that revolve around big ideas in math and then the children self-select which of the three problem solving tasks they will work on for the week. By Friday they create a poster describing their thinking and explaining the way the solved the problem. That’s the numeracy piece of her pie.

The fluency piece is the arithmetical part of math–direct teaching and practice of basic skills, based on the Virginia Standards of Learning for 4th grade.

The strategy piece of her pie is worked on in several ways–through the posters the students create to show their thinking, the work they do as the week goes along and the classroom conversations that occur around their work. Students love the structure, they are free to develop their own strategies to solve the problems, they talk about the connections between the various problems and they self-select into the groups that sometimes stretch them, sometimes allow them practice and sometimes allow them to lead the problem solving process.

Big picture thinking and teaching and learning–why doesn’t it happen in more classrooms? How can we restructure our schools so that it can be pervasive and the norm rather than the outlier?