Snuffing out our own progress

Crabs in a bucket

I just left this comment at Tony Tepedino’s blog in response to his statement that we have to stop pretending that academic rigor can only occur in a traditional classroom setting:

I have seen innovative, project-based learning environments killed – by OTHER TEACHERS IN THE SCHOOL!!!! – because kids liked those learning spaces better than what their more traditional teachers were offering. Rather than shifting their instruction, they snuffed out the promising new directions instead.

Ugh.

I saw a wonderful video long ago from Gloria Ladson-Billings that reminded us as school leaders that we have to make sure the change people win. We must fight these crab bucket cultures with everything we’ve got…

Image credit: Crabs in a bucket, Todd Shaffer


We can’t do what that other school is doing because…

We can’t do what that other school is doing because…

  • they are bigger and have more resources
  • they are smaller and are more nimble
  • they are rural and have strong-knit communities
  • they are urban and have access to the city
  • they are suburban and have more money
  • they don’t have the same time issues we do
  • they don’t have the same discipline issues we do
  • they don’t have the same personnel issues we do
  • they don’t have the same financial issues we do
  • they don’t have the same transportation issues we do
  • they don’t have the same accountability issues we do
  • they have parent support
  • they have community support
  • they have business support
  • they have paras
  • they have teacher’s aides
  • they have volunteers
  • they have a different schedule
  • they have different standards
  • they have different policies
  • they have different professional development
  • they have more supportive administrators
  • they have a more supportive school board
  • they have more expert veteran teachers
  • they have more eager new teachers
  • they can get kids to come before school
  • they can get kids to come after school
  • they can get kids to come during school
  • they don’t have all of the extra committees that we do
  • they don’t have all of the extra duties that we do
  • they have computer labs
  • they have computer carts
  • they have laptops
  • they have iPads
  • they have Chromebooks
  • they have better Internet
  • they are a private school
  • they are a charter school
  • they are a magnet school
  • they are an online school
  • they have [fill in the blank] where they are
  • they don’t have OUR kids
  • they ???

We’re really good at finding reasons for inaction. How many of these have you heard? What would you add to this list?

How you gonna change the world if you can't change yourself? [Graffiti]

Image credit: Change starts from within, Phillip


Shifting the focus

Focus

Starr Sackstein said:

How can we shift the focus away from how much a student does to how much they can apply to new tasks?

What can they do now that they couldn’t do before? How do they know?

via http://starrsackstein.com/category/its-not-about-productivity-its-about-learning

Image credit: Enfocando / Focussing, Magec


We have to stop pretending

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending…

  • that short-term memorization equals long-term learning
  • that students find meaning in what we’re covering in class
  • that low-level facts and procedures are a prerequisite to deeper learning
  • that analog learning environments prepare kids for a digital world
  • that what we’re doing isn’t boring

I’m going to try to turn this into a challenge. I’m tagging George Couros, Sylvia Martinez, Wes Fryer, Vicki Davis, and Steven Anderson.

Please join us. When it comes to education, what are 5 things that we have to stop pretending? Post on your blog, tag 5 others, and share using the #makeschooldifferent hashtag. Feel free to also put the URL of your post in the comments area so others can find it!

** Check out the responses from everyone who has participated. Awesome! **

Make school different

(feel free to use this image as desired)

UPDATE

Since it’s hard to impart nuance in 5 short bullet points, I thought I’d explain my thinking behind what I blogged above (particularly given the thoughtful replies below from Keith Brennan)…

1. Too many teachers cover stuff for a week or two, the kids regurgitate it for a week or two, and then they’re off to the next thing. If you ask the kids six months later, much (most?) of what they ‘learned’ is gone. But we call this process ‘learning.’ And while that may be true for the short term, it’s not very true for the long term. Memorization isn’t the concern, it’s the overemphasis on short-term memory without concurrent attention to long-term memory.

2. My understanding from the cognitive psychologists is that we remember what we attach meaning to. If it’s not meaningful to us (i.e., we don’t find internal reasons to hang on to it), we might keep it for a little while (particularly if we’re forced to) but sooner rather than later it starts to fade away. The challenge is that it’s hard to find meaning in decontextualized fact nuggets and procedures, which is why students have been asking the same questions since time immemorial: ‘Why do we need to know this? Why should we care? What’s the relevance of this to our lives now or in the future?’ We give those questions short shrift in most classrooms and then wonder why students disengage mentally and/or physically.

3. The key word here for me is ‘prerequisite.’ I don’t know anyone who thinks that factual knowledge and procedural knowledge aren’t essential components of robust, deeper learning. What inquiry-, challenge-, project-, and problem-oriented learning spaces seem to show us is that so-called ‘lower-level’ learning doesn’t always have to occur FIRST and often can be uncovered or discovered rather than just initially covered. What needs to come first and what can come later is dependent on the interplay between the individual learner and the surrounding learning context. Coming at learning from larger, more holistic, perhaps real-world-embedded, applied perspectives often can help students attach meaning (and motivation) to factual knowledge and procedural skills. If schools did a better job of eventually getting to deeper learning, this sequencing issue might be less of a concern but too often what should be a foundational floor instead becomes an actual ceiling and students rarely get to go beyond and experience deeper learning opportunities.

4. If I want to learn how to lift boxes, cut down a tree, or lay tarmac, I can only get so far with a digital app or simulation. Similarly, if I want to learn how to be functional and powerful in digital knowledge environments, ink-on-paper learning spaces only get me so far. Schools are supposed to be about knowledge work and nearly all knowledge work these days is heavily technology-suffused. It’s difficult to adequately prepare students for digital information landscapes without regular immersion in and use of digital tools and environments.

5. Kids are bored out of their skulls with much (most?) of what we have them do in class, particularly as they move up the grade levels. Just ask ‘em… Our biggest indictment as educators and school systems is that we don’t seem to care very much and simply accept this as an inherent condition of schooling.


Building a bridge

Peoria bridge

A school board member said to me a while back:

Scott, I hear what you’re saying about active, hands-on, project-based learning. But I got to tell you, when I’m driving over a bridge, I want to have confidence that the people who designed and built it knew what they were doing. So if that takes a lot of practice on worksheets until students know their math and science, so be it.

I responded:

I agree that I don’t want the bridge collapsing under me either! If we want graduates who know how to build solid, long-lasting bridges, we absolutely can have them do a bunch of practice problems on worksheets until we think they know the math and science and we’ll hope that they will remember it later.

… (pause) …

Or we could have them build bridges.

… (pause) …

Who do you think will be better bridge builders?

How do we help our communities understand that authentic learning is possible?


How often do students get to do beautiful work?

Ron Berger said:

Once a student creates work of value for an authentic audience beyond the classroom – work that is sophisticated, accurate, important and beautiful – that student is never the same. When you have done quality work, deeper work, you know you are always capable of doing more.

via http://www.edutopia.org/blog/deeper-learning-student-work-ron-berger

Hat tip: Linda Linn


The magical power of PARCC

Magician ahead sign

Peter Greene said:

[When advocates] come to explain how crucial PARCC testing is for your child’s future, you might try asking some questions:

  • Exactly what is the correspondence between PARCC results and college readiness? Given the precise data, can you tell me what score my eight year old needs to get on the test to be guaranteed at least a 3.75 GPA at college?
  • Does it matter which college he attends, or will test results guarantee he is ready for all colleges?
  • Can you show me the research and data that led you to conclude that Test Result A = College Result X? How exactly do you know that meeting the state’s politically chosen cut score means that my child is prepared to be a college success?
  • Since the PARCC tests math and language, will it still tell me if my child is ready to be a history or music major? How about geology or women’s studies?
  • My daughter plans to be a stay-at-home mom. Can she skip the test? Since that’s her chosen career, is there a portion of the PARCC that tests her lady parts and their ability to make babies?
  • Which section of the PARCC tests a student’s readiness to start a career as a welder? Is it the same part that tests readiness to become a ski instructor, pro football player, or dental assistant?
  • I see that the PARCC will be used to “customize instruction.” Does that mean you’re giving the test tomorrow (because it’a almost November already)? How soon will the teacher get the detailed customizing information– one week? Ten days? How will the PARCC results help my child’s choir director and phys ed teacher customize instruction?

… The PARCC may look like just one more poorly-constructed standardized math and language test, but it is apparently super-duper magical, with the ability to measure every aspect of a child’s education and tell whether the child is ready for college and career, regardless of which college, which major, which career, and which child we are talking about. By looking at your eight year old’s standardized math and language test, we can tell whether she’s on track to be a philosophy major at Harvard or an airline pilot! It’s absolutely magical!

Never has a single standardized test claimed so much magical power with so little actual data to back up its assertions.

via http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2014/10/parcc-is-magical.html

Image credit: Caution: Magician Ahead!, Kevin Trotman


My TEDxDesMoines talk is profiled at Upworthy

The folks at Upworthy were kind enough to feature my TEDxDesMoines talk. And, just like that, my video went from fewer than 18,000 views to nearly 44,000 views in just a few short days. Super fun!

If you’re sharing online, every once in a while the Internet sends a few rays of sunshine and attention your way… Thanks, Upworthy!

 


Is an hour really that subversive?

Audrey Watters said:

we’re seeing calls for an hour: “A Genius Hour.” “An Hour of Code.” An hour.

Is that hour really that subversive? What does it mean that schools are applauded when students are sanctioned – for one hour – to follow their passions? What message does that send them about the rest of their day and week at school? Does an hour even count as incremental change?

Are these efforts transformative? And are they sustainable? Will these hours or days remain in place? Or will they face the same fate of Google’s policy, and be quickly set aside when schools’ goals trump students’ interests?

Don’t we need to think about how to re-evaluate 100% of time in order to make school more student-centered, not simply fiddle with a fraction of it?

via http://hackeducation.com/2015/02/14/genius-hour


Privileging the spreadsheet over the individual

Carl Hendrick wrote:

in many schools it would appear that teachers are working significantly harder than the pupils in their charge, and not so much because the kids are lazy but rather because of an institutionalised miasma that is obsessed with measuring everything (usually poorly) that privileges the spreadsheet over the individual and which has infantilised the process of learning to such a degree that actually knowing stuff is deemed less important than merely appearing to know stuff

via http://staffrm.io/@carlhendrick/dmRoWd4V1D


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