Archive by Author

F.A.I.L.W.

FAILWF.A.I.L. = First Attempt In Learning

We see this saying in classrooms all over. And I’ve never liked it… 

One reason is because we rarely seem to ask the important question of First Attempt In Learning What? First attempt in learning some rote memorization task? First attempt in learning something we put on a digital worksheet? First attempt in learning some procedure that we’ll likely never use again? [but, hey, at least it leads to the next procedure that we’ll also probably never use again!]

I understand why the allegedly-motivational saying is posted on teachers’ walls. It’s a cute way of saying to students, “Don’t give up. Keep trying and you’ll get there.” It fits in nicely with the growth mindsets that we’re trying to help students adopt. [side note: ever notice how educators are usually eager to preach about the value of growth mindsets for students but often struggle to live that value in their own work?] But maybe the reason our students are ‘failing’ is because they rightfully see that so much of the work that we ask them to do is pretty meaningless and so they simply try to opt out. It’s not that they’re struggling, it’s that they’re rational.

Which leads me to another reason: a F.A.I.L. poster on our walls doesn’t absolve our responsibility to do better by our kids. We can’t keep pretending that such a sign means anything when we regularly undercut it with uninspiring work. So what if we give students multiple opportunities for do-overs or retakes? So what if we preach about ‘resilience’ and ‘grit?’ Is allowing / requiring / forcing a student to be ‘successful’ on work that had little value in the first place the opposite of ‘failing?’

No amount of platitudes will ever make up for the hard work we need to do to transform students’ learning experiences. You know what motivates students? It’s not the cutesy laminated F.A.I.L. poster. It’s the regular opportunity to do meaningful and interesting work. The next time we walk into a classroom with one of these signs, let’s add the W and start having a different conversation…

The decline of civics

Flags on lawnDanielle Allen said:

No democracy can survive if its citizens do not believe that democracy is worth having. The long-term future of our system of government depends not only on restoring a supermajority of citizens who demand democracy but also on ensuring that that percentage exists across the generations.

Nor is it enough for people simply to believe democracy is essential if they don’t know how to build, operate, maintain, fix, and adapt democracies. This means we also need to build a supermajority of citizens who have confidence in their knowledge of how to use their voices, skills of democratic coordination, and shared political institutions. That’s what our children could learn through classes on U.S. government, civics, and the problems and promise of democracy.

Want to address information literacy concerns? Civics is a great place to start. Want to target student apathy toward the news and being informed? Action civics is an even better start. 

We also have to live the democratic principles that we proclaim we’re trying to instill in our youth. Students almost never have authentic input into how ‘school’ operates for them. No wonder our students become cynical and apathetic. Why would they treat seriously our proclamations about the importance of democracy when schools rarely give them a meaningful say in anything?

My favorite U.S. Supreme Court quote of all time is from Justice Fortas:

That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes… (Tinker v. Des Moines)

When it comes to modeling democratic principles in schools, we’ve got too many platitudes. How about some action (civics) instead?

Running back into school on Day 164

Robin Riley tweetTom Murray has been inspiring a lot of educators to think about what they can do on Day 1 of the school year so that kids come running back into school on Day 2. That’s a great message.

Can we please also remember that we want kids running back into school on Day 37 and Day 89 and Day 138? If we have a great first day with our students and then gradually (quickly?) revert back to fairly uninspiring learning experiences, what’s the point?

School culture, classroom learning climates, and student engagement are year-round issues. What could you do that makes kids come running back on Day 164? (instead of, ahem, counting down the days until the end)

Image credit: Robin Riley

AI software gets a B on a 12th-grade science exam

Artificial intelligenceCalculators. Grammar editors. PhotoMath. Automatic language translation. Some of these mental work helpers (substitutes?) work fabulously. Some of them aren’t quite there… yet.

And now we have this: AI technology that can pass a 12th grade science exam.

on Wednesday, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a prominent lab in Seattle, unveiled a new system that passed the test with room to spare. It correctly answered more than 90 percent of the questions on an eighth-grade science test and more than 80 percent on a 12th-grade exam.

Not only could the software answer recall questions, it also could solve basic logic and inference problems.

Do students still need to know some stuff? Absolutely. Do students need to know the vast amounts of easily-findable minutiae and trivia that we pretend is important and try to shove into them each school year? No way.

The machines are getting better at mental tasks we previously thought could only be done by humans. When will we start asking better questions? When and how will we adapt our teaching and schooling?

10 signs that you may be missing opportunities with your school’s technology integration

Left turnHere are some signs that you may be missing opportunities with your school’s technology integration efforts:

  1. Your LMS is primarily used as a document management system
  2. Lots of Kahoots but not much student creation
  3. Many conversations about responsible and appropriate use, not many conversations about empowered use
  4. Teachers are the primary users of technology
  5. Digital worksheets greatly outnumber student multimedia products
  6. Teachers are gravitating toward technologies that allow them to tightly control the student learning experience (e.g., NearPod, GoGuardian)
  7. Silent work alone on ‘personalized,’ adaptive learning software modules is a dominant modality for students
  8. A greater emphasis on filtering and blocking than on equitable access and usage
  9. Technology professional development sessions are sparsely (or reluctantly) attended
  10. The ‘yes buts’ outweigh your visions for technology-infused student learning possibilities

These are just a few. What else might you add?

See also The unholy trinities of classroom technology usage

Image credit: Left turn, Clyde, Alan Levine

Culture will tell you what it needs, but only if you ask it

We had the pleasure of having Zac Chase as a guest facilitator this past week in one of my principal licensure cohorts. Zac was amazing, which is no surprise to anyone who knows him.

One of our activities with Zac was using the Question Formulation Technique to unpack teachers’ and students’ beliefs about school culture and climate. For instance, we can take an affirmative statement that represents a desired end goal such as “Nearly all of our students can be successful in a Tier 1 instructional environment without interventions” or “We can achieve equity in our extracurricular programs.” Then in small groups we can brainstorm questions like crazy without any self-censoring. Examples might be “How do we do this with English language learners?” or “What about students who don’t have transportation home after school hours?” Then we can collect, organize, and prioritize all of our questions to uncover what concerns and needs we have around that topic. Finally, we would allocate resources and support structures to help us address those needs.

My students found a lot of value in the technique and recognized the power it can have in their future administrative careers. As Zac said, “[Your school] culture will tell you what it needs, but only if you ask it.” Let’s do more asking instead of telling or mandating…

Thanks for visiting, Zac!

Podcast – Harnessing technology for deeper learning

Last week my interview with Tom Vander Ark went live on the Getting Smart podcast. Tom grilled me about my law degree(!) and then we got to the core of the interview.

Tom and I talked about school transformation and instructional redesign, during which I uttered this immortal line:

GettingSmartpodcast

Hope you enjoy the discussion. Happy listening!

Failing our students

FailIf our students get a good grade in government class but leave class as apathetic, uninvolved future citizens… we have failed.

If our students pass the state reading test but never voluntarily read a book… we have failed.

If our students survive math class but end up hating math… we have failed.

And so on…

Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase said in their amazing book, Building School 2.0:

With almost everything we teach, we are always faced with two very different challenges. One, what are we doing to unlock the passions and skills of the 10 percent (or so) of the kids who either already are or could become so passionate about our subject that it becomes their course of study past their K-12 education? And two, what are we doing for the other 90 percent of the kids? Why is it important that they are taking the class?

What are our schools doing to help students find meaning and joy in the classes that they take, not just comply with course requirements? And how often and at what scale? If it’s only a few teachers or classrooms… we have failed.

Image credit: Fail, Kevin Krebs

Talking past each other

Anthony Kronman said:

When it comes to campus speech, the adversaries tend to divide into two recognizable camps. On the one hand are those who say: This is a special community, an inclusive community, we care about the well-being of all its members and we must see to it that they are not made to feel excluded, wounded, or depreciated. And to that end we need to be careful because speech hurts and offends and demeans. On the other hand, there are the speech libertarians who say that the tradition of free expression rests on the axiom that speech is the great engine of truth, and if that axiom applies to society at large, it applies with quadruple force on a campus, which is after all devoted to the truth.

They’re both wrong because they both miss something important.

The speech libertarians fail to understand that a college is a special community, but not the kind that those who are in favor of trimming speech for the sake of protecting feelings and inclusiveness conceive it to be. The idea of free speech, as a political value, has nothing to do with the idea of a conversation, which lies at the heart of the very distinctive community that a university represents. In the book I use the example of a speakers’ corner, a soap box in the park set up for whoever wishes to use it. People come and go, they talk about whatever they wish, they insult, they harangue, they respond. And that’s great, that’s an important part of our political culture. No one would wish it otherwise. The people who speak and the people who listen are trying to persuade or resist being persuaded. But you cannot describe what is happening as a conversation.

But talking past each other in a classroom: That is out of keeping with the requirements of the conversational ideal, and it is the responsibility of the teacher to keep that ideal in view at all times. That is a special, rare, and valuable enterprise which the speech libertarians simply don’t notice. By the same token, the defenders of limits on speech for the sake of inclusion do not have it in view either. What they miss is the way in which institutionalized forms of sensitivity compromise the conversational ideal and reinforce the idea that what ultimately matters is how I see the world, rather than the prospect for achieving some shared foothold on the ground of reason and truth. Always an aspiration that we fall short of achieving – I have no illusions about that – but the fact that you don’t achieve it does not to my mind deprive the ideal itself of its magnificent force.

via https://www.chronicle.com/article/Elite-Schools-Are-National/246657

We need our classrooms to be safe spaces that value a diversity of perspectives and experiences. We also need them to be spaces in which we can have conversations that may push on our existing worldviews and make us uncomfortable…

Don’t ever pay for someone to come tell your organization about ‘generational differences’

Skeptic SueAlfie Kohn said:

What takes this little game from merely silly to obnoxious is the following rule: You must attribute unflattering adjectives to cohorts younger than your own – even though yours was on the receiving end of similar disparagements not so long ago. Thus, those who came of age in the sixties were written off as longhaired, unamerican, potsmoking relativists with a deficient work ethic. At some point, though, they took the advice of disapproving passersby (“Get a job!”) and eventually decided that those younger than they – Generation X – were all slackers, unwilling to commit and unable to plan for the future.

Now those two groups finally have made common cause . . . to denigrate Millennials. Essentially everyone over the age of about forty has decided that today’s adolescents and young adults have been coddled and indulged by their parents with the result that they – how shall we put it? – have a deficient work ethic and are unable to commit or plan for the future. These entitled little pissants were overcelebrated as children, given easy As and trophies “just for showing up,” and are now unable to hack it in the Real World.

The absence of historical perspective here is frankly astonishing. Rarely do older folks pause and say, “Wait a second. If these snide truisms about young people that I’m confidently repeating aren’t all that different from what our elders said about us, might that be reason to question their validity?”

Are young adults in the workplace more fragile and demanding than new hires of yesteryear? Here’s Google’s director of human resources:

Every single generation enters the work force and feels like they’re a unique generation, and the generation that’s one or two ahead of them looks back and says, ‘Who are these weird, strange kids coming into the work force with their attitudes of entitlement and not wanting to fit in?’ It’s a cycle that’s been repeated every 10 to 15 years for the last 50 years…. If you look at what their underlying needs and aspirations are, there’s no difference at all between this new generation of workers and my generation and my father’s generation…. We [all] want to be treated with respect, we want to have a sense of meaning and agency and impact, and we want our boss to just leave us alone so we can get our work done.

 Read the whole thing at https://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/generations

Image credit: skeptic sue, Kai