Featured interview in K-12 EdTech Magazine

Featured interview in K-12 EdTech Magazine

I had the honor of being the featured interview in the Winter 2024 issue of K-12 EdTech Magazine. Here are a couple of quotes from the article:

Keep asking the question, technology for the purpose of what? How you answer that question depends on your learning model. If your learning model is about teachers transmitting low-level knowledge with students regurgitating back factual recall, then your technology adoption and decision-making will revolve around that learning model.

AND

I think there’s a huge difference between viewing the student computer as a curriculum and content delivery device versus a student empowerment device. That shapes how we think about not only technologies but also professional development for teachers.

And I think what we see is that we spend most of that time focusing on the old traditional model of learning and teaching instead of how we do what we really need to do for the kids of today and beyond, and we seem to be fighting really hard to use today’s technology to replicate 1970s education.

Happy reading!

The best books I read in 2023

The best books I read in 2023

[I should have written this post a month ago but better late than never…]

I read some great (and not so great) books in 2023! Here are my top few (and why)…

My top book for 2023 was actually first published in… 1964! I’ve been sharing some quotes from How Children Fail by John Holt (and need to share some more). There is a reason that this book is an all-time education classic. I visited at least 50 deeper learning schools last year. As I drove around the country and talked with educators, nothing that I read last year resonated with me more than How Children Fail. Holt did a phenomenal job of sharing little vignettes from his work with children and pondering their meaning. Over the course of the book, those vignettes start adding up to more complex themes such as How do we really know if children have learned what we think they have? I could not stop thinking about this book all year.

I also read again An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger. Ron’s stories of mastery and excellent work stayed with me throughout the year too. As I visited deeper learning classrooms, I witnessed countless examples of children doing meaningful, impactful work that they were rightfully proud to share with me. I enjoyed this book so much a second time that I gave a copy to every student in one of my principal licensure cohorts. I also had a chance to attend (and present at) the EL Education National Conference (ELNC) for the first time since it was in Denver. If you’ve never attended, ELNC might be the best exemplar that I’ve ever experienced of giving young people authentic voice and participation opportunities at a conference. No patronizing student appearances in which adults pretend to listen to children. No condescending ‘oh they’re so cute’ panel discussions. Students at ELNC delivered multiple keynote talks that ABSOLUTELY ROCKED, and in every session I attended students were there, either facilitating or learning side-by-side with educators. It was fantastic.

Another top nonfiction book for me last year was Recoding America by Jennifer Pahlka, which gave me some different ways to think about technology adoption and implementation in government. If you’ve ever wondered why so much of state and federal government runs on extremely-antiquated technology systems, this is the book for you (hint: it’s both depressing and frightening). It’s also a really good book for thinking about systems-level change in public schools and universities.

Finally, it’s highly possible that Fix Injustice, Not Kids and Other Principles for Transformative Equity Leadership by Paul Gorski and Katy Swalwell might be the best book on educational equity that I’ve ever read. I appreciated the book’s emphasis on action, not just empty rhetoric. As I said in an earlier post, it’s immensely readable, very practical, and absolutely fantastic. I gave a copy to every student in another of my principal licensure cohorts. This book was definitely a strong contender for my top read last year.

As always, I read lots of nonfiction last year too. I’m not sure if anything leaped out at me in particular, other than the always phenomenal Gentleman Bastard series by Scott Lynch (which I’ve read numerous times):

Hope you’re reading something fun too!

Books I read in January 2024

Books I read in January 2024

Books I finished reading (or rereading) in January 2024…

  1. Ultimate Travel, Lonely Planet (travel)
  2. The Helsinki Affair, Anna Pitoniak (thriller)
  3. Heat Lightning, John Sandford (thriller)
  4. Embers of War, Gareth Powell (science fiction)
  5. Fleet of Knives, Gareth Powell (science fiction)
  6. The Toll, Neal Shusterman (science fiction)
  7. Gleanings, Neal Shusterman (science fiction)
  8. Crucible of Fortune, Andy Peloquin (fantasy)
  9. Storm of Chaos, Andy Peloquin (fantasy)
  10. Secrets of Blood, Andy Peloquin (fantasy)
  11. Ascension of Death, Andy Peloquin (fantasy)
  12. Eleventh Cycle, Kian Ardalan (fantasy)

Hope you’re reading something fun too!

Where are new tasks, work, and jobs emerging?

I ran across this working paper from Dr. David Autor, a labor economist at MIT:

Autor, D., Chin, C., Salomons, A., & Seegmiller, B. (2023). New frontiers: The origins and content of new work, 1940-2018. Quarterly Journal of Economics (forthcoming).

Autor et al. defined new work as “the introduction of new job tasks or job categories requiring specialized human expertise” (p. 1). In other words, in which occupational sectors are new tasks, work, and jobs emerging / declining, and for whom?

Here is an informative chart from page A13 of the Appendix (page 73 of the PDF):

Autor, Chin, Salomons, Seegmiller 01.

[download a larger copy of this image]

As we can see, the growth of new work in the Farm and Mining sector has been low since 1980 regardless of workers’ level of education. In contrast, for workers with a high school education or less, we can see larger growth in new work since 1980 in sectors such as Health Services, Personal Services, and Technicians. Growth for workers with some college education or higher since 1980 is primarily concentrated in the highest-earning sectors of Professionals and Managers. Workers with a high school education or less have seen some growth of new work since 1980 in those higher-earning categories too, but the overall data are more mixed. For instance, look at the large decline since 1980 in the Production sector and the concurrent declines in other sectors such as Construction, Transportation, Sales, and Clerical and Administrative.

The decades-long sorting of the American workforce by education level continues, with implications for lifetime earnings. Something to consider as we think about preparing ‘college and career ready’ graduates for life success…

Your thoughts and reactions?

Students don’t need agency

I’m going to leave these screenshots here so I don’t forget them… [sigh] Text is underneath each one.

No agency for students 01No agency for students 02.

ME: It would be a terrible, terrible thing if students ever got to learn about things THEY wanted, not just what WE wanted?

THEM: Adult discernment and responsibility doesn’t end at the schoolhouse door. We decide what children eat and wear, when they sleep and wake, and dictate how they care for themselves without a second thought. But somehow, adult care and judgment becomes tyranny in the classroom?

ME: Do you think that students should never, ever have any say or choice in what they get to learn about in school? That they should just always do what we educators impose on them?

THEM: With respect, your use of the word “impose” betrays a doctrinaire POV (and a set of assumptions) that can only make this conversation unfruitful and unsatisfying.

ME: What verb would you like me to use instead that describes us always deciding what students do and learn instead of sometimes letting them make some choices?

THEM: Teaching.

No agency for students 03No agency for students 04

THEM: No as this would not work for science, students have to learn things that make them uncomfortable, that they find difficult, that they don’t like. Novices aren’t good at having the expertise of deciding what is important about their subject matter.

ME: Whatever happened to scientific inquiry and the scientific method? Not for students, I guess. Understanding Scientific Inquiry Just teach them ‘science’ without engaging them as actual scientists… Inquiry in Science and in Classrooms

THEM: How did the very best scientists learn their science? Novices aren’t experts and only experts can apply the scientific method. Children are not scientists, they wouldn’t be doctors if I gave them a stethoscope and set them off treating patients in a hospital.

ME: “only experts can apply the scientific method” Huh. Our National Research Council and National Science Teachers Association here in the U.S. both disagree with you. But I’m sure you know better than they do… 

THEM: Do you think that children having stethoscopes and being in a hospital makes them doctors? Americans can be wrong about thinks, just look at your approach to guns and healthcare sure. Or because they’re American ideas it’s fantastic?

ME: No, I’m absolutely sure that you’re right and that the United States National Research Council and our National Science Teachers Association are both wrong. Must be nice to be so much more brilliant than all of our dumb scientists! 

No agency for students 05

THEM: A luxury belief stated by someone with the benefit of an education not chosen by a child

ME: It’s a luxury belief to feel that sometimes children should get to learn about what they want, not just what we want to impose on them? #yikes 

THEM: Occasionally. A small number of elective courses in high school makes sense.

No agency for students 06

THEM: Amazing that the ed field’s ‘experts’ continue to produce ideas like these, isn’t it?

ME: It’s ‘amazing’ that educators know the research on self-determination, autonomy, and agency and the concurrent impacts on human motivation and engagement?

No agency for students 07

No agency for students 08a

No agency for students 08

No agency for students 09ORIGINAL TWEETER: The six stages of belief in inquiry learning 1. Students learn better this way 2. Students learn better but not in a way that shows up on standardised assessments 3. OK explicit teaching is better for some basic things but inquiry learning is more motivating, right? 4. I have been doing this for years and I cannot have been doing the wrong thing all that time because I’m a good person who means well, right? …. …. 5. Maybe I’ll take a look at explicit teaching. 6. Why did I not know about this before!

ME: It would be a terrible, terrible thing if students ever got to learn about things THEY wanted, not just what WE wanted?

THEM: This is a fun way to reframe of what [he] posted, it doesn’t reflect the actual words he wrote though.

ME: His 4th stage literally says inquiry learning is “doing the wrong thing?”

ORIGINAL TWEETER: I know, right?

ORIGINAL TWEETER: You cannot *include* explicit instruction in an inquiry learning approach, at least not if you are using the form of explicit instruction that is backed by research. Why? Because it is a *whole system* that starts with teacher explanation/modelling and then gradually releases control to students. I do -> we do -> you do

No agency for students 10

THEM: I mean, no one is suggesting that kids not be allowed to pursue their own interests. They have a good 6 hours a day for that, plus summers and weekends. And sure, let them pick electives, genius hour projects, essay theses, etc. But are you seriously saying we should let kids make up the curriculum in schools?

Schools can feel totalitarian to many students

Schools can feel totalitarian to many students

I participated in a Twitter conversation yesterday that bounced around a bit. I believe that most of the folks I conversed with were from the United Kingdom. I also believe that many of them were in favor of what we might call ‘strict discipline’ in schools. One of the advantages of having a blog is that I am able to write about topics in ways that may be less possible over on Twitter. So with a thank you to my conversation partners in yesterday’s discussion, I’m going to dive right in…

I made two claims yesterday that I thought were uncontroversial but apparently were. The first was that:

1. There are lots of schools and classrooms in which children and families feel ignored, marginalized, controlled, and … perhaps … oppressed. Schools are not all wonderful caring places for every child.

Anyone who is involved with schools and children should know that some students thrive at schools and some feel marginalized. Some children feel empowered and validated by their school … and some don’t. Some children might even be actively harmed by schools. Schools are not the idyllic spaces for many children that we hope they might be. There are a variety of examples that we might come up with. Here are a few:

I don’t think that recognizing that schools often are marginalizing spaces for children is “inaccurate or grossly offensive,”nor is it a “slur against teachers,” nor does it obviate the fact that “the vast majority of teachers and school leaders are overworked, underpaid, and care deeply about the students.” We can have good-hearted, hard-working educators and school systems who care deeply about children AND students can still can feel ignored, marginalized, controlled, or oppressed within those systems. Both can be true.

Researchers study students’ negative experiences in school and… guess what?

2. We have plenty of research to back up the idea that children and families often feel ignored, marginalized, controlled, or oppressed at school.

Equity scholars and other researchers have studied student and family perceptions of schools for decades. These studies are pretty easy to find. Here are some example searches designed to pull forth negative perceptions:

Many of the stories and studies that appear in these searches explicitly discuss school behavior systems and policies. We also could add the words ‘discipline’ or ‘behavior policies’ to the search terms above to find more specific narratives or research related to school control of student behaviors.

I don’t know why my second claim seemed so fantastical to some of my conversation partners. Some believed that this research didn’t exist, or that it would be ‘flimsier than a soaking wet paper towel.’ But a lot of research has been published in peer-reviewed academic journals noting many students’ negative perceptions of schools generally and/or their discipline policies specifically. Education and equity scholars study a wide variety of topics related to traditionally-marginalized groups. For any demographic subgroup, there’s probably a decent body of research cataloging their perceptions of school, and often those perceptions of school are negative. Despite our best efforts, schools often mirror the marginalization of students and families that occurs outside their walls. At scale, this is a lot of children and families.

Many of my conversation partners kept asking me to provide evidence for one or both of these claims. I kept replying that they could easily find it but they didn’t believe me. I realized later that these two claims were so ‘extraordinary’ to them that they were lumping me with flat earthers.

Here are some other topics that we discussed yesterday…

3. Are schools and classrooms actually oppressive or is that just the perception of some students and families?

Does it matter? Perceptions shape reality. Since ‘oppression’ and ‘marginalization’ are subjective rather than objective terms, we’ll never be able to answer this question, and I’m not sure that’s the relevant issue anyway. I think that the relevant concern is “Do we care that some students and families feel that our schools and classrooms are marginalizing and oppressive and, if so, what do we do about it?” 

If you have read through some of the links above and still think that schools never emphasize control and compliance instead of care for children and respect for fundamental human dignity – or if you think that you get to determine whether others’ subjective thoughts are correct or true – or if you don’t care about that question I just asked in the previous paragraph – I’m not sure what else to say.

4. Should we use the word ‘totalitarian’ to describe certain schools and classrooms?

Some people really didn’t like the use of the word ‘totalitarian’ to describe strict behavior policies in schools. Indeed, that was the tweet that started the whole conversation. Oxford Languages defines totalitarian as “relating to a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state.” If you are required to attend school, if you’re told what to do almost every minute of every day, if you’re told what to say and when (and when not), if you’re told when and how to move (and when not), if you march from class to class in a proscribed fashion on someone else’s schedule, if you have little control of your time during the day, if you have little say regarding what you get to learn about, and if you’re punished, either academically or behaviorally, every time you don’t do those things, it doesn’t seem a far stretch for you to maybe feel that school is a totalitarian or oppressive space, particularly if your school also is invalidating or marginalizing key aspects of your identity. Peter Gray famously said that ’school is prison.’ We can see how many students might feel that way.

Some folks wished that critics of certain (strict) behavior policies used a different word. One complained that “teachers in favour of strong school behaviour systems are demonised and stereotyped (on Twitter) as child-hating; power-crazy monsters.” Some synonyms for totalitarian include authoritarian, autocratic, oppressive, and tyrannical. Other words we might use include strict, firm, structured, or restrictive. I postulate that if a student already feels that their school is ‘totalitarian’ or ‘oppressive,’ word policing them to use some term that is more palatable to authorities might feel even more… totalitarian or oppressive.

5. Should we expect others to engage in unpaid labor on our behalf?

I don’t think so. My unwillingness to gather some example research on a Sunday morning didn’t mean that I was prevaricating or evasive. It simply meant that I had other things to do on Sunday and didn’t feel like gathering resources for other folks for free that I thought were easily findable. Today I did feel like it, so here’s my post. 🙂 

I think that this blog post addresses most of the major points that we discussed yesterday. I don’t know if this post is ‘professor’-ish for some of my conversation partners, but this is what I’ve got on this Monday. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. Have at me in the comments (or on the online platform of your choice). 😉 

Books I read in December 2023

Books I read in December 2023

Books I finished reading (or rereading) in December 2023…

TOTAL FOR 2023 = 132 books

Hope you’re reading something fun too!

Books I read in November 2023

Books I read in November 2023

Books I finished reading (or rereading) in November 2023…

Hope you’re reading something fun too!

Real problems versus test problems

Real problems versus test problems

Robert Sternberg said:

The characteristics of real-world problems are entirely different from the characteristics of problems on standardized tests. Standardized test problems are mostly multiple choice or short answer and have a right or wrong answer. Real problems require extended answers; there is no perfect answer, and sometimes, not even a very good one. Standardized test problems are decontextualized, emotionally bland and have no real-life stakes. Real-world problems are highly contextualized, emotionally arousing and may have high stakes. Standardized test problems are solved quickly and then you are done; real-life ones often take a long time and, after you think you have solved them, often come back.

 

Most important, real-world problems require you actively to deploy your intelligence — to decide seriously to use it. Standardized tests measure an inert form of intelligence — one that may exist in your head somewhere but is rarely actually put into real-world use. Intelligence is not just about an inert ability to take tests; it is about the active deployment of that ability to solve problems of life.

 

 

Is adaptive intelligence really important? Well, you be the judge. Which skill is more important for the great majority of students in college once they have graduated: the ability to solve artificial verbal and math problems or, alternatively, to address and try to solve problems of global climate change, air and water pollution, global pandemics, bacterial resistance to antibiotics, gun violence against schoolchildren (other than the usual pathetic “our thoughts and prayers are with them”), and the return of would-be autocrats to declining democracies?

There’s usually a difference between academic work and authentic work, and that difference is important when schools talk about the ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ opportunities that they offer students. Looking at you, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, “advanced classes,” “honors courses,” etc…

Your thoughts?