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What are we calling ‘rigorous’ learning?

Asking students to do even more low-level factual recall and procedural regurgitation work is not 'rigorous' learning. And it surely isn't vigorous learning either. @mcleod, dangerouslyirrelevant.org

Asking students to do even more low-level factual recall and procedural regurgitation work is not ‘rigorous’ learning. And it surely isn’t vigorous learning either.

We need schools to be different

iPad magic

As Clay Shirky has noted, we currently are living through ‘the largest expansion in expressive capability in human history.’ We no longer live in a world where we passively receive information that is broadcast out to us by large, centralized entities. Instead, we now live within multidirectional conversation spaces in which 12-year-olds can reach audiences at scales that previously were reserved for major media companies, large corporations, and governments. We all now can have a voice. We all now can be publishers. We all now can find each other’s thoughts and ideas and can share, cooperate, collaborate, and take collective action. Time and geography are no longer barriers to communicating and working together. 

In this new information landscape, formerly-dominant institutions are being forced to rethink all previously-held assumptions. For example, music companies are struggling to survive in a market where the model of wholesale album purchases and top-down advertising and dissemination is replaced by a granular system of individual song sales and peer-to-peer marketing and distribution. Similarly, the emergence of digital, multimedia, hyperlinked texts – and accompanying e-readers, tablet computers, and smartphones – is challenging our very definition of what constitutes ‘a book’ and is destroying traditional publishers’ and distributors’ revenue streams. Television, radio, magazine, newspaper, and movie/video companies are seeing their market share erode year after year as we increasingly turn to online – and often user-generated – information channels to learn and be entertained. Our entire information landscape – which is what schools are purportedly teaching students to master – has been changed irrevocably.  

We also are witnessing the early adolescence of a vastly different global economy. For instance, the rapid growth of the Internet and other communication technologies has accelerated the offshoring of jobs from the developed world. Complex corporate global supply chains locate manufacturing work wherever costs are lowest, expertise is highest, or necessary talent resides. Geographic or product niche monopolies disappear in the face of Internet search engines. Micro-, small-batch, and on-demand manufacturing techniques facilitate personalized and custom-order production. Whatever manufacturing work remains in developed countries is high skill, is high tech, and, more often than not, requires greater education than a secondary diploma. The low-skill industrial system that was the backbone of the developed world’s economies in the previous century is increasingly a bygone memory.

Like manual work that is non-location-dependent, knowledge work also is frequently done cheaper elsewhere. Service jobs are increasingly fungible, able to be located anywhere in the world that has an Internet connection. Ongoing workflow and final products are exchanged at the speed of light via e-mail, instant messaging, and other corporate networking tools. The same technologies that facilitate our personal social conversations also facilitate interconnected global commerce. As was done in previous decades for manufacturing work, the next two decades will see many complex service jobs broken up into component parts. Once these tasks are disaggregated, they will be done by lower-skilled workers who can do these discrete components of the overall work, facilitated by software. In other words, many high-paying service jobs will turn into globalized piece work. Since the service professions represent over three-fifths of America’s economy, the impacts of this are going to be quite significant.

We’re also realizing that work that previously required humans now regularly can be done by software. If the Industrial Revolution was about replacing humans’ physical labor with machines, the Information Revolution often is about replacing humans’ cognitive labor with computers. A large number of workers are discovering that their work, their skills, and their jobs are not as indispensable as they thought in a technological, hyperconnected, hypercompetitive global economy. Radical transformations are everywhere we turn.

Of course these changes also have resulted in dramatic impacts on learning. Students and educators now have access to all of the information in their textbooks – and an incredible wealth of primary documents – for free. They have access to robust, low cost or no-cost, and often multimedia and interactive learning resources (texts, images, audio, video, games, simulations) that can supplement, extend, or even replace what is being taught in their classrooms. Via collaborative Internet-based tools such as blogs, wikis, videoconferencing, and social networks, they can learn from and with students and teachers in other states or countries. They also can quickly and easily connect with authors, artists, business professionals, entrepreneurs, physicians, craftsmen, professors, and other experts.

Students and teachers now can more authentically replicate (and actually do) real-world work through the use of the same tools and resources used by engineers, designers, scientists, accountants, and a multitude of other professionals and artisans. They can share their own knowledge, skills, and expertise with people all over the world. They can find or form communities of interest around topics for which they are passionate and they can be active (and valued) contributors to the world’s information commons, both individually and collaboratively with others.

Essentially, we now have the ability to learn about whatever we want, from whomever we want, whenever and wherever we want, and we also can contribute to this learning environment for the benefit of others. The possibilities for learning and teaching in this information space are both amazing and nearly limitless, but right now this learning often is disconnected from our formal education institutions.

If it is difficult to overstate the technological disruptions that are occurring around us, it is equally difficult to understate the lack of progress that most schools have made in response to these overarching societal transformations. The reluctance of school systems to significantly alter existing pedagogical and organizational practices has long been catalogued. Unfortunately, these trends continue today. For instance, while students increasingly are self-directed learners and active technology users outside of school, their learning work inside of school – particularly for independent, technology-suffused, higher-level cognitive activities – has not changed much. As the Consortium for School Networking has noted, “educational mindsets and school cultures do not yet align learning to the realities of the 21st century.

This is true even in our numerous 1:1 computing environments that now exist. Although we have pockets of success here and there, for the most part we still are implementing a 20th (and sometimes 19th) century model of education despite the demands of our 21st century society. If you look at the basic learning and teaching work that occurs in most of our classrooms, it is still primarily transmissive: students passively receive information from the teacher or textbook or Internet or software and then regurgitate it back to show that they have ‘learned’ (and the teacher has ‘covered’) the required low-level facts or procedures. While this may have been fine for an industrial society, this model of schooling is woefully inadequate to prepare graduates for the more complex demands of our new information and economic landscapes. If every other societal sector is finding that transformative reinvention is necessary in our current climate, schools shouldn’t expect that they somehow will be immune from these changes. We shouldn’t pretend that these revolutions aren’t going to affect us too, in compelling and often as yet unknown ways. And, yet, if you look at what is happening in most classrooms on most days, the learning and teaching work that is occurring looks incredibly similar to that done many decades ago.

All of this has been a long run up to basically say that – if we truly care about preparing kids for life and work success – we need schools to be different. If economic success increasingly means moving away from routine cognitive work, schools need to also move in that direction. If our analog, ink-on-paper information landscapes outside of school have been superseded by environments that are digital and online and hyperconnected and mobile, our information landscapes inside of school also should reflect those shifts. If our students’ extracurricular learning opportunities often are richer and deeper than what they experience in their formal educational settings, it is time for us to catch up. In other words, schools’ knowledge work and workforce preparation should match the needs and demands of our time.

As you can imagine, these changes are incredibly complex and the challenges that face us today as school leaders are tremendous. Somehow we have to reinvent learning and teaching and schooling, often in direct opposition to parent and community mindsets about what school should look like (hint: like it did when they were kids). Somehow we have to shift our schools’ overwhelming emphasis on low-level knowledge work into something that better meets our graduates’ needs to navigate vastly different information and economic spaces. Somehow we have to balance creating schools of the future with policymakers’ attempts to further reify schools of the past. And the toughest part of all of this is that we don’t even know what many of the answers should be. But we at least should be having the right conversations and asking the right questions. 

There are a lot of different things going on in schools and they’re all important. But remedying the relevance disconnect between school and society is the most important educational and equity work of all. We have a moral imperative as school leaders and policymakers to face these challenges head-on and try and create new futures and possibilities for the children and adolescents that we serve.

Image credit: iPad magic, Aikawa Ke

Option B

Letterb

Option A: students complete a paper (or electronic) worksheet of low-level knowledge and/or procedural skills
Option B: something else

Option A: students read pages from a dry-as-toast textbook and then answer publisher-provided regurgitation questions
Option B: something else

Option A: students sit quietly and take notes while a teacher lectures from her PowerPoint
Option B: something else

Option A: students do 15 more practice problems on material many of them already know
Option B: something else 

Option A: students complete a word search or word find to ‘learn spelling’ and/or kill time
Option B: something else 

Option A: teacher gives a pop quiz to hold students ‘accountable’ for homework they see as meaningless
Option B: something else

Option A: teacher uses ClassDojo or other behavioral control systems to force kids to comply with disengaging work tasks
Option B: something else 

and so on… (what would you add?)

I wished we picked Option B more often.

Image credit: B, by Chris

With great power comes great… opportunity

Spiderman

The oft-quoted line from the Spider-Man movie is, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

But maybe instead it should be, “With great power comes great opportunity.”

Now that mobile computing devices connected to the Internet are becoming ubiquitous, we have unprecedented power at our educator fingertips. How many of us have stepped up to the opportunity?

Image credit: Meeting Spider-Man, Loren Javier

Questions for student retention advocates

question mark cuff links

Here are a few questions that we can ask folks who advocate for student retention…

  • In John Hattie’s highly-influential research compilation, Visible Learning, retention is one of the few factors – along with summer learning loss, student mobility, and excessive TV watching – that actually negatively impacts student learning. Why should we implement a practice that we know sends students’ learning in the wrong direction?
  • Why should a very small handful of reports from ideologically-biased think tanks outweigh the hundreds of peer-reviewed scholarly studies over 4+ decades that unanimously show how detrimental the effects of student retention are?
  • Do the reports that are cited in favor of student retention show actual long-term impacts (thus rebutting the 4+ decades of scholarly research) or just expected shorter-term achievement bumps that, as in previous studies, likely will wash out in the upper grades?
  • Do you believe that children learn at different rates?
  • Would hiring a private tutor for the next year cost less than paying for a retained student’s additional year of schooling?
  • Why should 8-year-old children bear the academic and life burden of others’ desires to hold their teachers or parents ‘accountable?’
  • Retention advocates mention all of the supports that will be put into place to help kids learn to read. Those are fantastic ideas and are much-needed. Couldn’t we do all of those without also implementing the harmful practice of retention?

What would you add to this list?

Image credit: Questions, Tim O’Brien

Keynote – Iowa Council for Social Studies

Iowa Council for Social Studies 2014I had the honor of keynoting the Iowa Council for Social Studies conference last month. I only had 30 minutes so of course I had 186 slides! I usually avoid giving (or attending) firehose presentations but I made an exception this time in order to highlight the breadth of resources available to social studies educators if they choose to partake.

You are welcome to view my slide deck (notes, comments, and URLs are attached). Attendees were notified both before and after my keynote that this would be available to them so they could just immerse themselves in the flow of my presentation. Let me know if you’ve got thoughts or questions. My favorite slide is at the end when I said, ‘We have to fall out of love with our own voices and enable those of our students instead!”

#IAedchat LIVE

I had the privilege of being the guest for #IAedchat LIVE last night. Here is the video if you missed it. The conversation really gets started around 2:50. Happy viewing!

Factory models undermine personalization [SLIDE]

Undermining personalization

The current factory model of schooling – with its time-based, bell-curved grading system – will undermine all of our efforts to personalize education. – Tom Vander Ark (from The Shift From Cohorts to Competency)

Download this file: png pptx key

Image credit: battered conveyor belt, sharyn morrow

See also my other slides, my Pinterest collection, and the Great Quotes About Learning and Change Flickr pool.

A letter to Madysen

The letter reads:

Dear Madysen,

Over the last couple of months I have noticed your dedication to your drawings. You sit at your desk and at every spare moment you grab a drawing tool (pen, pencil, pencil crayon, or felt) and paper. You draw what you feel, and I love it! I need to ask you a favor.

Can you please decorate my desk? My desk needs a personality, and I think it needs yours. Draw whatever is in your heart. There is only one rule, you draw what your heart wants to draw, and not what you think I want to see.

If you agree to my request, please fill out this form and return it to me later today.

Thank you Madysen!

A gift of validation. An emphasis on strength rather than weakness. An unnecessary but memorable kindness.

Put that in a VAM formula…

(and, yes, she agreed)

ISTE Follow-Up 31: Miscellaneous education blogs (THE PUSH 2014)

The Push 2014

Final category! Below are all of the education blog categories for which I’ve solicited ‘the best of the best’ over the past few months. What’s left? And if you know of a blog for one of the previous categories that’s worth submitting, please submit to the list! (there’s a form at the end of this post)

What are some miscellaneous education blogs that P-12 educators and higher education faculty should be reading? Please contribute, see the responses, AND share this post with others so that we can get the best list possible.

What education blogs would you recommend? http://bit.ly/14ulBas Please share with others so we get a great list! #edchat #edtech

Thanks in advance for helping with this initiative. If we all contribute, we should have a bevy of excellent subject-specific blogs to which we all can point. Please spread the word about THE PUSH!

  • Agricultural education
  • Art education
  • Athletics / extracurricular activities
  • Business education
  • Career and technical education
  • Computer science / coding education
  • Counselors / school counseling
  • Curriculum
  • Drama / theater education
  • Education policy / reform
  • Educational technology / technology integration
  • Elementary classrooms (students are blogging)
  • Elementary teachers (teachers are blogging)
  • English / language arts education
  • English as a second language (ESL/ELL) education
  • Family and consumer sciences education
  • Gifted education
  • Math education
  • Media specialists / school librarians
  • Miscellaneous / other
  • Music education
  • Physical / health education
  • Preschool / early childhood education
  • Preservice preparation
  • Principals / schools
  • Science education
  • Secondary classrooms (students are blogging)
  • Social studies education
  • Special education
  • Superintendents / central office / districts
  • World languages education

—–

What is THE PUSH?

We are working together to identify excellent subject-specific blogs that are useful to P-12 educators. Why? Several reasons…

  • To identify blogs that P-12 educators can use to initially seed (or expand) their RSS readers (e.g., Feedly, FlipboardReeder, Pulse)
  • To facilitate the creation of online, global (not just local) communities of practice by connecting role-alike peers
  • To create a single location where P-12 educators can go to see excellent subject-oriented educational blogging
  • To highlight excellent disciplinary blogging that deserves larger audiences
  • To learn from disciplines other than our own and get ideas about our own teaching and/or blogging

We are looking for blogs with RSS feeds – particularly from P-12 educators – not sites to which we can’t subscribe. This is an effort to update the awesome but now heavily-spammed list we made 5 years ago!

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