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Go deep

Bob Lenz said:

Teachers have long struggled with the tension between breadth and depth.

It’s a hard choice, hard enough that we are tempted to avoid it, dismiss it as a false choice, or contend that it is a dilemma we can dissolve through tinkering. Maybe we don’t have to choose between covering a lot of content and focusing on a particular concept or skill. Maybe we can find a way to do both at the same time.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves. The tension is inescapable, and the choice is unavoidable: go with depth.

Depth is what the world demands of us. The explosion of human knowledge is not a 21st century phenomenon; it happened in the last century. Today, in this era of Big Data, explosive can hardly describe the exponential rate of growth. “Every two days,” says former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, “we now create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.”

So the answer to exploding knowledge is not more schooling but a different kind of schooling. This is what the concept of deeper learning is all about and why it came to be. To pretend that we can “cover” everything that students need to know is to tilt at windmills. We must rid ourselves of any residual notions that education is the transmission of needed knowledge. Rather, we must embrace the reality that we are teaching skills, and one skill most generally: how to ride a tsunami of knowledge whose future content we can’t even begin to imagine.

What this means, ultimately, is that content, though still vitally important, is always a means to the end of some underlying, conceptual understanding. Decades of research bear this out: when deep, conceptual understanding is achieved, learning is enduring, flexible, and real.

via http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning_deeply/2015/03/designing_for_deeper_learning.html

Be awesome, 7th graders [VIDEO]

The 7th graders at the International School of Brussels had an entire day of technology- and Internet-suffused awesomeness yesterday. I was asked to send them a short kickoff video for their day since they had previously watched my TEDxDesMoines talk. Here’s what I sent them…

ISB 01

ISB 02

ISB 03

Students already know much of what we’re supposedly ‘teaching’

Graham Nuthall said:

Our research shows that students can be busiest and most involved with material they already know. In most of the classrooms we have studied, each student already knows about 40-50% of what the teacher is teaching.

via The Hidden Lives of Learners, p. 24

We could solve this by pre-testing, yet not enough of us do…

Hat tip: Carl Hendrick

A culture of teaching and learning often produces great achievement but a culture of achievement rarely results in great teaching and learning

Drew Perkins said:

Perhaps the most saddening part of a Culture of Achievement is its low ceiling. While it may be politically and strategically smart to pursue the quick hits of raising test scores, it’s a fool’s bargain that limits the potential of our students in a myriad of ways.

What if we pursued a Culture of Teaching and Learning? One that placed an emphasis on things like deep, rich inquiry and craftsmanship? What if the learning had no ceiling and students were authentically assessed and did real-world work where they uncovered and discovered content? What if instead of disaggregating data our teachers engaged in quality professional discourse about their work in ways that excited them and their students? A Culture of Teaching and Learning often produces great (test scores) achievement but a Culture of Achievement rarely results in great teaching and learning. A Culture of Teaching and Learning rewards and professionalizes teaching and helps create students who are empowered by their possibilities and less than concerned with test performance.

If your school is looking to create great thinkers and learners and not just students stuffed full of content take a look at your culture. If your school is wishing your students were excited to be there instead of feeling the tension of just trying to attend and endure take a look at your culture. Is your focus on test scores and “achievement” or do your teachers and students engage in ways that allow them to grow and make meaning out of their learning in ways that tests don’t measure and quantify? Is the purpose of your school to produce great test scores or students capable of thinking creatively and critically about things that matter? 

via http://perkinsed.blogspot.com/2015/01/how-culture-of-achievement-is-hurting.html

Forcing students to read certain books

Pernille Ripp said:

Why do we continue to force students to read certain books when that is the number one thing ALL of my students report kill their love of reading?

via http://pernillesripp.com/2015/03/21/can-we-discuss-the-whole-class-novel-for-a-moment

Nostalgic for factual recall

The memorize cassette

Two quotes from today’s article in The Des Moines Register, Iowa Poll: Common Core not so radioactive for Iowans:

Ah, the good old days

When Iowa Poll respondents opposed to Common Core standards were asked about their objections, some lamented the shift from traditional teaching methods such as rote memorization of facts and formulas to a focus on more critical thinking.

Because we’ve learned nothing about teaching math in 50 years

Civil engineer Jack Burnham Jr., a 40-year-old independent voter, also has a “very negative” view. “I’ve got a math primer from the 1960s,” he said. “That math worked just fine.”

Shifting the public’s conceptions about learning and teaching is an ongoing, uphill battle…

Image credit: the memorize cassette, Robert Oxford

Why would students feel valued at school?

Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations

Without having seen the exact survey questions, here are some quick reactions I have to these data…

  • Why on earth would students say they feel valued at school? In most schools, students are told what to do nearly every minute of every school day, are generally treated as passive recipients of whatever adults foist on them, have their thoughts and opinions routinely and blatantly ignored or dismissed when it comes to day-to-day operations, and are punished whenever they deviate from organizational compliance structures. The number of schools in which students have significant input into things that actually matter is miniscule. But, hey, it’s all about the kids and we care.
  • Kids are bored. Gallup boredom data reinforce the Quaglia boredom data, as do the tidal waves of anecdotes from anyone you want to ask about their school experience. But we don’t seem to care enough to do anything about it.
  • Everyone’s a learner, everyone’s a teacher. Online we exist within interconnected, interdependent webs of learning and teaching. But not in school.

Your thoughts and reactions?

Data source: How to help kids find their aspirations

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Workshop responses: Incorporating students’ learning interests and passions

Here are some data from a workshop I did with 80 educators…

Student interests

What would this look like in your school? What could / should it look like?

Here are some more positive comments from the participants:

  • We enjoy celebrating out of class interests and talents
  • It’s great to let students choose their own topics based on their own interests for assignments whenever possible
  • Personal Finance class – students put together their own personal finance plans
  • Give choices in reading, math, and writing
  • Allow kids to come up with alternative assessments, as long as they apply to topic at hand
  • Anytime we can personalize assignments it gives them a chance to insert their passion

And some less positive comments:

  • Just because someone likes peas doesn’t mean you should feed them peas everyday. Sometimes you need to introduce something new.
  • One of my high school students said all he wants to do is “party” when he is an adult. It is hard to discuss that one in class!
  • Are their interests now the same interests they’ll have as an adult w/a family?
  • Their interests are nothing we have to assess
  • Is it the teacher’s job to motivate every student?
  • The Iowa Core doesn’t really allow for students’ passions to be incorporated into the classroom
  • Most of their interests are not part of the Common Core
  • Curriculum demands make it difficult–too much assessing
  • A number of students do not have Internet access or a computer at home.
  • Many do the quickest and easiest way

What are your thoughts?

The achievement gap v. the relevance gap

Future Wise, David Perkins

David Perkins said:

What did you learn during your first twelve years of education that matters in your life today?

The achievement gap asks, “Are students achieving X?” whereas the relevance gap asks, “Is X going to matter to the lives learners are likely to live?”

If X is good mastery of reading and writing, both questions earn a big yes! Skilled, fluent, and engaged reading and writing marks both a challenging gap and a high-payoff attainment. That knowledge goes somewhere! However, if X is quadratic equations, the answers don’t match. Mastering quadratic equations is challenging, but these equations are not so lifeworthy. Now fill in X with any of the thousands of topics that make up the typical content curriculum. Very often, these topics present significant challenges of achievement but with little return on investment in learners’ lives.

Here’s the problem: the achievement gap is much more concerned with mastering content than with providing lifeworthy content.

The achievement gap is all about doing the same thing better. . .  the relevance gap asks us to reconsider deeply what schools teach in the first place.

via Future Wise, Chapters 1 and 2

Hat tip: Mike Crowley

We don’t question the dentist’s new ways of doing things

Dental x-ray machine

Mike Crowley said:

many of us cling to the certainties of the way we were educated ourselves as “the right way” to do so. Any deviation from the tried and trusted can elicit nervousness and uncertainty, especially – and unsurprisingly – from parents. Our faith in the tried and the trusted is a little bit like holding onto the handrails in the deep end of a swimming pool. When schools suggest that the depth of experience is more vital than just skimming the surface, we are looked at sceptically. The same does not happen with other professions, of which we seem to be far more trusting. I went to my dentist recently in a lot of pain. He suspected my problem was sinusitis and pointed out that he had just invested in a hi-tech system that used a high resonance 3D imaging model to offer a visual understanding of the nature of pain itself. Did I resist this innovation? Question the use of this new technology? Ask if he knew what he was doing? Suggest that this is not what my dentist would have done in 1976? No, of course not. This only happens in schools.

via http://crowleym.com/2015/02/07/lifeworthy-learning-close-encounters-of-the-third-kind

Image credit: Dental xray machine, Diana Beideman

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