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It’s 2018, not 1918. Basic skills are not enough.

NYC Schools Opening (U.S. Library of Congress)Here is a quote from Kentucky Education Commissioner, Dr. Wayne Lewis (who is a friend of mine). The context is a statewide conversation about higher education standards for Kentucky high school graduates.

On Tuesday, Lewis said the current system already penalizes students by not actually preparing them for success.

“When we give them a diploma without ensuring that they have basic skills and they go to post-secondary education and they hit a brick wall – when they get into those English and math gateway courses, when they don’t have the necessary basic skills or preparation to get a job and take care of themselves,” he said. “Those kids are held accountable right now.”

Compare this with the following quote from Dr. Marc Tucker, outgoing CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy:

The jobs that were lost to globalization are not coming back. They are being automated. American manufacturing is actually doing very well, but much of the manufacturing work that was done by people a few years ago is now being done by machines. The same thing is true of mining and steel making. The jobs of gas station attendants were automated years ago. The jobs of retail clerks are ebbing fast. Even the jobs in Amazon’s warehouses are being automated. AI-powered systems are doing legal research, diagnosing cancer, writing music, serving as network newscasters, and doing surgery.

The thing that unites the “left behind,” whether they are rural whites in communities with boarded-up storefronts and peeling paint on their homes or urban African-Americans without jobs or any prospect of getting them, is lack of the kind of education and skills that employers are willing to pay decent wages for. . . . The difference between the young people that Facebook is hiring at $140,000 per year for their first jobs and the UBER drivers in the same cities for $10 an hour is their education and skill levels.

With due respect to Wayne, I think Tucker is right. Basic skills aren’t enough these days for many/most American high school graduates to succeed in postsecondary and/or ‘get a job and take care of themselves.’ Basic skills are necessary but insufficient. If we don’t frame future readiness and life success as more than basic skills, we’re doing our students and graduates a grave disservice. As Tucker notes,

What unites the first phase of globalization with the second phase of globalization is the fact that, whether the work is manufacturing or services, whether it is highly skilled or low-skill work, the employer can look for people with the requisite skills anywhere. Whatever your skill level, you are now in competition with people all over the world who have similar skills and who are willing to work for less.

That is bad news for Americans because we charge a lot for our labor. That is especially true for our low-skill and semi-skilled people – people who have basic literacy, but little more. Many nations that were largely illiterate in the 1970s have now built education systems that are capable of producing levels of basic literacy equal to those in the United States, and those newly literate people are now competing directly with the workers in the United States who have only basic literacy, which is roughly half of our workforce. The cruel fact is that our low- and semi-skilled workers – roughly half of our workforce – are very high priced in the global market for labor. That is why their real wages have not gone up in decades. They are a commodity, and the price they charge at the minimum wage level for that commodity is more than they are worth on the global market.

Neither state nor federal policymakers can change that fact. And it is that fact, not unfair trade practices, that is leading ultimately to the kind of anger and despair that is corroding our politics. I refer here not only to the anger and despair of rural and urban working-class whites, but also to the despair of inner-city African-Americans and many Latinos who are also trapped by the dynamics I have just described.

We must have a bigger vision for our graduates than basic skills. And we need to stop using this term as if it were enough.

SIDE NOTE: While we’re at it, we also know that 3rd grade retention is one of the dumbest things we can do in school. As a researcher and former university educational leadership faculty member, Wayne should know better than this.

Image credit: N.Y. schools opening, Library of Congress

Why we don’t recommend using the 4 Shifts Protocol as a classroom observation tool

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningJulie Graber and I often get asked if the 4 Shifts Protocol can be used as a comprehensive walkthrough or observation tool. While the protocol is open source and people can do whatever they want with it, we do NOT recommend using it in this manner. Here’s why…

The protocol is made up of numerous sections and discussion items. Unless a teacher is creating a many-week, interdisciplinary, group project for her students, it’s nearly impossible for her to address all of the items on the protocol in a short lesson or unit. If the protocol is used as an observation or walkthrough instrument, the teacher inevitably will not be doing many of the items. It seems unfair to penalize the teacher for not doing the impossible. The last thing we want is for principals, coaches, or mentors to walk into a teacher’s classroom with a big list from the protocol saying ‘nope, nope, nope!’

The protocol is designed to honor instructor purpose. In our workshops and new book – and as the #1 suggestion on the protocol itself – we emphasize that it’s much better if a teacher identifies a protocol section or a few bullet points to focus on. The goal of the protocol is to help educators gradually shift their instructional practice and build new skill sets, mindsets, and competencies. If we force teachers to work on areas that they’re not ready for or comfortable with yet because it’s on a walkthrough template, we risk alienating them from the important work that we want them to do. We encourage giving teachers as much choice as possible regarding which sections to work on, which items to work on within a section, and how deep to go on any particular item. If we use the protocol in this manner, it can be very accommodating of teachers’ different instructional orientations, skill sets, and comfort levels.

The protocol is designed to be as nonjudgmental as possible. One of the problems with SAMR and the Arizona / Florida Technology Integration Matrices, for instance, is that there is inherent judgment when we place teachers’ instructional practice into levels. As soon as we tell a teacher that she’s at the Substitution level on SAMR, for example, she’s going to feel at least a little bit judged and perhaps a lot defensive. That is not the stance with which we want to approach instructional redesign conversations. We frame the protocol as a discussion tool that hopefully can help us accomplish the goals that we set for a particular instructional activity. We’re not interested in judging anyone. We ARE interested in helping educators identify what they want to work on and then using the protocol to help them get there.

As we say in the book, we encourage educators to think about the protocol sections as sets of experiences that we want students to have multiple times each school year. Do we want students to have multiple opportunities for deeper learning this year? To have multiple opportunities for agency over their own learning this year? To have multiple opportunities to engage in authentic, real world work this year? To have multiple opportunities to use technology in meaningful ways and boost their communication and collaboration skills this year? A big YES to all of those. But today or this week – for this particular lesson or unit – we’re just hitting a few bullet points. Don’t bug us about the other ones – those happen at other times during the year. It would be okay to ask us about our plans to cover each of the sections multiple times over the course of this year. But please don’t mark us down for only focusing on one section or a few items in this lesson or unit. That’s exactly what we should be doing. Give us some feedback and suggestions in a pre- and post-conversation about what you see regarding the few questions that we’re focusing on, but please honor our intentionality.

I hope all of this makes sense. The only way I might be comfortable using the protocol as a walkthrough or observation device was if it was used occasionally as an environmental scan, just to take a pulse of what’s happening – or not – within a school across classrooms. Otherwise, we encourage everyone to use the protocol as a conversation sparker and redesign tool, not a mechanism for judgment.

Thanks. Let me know your thoughts!

Career-ready capstones [VIDEO]

America Achieves has been sponsoring an Educator Voice Fellowship program here in Colorado. They have an upcoming event where they will highlight the work that these awesome educators have done regarding authentic performance tasks and career-ready capstone experiences. Thought I’d share the video… we need more of this kind of student work and authentic assessment!

Happy viewing!

SEL shouldn’t be a canned curriculum that we buy

Teacher in library with studentsJennifer Rich said:

It has been lamented before that our children are overprogrammed and our schools are pushed to the brink with standards and standardized tests. We have also managed to slip down the rabbit hole with character education and social-emotional learning. Somehow, rather than following Mister Rogers’ lead, rather than being responsive to what our children need when they need it, our school districts buy expensive social-emotional learning programs.

We spend thousands to import standardized curricula to teach young children about regulating their emotions, while never pausing to ask the kids in front of us what feelings they have, and why. Schools embrace “character counts” programs and offer students rewards for kindness, rather than simply expect kindness from everyone and model it ceaselessly.

What if we took the bold, brave step and did what Mister Rogers did in each episode: slow down? Rogers took time to explain things to his young friends: feeding the fish, how long one minute really is, how to control “the mad you feel,” and what it means to be a friend. Perhaps our classes would be a chapter behind in math. It is possible, even likely, that they would be better human beings learning math, better able to envision using their new skills in democratic ways.

via https://hechingerreport.org/opinion-mister-rogers-voice-of-reason-in-the-tumultuous-60s-still-rings-true

Great point. Reminds me of all of those awful advisory period / home room curricula that schools can purchase… Hey, teachers, connect with your students by implementing this artificial activity that we bought for you to use!

We can’t purchase meaningful relationships with students from a vendor.

Image credit: Teacher in library with students, weedezign, BigStock

Our new book, Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning, was released today!

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningAfter 4+ years of piloting our 4 Shifts discussion protocol with thousands of educators, I am delighted to announce that our new book, Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning, is now available!

Over the past few years the protocol has really started to take off. In schools and districts all around the world, we have teachers, principals, instructional coaches, and technology integrationists who are integrating the protocol into their instructional (re)design work. We are finding that the protocol accommodates a variety of educator starting points, skill sets, and comfort levels. It’s a great complement to SAMR because it’s an instructional discussion tool, not just a technology usage continuum. And it’s occupying a wonderful design space between more traditional practice and full blown, ‘gold standard,’ multiple-week PBL projects.

To celebrate the book’s release, Julie Graber and I are inviting educators to participate in the #4Shifts Challenge and publicly (re)design a lesson, unit, or instructional activity using several of the sections or bullet points in the protocol as levers for (re)design. If we want deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion to happen, we have to design for them. We hope that you will join us in sharing what powerful instructional redesign can look like. We need examples that we can point educators to for inspiration! If you’re game, simply post your redesign and share it using the #4Shifts hashtag, which will help us find your post and drive some traffic to your site! Thanks!

Why buy the book when the protocol is free?!

The protocol is open source and always will be, as will numerous other resources on the 4 Shifts Protocol resource page. Feel free to use and/or modify those resources as desired. The new book, however, takes a deeper dive with the protocol. In the book we provide eight concrete examples of lesson and unit (re)design so that you can see the protocol in practice across various grade levels and subject areas. The book is aimed squarely at practitioners and their day-to-day instructional (re)design needs. We also explain in the book why we think the protocol is a great complement to SAMR, TPACK, RAT, PIC-RAT, and the Arizona and Florida Technology Integration Matrices. And we include numerous tips and suggestions for using the protocol in your school(s)!

Let Julie and I know what you think. Please reach out if you have questions or if there are ways that we can be of support to you. We are happy to set up a chat to address questions or concerns and share how we are using the protocol with educators. And if you feel like leaving us an Amazon review, we’d love that too! 

A great big thank you to the thousands of educators who have helped make the protocol better!

Inspiring… or not

Stop stealing dreams, by Seth GodinLearning math by building bridges or designing aircraft wings is inspiring. Chugging through the odd-numbered practice problems at the end of the chapter is not.

Improving our community by collecting data and investigating the causes of local environmental challenges is inspiring. Participating in artificial, recipe-like science ‘experiments’ from a publishing company is not.

Wrestling with controversial but important political issues is inspiring. Regurgitating decontextualized historical names, dates, and places is not.

Writing for and advocating to authentic audiences around societal issues that we’re passionate about is inspiring. Writing 5-paragraph essays about books that we don’t care about is not.

Investigating our own questions about the world and how it works is inspiring. Spitting back the ‘right answer’ to someone else’s low-level questions is not.

Finding areas of interest and passion is inspiring. Slogging through a lifeless textbook is not.

Active, energetic, enthusiastic, maybe messy, and probably noisy collaboration is inspiring. Working in isolation and sitting quietly in rows and columns are not.

Using technology to learn with and from students in other parts of the world is inspiring. Using technology to complete digital worksheets is not.

Interdisciplinary learning that is seen by students as meaningful, authentic, and connected to the real world is inspiring. Subject-siloed, isolated, disconnected learning is not.

Internships and community partnerships and impactful service learning opportunities are inspiring. Pretend word problems and scenarios are not.

Learning spaces that honor children’s dignity and value their worth are inspiring. Learning spaces that are overwhelmingly focused on compliance are not.

And so on…

Inspiring… or not. What vision are we selling to our students, parents, and communities?

And, no, we don’t have to do the uninspiring before we can get to the inspiring, particularly if we rarely get beyond the former…

Image credit: Stop Stealing Dreams, Seth Godin

Incented memorization

Seth Godin said:

Useful modern education is not the work of rote. When you tell someone the answer and then give them a test to see if they remember what you told them, that’s not education, it’s incented memorization.

via https://seths.blog/2018/09/the-trick-question

What do you want school to be? [VIDEO]

A wonderful video from the Early Learning Alliance. Some of my favorite quotes include:

  • I want school to do no harm. I don’t want my kids coming home less interested in their world than when they left. [YES!!]
  • I wish I felt like I had somewhere to go to learn about what I’m interested in.
  • I seriously just don’t want to be annoyed by mindless crap in my kids’ backpacks. It’s 2018. Are you telling me that those worksheets are still the best we have to offer?
  • I want school to be a reflection of where we are going, not where we have been.
  • I want school to be harder. They go a mile wide and an inch deep. No one needs that in today’s world… I’m pretty sure that’s why God invented the Internet.
  • I want school to not stress me out over stuff that doesn’t really matter. Some of that stuff we are expected to remember, I doubt any adult knows that stuff.

How could you use this video in your own setting? Or, better yet, what could you make with your own community? 

Happy viewing!

Are your equity efforts aimed at test scores or life readiness?

Physics word problem... who cares?

Jason Glass said:

I have an assignment for you. Tonight, I want you to go on the internet and download some worksheets on quadratic equations – try for at least 20 of them … on each side of the page, spend some time memorizing the periodic table, and while you’re at it memorize the major dates, battles, and generals associated with the American Civil War.

Let me break it to you ahead of time: these tasks are going to suck. They are mind-numbing and you will find yourself wondering … how is any of this relevant, important, or useful to me? Unless you teach high school math, chemistry, or history and do so using a very traditional approach – it probably isn’t relevant, important, or useful.

In order to get kids to repeat and repeat and repeat these mind numbing tasks, you are going to have to bribe them, threaten them, provide extra tutoring and support for them, medicate them, and minimize other more vibrant, interesting, and engaging parts of their lives so they can focus on mastering those repetitive … and mostly useless and obsolete … tasks.

In Jeffco, we say keep the main thing the main thing – and that is student learning. More precisely, we need – at scale and with urgency – to profoundly change the tasks and experiences our students are having so that they are authentic, engaging, provide them the opportunity to practice complex and important skills, and to really prepare them for the world they will step into. We do this through the deep infusion of project and problem-based tasks which give our kids the chance to practice Generations skills.

People have argued with me about whether or not this kind of learning is “right” for kids from underserved backgrounds. I have heard that “those” kids “need” to focus on the basics, that they aren’t ready for complex thinking or a skills-based education, that they aren’t developmentally prepared to have agency, or to act as an active participant in their own learning. That “those” kids “need” a test-prep education so they can get higher test scores and close our “achievement gap.”

“The soft bigotry of low expectations.” Perhaps no more profound words were ever put forth by President George W. Bush … or at least his speech writer.

When we relegate our underserved students (or any student, really) to a narrow, repetitive, and routines-based education that does little in the way of preparing them for their lives and futures we have lowered our expectations for them. In my book, there is no greater moral failure for us as professional educators.

via https://advancejeffco.blog/2018/06/12/a-provocation-on-equity

I love this so much. Some kids get the opportunity to gain 21st century skills in addition to traditional content and to become ‘future ready.’ Some don’t. And we know which ones don’t. 

Equity is about much more than so-called ‘achievement gaps’ on standardized tests of low-level knowledge and procedures…

10 tech tools that will make you a super teacher!

Superman

Just kidding.

Because there are no tech tools that will make us super teachers. Pencils didn’t make us super teachers. Textbooks didn’t make us super teachers. Chalkboards and whiteboards and overhead projectors didn’t make us super teachers. VCR and LaserDisc and DVD players didn’t make us super teachers. Why should we expect computers and apps and online tools to do so?

Want to be a super teacher? Change what you do with students.

  • Do a learning audit. See how often students in your classroom spend time on lower-level thinking tasks (factual recall and procedural regurgitation) and instead create more opportunities for students to engage in tasks of greater cognitive complexity (creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, effective communication and collaboration, intercultural fluency, etc.). Find ways for students to live more often on the upper levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge wheel) than the lower ones.
     
  • Do an agency audit. See how often your classroom is teacher-directed versus student-directed. Find ways to enable greater student agency, voice, and choice. Create opportunities for students to have more ownership and control of what, how, when, where, who with, and why they learn.
     
  • Do an authenticity audit. See how often students in your classroom do isolated, siloed academic work. Ask students how often they struggle to find meaning and relevance in what you ask them to do. Create more opportunities for students to engage with and contribute to relevant local, national, and international interdisciplinary communities. Foster environments in which students can do more authentic, applied, real world work in context. Help students become more connected so that they can begin to create active networks with individuals and organizations for mutual benefit.

There isn’t – and never will be – a set of tech tools that will make us super teachers. We need to stop looking for them and look inward instead.

P.S. Want to be a super teacher? We have a (re)design protocol for you.

Image credit: Superman, Dayna

Good luck with that