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Can we really call it learning?

Forgetit

If a student holds on to something she read, heard, or did in class just long enough to regurgitate it back on an assessment but has little to no memory of it a few weeks later, can we really call it ‘learning?’

How much of what students ‘learn’ in school falls into this category?

Image credit: forget it, fake is the new real

Should schools be a refuge from the societal onslaught of digital technologies?

Doomisyourfate

I said in a comment:

Any school or classroom or educator that ignores our digital information landscape, our digital economic landscape, and our digital learning landscape – or relegates children to passive consumption rather than active participation and interaction in those landscapes – is doomed to irrelevance. The argument that school should be a refuge from digital technologies is a desperate plea to hold on to our analog past.

via http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/social-media-valuable-tool-teachers/#comment-1622241200

Image credit: Doom is your fate, Chris

Our technology messages are important

Important message

When we take away technology access because of student behavior concerns, we send the message that digital devices and the Internet are optional, ‘nice to have’ components of schooling rather than core elements of modern-day learning and teaching.

When we ban teachers from using social media – but not other forms of interaction – to communicate with students in or out of school, we send the message that we are unable to distinguish between behaviors and the mediums in which they occur.

When we decline to devote adequate time or support for technology-related professional learning and implementation, we send the message that low-level or nonexistent usage is just fine.

When we require educators to go hat in hand to IT personnel to get an educational resource unblocked, we send the message that we distrust them so they must be monitored.

When we wag our fingers at students about inappropriate digital behaviors without concurrently and equally highlighting the benefits of being connected and online, we send the message that we are afraid of or don’t understand the technologies that are transforming everything around us.

When we make blanket technology policies that punish the vast majority for the actions of a few, we send the messages of inconsistency and unfairness.

When we ignore the power of online and social media tools for communication with parents and other stakeholders, we send the message of outdatedness.

When we fail to implement hiring, induction, observation, coaching, and evaluation structures that emphasize meaningful technology integration, we send the message that it really isn’t that important to what we do in our classrooms.

When we treat students as passive recipients of teacher-directed integration rather than tapping into their technology-related interests, knowledge, and skills, we send the message that they don’t have anything to contribute to their own learning experiences. And that control is more important than empowerment.

When we continue to place students in primarily analog learning spaces and ignore that essentially all knowledge work these days is done digitally, we send the message of irrelevance to our students, parents, and communities.

Are these the messages that we intend to send with our technology decision-making (or lack thereof)? Often not, but what counts is the perceptions of the recipients of our decisions. 

What technology messages is your school system sending? (and what would you add to this list?)

Image credit: Important message, Patrick Denker

Grading and assessment as an opportunity

Greg Jouriles said:

We have the grade problem at my high school. In the same course or department, a B in one classroom might be an A, or even a C, in another. It’s a problem for us, and, likely, a problem in most schools.

But it has also been an opportunity. Recognizing our grading differences, we opted to create a common conception of achievement, our graduate profile, and department learning outcomes with rubrics. Our standards now align closely with the Common Core State Standards. Second, we created common performance tasks that measure these standards and formative assessments that scaffold to them. Third, we look together at student work. Fourth, we have begun to grade each other’s students on these common tasks.

We could publish the results of these performance tasks, and the public would have a good idea of what we’re good at and what we’re not. For example, our students effectively employ reading strategies to comprehend a text, but are often stymied by a lack of vocabulary or complex syntax. We’ve also learned most of our students can coherently develop a claim, citing the appropriate evidence to support it when choosing from a restricted universe of data. They aren’t as good when the universe of data is broadened. They are mediocre at analysis, counter-arguments, rebuttals, and evaluation of sources, though they have recently gotten better at evaluating sources as we have improved our instruction and formative assessments. A small percentage of our students do not show even basic competency in reading and writing.

That’s better information than we’ve ever received from standardized testing. What’s also started to happen is that teachers who use the same standards and rubrics, assign the same performance tasks, and grade each other’s work are finding their letter grades starting to align.

And, this approach has led to a lot of frank discussions. For example, why are grades different? Where we have looked, different conceptions of achievement and rigor seem most important. So we have to talk about it. The more we do, the more aligned we will become, and the more honest picture of achievement we can create. It has been fantastic professional development – done without external mandates. We have a long way to go, but we can understand the value of our efforts and see improvement in student work.

via http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/07/09/36jouriles.h33.html

Suppressing students’ creativity and inquiry

Jeff Herzberg said:

What are we doing that suppresses students’ natural creativity and inquiry? And what are we doing to try and stop those things?

via https://twitter.com/mcleod/status/514074648531984384

Good luck with that

You want student learning to change but you don't want to change teaching or schooling. Good luck with that.

[FYI, doing even more of what you’ve been doing is not the answer]

When will we be ready?

Bored student waiting for time to pass (in class)

We see it every day in nearly every class. The students lean way back, eyes drowsy, barely paying attention, sometimes propping their chin up with their fist… we’ll call this ‘the slouch.’ Or they’re leaning forward, spine curled over, head resting on their arm or desk, as if to take a nap… we’ll call this ‘the slump.’ We can walk down the halls of almost any secondary school, peek in the doors or windows, and see numerous kids slouched or slumped while teachers talk, while videos play, while some class peers work quietly on their seat work. Youth are disengaged, unenergized, and apathetic … and we call this normal.

When will we be ready to own that many of (as we move up through the grades, even most of) the learning experiences that we create for students are BORING?

And that it’s not teaching them ‘grit’ or ‘resilience’ to make them suffer through what we’re providing?

Image credit: Waiting for time to pass, Richard Phillip Rücker

Which schools are the true ‘miracles?’

Hosierymillworkers

Let’s imagine that we lived in an era in which change was occurring incredibly rapidly. An era in which our information landscape was undergoing drastic transformations into new, previously-unimaginable forms. An era in which our economic landscape was destroying rock-solid, stable livelihoods due to threats from geographically-distant workers and/or devices that replaced not just human labor but also human cognition. An era in which our learning landscape was creating unprecedented powers and possibilities but also significant disruptions to deeply-entrenched institutions. An era which required ‘just tell me what to do’ learners and workers to be more autonomous and self-directed, that demanded that they be more divergent and unique rather than convergent and fungible. An era in which a premium was increasingly placed on adaptability, creativity, critical thinking, and collaborative problem-solving – all at a pace never seen before – just to make a basic living.

In this imagined era, would the ‘miracle schools’ touted by the media, policymakers, and educators be the ones that prepared kids to be successful on individually-completed, standardized assessments of low-level learning?

Image credit: Two of the tiny workers, U.S. National Archives

What kind of learning environments do high-poverty minority students deserve?

Paul Thomas says:

The public narrative around KIPP is based on embracing an authoritarian and highly structured model for high-poverty and minority students. Public schools have failed high-poverty and minority students in terms of disproportionate discipline and academic policies, including expulsion, suspension, failure, and retention; it appears by the evidence that KIPP and other “no excuses” charter schools mirror those failures instead of alleviating them. The school-to-prison pipeline and the school-as-prison dynamic are key elements of the larger mass incarceration era; KIPP’s association with strict discipline, high attrition, and selectivity are problematic for those of us who wish to break those cycles.

Public and charter schools are experiencing an increase in segregation of students by race and class; KIPP appears to be a part of that troubling pattern, again not a solution.

[In] Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope, … she details how KIPP and the other “no excuses” charters do in fact practice the sort of discipline policies about which I am critical: (1) a strict discipline code that includes SPARK (Carr, p. 11) and SLANT (making and maintaining eye contact, shaking hands, and other highly regimented behavior demands on students), (2) the Bench as as shaming discipline technique (Carr, p. 23), (3) a demanding culture that stresses “no excuses” for teachers and students (Carr, pp. 42-43), focusing almost exclusively on minority students from poverty (and not being implemented in white or affluent schools), and (4) depending so heavily on structure and external rewards that students falter once they enter college and have those elements removed (Carr, p. 188).

KIPP, specifically in its relationship with Teach for America (see Waiting for “Superman” and Carr), contributes directly and indirectly to several harmful and inaccurate claims about teaching and education: teaching quality is primarily a function of being demanding and not of experience or expertise (although this appears true only when dealing with high-poverty minority students since white and affluent students tend to have experienced and certified teachers).

via http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/criticizing-kipp-critics

Ames High band: Modeling innovation, risk-taking, and feedback

I’m pretty impressed with the Ames High School band directors. Not only are Chris Ewan and Andrew Buttermore facilitating a great band program musically (250+ students who give amazing performances), they also are modeling instructional innovation and risk-taking with technology. When our district provided laptops for students, for example, they immediately jumped on the opportunity for band students to record themselves and then submit their digital files for review. Many students are using SmartMusic to help them practice and – even cooler – marching band participants now can see what they’re trying to accomplish on the field because they’ve been sent a Pyware video that shows them what it looks like from the perspective of those of us in the stands. [Next up, Ohio State!]

But I think the most enthralling thing they’ve done to date was a video that they showed us during Parent Night last week (feel free to pause at any time to get the full effect):

How do you help a group of incoming 9th graders realize what it looks like when they’re out of step? Put a video camera on the track at foot level, of course!

BRILLIANT.

Imagine you’re a brand new band student… You’ve only been marching for a few days. You’re juggling learning new music with learning how to step in time. It’s difficult to see what everyone else is doing. Your opportunities for feedback are relatively limited in the large group. And so on. It’s easy to feel like maybe you’re doing better than you really are. Heck, you didn’t hit the student next to you today with your tuba, right? But the video doesn’t lie… “Wait, those are MY feet! And I’m not there yet.” And that other video from up in the stands that shows that our lines need work too? Also useful for helping me see where I fit into the overall picture…

Why do I like this video so much? Because it models creative ways to give kids feedback and because it uses technology to help students learn how to get better. As Chris Anderson noted in his TED talk, video often allows us to innovate more rapidly. Want your 9th graders to ramp up their marching band footwork as fast as possible? Show them – don’t just tell them – what it looks like…

How is your school using technology to help kids SEE how they can get better? (and, no, I’m not talking about ‘adaptive’ multiple choice software)

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