Failing our students

FailIf our students get a good grade in government class but leave class as apathetic, uninvolved future citizens… we have failed.

If our students pass the state reading test but never voluntarily read a book… we have failed.

If our students survive math class but end up hating math… we have failed.

And so on…

Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase said in their amazing book, Building School 2.0:

With almost everything we teach, we are always faced with two very different challenges. One, what are we doing to unlock the passions and skills of the 10 percent (or so) of the kids who either already are or could become so passionate about our subject that it becomes their course of study past their K-12 education? And two, what are we doing for the other 90 percent of the kids? Why is it important that they are taking the class?

What are our schools doing to help students find meaning and joy in the classes that they take, not just comply with course requirements? And how often and at what scale? If it’s only a few teachers or classrooms… we have failed.

Image credit: Fail, Kevin Krebs


Talking past each other

Anthony Kronman said:

When it comes to campus speech, the adversaries tend to divide into two recognizable camps. On the one hand are those who say: This is a special community, an inclusive community, we care about the well-being of all its members and we must see to it that they are not made to feel excluded, wounded, or depreciated. And to that end we need to be careful because speech hurts and offends and demeans. On the other hand, there are the speech libertarians who say that the tradition of free expression rests on the axiom that speech is the great engine of truth, and if that axiom applies to society at large, it applies with quadruple force on a campus, which is after all devoted to the truth.

They’re both wrong because they both miss something important.

The speech libertarians fail to understand that a college is a special community, but not the kind that those who are in favor of trimming speech for the sake of protecting feelings and inclusiveness conceive it to be. The idea of free speech, as a political value, has nothing to do with the idea of a conversation, which lies at the heart of the very distinctive community that a university represents. In the book I use the example of a speakers’ corner, a soap box in the park set up for whoever wishes to use it. People come and go, they talk about whatever they wish, they insult, they harangue, they respond. And that’s great, that’s an important part of our political culture. No one would wish it otherwise. The people who speak and the people who listen are trying to persuade or resist being persuaded. But you cannot describe what is happening as a conversation.

But talking past each other in a classroom: That is out of keeping with the requirements of the conversational ideal, and it is the responsibility of the teacher to keep that ideal in view at all times. That is a special, rare, and valuable enterprise which the speech libertarians simply don’t notice. By the same token, the defenders of limits on speech for the sake of inclusion do not have it in view either. What they miss is the way in which institutionalized forms of sensitivity compromise the conversational ideal and reinforce the idea that what ultimately matters is how I see the world, rather than the prospect for achieving some shared foothold on the ground of reason and truth. Always an aspiration that we fall short of achieving – I have no illusions about that – but the fact that you don’t achieve it does not to my mind deprive the ideal itself of its magnificent force.

via https://www.chronicle.com/article/Elite-Schools-Are-National/246657

We need our classrooms to be safe spaces that value a diversity of perspectives and experiences. We also need them to be spaces in which we can have conversations that may push on our existing worldviews and make us uncomfortable…


Don’t ever pay for someone to come tell your organization about ‘generational differences’

Skeptic SueAlfie Kohn said:

What takes this little game from merely silly to obnoxious is the following rule: You must attribute unflattering adjectives to cohorts younger than your own – even though yours was on the receiving end of similar disparagements not so long ago. Thus, those who came of age in the sixties were written off as longhaired, unamerican, potsmoking relativists with a deficient work ethic. At some point, though, they took the advice of disapproving passersby (“Get a job!”) and eventually decided that those younger than they – Generation X – were all slackers, unwilling to commit and unable to plan for the future.

Now those two groups finally have made common cause . . . to denigrate Millennials. Essentially everyone over the age of about forty has decided that today’s adolescents and young adults have been coddled and indulged by their parents with the result that they – how shall we put it? – have a deficient work ethic and are unable to commit or plan for the future. These entitled little pissants were overcelebrated as children, given easy As and trophies “just for showing up,” and are now unable to hack it in the Real World.

The absence of historical perspective here is frankly astonishing. Rarely do older folks pause and say, “Wait a second. If these snide truisms about young people that I’m confidently repeating aren’t all that different from what our elders said about us, might that be reason to question their validity?”

Are young adults in the workplace more fragile and demanding than new hires of yesteryear? Here’s Google’s director of human resources:

Every single generation enters the work force and feels like they’re a unique generation, and the generation that’s one or two ahead of them looks back and says, ‘Who are these weird, strange kids coming into the work force with their attitudes of entitlement and not wanting to fit in?’ It’s a cycle that’s been repeated every 10 to 15 years for the last 50 years…. If you look at what their underlying needs and aspirations are, there’s no difference at all between this new generation of workers and my generation and my father’s generation…. We [all] want to be treated with respect, we want to have a sense of meaning and agency and impact, and we want our boss to just leave us alone so we can get our work done.

 Read the whole thing at https://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/generations

Image credit: skeptic sue, Kai


12 questions that help get at robust technology infusion

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningIf your goal for a lesson, unit, or other instructional activity is to infuse technology more robustly, consider these 12 questions from Section D* of the 4 Shifts Protocol. If you like your answers, awesome! Keep doing that! If you’re not where you want to be yet, pick a couple of questions and select your desired answers instead (e.g., Adults Outside of This School instead of Students In This School). Then do a redesign pivotHow could you redesign the student learning experience to get to your desired answers? Brainstorm with some colleagues or a coach about how to shift the two questions you picked toward richer technology integration. Then go do that instead to get closer to your goal!

D. Technology Infusion

  • Communication. How are students communicating?
    • Alone** / In pairs / In triads / In groups larger than 3
    • If with others, with whom? (circle all that apply) 
      • Students in this school / Students in another school / Adults in this school / Adults outside of this school
  • Communication Technologies. Are digital technologies being used to facilitate the communication processes?
    • Yes / No
    • If yes, in which ways? (circle all that apply) 
      • Writing, photos and images, charts and graphs, infographics, audio, video, multimedia, transmedia
  • Collaboration. How are students working?
    • Alone** / In pairs / In triads / In groups larger than 3
    • If with others, with whom? (circle all that apply)
      • Students in this school / Students in another school / Adults in this school / Adults outside of this school
    • If with others, who is managing collaborative processes (planning, management, monitoring, etc.)? 
      • Students / teachers / both
  • Collaboration Technologies. Are digital technologies being used to facilitate collaborative processes?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
    • If yes, in which ways? (circle all that apply)
      • Online office suites, email, texting, wikis, blogs, videoconferencing, mind mapping, curation tools, project planning tools, other
  • Technology Adds Value. Does technology add value so that students can do their work in better or different ways than are possible without the technology?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Technology as Means, Not End. When digital technologies are utilized, do the tools overshadow, mask, or otherwise draw the focus away from important learning?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Digital Citizenship. Are digital technologies utilized by students in both appropriate and empowering ways?***
    • Yes / No / Somewhat

* Actually, the very best ways to integrate technology into your lessons, units, or instructional activities would be to focus on some items from Sections A, B, and C of the 4 Shifts Protocol. Section D just contains some additional technology-related questions to think about. Sections A, B, and C help you focus on the learning, not just the technology, and thus better address the Technology Adds Value and Technology as Means, Not End questions in Section D.

** Working in isolation (no communication with others) or perhaps just communicating with teacher (e.g., call and response)

*** Effective digital citizenship conversations focus on both safe, responsible use AND empowering, participating use. Digital citizenship discussions ideally are natural extensions of and accompaniments to students’ ongoing, technology-enabled work rather than separate conversations or curricula.

The 4 Shifts Protocol is a fairly new resource that helps teachers, principals, and instructional / technology coaches shift student experiences toward deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion. The protocol provides some fairly concrete ‘look fors’ and ‘think abouts’ and can be used as both a diagnostic and a redesign tool. For best results, focus on claims and evidence. That is, if we say something is there (e.g., technology adds value), we should be able to point to it and say, ‘Yes, it’s right there and it’s awesome!’ 

So far the 4 Shifts Protocol is proving to be a nice complement to SAMR, TPACK, Triple E, PBL, UbD, and other instructional frameworks. And many educators are using these smaller shifts in existing lessons and units to build the capacity of themselves and their students to do more complex project- and inquiry-based work. The protocol is free and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike International copyright license, so use and modify it as desired!

Let me know what questions you have. Hope the protocol is useful to you!

See also


9 questions that help get at student agency and personalization

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningIf your goal for a lesson, unit, or other instructional activity is to have students drive more of their own learning, consider these 9 questions from Section C of the 4 Shifts Protocol. If you like your answers, awesome! Keep doing that! If you’re not where you want to be yet, pick a couple of questions and select your desired answers instead (e.g., Students instead of Teachers or Both). Then do a redesign pivotHow could you redesign the student learning experience to get to your desired answers? Brainstorm with some colleagues or a coach about how to shift the two questions you picked toward greater student agency. Then go do that instead to get closer to your goal!

C. Student Agency and Personalization

  • Learning Goals. Who selected what is being learned?
    • Students / Teachers / Both
  • Learning Activity. Who selected how it is being learned?
    • Students / Teachers / Both
  • Assessment of Learning. Who selected how students demonstrate their knowledge and skills and how that will be assessed?
    • Students / Teachers / Both
  • Talk Time. During the lesson/unit, who is the primary driver of the talk time? [who’s doing most of the talking, determining whom/when others can talk, etc.]
    • Students / Teachers / Both
  • Work Time. During the lesson/unit, who is the primary driver of the work time? [who’s making the decisions about the work time, ensuring progress, etc.]
    • Students / Teachers / Both
  • Interest-Based. Is student work reflective of their interests or passions?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Initiative. Do students have the opportunity to initiate, be entrepreneurial, be self-directed, and/or go beyond the given parameters of the learning task or environment?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Technology Selection. Who selected which technologies are being used?
    • Students / Teachers / Both
  • Technology Usage. Who is the primary user of the technology?
    • Students / Teachers / Both

The 4 Shifts Protocol is a fairly new resource that helps teachers, principals, and instructional / technology coaches shift student experiences toward deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion. The protocol provides some fairly concrete ‘look fors’ and ‘think abouts’ and can be used as both a diagnostic and a redesign tool. For best results, focus on claims and evidence. That is, if we say something is there (e.g., students’ opportunity to be entrepreneurial or go beyond the assigned task), we should be able to point to it and say, ‘Yes, it’s right there and it’s awesome!’ 

So far the 4 Shifts Protocol is proving to be a nice complement to SAMR, TPACK, Triple E, PBL, UbD, and other instructional frameworks. And many educators are using these smaller shifts in existing lessons and units to build the capacity of themselves and their students to do more complex project- and inquiry-based work. The protocol is free and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike International copyright license, so use and modify it as desired!

Let me know what questions you have. Hope the protocol is useful to you!

See also 


8 questions that help get at authentic, real world work

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningIf your goal for a lesson, unit, or other instructional activity is to move toward more authentic, real world work, consider these 8 questions from Section B of the 4 Shifts Protocol. If you like your answers, awesome! Keep doing that! If you’re not where you want to be yet, pick a couple of questions and select your desired answers instead (e.g., Yes instead of No or Somewhat). Then do a redesign pivotHow could you redesign the student learning experience to get to your desired answers? Brainstorm with some colleagues or a coach about how to shift the two questions you picked toward more authentic work. Then go do that instead to get closer to your goal!

B. Authentic Work

  • Real or Fake. Is student work authentic and reflective of that done by experts outside of school? 
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Authentic Role. Are students asked to take on an authentic societal role as part of their learning?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Domain Practices. Are students utilizing authentic, discipline-specific practices and processes? [Engaging in the actual practices and processes that are used by people in that discipline; for example, doing what historians, scientists, writers, artists, business professionals, etc. do, not some artificial or classroom version of that work]
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Domain Technologies. Are students utilizing authentic, discipline-specific tools and technologies? [Using the actual tools and technologies that are used by people in that discipline; for example, using the real tools that historians, scientists, writers, artists, business professionals, etc. use, not some artificial or classroom versions of those tools]
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Research and Information Literacy Strategies. Are students utilizing authentic, discipline-specific research, inquiry, and information literacy strategies?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Authentic Assessment. Are students creating real-world products or performances for authentic audiences?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
    • Contribution. If yes, does student work make a contribution to an audience beyond the classroom walls to the outside world?
      • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Assessment Technology. Are digital technologies being used in authentic ways to facilitate the assessment process?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat

The 4 Shifts Protocol is a fairly new resource that helps teachers, principals, and instructional / technology coaches shift student experiences toward deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion. The protocol provides some fairly concrete ‘look fors’ and ‘think abouts’ and can be used as both a diagnostic and a redesign tool. For best results, focus on claims and evidence. That is, if we say something is there (e.g., real-world products or performances for authentic audiences), we should be able to point to it and say, ‘Yes, it’s right there and it’s awesome!’ 

So far the 4 Shifts Protocol is proving to be a nice complement to SAMR, TPACK, Triple E, PBL, UbD, and other instructional frameworks. And many educators are using these smaller shifts in existing lessons and units to build the capacity of themselves and their students to do more complex project- and inquiry-based work. The protocol is free and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike International copyright license, so use and modify it as desired!

Let me know what questions you have. Hope the protocol is useful to you!

See also


8 questions that help get at deeper thinking and learning

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningIf your goal for a lesson, unit, or other instructional activity is to drive deeper student thinking and learning, consider these 8 questions from Section A of the 4 Shifts Protocol. If you like your answers, awesome! Keep doing that! If you’re not where you want to be yet, pick a couple of questions and select your desired answers instead (e.g., Yes instead of No or Somewhat). Then do a redesign pivotHow could you redesign the student learning experience to get to your desired answers? Brainstorm with some colleagues or a coach about how to shift the two questions you picked toward deeper thinking and learning. Then go do that instead to get closer to your goal!

A. Deeper Thinking and Learning

  • Domain Knowledge. Is student work deeply rooted in discipline-specific and -relevant knowledge, skills, and dispositions?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
    • Deeper Learning. If yes, is student work focused around big, important themes and concepts that are central to the discipline rather than isolated topics, trivia, or minutiae? [Do student learning activities and assessments go beyond low-level facts and procedures? Are students just regurgitating syntheses and analyses provided by an information source or the teacher?]
      • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Critical Thinking. Do learning activities and assessments allow students to engage in deep critical thinking and analysis?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Problem Solving. Do learning activities and assessments allow students to engage in complex and messy (not simple) problem solving?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Creativity. Do students have the opportunity to design, create, make, or otherwise add value that is unique to them?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Metacognition. Do students have the opportunity to reflect on their planning, thinking, work, and/or progress?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
    • If yes, can students identify what they’re learning, not just what they’re doing?
      • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Assessment Alignment. Are all assessments aligned cognitively with standards, learning goals, instruction, and learning activities? [Standards and learning goals drive everything, including depth of student thinking and the necessary accompanying assessments. Assessments should be aligned to the cognitive complexity asked of students.]
    • Yes / No / Somewhat

The 4 Shifts Protocol is a fairly new resource that helps teachers, principals, and instructional / technology coaches shift student experiences toward deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion. The protocol provides some fairly concrete ‘look fors’ and ‘think abouts’ and can be used as both a diagnostic and a redesign tool. For best results, focus on claims and evidence. That is, if we say something is there (e.g., complex, messy problem solving), we should be able to point to it and say, ‘Yes, it’s right there and it’s awesome!’ 

So far the 4 Shifts Protocol is proving to be a nice complement to SAMR, TPACK, Triple E, PBL, UbD, and other instructional frameworks. And many educators are using these smaller shifts in existing lessons and units to build the capacity of themselves and their students to do more complex project- and inquiry-based work. The protocol is free and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike International copyright license, so use and modify it as desired!

Let me know what questions you have. Hope the protocol is useful to you!

See also


Is the work really ‘authentic?’

If the ‘authentic work’ we assign our students in class doesn’t require them and their work to get out of the school building (physically or virtually) – at least for some of it – and is always assessed only by the teacher, is it really ‘authentic, real world work?’


How am I going to make this work relevant?

Peter Greene said:

… if your spouse says, “I’m looking for ways to make you interesting and appealing,” that is not a good sign.

Once you look at a lesson and ask, “How am I going to make this material relevant,” you have admitted that the material is not actually relevant. If that’s true–if the lesson is inherently irrelevant–then you need to ask a bigger question. Why are you teaching it at all? Because it’s on the test? Because your boss said you have to? These are lousy reasons to teach anything. More importantly, no amount of stapling on pictures of movie stars will convince your students that you aren’t wasting their time, and wasting students’ time is one of the unforgivable sins in the teaching biz.

Know why you are teaching what you’re teaching. Know why the material has value for your students. This is not always obvious, but this is where your expertise in the subject matter is supposed to come in. You’re the teacher–you’re supposed to know what the connection is between your content material and the business of being fully human in the world. If you don’t see a connection, you need to go study and look to find it, or you need to reconsider whether you should be teaching it at all.

Via www.forbes.com/sites/petergreene/2019/06/08/dear-teachers-please-dont-make-your-lessons-relevant


6 articles on teacher-assigned summer reading

Kids playing soccerThe school year is ending for most children here in America, and that means we also often see the imposition of schoolwork on students’ free time over the summer months.

Here is a quick collection of six articles and blog posts on teacher-assigned summer reading:

Read them or don’t… It’s summer. Read what you want!

Image credit: Kids play soccer