Nobody likes to hear it

Montanahighway

Nobody likes to hear that they need to change.

Nobody likes to be told that they’re not there yet.

Nobody likes the unrelenting messages that we need to do things differently.

And therein lies the challenge. Because we DO need to change, we DO need to do things differently, and we are NOT there yet.

But folks get defensive. And angry. Or they withdraw. Or they just get tired. Tired of hearing again and again that what’s occurring isn’t sufficient for either today or tomorrow. Even when maybe, just maybe, they also know it’s true.

It’s tough to be change advocates. Or change agents. Or pains in the butt, as some call us. It would be so much easier to temper the rhetoric, to roll back the expectations, to ramp back the pace. But we know that we need to stay the course. Because our students – and our educators – and our society – need and deserve something different.

So we try to capture hearts and minds and articulate visions of what can be. We try to show models and exemplars of places that are further along and doing some of this. We try to put in support structures to help folks get there. We ask really tough questions. We enlist allies. We help in any way that we can. We encourage and we plead. We push and we pull. Is it arrogance? Is it passion? Maybe it depends on your perspective.

We don’t always do it well. We don’t always succeed. Sometimes people hate us. But sometimes people are ready to get moving.

The journey continues…

Image credit: Montana highway, Mark Hamilton


Wasting opportunities at ed tech conferences

Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.

It’s super fun to meet new people and see our friends at ed tech conferences. Sometimes they have photo booths and we can wear funny mustaches, Viking helmets, polka dot bow ties, and giant sunglasses. We get to hang out, eat a meal together, talk, share, laugh… all good stuff. It’s cool to see everyone having a great time and sharing their photos and thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

But I think that at most ed tech conferences we’re also missing opportunities. That session on the latest Google Chrome extensions isn’t going to change a kid’s life. That tools smackdown isn’t likely to make students’ learning much better (no, really, it isn’t). And those sessions on 60 iPad apps in 60 minutes? Well…

With rare exception, 80 to 90% of the sessions at most of our ed tech conferences are about extensions, apps, and tools and only 10 to 20% of the sessions are about nontrivial learning and teaching. Or leadership. Or systems change.

[I know some people likely will disagree with me on this breakdown. Fair enough. Grab Bloom’s taxonomy or Webb’s depth of knowledge levels, run through the session titles and descriptions of a recent ed tech conference, and make your own determination about what falls into the deep, meaningful learning category and what falls into the tools / low-level learning / ‘oh, tech is so fun and cool, look what you can do!’ category. Let me know what you find out.]

Oh, what’s the harm? A few sessions on apps or tools won’t hurt anyone, will they?

Probably not. Even when they’re the vast majority, not a small minority. But every time we just show how to use tools or apps or whatever – or our focus is only on low-level learning (or, dare we admit it, behavior control) – or we shill for some vendor – or we spend significant time on ‘OMG, this is so dang cool I might wet my pants!’ – we miss an opportunity to fight for significant grounding in and modeling of more substantive student learning. Every time we extoll the use of a technology tool for trivia or minutiae, we miss an opportunity to demonstrate how technology can be used for meaningful, cognitively-complex outcomes rather than routine cognitive work. Every time we decline to model the usage of technology to learn deep disciplinary practices, processes, and concepts, we reinforce the status quo of factual recall and procedural regurgitation and foster the idea that ’technology for technology’s sake’ is just fine.

We have entire ed tech conferences dedicated to the latest and greatest tools, apps, and extensions. Educators sign up for them in droves, often paying $200 to $300 per head to attend. They’re fun, they’re cool, and some organizations are making a LOT of money with this model. But next time you’re at an ed tech conference, ask yourself “Are these offerings really moving the needle in terms of systemic change in classrooms, teacher practice, or school systems?” (which is what we need)

I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon. I like ed tech conferences too, quite a bit. But I think our face-to-face time is rare and precious. So when there’s very little discussion or modeling of learning – deep, meaningful learning – I think that we’re missing important chances to change practice and move systems. We’re ignoring the opportunity costs. What could we have done – what could we have accomplished, together – instead? Ed tech conferences should be fun, but they also should be productive and maybe could be transformative.

I wish we had far fewer tools sessions and much more discussion about technology for the purpose of what?, with an emphasis on the what of deeper learning. What do you think?

Image credit: Opportunities, seaternity

UPDATE: Please also see An #itec14 apology


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


The results of educational inequity

Michael Roth said:

America has some of the best schools on the planet and one of the worst systems of education in the developed world.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/book-review-building-a-better-teacher-on-secrets-of-good-teaching-by-elizabeth-green/2014/09/05/7a993056-2307-11e4-8593-da634b334390_story.html


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


Serve your detention or lose your textbooks

  1. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your textbooks.
  2. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your pencils and paper.
  3. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your band instrument.
  4. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your gym uniform.
  5. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your novel you’re reading for English class.
  6. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your graphing calculator.
  7. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your planner.

Do any of these make sense to you? Does this one?

  1. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will turn off your school laptop.

Apparently it does to one high school. Note also the public shaming orientation in the message below (“Well, we could email you but we choose instead to announce your name to the entire school…”). This is a ‘Character Counts‘ school district. Evidently the need to be respectful only runs in certain directions?

Note also the framing of the school laptops as a ‘nice resource to have,’ not an essential, core element of schooling. And the framing of social media as frivolous, not integral, powerful tools for learning.

The full message from the high school is below. Ugh. This might be even worse than when schools suspend kids for skipping class (“To teach you not to miss school, you’re going to miss some school…”). But, hey, it works so it must be okay, right?

—–

NEW PROCEDURE FOR ADDRESSING UNEXCUSED ABSENCES

Unexcused absences stand in the way of student success. To more effectively encourage students to attend class regularly, [XYZ] High is taking a new approach to dealing with unexcused absences.

We want students to be successful, and we can’t help them academically when they have unexcused absences. With only 180 school days we strive to insure all students make maximum academic growth. With that being said we do understand that students will miss school for a variety of reasons, which include being sick, doctor appointments, etc. In each of these cases we expect parents to call in and excuse their son or daughter. With that parental excuse, the student will have 2 days to make up work for credit from the classes missed the day of the absence.

Our big concern is when the student’s absence is not excused. What this tells us is that the parents or the school did not know where the student was. Any day we are not aware of the reason for an absence, an automated call goes home that night alerting parents/guardians that their son or daughter missed a class.

The parent is still able to clear the absence the day after the phone message.

The following process and procedure for addressing unexcused absences was announced to students earlier this week.

Every Monday morning  we will read over the PA the names of students with an unexcused absence the previous week and make them aware they have a 25 minute detention after school either Monday or Tuesday at 3:05 p.m. We also state that if students think they did not have an unexcused absence or they have a conflict, they need to see [YYY YYYYY] or [ZZZ ZZZZZ] during passing time to clear up any error or make other arrangements for serving the detention.

On Tuesday we send out emails to those students who did not serve their detention on Monday reminding the students to serve their 25 minute detention. On Wednesday we read the names one more time as a last reminder.

After Thursday’s opportunity to serve detention and a student has not served the detention or made other arrangements, we turn off the student’s computer until the detention is served.

We completely understand that the school issued computers are a resource to enhance student learning. However, we also know that the computers are a tool for social media that our students are very fond of using and think this approach will lead to desired results.

We implemented this for the first time this week and by the time it was noon on Friday 10 out of the 15 students still owing a detention had made arrangements to get their detention done as soon as possible.

In closing we have tried to put a process in place that will limit interruptions to classrooms, hold students accountable for their actions and have consequences that do not include missing class time (i.e., suspension).


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


I read blocked blogs

I read blocked blogs

It’s Banned Books Week. I oppose censorship and support students’ and educators’ freedom to read. Do you?

Does that extend to all of those blogs and other web sites that your schools are filtering and blocking categorically?

FREADOM. Celebrate the right to read.


School technology is neutered into uselessness

Neuter

Tim Cushing said:

Few entities approach new advances in technology with more foreboding than school administrations. What could be used as portals to a nearly-infinite supply of information via the Internet is often neutered into uselessness by schools’ acceptable use policies (AUPs). 

via https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140919/12311228582/technology-improves-internet-expands-school-acceptable-use-policies-still-lock-students-out-benefits.shtml


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