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?
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?
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).
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!
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)
Laura Gilchrist said:
Twitter allows educators to connect and interact with resources, ideas, and people from around the world. Twitter allows educators to share their stories – positive stories included. We need more positive stories because, I’m telling you, there’s a lot of good going on in our schools – good that doesn’t get shared. Those walls you see around you do not have the power to isolate you and your kids any longer.
My question to you: If you have in your hands a tool (phone, computer, tablet + Twitter) that, by just moving your fingers, can connect you, your students, and your communities to resources, ideas, and people from around the world – a tool that can empower kids and educators to learn, create, grow – why would you choose NOT to start using it? What would be your reasoning?
[My Leadership Day post this year introduces a new tool, trudacot, that we have been using to facilitate productive conversations with educators about technology-infused learning and teaching…]
[UPDATE 1: trudacot was featured on the MindShift blog. Awesome!]
We’ve got a lot of technology floating around our schools and classrooms these days. And while that can and should be a good thing given the digital age in which we now live, we often find that our technology-related efforts aren’t paying off for us as we had hoped. There are many reasons why this is true, but a main one is that we don’t have great ways to think about what’s occurring when we see students and teachers using technology for learning and teaching purposes.
TPACK and SAMR are the two main technology integration frameworks being used right now. While conceptually useful, both of them have their limitations. Neither are very specific when it comes to helping teachers think about what to change to make their technology integration better. The SAMR levels have the additional challenge of apparently meaning very different things to different people (I have witnessed on numerous occasions a particular usage of technology placed in all four SAMR levels by educator audiences). Resources like the TPACK activity types help with some of this, but my colleague, Julie Graber, and I were looking for something different. Failing to find what we wanted, we decided to make our own…
Starting with purpose
Technology integration should be purposeful. That very simple statement is at the heart of the trudacot template. When we use digital technologies for learning and teaching, those uses should be intentional and targeted and not simply ‘tech for tech’s sake.’ My team continually asks the question, ‘Technology for the purpose of what?’ With that in mind, Julie and I set out to create a template of questions that would allow educators to think critically – and purposefully – about their technology integration.
For example, if a class activity was using learning technologies for the purpose(s) of enhancing personalization or enabling greater student agency and choice, the types of questions that we would ask to see if those purposes were being accomplished might include:
- Learning Goals. Who selected what is being learned?
- Learning Activity. Who selected how it is being learned?
- Assessment of Learning. Who selected how students demonstrate their knowledge and skills and how that will be assessed?
- Work Time. During the lesson/unit, who is the primary driver of the work time?
- Technology Usage. Who is the primary user of the technology?
In contrast, if a lesson pulled in digital tools for the purpose(s) of enhancing student communication / connection, and perhaps even facilitating collaboration across locations, we would ask very different questions. The types of questions that we would ask to see if those purposes were being accomplished might include:
- Audience. How are students communicating? If with others, with whom? [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? [writing / photos and images / charts and graphs / infographics / audio / video / multimedia / transmedia]
- Collaborators. How are students working? If with others, who is managing collaborative processes (planning, management, monitoring, etc.)
- Collaborative Technologies. Are digital technologies being used to facilitate collaborative processes? If yes, in which ways? [online office suites, email, texting, wikis, blogs, videoconferencing, mindmapping, curation tools, project planning tools, other]
Similarly, if teachers wanted students to use technology for the purpose(s) of enabling them to do more authentic, real world work, the types of questions that we would ask to see if those purposes were being accomplished would be different from those previous and might include:
- Real or Fake. Is student work authentic and reflective of that done by real people outside of school?
- Domain Knowledge. Are students learning discipline-specific and -appropriate content and procedural knowledge? If yes, is student work focused around big, important concepts central to the discipline? [not just minutiae]
- Domain Practices. Are students utilizing discipline-specific and -appropriate practices and processes?
- Domain Technologies. Are students utilizing discipline-specific and -appropriate tools and technologies?
And if a lesson or unit integrated learning technologies for the purpose(s) of facilitating students’ deeper thinking, creativity, or metacognition, the types of questions that we would ask to see if those purposes were being accomplished might include:
- Deeper Thinking. Do student learning activities and assessments go beyond facts, procedures, and/or previously-provided ways of thinking? [e.g., ‘syntheses’ or ‘analyses’ that actually are just regurgitations]
- Creativity. Do students have the opportunity to design, create, make, or otherwise add value that is unique to them?
- Initiative. Do students have the opportunity to initiate, be entrepreneurial, be self-directed, and/or go beyond given parameters of the learning task or environment?
- Metacognition. Do students have the opportunity to reflect on their planning, thinking, work, and/or progress? If yes, can students identify what they’re learning, not just what they’re doing?
In a post about the difficulty of New York’s Common Core assessments, Robert Pondiscio said:
Test makers have an obligation to signal to the field the kind of instructional choices they want teachers to make
I’m going to disagree with Robert on this one. I’m fairly certain that test makers should NOT be the ones driving instruction…
Tedd Wakeman said:
We’ve always defined, as an educational community, rigor as being a lot of hard drudgery, what we consider really hard work, taking engagement and interests completely out of the equation and saying, ‘If we see kids who are sitting at their desks and they’re just writing a ton or they’re doing a bunch of research, if they just look kind of upset, if they look like they are not enjoying themselves, then there is rigorous things going on in that classroom.’ That’s a real problem.
We need to stop defining rigor as busywork, as kids knuckling down to the pressure and the drudgery of school. At the end of the year, there is this huge binder of notes and diagrams from PowerPoint exhibits, stuff that kids worked all year on. I’ve talked to kids here who have produced an artifact like that. To the outside community, even in many ways to the inside community, that looks rigorous because, look at what you produced.
But when we talk to those kids, when we ask, ‘What are your retaining from this? What do you feel, what are some of the big concepts that you came away with, and how are you applying those in your life in your lives every day,’ they can’t tell you. They know that they did this thing and they got a good grade on it but they can’t tell you what they are going to do with that. And yet to the more traditional educational community, that’s viewed as rigor.
We would much rather define rigor as the pursuit of solving a really difficult task that you care about solving. And that persistence can be taught in that way as opposed to, ‘Yeah, let’s teach kids persistence by having them do this thing that they couldn’t care less about, but it’s really hard and just if you can survive it, that’s persistence.’
Justin Schwamm said:
Two decades ago, before the great push for higher standards and more accountability, there was a tacit agreement in most factory-model schools: “Just close my door,” said Ms. X, “and let me teach, and don’t bother me because I’m busy.” “Just keep them busy and quiet,” responded her Powers That Be, “and show up for the Special Training and the Scheduled Meeting, and make sure the Relevant Paperwork is in the file.” Within that tacit agreement lay a great deal of freedom and opportunity … for innovation or for more of the Same Old Same Old. As the Relevant Paperwork was complete and the busy, quiet students weren’t roaming the hallways, teachers and students could be as innovative and creative as they wanted.
But then came higher standards and more accountability … and in themselves, those aren’t bad things. But if you operate from a hierarchical individual point of view about leadership and learning, the only logical pathway to higher standards is to command and control them into existence … and the only way to achieve accountability is to ramp up the inspection and testing. I was intrigued to see an article from EdSurge about how and why Rocketship Education moved away from an experiment they’d tried this year … an experiment that seemed to produce positive results of various kinds. The problem? “The lack of a formal structure made it difficult for Rocketship to replicate and control quality,” especially with younger teachers who “rely on pre-determined schedules and procedures, with clearly defined expectations about their work, in order to focus on building basic teaching skills.”
In other words, the promising innovation didn’t fit the existing institutional structure. If you’ve ever worked in a hierarchical structure, you know how important it is to preserve the structure. It takes a great deal of work by Relevant Powers to make anything else as important as preserving the structure.