So these are front and center in our schools, right? Not content, right?
Image credit: World Economic Forum, 2020
So these are front and center in our schools, right? Not content, right?
Image credit: World Economic Forum, 2020
Here are a pair of tweets for ya. So true…
Covering content and preparing students for life success are not the same thing.
A school leader in one of my Facebook groups asked if anyone had a discussion guide for the next time their teachers held vertical discussions across grade levels. Here was my response:
I’ve done this with schools before. Not exactly sure what the desired outcome of your conversations is, but I’ve seen really powerful discussion arise from the simple questions of “What do you expect students to know and be able to do by the end of their school year with you?” (to the lower grade team) and “What do you expect students to know and be able to do when they enter your classroom at the beginning of the school year?” (to the higher grade team)…
Small group conversation around those two questions can easily fill most of an hour (be sure to have them take notes!). Also helpful to have some debrief time at the end where you just ask folks “What did you hear today? What does that mean for our practice? How can I be of support?“
Good luck and have fun!
What do you like your educators to talk about in their vertical discussions?
ISTE Certification has kept me busy! Despite my familiarity with all of the ISTE Standards, I have found that I am thinking much more deeply about the ISTE Standards for Educators as I go through this process with my cohort (which I appreciate)…
One of our activities asked us to reflect on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines. Here’s some of what I wrote:
UDL Guideline(s): Recruiting Interest, Sustaining Effort & Persistence, Self Regulation
Tool(s): Blogging platforms such as WordPress or Squarespace
I believe in technology tools that have low floors, high ceilings, and wide walls (i.e., they are relatively easy to learn but have extraordinary, open-ended, and wide-ranging power). One such tool for me when it comes to the UDL principle of Engagement is a blog. Blogs allow learners and creators to do almost anything, particularly if they use a more powerful, self-hosted platform such as WordPress or Squarespace. The ability of blogs to host almost any kind of media that we wish (text, audio, video, images, charts, tables, diagrams, hyperlinks) in almost any configuration that we wish (see, e.g., the wide variety of blog templates) means that they are infinitely customizable. Accordingly, learners and creators can make their blog anything that they wish. This capacity taps directly into the Engagement guideline of Recruiting Interest because it ‘optimizes individual choice and autonomy.’ Similarly, the interactive nature of blogs (e.g., hyperlinks, pingbacks, comments, embedding of social media feeds, RSS subscription) highlights the Engagement guideline of Sustaining Effort and Persistence because it ‘fosters collaboration and community.’ Blogs can be deeply reflective tools that also foster visibility, sharing, contribution, and connection, which aligns directly with the Engagement guideline of Self Regulation and its emphasis on self-assessment, reflection, and motivation.
UDL Guideline(s): Perception, Language & Symbols, and Comprehension
Tool(s): Presentation software such as Apple Keynote, Microsoft PowerPoint, or Google Slides
I believe in technology tools that have low floors, high ceilings, and wide walls (i.e., they are relatively easy to learn but have extraordinary, open-ended, and wide-ranging power). An underutilized tool for the UDL principle of Representation is presentation software such as Keynote, PowerPoint, or Google Slides. As I work with my graduate students – some of whom are differently abled than their educator peers – I have found that presentation software creates an open ‘green field’ of possibility. Students can use text. They can use images. They can create lines, diagrams, charts, tables, timelines, and concept maps. They can embed audio or video. They can tap into various color schemes, fonts, and transparency. They can tap into the power of layering, grouping, animations, and transitions. Together, these simple-to-learn capabilities that we often take for granted in presentation software can be used in incredibly diverse ways to represent any topic, idea, or concept that we wish with as much complexity as we wish. Recent examples of this in our own cohort include our introductions and our ISTE Standards for Educators jigsaw activity. These examples illustrate how a simple set of tools can create phenomenally-powerful and divergent opportunities to share what we know, can do, and have learned. The capabilities inherent in presentation software allow us to check off the boxes in essentially every subcategory of Representation (i.e., Perception, Language & Symbols, and Comprehension).
ACTION & EXPRESSION
Guideline(s): Executive Functions
Tool(s): Google Sheets
I believe in technology tools that have low floors, high ceilings, and wide walls (i.e., they are relatively easy to learn but have extraordinary, open-ended, and wide-ranging power). For the UDL Principle of Action & Expression, I chose to focus on one particular guideline, Executive Functions. For the past few years, I have been making my own interactive templates in Google Sheets. My students – or workshop participants – can go directly to a template that I have made and interact in a variety of ways with content, questions, or each other. I like that Google Sheets creates a different URL for each tab, and I can configure and merge the rows, columns, cell entries, formulae, auto-calculations, and conditional formatting into almost any format I wish. My principal licensure students and I use them routinely to work on thorny leadership problems of practice and systemic school and district redesign concerns. I also like that with a quick mouse click students can see each others’ responses as well if they are on a different tab rather than a shared one. I can even hide sections of the template and reveal them later for additional consideration. The possibilities are nearly endless for individual or small group, collaborative work, and the shared, online nature of the tool allows for easy access and easy archiving of our thinking work together. All of this connects directly to the Executive Functions checkpoints related to goal-setting, planning, strategy development, managing information and resources, and monitoring progress.
Nothing earth-shattering here, but I enjoyed the opportunity to think a little more about this!
Below is a 15-minute video that I made for a school district’s families and community members. The first 3.5 minutes will sound familiar to those of you who’ve watched my TEDxDesMoines talk. After that, I branch into some new directions…
Hope this is useful to you. Happy viewing!
I recently had a chance to keynote Big Blue Button’s first-ever Global Conference. Afterward, I sat down (virtually) with Robert Hocking and we chatted about some deeper learning concepts that I had mentioned in my talk.
The half-hour video on ‘major shifts in education‘ is below. I hope that it’s useful to you. My favorite part is probably from 18:55 to 20:27 when we discuss struggling students who come alive when we provide them with a kind of different learning space.
A number of educators across the country are finding great value in ‘learning science’ books such as Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning. In Powerful Teaching, the authors focus on the potential of:
There’s nothing inherently wrong with retrieval practice, spaced practice, and interleaving. These educational practices can be powerful tools for information retrieval. But we also have to ask ourselves the tougher question of ‘Retrieval practice, spaced practice, and interleaving OF WHAT?’ Is the information worth knowing and spending time on in the first place? For instance, in the retrieval practice challenge grid below [intentionally anonymized], many of us could argue that most of the things being ‘retrieved’ to allegedly enhance student ‘learning’ aren’t really worth learning at all, much less remembering later.
On another educational front, many advocates of competency-based education (CBE) are working diligently to create ‘high reliability’ school structures. This work often involves extremely sophisticated proficiency scaling of desired learning outcomes, student leveling diagnostics, and individualized instruction and student interventions. Here is an example third grade mathematics proficiency scale [intentionally anonymized]:
And, once again, we have to ask ourselves the tougher question of ‘Proficiency scaling and student leveling ON WHAT?’
In Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World, David Perkins noted that “the achievement gap is much more concerned with mastering content than with providing lifeworthy content. . . . The achievement gap is all about doing the same thing better… [In contrast,] the relevance gap asks us to reconsider deeply what schools teach in the first place” (pp. 30-31). Accordingly, a couple of questions that we might ask ourselves as educators include:
There are at least two potential dangers as schools and educators move in these ‘high reliability’ directions:
Both of these practices contribute to students’ learning apathy, boredom, disengagement, perceived lack of relevance in what they’re learning, and dropout rates (both physically and mentally).
Even Daniel Willingham, who, as a cognitive psychologist, is a tremendous advocate for brain-based learning and background factual knowledge, asked in Why Don’t Students Like School?, “When is it appropriate to ask students to memorize something before it has much meaning? Probably not often…” (p. 64). Willingham also reiterated that “We remember much better if something has meaning” (p. 33) and that “Repetition is good for learning but terrible for motivation” (p. 1). In other words, we have to focus on creating learning experiences that are meaningful to students, not just in a school-y ‘you need to know this for the test’ sense or in a ‘do this or you will be punished academically or behaviorally’ sense but rather in a ‘you need to know this for life’ sense. We know that most students – even successful ones – are really struggling to find meaning in most of the learning tasks that we put before them.
Willingham also stated:
Students can’t learn everything, so what should they know? Cognitive science leads to the rather obvious conclusion that students must learn the concepts that come up again and again – the unifying ideas of each discipline [emphasis added]. Some educational thinkers have suggested that a limited number of ideas should be taught in great depth, beginning in the early grades and carrying through the curriculum for years as different topics are taken up and viewed through the lens of one or more of these ideas. From the cognitive perspective, that makes sense [emphasis added]. (p. 37)
Are our school systems focusing on big important concepts or just trivia and minutiae as they engage in learning science and competency-based educational practices?
Some may wonder if it is even possible to engage in learning science and competency-based educational practices for so-called ‘deeper learning.’ The authors of Powerful Teaching do say that “these strategies apply for … critical thinking” (p. 5). However, the vast majority of the examples that they use in the book pertain to students remembering something that they read earlier, answering exam questions, taking notes, engaging in mini-quizzes, regurgitating back what they heard from a teacher, and similar, extraordinarily traditional educational practices. Higher-level thinking examples and discussions of real world thinking, application, and problem-solving are scarce in the book (as they are in our larger, societal-level conversations about ‘learning loss’ during the pandemic). The language that the authors use in the book to introduce their key concepts also emphasizes lower-level learning (e.g., practicing math problems, quizzes, flashcards, teacher lectures, and so on).
Of course students need to have factual knowledge and procedural fluency. But those aren’t enough in today’s global, innovation society (and arguably never were). Some of our lower-level student learning outcomes are important and many are less so, particularly when viewed through the lens of ‘lifeworthy content.’ But how we get there is always up for negotiation. Learning modality matters A LOT. It would be really easy to shove kids in front of a bunch of worksheets or homework packets or transmission-regurgitation / individualized-progression / box-checking software systems and say that students are achieving ‘mastery’ of supposedly ‘important’ knowledge and skills. We can see the allure of that for a large number of school leaders or policymakers. Be cognizant of that seduction, because it’s a student soul-sucking idea that’s been floating around in education for many, many decades. And vendors will be quite happy to take your money and sell this to you.
As I said in a recent keynote, I absolutely adore the idea of ‘high-reliability schools.’ But we need to make sure that our definition of ‘high reliability’ includes deeper learning opportunities and outcomes, not just the low-level learning that we’ve traditionally spent most of our time on in P-12 schools. One last time: students aren’t going to recall and regurgitate their way into 21st century life success.
I know that deeper learning networks like Big Picture Learning, New Tech Network, and High Tech High are trying to figure out what ‘high reliability’ looks like in the deeper learning context, as are the schools featured in our recent book, Leadership for Deeper Learning. The work that these students and educators are doing is incredibly complex and even more inspiring. It’s relatively easy to come up with pedagogical and data systems that help students recall and regurgitate a little better. It’s much more difficult to create educational systems that develop successful, problem-solving humans. I would encourage all of us to think pretty deeply about this: not just about how to make existing technocratic systems even more technocratic, but about what it means to be educated and successful over the next few decades.
Your thoughts? How are you reconciling learning science and competency-based educational principles with deeper learning?
During the pandemic we donned our superhero capes and finally put computers and Internet access in the hands of our students.
Then most of us took our capes off and gave kids digital worksheets.