Sunday, November 7, 2010
@Sedson was at the conference and I am now following her on twitter, which led me today to this video:
In today's paper, I read a post-election editorial that referenced the Bloomberg poll that showed the majority of voters believed that middle class taxes had been raised during the last two years, when, in fact, they fell. Those asked also believed that the economy was shrinking, not growing.
The article blames Democrats for not making the message clear to voters.
Not me--I blame education. How did we get to the point in this country where being informed means listening to infotainment that echos what you already think? Why don't adults in this country ask questions and do research with the primary documents readily accessible online? Could it be because we don't teach students to ask questions in school? Because we use textbooks to teach them instead of primary sources? Yes, primary sources are harder to read. They don't have reading guides or comprehension questions already prepared. Who read the health care bill? Who read even extracts of it? (Confession, not me either).
What does school look like when we decide to prepare students to run the world instead of prepare them to have a job/go to college?
So, tomorrow, I start. First up? The kids. They need to know that I'm counting on them to be able to solve some of the pretty big problems they are about to encounter. I also want to talk with students about motivation. Both Pink's autonomy, mastery, and purpose along with the success and fun they are apparently seeking. We'll see how it goes.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Once upon a very hot August almost-back-to-school day, I came upon a tweet. A tweet that traveled across the country, from North Carolina to Oregon (and maybe beyond) in a flash.
I was not the only one. . .
Within a few days, at least 10 (and I suspect far more) teachers asked the same two questions of the fresh faces gathering in front of them: When do you feel most engaged/interested/curious in school? and When do you feel most checked out/bored/uninterested in school?
The result? You can see my class's responses here:
They resemble, but are not identical to the responses Ms Stewart's students gave.
Sharing ideas among teachers is nothing new. Back when I began teaching, it sometimes (often?) took a semester or more for an idea to make it down the hallway. This shared question went from North Carolina to Iowa to Utah in moments. Next, the questions, along with their accompanying images, sparked a spirited conversation on the English Companion Ning, as well as a less feisty but just as heart-felt series of responses on Ms Stewart's blog, In For Good. So what's the value of this rapid spread of an idea?
First, every teacher who asked the questions spent a some time thinking about knowing the students they encounter a little better as learners. Which means that a few hundred students learned that their teachers care how they learn.
Second, a few teachers engaged in a lively conversation that involved debating the value of pedagogical methods, sharing professional resources, and critiquing said resources with intellectual vigor. Teachers are busy this time of year with activities that can seem decidedly unintellectual. To have teachers engage in visible intellectual discourse can only be described as heartening! And this happened without a course, a scholarly journal article, or a professional development session!
The American Lit students in my course and I had an interesting conversation about their thoughts as they looked at the Wordles. I'm sure that the other classes that answered the same questions did too. Is the next step connecting the students together to see what they have in common with students across the country (and maybe across the world?) That would be yet another value add.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
There's a lot that is interesting in the book--I received my copy as a gift at the NAIS conference in San Francisco last year. Instead of reading it all at once, I've been reading it in quick snippets for months. I'm not totally sure how that happened, in the intervening time I've read a number of other books in the more traditional (start in the front and work your way through to the end, one book at a time) methods.
The upshot of this though, is that I reached the section on the power of the herd just as the school year was beginning at Cannon School. At the end of the first week, I said to our Dean of Students "You know, I haven't seen a single sullen face all week."
Now, I'm sure there were at least a couple of students who weren't quite ready for summer to end. However, the culture at the school is "we're happy to be here with each other." I saw smiles, heard many offers of help from/to students and adults, and witnessed more helping hands than I could count.
Not all the new students wanted to be here. Yet, when I checked in with the new students during the week, the universal observation was "I'm feeling happy to be here, everyone here is so great." It's hard to be sullen when those around you are cheerfully showing you where to put your stuff, helping you navigate the lunch line just because they can tell they haven't seen you before, and translating words to you in whispers during class (we have several international students). In other words, the herd at Cannon gives the message that here, we look out for ways to help each other. There's an ad for a financial or insurance company that implies the same thing-folks in the ad see someone help a stranger struggling with a package, then go on to restore a baby's fallen toy to the stroller, someone else sees that and so on.
I credit the two Deans of Students with creating the kind of "herd" that encourages new students to enter the community with a positive outlook. They are, without a doubt two of the most positive, yet non-Pollyanna educators I've met. They act as a team, make their contributions unselfishly, all of which makes them role models for everyone else in the community (students and faculty).
Earth shattering research? No, we all sort of knew this already, but seeing it in action is powerful. It's going
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Google's 20% rule is a derivative of the back seat game for grown ups--don't just wonder what if, try to bring into existence that which you imagine. Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s head of product management, advised students in a blog post.
Google, he said, is looking for “non-routine problem-solving skills.” I found that on Jeff Jarvis's blog transcript of his TedXNY talk. Google engineers are encouraged to spend twenty percent of their work time on projects that interest them.
So. . . how do you play "what if?" professionally?
This isn't usually a time of year for philosophical musing--it's practical time in education, make the schedules, get the room ready, laminate, copy. . .
This post originated from an assignment to write a sentence describing yourself based on your top 5 Strengths. We're going to have all the students start the year by thinking about what they do well and how to use their strengths to their advantage all year. I can't wait for school to start!
Let's find out! What, why, how, and, while we're at it, what if. . .
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The assignment for day one involved doing some analysis of design and layout and clarifying the purpose of your blog. Honestly, my purpose is to put some of my ideas into writing so that I am forced to clarify my thinking. I'm not trying to generate business for my infinitesimal consulting business or start debates with people who are better known than I am. I'm thrilled when I get into a conversation here though, don't get me wrong.
On to Day Two
See--I separated that with bold text! Did it look better??
The assignment for day two is to write a list post. At first I thought I just didn't have a list in me, but then I remembered that just this morning I was making a list of magazines I think make great reading for 11th grade students. One of the assignments I hope to give early on in the year will involve reading an entire magazine from cover to cover in several settings. I don't want kids to just power through in an hour but dip in for several shorter reading sessions. (I think this has to be a paper assignment). Then students will do a reading level analysis, and share thoughts about writing quality, audience, and style. We'll make a bulletin board of favorite articles.
On to the list:
Magazines I'd like to have in my classroom:
Scientific Mind. Cool stuff in here!
The Week. A global perspective on the news that most students haven't seen before. Plus interesting, well-written feature articles.
Sports Illustrated. The writing is usually strong--especially with the features rather than the weekly "news" of sports.
People. Yes, People. While there are some issues that make me cringe, there are other profiles that can be touching, inspirational, instructive and even cautionary. Good material for teens!
Wired. I'm not sure about this one. I like it, but I don't know if students would.
Reader's Digest. Fun and usually pretty easy to read. The "breaks" with the little jokes were always a favorite of mine when I was a teen. I haven't read this in years.
Both People and Sports Illustrated have extensive websites with content that is not the same as the paper issue. I suspect many students are only familiar with the sites.
What's not on the list: Harper's, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek. I won't get into why, but they are definitely NOT on the list.
What am I missing??
Reflection: What kinds of lists might be appropriate for this blog?
In the past, perhaps lists of sites or resources. Now I'm not so sure. I think professional resources for teachers might make a good list.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
What am I hoping to get out of the course? I'd like to get better at learning how to cut it short and make my point in a more focused way. I think I'd write more frequent entries if I were more succinct. It takes me too long to write and then that de-motivates me to start another entry anytime soon.
I'd also like to learn when to link and when not to bother. How much does it matter?
Related to the above, I'm not much experienced with design, but I know it matters and I appreciate it when others have strong design. Meredith Stewart talks about how "pretty matters" and her blog is a testament to sparse yet lovely design. Her photography and other visual elements really work for me.
I'm sure I'll learn more than this, but that's my initial list. Now back to my reading! Right now, I'm reading Leadership the Outward Bound Way. It's thick, but very readable. I'm in chapter six, which focuses on fear and "learning to cope with those fears and move beyond them into action, rather than letting them limit you."
Thursday, June 10, 2010
I want to assure all the students that this speech has been through multiple drafts using track changes and I’ve done peer and self-rehearsals using Audacity. Earlier this week, I was packing, sniffling a little bit, and going through some of my files. I found a few old academic journals written by 8th grade students during my first year when I taught study skills. Since you guys hadn’t been born yet when I arrived here in 1994, I thought you might find some of what these students wrote interesting. Do you know who the 8th grade math teacher was in 1994? Here’s an excerpt from one journal: August 28th “Math is really easy.” October 9th. I don’t need to say what I got on my math test. All that I’ll say is that it’s lower than my shoe size.” January 22nd “I don’t have a clue what we are doing in math. I think I better go to extra help.” March 4th “I received a 102% on the math quiz on Monday. I’m studying every day now.” You can see that the formula for success in Mrs. Love’s class hasn’t changed much. . .
The classmates of the student who wrote those words are all grown up now, and are older than I was then when I started teaching here. Some of them are even parents themselves. In many ways, I feel like I grew up here myself. This is a special place, and it didn’t take me 16 years to realize that. Originally, my plan to work here for a year while I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Clearly, plans change. I want to thank all the teachers and Dr. Dickinson who, while teaching and guiding the students entrusted to us, were also teaching and guiding me through all these years. I am more grateful than I can say for your kindness, your patience with me, and most of all, for your friendship.
When I look at the gathered 8th graders, I think back not quite so far, but to almost three years ago when this crew entered middle school. You were still children at the beginning of the sixth grade. You were so cute! You didn’t take up nearly as much room and the boys didn’t reek after playing battleball at lunch. Your growth isn’t just physical. Remember your first blogs about reading? When I see the insights you shared on your 8th grade Ning, I’m impressed at your intellectual growth. I’m not surprised, but impressed nonetheless.
Do you remember starting sixth grade by drawing your own illustrations of main ideas from your summer reading books for the bulletin boards? I have a question for the 8th graders—how many of you are geniuses? Raise your hand if you consider yourself an genius.
Now, think way back to kindergarten. Back then if I asked the same question, I bet all of you would raise your hands. If I asked those kindergarteners “who can sing?”—you would have raised your hands immediately and you would have been happy to sing loudly, right then and there, to prove it. A few of you attention seekers might do that right now.
What is it about growing up that makes people forget that they are artists and singers? That they are brilliant? This is not what your teachers and parents want to happen. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, maybe because I have two six year olds and that gives me a chance to see how their minds work, full of nothing but possibilities. Why is it that we forget those possibilities and forget that we are all artists? It is our ideas and our visions that make us artists, not our hands or our voices.
That’s what I want to talk about today, that each and every one of us here, old and young, is an artist. And a brilliant artist at that. In fact, you’re a genius! Seth Godin says that a genius is someone who looks at a problem that others are stuck on and gets the world unstuck. He asks you to think about a few questions: Have you ever found a shortcut that others didn’t see? Have you solved a family argument by thinking up a compromise when everyone else thought they had to keep fighting? Have you seen a way to fix something that wasn’t working? Maybe you have made a connection to someone who seemed completely different from you? Have you done any of these things even once? Then you’re a genius!
Now, how to get the rest of the world to realize this? Last year, a teacher directly asked you “what’s the big idea.” This wasn’t a one time question! You need to keep practicing having big ideas with your artistic, creative genius brain. There’s some interesting research about happiness. It turns we are most satisfied and learn the most when we persist at trying to do things that are challenging for us, not when we just do the things that we find come easily to us.
So ask yourself regularly, “what’s the big idea?” Your English teachers like to call those big ideas themes. Big ideas can scare people. Big ideas are hard to evaluate with a standardized test. A high standardized test score can’t figure out how to stop the flow of oil from the ocean floor. Yet those are the ideas for which this world is most desperate.
You are headed into the world of high school. A world where fitting in and making the grades can seem like the most important things in the world. Please please remember that the person next to you in class is really a genius, disguised as an insecure or bored or possibly even self-centered adolescent. Take her ideas seriously. Encourage him to persist when he is discouraged.
Geniuses. All of you! Don't forget!
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Today's post is an extended thank you note to a number of people who have inspired me to think and build new connections in my brain lately. It's not a reflection on the many wonderful, thought-provoking sessions I attended--that's coming later.
This is the third time I've attended this conference and the second time I've presented. It's a conference that can be a little intimidating--lots of heads of schools and senior administrators in attendance. I co-presented with Jason Ramsden of Ravenscroft School, who is one of those fast-thinking, fast-talking, million miles a minute people who are just fun to listen to. It was an honor to be invited to present with him.
As so often happens, while the session went well, the thought and planning that went into creating the session was the most professionally satisfying part. Jason and I have been having an ongoing conversation about innovation for almost two years. We've been talking (along with Sam Morris, Meredith Stewart, and Matt Scully and a few thousand other eduthinkers) via podcast chat rooms, twitter, email, skype and occasionally we're even in the same place at the same time.
The conversations take on different flavors, depending on the focus, the type of school, current events, student needs. . . but there are recurring themes. What do students need and deserve from educators? They need our A game, every day, every period. How do we keep getting better at what we do? We need to be creative and forward-thinking in our professional practice. Are these notions in conflict? How can we be at our best every day if we are also supposed to be taking risks and accepting that we'll fail sometimes?
I'm not sure we solved that dilemma in our session, but I hope we brought the right questions. The truth is that our students leave every class with (we hope) new meanings and connections in their minds. We can't put this meaning in those minds, they have to make it. The same is true of attendees at a conference session. And that's why we encourage innovating (and accept responsible failure). Because if it is done intentionally, a la Peter Gow, then students will be empowered to make meaning out of the experiences we share with them. And so will we.
I tried something new for me and included some unscientific drawings in the session. I was inspired by Jessica Hagy, whose brilliant blog first came to my attention with her Why Teachers Drink post. I'm not the only person who has been inspired by Hagy's work, but I bet I was the only one at NAIS with completely data-free graphs in my presentation :) To the left is my favorite, inspired by Ralph Davison's "Think small, big ideas scare people."
And, because it's my blog, here's one more on how good things (autonomy, feedback) can become problems (neglect, micromanagement) without intentionality. I'm going to try making more of these in the future because drawing them forces me to reflect on my thoughts in a non-language way that I'm not accustomed to doing. It's unbelievable how many drafts of these simple diagrams I created along the way. New dendrites!
I was grateful that the group arrived ready to talk--we had several pair-share times built into the session, and I should have known that a room full of independent school educators would have no trouble making the most of that time! We also had a live-blogger in the room, many thanks to Chris Bigenho for sharing his talents with us.
One of the comments that was shared during the discussion time focused on not letting the pace of surviving the day and its challenges keep us from reflecting on our practice and growing intellectually. That is a constant challenge for me and, I think, for many others. I am grateful to be an educator in the web 2.0 era. I benefit every day from the tools that make it so easy to participate in a network of "smart happy people" who push me to reflect on my practice.
So--to those I've mentioned and many others I haven't, a heartfelt thank you, this session couldn't have happened without you! You defy gravity every day!
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
I've been struggling with Daniel Willingham's Why Don't Students Like School? I wouldn't presume to question Willingham's discussion of the cognitive science behind memory and the structure of how the brain learns; that part of his book is instructive and very interesting. Instead, I'm struggling instead with some of the conclusions Willingham draws, such as Students Are Ready to Comprehend but Not to create Knowledge, which is a subtopic in one of his chapters. Another is that we can't effectively teach children about a subject by having them do what experts in the field are doing. He calls this Don't Expect Novices to Learn by Doing What Experts Do.
Just over a week ago, I was fortunate enough to attend Educon and tour the Science Leadership Academy where students do indeed learn by doing what experts do. In fact, one group of students is seeking a patent for a process that they wouldn't tell me very much about (smart kids!) Willingham makes a good case for the value of direct instruction. Sometimes, educators sound like we are eschewing direct instruction when what we're really doing is assuming it. Kids need some explicit instruction in order to be able to engage in meaningful project-based-learning. But, what value does the direction instruction have without application?
I like Willingham's call to clearly teach students about learning, and not just about content. I try to actually use the terms for the types of teaching I'm using and make the process more >> trendy term alert>>transparent for students. For example. my students know the term Imaginative Rehearsal and that it means they are using fiction and role play to imagine scenarios and the possible outcomes.
Just recently, someone pointed me towards How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School (1999), specifically, chapter two: How Experts Differ From Novices. There's a fascinating description of an historical puzzle and the different approaches to solving the puzzle that experts and novices took. What constituted expertise? High content knowledge and strong process knowledge. The experts in the process of historical research were more likely to find the solution than were those with just high content knowledge. Those with both process expertise and high content knowledge in another area were able to solve the puzzle, but needed more time than the experts who already had relevant content knowledge. Those with only content knowledge did not solve the puzzle.
This finding encourages me. Willingham asserts that novices can't learn by imitating experts because their cognition isn't the same. But he never describes how to teach cognition. In contrast, the authors of How People Learn spend a great deal of time stressing the importance of metacognition, or thinking about your thinking. The virtuosos they describe were self-reflective enough to understand what they didn't know, to realize what they needed to learn, and then how to go about that learning. This is a process that even young students can learn. I've learned that when I work with teachers on improving their professional practice, it's important to find a way for them to be reflective. Not everyone is a blogger (writer), but that's not the only method for reflection. Michael Wesch, of has done fascinating work on video diary experience.
Most of the talk today about what makes meaningful learning are based in what Demitri Orlando and others call "any-century skills." I'm not one to think that only new books have implications for the classroom experience. The idea that students need intellectual agility didn't originate with Tony Wagner, although he does a masterful job of articulating why this matters. While I was completing my reading specialist work, there was research from decades ago that was meaningful and important.
I decided to ask a group of our sixth grade students what they thought about the idea that they weren't ready to "imitate experts yet." They had a lot to say! They gave me example after example of times they exhibited what I would call expert-like behavior. I wish I'd thought to video their responses. They also talked about how meaningful they find projects such as the student organized blood drive we're engaged in right now. This is a project that makes me proud of our students and our school every year!
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Of course, the network came through! First, I received a link to the perfect article about Educon in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Why perfect? It's short, has a nice summary of the history, and includes this quote from Chris Lehman, the founding (and current) principal of Science Leadership Academy It is fundamentally an educational forum that looks at the intersection of progressive pedagogy and 21st-century tools
I've diigoed the article, along with my highlights to share with the curriculum group. More than half of them will have read it by the time we meet. I also made a Wordle out of the article:
I tried making a wordle out of my live-blogs, but there was too much editing required.
Then, @jasonmkern led me to visible tweets. So cool! Not sure what to do with it though. No projector at this gathering.
My favorite Chris Lehman quote is "Technology should be like oxygen; ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible." So there's my starter. It's not a 2010 Educon quote, he's been saying this for a while, but it's worth saying over and over. Wash, rinse, repeat.
While my head is still wrapping around much of what I learned, I did come back with one immediate take-away. Dave Bill and Basil Kolani at the Dwight School led a conversation about creating a model for online participatory learning. Their model + the conversation in the room led me to start bugging a group of our teachers. We're going to start teaching the kids we have in the classroom, online. Next week. Well, later this month anyway. I really like what Bill and Basil accomplished by using online methods with on-campus kids. It makes for a nice transition into the world of online learning.
We know that by the time they get to college, most of these students will take a significant portion of their coursework online. How will they cope? By introducing them to online learning while we still have physical access to them, we can help students with an eye to their developmental readiness. Plus, the students and the teachers can defy gravity but still have a safety net. This image is actually of a trampoline, but I loved it and time pressure means. . .
So there it is! Think I can do it in 5?
Sunday, January 17, 2010
A few years ago when I was teaching in a middle school resource room, I noticed how many lacrosse sticks were leaning in the corner (I was a sucker for letting students store stuff that didn’t fit in their lockers in my room). Why were so many LD/ADHD boys (the majority of my students) playing lacrosse?
At first, I thought it was the coach; he was a true charismatic. However, the draw of lacrosse remained even when the coaching staff changed. Why? I attended a couple of their practices and a quite a few games to see if I could figure out the appeal. What was it about lacrosse that attracted these boys?
After more primary research (interviews with my students) I came to a conclusion. There wasn’t anything special about lacrosse. Instead, it was the timing. See, most of the middle school kids were soccer players. Many of them were obsessed with soccer, playing on two or three teams at a time. Soccer culture starts early here in NC, with some kids joining Soccer Tots at 18months old! By the time they are six or seven years old, these kids have developed some serious skills. At this age, the developmentally delayed child may still be learning to run without falling along with mastering left and right. The soccer teams quickly leave such kids behind.
Lacrosse, on the other hand, isn’t available around here until children are eleven or twelve years old. By that time, the kids with developmental delays have mastered the skills they were still struggling with at age five (that’s why we call them delays, btw). Lacrosse puts everyone on an even playing field.
The challenge is, how do we continue to provide opportunities to level the field at multiple places in school? There are so many times that we need to provide a new entry point for students. Development is one reason; increased maturity and changes in affinities are others.
I am starting to believe that a project based program of study can do this better than any other model of curriculum. As I delve into the world of PBL (Educon 2.2 here I come!) I expect I’ll write more about that. I would welcome any suggestions or comments about where to look for further learning.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Clay Shirky says there's no such thing as information overload but instead we're suffering from "filter failure." How then do I help my students build their filters? Once they are grown and transition to a life/career as an adult who is supposed to be on top of potentially limitless input, how will they manage?
Enter the 18th (15th) century skill of taking a large amount of information, reading and comprehending it, and putting it into a few succinct sentences. I love my students. They totally got that this is really a reading strategy, not a writing exercise. Even more importantly, they were able to intelligently discuss the conversation prompt "summarizing can be a political act" after minimal explanation on my part. I'm still grateful to the college professor who taught me that whole class discussion is usually not a discussion at all. There are so many kids who don't know what they think until they hear what they say that setting them up to have table conversations is essential.
If we accept that distilling information (we focused on non-fiction) is important, there is still a question. How is it a 21st century skill? Well, twitter comes to mind. I have learned so much from the twitterverse. Why? Because the folks I follow have mastered the art of saying much with just a few words. When they can't capture all they have to say, they know how to write just enough to convince me that I need to click the link included. Akin to the art of writing the pithy slogan or the captivating headline that's been around for a few centuries.
Next week, I'll post some Wordles of their summaries. We've been looking at biographical sketches and blogs kept by clients of food banks. Pretty powerful stuff.