Sunday, November 26, 2006

Exemplary Scaffolding for Active, Engaged Learning!!

From grade one to high school, exemplary pockets of extraordinary scaffolding for active, engaged learning validate my belief that accountability, sound pedagogy, and innovation can work to serve our children well. I'd like to celebrate four instances and know there are many more!

The Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia

"We've been given the task of reimagining the core curriculum in Philadelphia. We're mapping our curriculum to have the same set of skills and content as the School District of Philadelphia, mapping back to them and to the state standards in our staff development meetings. We certainly believe that we won't be short-changing our kids come PSSA time." From Chris Lehman
And there are no scripted lessons, in fact, inquiry based learning rules at SLA (Science Leadership Academy)! I've followed the birth of SLA on Chris' blog. What an incredible adventure! What possibilities abound! I look forward to hearing more as the year progresses.

Darren Kuropatwa's calculus classes, Winnipeg
"In the course of my recent research and learning about assessment, the idea of making success criteria transparent is emphasized again and again. I want my students to succeed. As a class our goal is for everyone to achieve between 80% and 100%. I have structured my assessments (above) so that students can achieve, with a reasonable amount of effort, marks in the high 80s. ... I spent a lot of time discussing with the students what excellence looks like. I showed examples of past students work." From Darren

I can recall a teacher in a local high school who told his students that his goal was to fail 50% of the class and he did. The students were discouraged and dismayed, and I was incredulous! I couldn't imagine such an attitude was tolerated by the administration. Not only does Darren want his students to succeed, he provides a clear explanation of the criteria for excellence AND his students have a voice in that criteria. How can youngsters not succeed! Imagine what they can learn as they internalize the criteria of "excellence". In addition, Darren encourages creativity in math with a digital story! Now I'm really math illiterate, despite my dad's best efforts (he was a mechanical engineer) and can't help but think that had I had a clear picture of excellence in math and the opportunity to create such a project, I would have an entirely different outlook on this subject.

Teacher C at Blogical Minds
"I think you can take these writings and really turn them into some masterpieces. Are you ready to put your shoulder to the wheel? Want to make them worthy of all that outstanding photographic work which Chris so graciously shared with us? That’s my challenge to you. Do you accept? This part can be fun because we can all put our heads together and help each other. Plus you have a head start with all the comments you have received from your readers!" From Teacher C

The Blogicians had just finished their first blogged photo stories. Can you imagine being in 5th grade and reading that wonderfully warm, encouraging challenge to improve your writing? And Teacher C's creativity abounds as she provides each student with a podcast of their story so they can hear their writing!! No bubbles to fill, or red marks to read -- encouraging excellence and the joy of writing and suggesting they can help each other. Now that's an environment in which I'd like to learn!

Kathy Cassidy's grade one, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
"Today we spent some time talking about the things that we needed to learn in math this year, and the things that we had already learned. We now have a chart in our classroom that we can look at to check our progress." From Kathy
Student podcasts follow that blog post. To hear those little ones share what they have learned and what they planned to learn, setting goals in a way so appropriate to them and sharing those goals with all of us is a real joy! And there is more! The students are wanting to know what 1000 is; Kathy's number sense pedagogy is incredible!! They are collecting 1000 names on a wiki!! I just know they will reach a 1000.

Innovative, sound pedagogy that scaffolds engaging learning experiences that ensure excellence! Well done!!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

No Child Left Behind --One Size Does Not Fit All!

Chris Lehman's comments on NCLB really resonated with me.
"With NCLB and the pressure to conform, to pass the test, to teach to the test, so many schools, adminstrators and teachers have no incentive to innovate, in fact, they often have a disincentive to do so. With the focus on "Research-based curriculum," many folks fall back on what has been done before because there's less risk in doing so. With so much content in the average state standard, too many teachers just try to get through all the content and think, "I'd love to do new things, maybe in the two weeks after the [Insert State Test here.]"

"And that culture of fear that is slowly gripping the American educational system under the current version of NCLB will kill us. It will drive out innovation. It will drive out the brilliant, exciting teachers who want to take the lessons they've learned in their lives and bring it to the kids. To take the NCLB mandate in its most charitable inception, we have created a system where we were so concerned about raising the floor, that we have lowered the ceiling."
In the large urban district in which I used to teach, that culture of fear strangles teacher creativity. Scripted lessons and timelines, rigid rules, and the push to improve test scores rip from children the opportunity to explore areas of interest and develop a love of learning. The drop out rate explodes exponentially. When I recall the youngsters with whom I worked --their needs, their strengths, their weaknesses and their resilience-- tears well in my eyes, for it's my heartfelt professional belief that NCLB has created for them even greater obstacles as they attempt to escape a life of poverty.

And now a group of educators, seeking signatures on a petition calling for the dismantling of NCLB.
"We, the educators, parents, and concerned citizens whose names appear below, reject the misnamed No Child Left Behind Act and call for legislators to vote against its reauthorization. We do so not because we resist accountability, but because the law's simplistic approach to education reform wastes student potential, undermines public education, and threatens the future of our democracy.

Below, briefly stated, are some of the reasons we consider the law too destructive to salvage. In its place we call for formal, state-level dialogues led by working educators rather than by politicians, ideology-bound "think tank" members, or leaders of business and industry who have little or no direct experience in the field of education."
I find the following compelling reasons to add my signature:
7. Requires the use of materials and procedures more likely to produce a passive,
compliant workforce than creative, resilient, inquiring, critical, compassionate, engaged members of our democracy.
9. Allows life-changing, institution-shaping decisions to hinge on single measures of performance.
10. Emphasizes minimum content standards rather than maximum development of human potential.
11. Neglects the teaching of higher order thinking skills which cannot be evaluated by machines.
13. Forces schools to adhere to a testing regime, with no provision for innovating, adapting to social change, encouraging creativity, or respecting student and community individuality, nuance, and difference.
14. Drives art, music, foreign language, career and technical education, physical education, geography, history, civics and other non-tested subjects out of the curriculum, especially in low-income neighborhoods.
I don't fully agree with the wording and content of some of the other points; however, it seems to me that this might have the potential to set the stage for a meaningful conversation on the efficacy of this law. Perhaps we can persuade our legislators to consider a bill that will allow for teacher innovation and creativity AND provide for accountability. --And once again allow us to create for our children learning environments that celebrate their diversity and meet their needs.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

We need a "how to" --creating an environment that encourages assessment AS learning

"How's school?" I asked our neighbor's son, as he and his Dad delivered the Cub Scout popcorn we had ordered this afternoon. He shrugged and said "Ok". I pushed a touch more--"Am I getting the feeling you're not fond of school?" Another shrug and "I like gym." Third grade and not liking school! And I've heard that more and more. In my day, in third grade, we loved school. As a matter of fact, we enjoyed school throughout our K12 years. I looked to his Dad who said all they do is talk about the test and preparing for the test. I nodded in agreement. Our school district has been rated "excellent" by the state. Our doctor has shared with me that he sees more and more younsters, younger kids with migraines and stomach problems, especially around "the test". What are schools doing with our children? The joy of learning, the opportunity to reflect upon what is learned have been hijacked and "high stakes" summative testing has taken their place.

Now I've realized that for sometime; its just difficult hearing it again from someone who is so young. And even more so with Darren recently sharing his thoughts and practice around the concept of Assessment as Learning. I became excited when he shared his thoughts last year. In his recent post, he has shared not only how this concept is evolving in his practice but also a great list of resources (oh how I wish NCTM would make all their resources available with a trial membership). With the exception of the NCTM links, the research he cites seems to be European and Canadian. I had read the PDK article when it was published in Phi Delta Kappan, the authors of which are from the U.K. And the Assessment is for Learning website is from Scotland. I find the resources there to be extremely exciting and full of potential for engaging youngsters in assessment as learning. I set out to find the "U.S." take on what I see as a critical component in learning. I couldn't locate any resources-- sigh! Perhaps it was lack of skill in locating information on my part?

I can't help but think that if the child I spoke to this afternoon had had some input into his learning goals, and had had opportunities for reflection and self/peer assessment --that his responses about school might have been far different!! How can we help U. S. teachers and districts, burdened by the summative testing of NCLB, understand the importance of assessment as learning and assist in the creation of an environment that encourages such practice? How can we help them learn from the Europeans and Canadians?

Using the power of technology-- over evil!!!

Tom Hoffman at Tuttle SVC has an incredible idea!!!! He's is encouraging all to use the power of technology to move the site, which many use as an example of the need for information literacy, off the top of the google list!!!!

He exhorts:
Anyway, enough ranting… what we need here is a good old fashioned Google bomb. So without further ado:

Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Here’s the code under this link. You should be able to just paste this into a blog post.

What possibilities for lessons this will create!!!!! And what good!!!!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

One vision--who will accept the task?

Meg commented on my last post in which I just mentioned the possibilities for a model virtual school and she inquired:
“You mentioned a "virtual school"- what exactly would this look like?”
In my mind’s eye, this model virtual school would showcase classrooms:
  • in which students are regularly engaged in authentic, multidisciplinary learning tasks
  • where collaboration is a regular part of teaching, learning, and assessment
  • where collaborative relationships are common among students and staff
  • where students are flexibly grouped based on interest and need, and these groupings often cross grade-level boundaries
  • where the teacher is the primary architect of the learning environment and purposefully facilitates student learning with overt strategies for nurturing student independence
  • where students in these engaging environments:
• “Self-regulate, taking charge of and investing themselves in their learning.
• Develop and refine their learning and problem-solving strategies.
• Derive excitement and pleasure from learning.
• Collaborate with each other, their teachers, and their communities.” -source
So far, I haven’t even mentioned technology! That’s because I agree that:
“These learning environments that engage and motivate diverse groups of learners often rely heavily on technology in order to meet their goals. However, they don't meet the needs of diverse learners because of technology integration; they succeed because of careful design. Planners first must have a clear picture of the kinds of interactions and processes they want to achieve. Technology integration, then, should not be an outcome, but rather a part of the larger instructional design process.” --source
We’d see extensive use of technology in this model virtual school because:
“Appropriate technology integration happens because the instructional design of engaging learning environments requires an infrastructure that supports the communication, collaboration, and access to information central to the instructional paradigm.” -source
And I think that populating this envisioned school might take awhile because:
“The ability to implement an engaging instructional design does not come overnight. ACOT research shows that the evolution in thought and practice for most teachers undertaking the change from a traditional to a more engaged form of teaching is three to five years (Apple Computer, Inc., 2000). This evolution requires a shift in perceptions about the relationship between teachers, students, and knowledge, and these new perceptions must be agreed upon by all stakeholders.” -source
Right now, I think we are still stuck here! We need to encourage teaching practice whose focus is engaged learning and we need support from all the stakeholders!! I reached this conclusion following 3 years as a resource teacher in the instructional technology office of a large urban district. I left the classroom in 1998 because I thought, at that time, that technology had enhanced the learning of my students. Three years later, I returned to the classroom; I had slowly become very aware that it was not the technology but the pedagogy that had altered the learning in my classroom. My mindset as an educator had been profoundly altered upon my return. In my last classroom, my role was dramatically adjusted from “sage on the stage” to a “guide on the side,” from “giver of information” to designer of learning experiences. As my youngsters eagerly anticipated the new learning experiences I designed, I implemented more authentic, project-based lessons. I tried to change the face of the how I taught, what I taught, and how I requested evidence of student mastery. The technology became a transparent tool—the laptops, the online course, the video conferencing, the use of IM to focus students on the task— those were the result of intentional instructional design which was not easy, but was oh so powerful!!!!

If a virtual school could model all of this and become a nurturing environment, one that recognizes and addresses the fears of those resistant to change, one that helps to shape new behaviors, one that serves significant, meaningful and effective professional development, one that supports with suggestions and “Teflon lessons,” one that sends the message to educators ‘you are valued, you are an educator’-- then more educators may feel empowered and this virtual model could become the wind beneath their wings as they then seek to change the way children learn, what children learn, and how children share what they know using technology.

This doesn’t speak to how to plan the environment but perhaps a vision of??

In the planning, some energetic, inspired group of educators might collaborate to seek a grant to create such a model perhaps seeking various types of assistance from these types of resources:

Just as the K12 Online conference arose from a grassroots effort with a $0 budget, so could a model school, perhaps building off David Warlick’s, New Century Schoolhouse.

What learning and possibilities abound!!! It makes my entire body tingle with excitement!!!

Who might grab this vision and just run with it?? Or are we past my time??

Friday, November 10, 2006

K12 Online: What do you think?

If you have viewed any (even one or just part of one) of the presentations for the 2006 K-12 Online Conference, please take a few minutes and complete the post-conference online evaluation form. The deadline for submitting the survey is Sunday November 12, 2006.

Input is anonymous, and will be both shared and used to improve K-12 Online for 2007. :-)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Learning--- More Compelling Than the Tools Themselves?

Will's post, Owning the Teaching ... and the Learning, has fostered quite a conversation in the comments. That conversation really struck a chord with me, brought back lots of memories and spurred me on to thinking! He writes:

I hate to generalize, but the thing that seems to be missing from most of my conversations with classroom teachers and administrators is a willingness to even try to re-envision their own learning, not just their students. .....

But I’m still bothered by the fact that very, very rarely do I see new pedagogies to go along with them that prepare students for the creation of their own learning networks. That allow them to take some ownership (or at least envision the possibility of it) over their learning. That help them learn self-direction and get them to stop waiting for someone else to initiate the learning. And even rarer is to find one of those teachers exploring his or her own learning through the tools. ...

Many of our kids are already doing this without us. Many of them have much more of a clue of what it means to learn using these tools than we do. Imagine if we could teach them to leverage their connections even more powerfully, if we could show them how powerful they are in our own learning. That we are not just engaged teachers but engaged learners. That we’re not afraid of what’s ahead because we know how to learn. ......

He concludes:

"And I’m wondering, like the survey question from a few days ago, what classrooms might look like 10 years from now, if they will be fundamentally different from what they are today."
And in the comments were many references to teaching and learning the "tools", the technology. The comments that resonated the most for me were more about the "learning" and suggested paths for moving forward :

Teachers and especially administrators and politicos are not going to sanction doing something differently unless you can prove that it works on more than a one classroom model. Brian Crosby

We should be moving towards creating a few schools that demonstrate the true potential of collaborative, digital learning. Mike Guerena

We need more models showing this “stuff” in action. We need classrooms that are models, places that people can visit, CDs filled with videos of lessons and projects in action. We need model networks of kids and teachers working in these ways and collaborating in their learning over the distances…. People need to relaize that it is about learning and how learning can be and needs to be different. Clarence Fisher

This post really resonates with me. Maybe it’s time to build the school of tomorrow, instead of waiting for the school of yesterday to catch up. Bud Hunt

We do need those multiple examples of those model classrooms! And I'm wondering if a virtual school might be a perfect venue to share the excitement of active, engaged students. It surely would make it easier for all of us to visit and to learn! And I'm wondering if the name of such a school should really suggest its purpose--- showcasing exemplary, extraordinary engaged learning rather than the future. --- but I'm digressing here from my original intention for this post.

I am thinking more and more that conversations whose focus is meaningful, engaged learning, and how people learn—those conversations and deeper understandings may encourage educators to consider and adapt their pedagogy to scaffolding learning experiences for all that by their very nature utilize these “tools” that many now leave behind.

Some years ago, I was fortunate to design, develop and teach a new career tech program for high school students who were interested in education as a career path. The pedagogy for that course design was built largely upon my learning from 3 sources:

Carroll, T. G. (2000). If we didn’t have the schools we have today, would we create the schools we have today? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 1(1), 117-140.

How People Learn
by John Bransford et all
For these purposes specifically Chapter Two:

Meaningful Engaged Learning from NCREL

Now none of these is new, but I’m feeling they each lend voice to adapting to a pedagogy of learning which engages all. A reading of the paper suggests a model classroom of expert and novice learners, not teacher and learners. It speaks to the notion of life long learning, and of active engaged learning. Bransford, in research based How People Learn, notes the specific characteristics of expert and novice learners. These plus indicators of meaningful, engaged learning informed my design and scaffolding of learning experiences. I was incredibly excited and frightened at the prospect of such a learning environment. Some pretty incredible learning for both expert and novice learners transpired. Family circumstances led me to retire, but I shall always cherish and never forget the excitement, the rush from learning with my students.

It strikes me as strange that now when I share the program with others I talk about the technology--- the video conferencing, the laptops, the online course—when it was the pedagogy that fostered the learning. And I'm focusing on the tools???

I’m wondering then, if conversations surrounding the NCREL indicators, Bransford’s work, and Carroll’s paper could lead to “the classrooms our children deserve”. Can that dialogue, along with the models of excellence, be more persuasive and compelling?

A Standing Ovation!!!!

"A vision without a task is a dream. A task without a vision is drudgery.

But a vision with a task can change the world." -- attributed to Black Elk (Oglala Sioux)

Following months of planning, the k12 Online Conference continues!

What an extraordinary concept and intent--that although the scheduled "fireside chats", the keynotes and presentations, and "When Night Falls" are over, the conference would and does live on in the comments on the blog, in the K12 "Tapped In" room, and on the k12 Wiki. As do the conversations, the connections, and the learning--

And so this standing ovation for Darren, Sheryl, and Wes!!!

For your vision
For your talents
For your skills
For your perseverance in meeting any and every challenge as a possibility
For your willingness to share
For your sincere desire to empower and engage
For your determination
For your pursuit of and achievement of excellence

This one's for you!