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Archive for the ‘Curriculum’ Category

I recently had a discussion with a friend John, who is a Superintendent in a rural school district. We were discussing his district specifically and what it was providing its students in the way of relevant programs of study. The conversation came around to a question often asked and an answer that is too familiar. I asked what the purpose of school was? As educators what is it that we want for our students at the end of the journey of K-12? Of course the answer was to get them to college or to get them to a good job.

My friend was consulting with a number of local companies to determine what they were looking for in employees. He was also consulting with area colleges to see what they expected to receive as college ready students. He was doing everything a responsible, caring superintendent could do in order to properly prepare his students for the stated goals of education, getting to college, or getting a job.

Thinking about the goals, as pragmatic as they are, I was really having trouble with the idea of what the goals were. We were considering limiting kids’ learning to the limited needs an industrial complex, or the present entry requirements of institutions that are slow to change in an ever-changing culture.

My other problem with these almost universal goals of American education is that for too many kids these goals are not an inspiration to learn. If college is truly a goal for education, why is it that only a third of Americans have completed four-year degrees?  The first answer that comes to mind is that most were not able to handle the studies involved. A more likely answer however, is that a degree has become cost prohibitive. People can no longer afford to go to college without incurring massive debt. How can any kid embrace a goal of education knowing that it is financially unattainable, or that it will come at a cost of unending loan payments? This is not unlike promising every kid playing sports should have an expectation to play in any of the national, professional sports leagues. Few might, but most will not.

This goal of a college career is certainly less of an incentive when we consider schools in areas of poverty. Middle-income people may have some shot at college with the help of family, but that puts the student and the family into years of debt. What chance do poor kids have, especially in the current political climate of limiting any government funding for anyone?  Nationally, student debt is rising at an astronomical rate because of the need to fulfill the goal of college and its promise of financial security upon completion. Poor kids are told that college will break the cycle of poverty. How is that an incentive for a kid who knows its likelihood will never happen? Education’s goal is not the kid’s goal. That is not a winning strategy.

Now for the second goal of education for those who we recognize as the non-college ready students. Our goal is to place them in the labor force. We ask business and industry what they require of their employees, and then we work that into our education system. We have then prepared our students for the workforce of today. The problem here is that they are not prepared for the workforce of tomorrow. That is more likely the place that they will live. We saw the result of this when the economy went bust. Many workers who found themselves again in the job market, were not prepared for the world of work today. We can’t program kids to fit into a workforce that may not support their skills after they graduate. Business, industry and our entire society are subject to rapid change driven by the evolution of technology. Think of how different the workforce will look from when a kid enters school until his or her graduation. In that time, that twelve-year span, how many businesses died, and how many started anew? Yet, we will have programmed our kids to be work ready for a workforce that may no longer need those skills. Think of how long a time it took moving typewriters out of education in a world of word processors.

If college readiness and work readiness are failing goals in education, what should the goal of education be? I don’t know. I think life readiness or learning readiness might be more fitting for our world today. Teaching kids how to learn and continue to do so outside of a classroom is the best way to prepare them for whatever path they choose.  A goal of self-reliance might serve kids better in the future. To enable a kid to learn without a teacher is the best gift a teacher can give a student.

Change will be slow however, because all of our educators and all of our society have been programmed to believe that school is to prepare kids for college or work. We have come to believe that education is salvation, when in fact it is the learning that is important. Education is a certificate of learning that comes at great expense. It does have its place however, and we will always hold it in high regard. The fact is however that fewer people will be able to pay for that piece of paper, but the learning it represents may cost a great deal less, not in terms of effort or work, but in terms of dollars and cents. In the future it may not be the degree, but the learning that is important. Maybe we need to reassess our goals in education?

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I recently attended one of the largest education conferences in the United States, FETC in Orlando, Florida. The focus of the conference was the use of Technology in Education. The sessions and vendors were for the most part all technology-driven. Education and technology today are often linked together and are the predominant force in education conferences today.

Technology provides both educators and students a means to Communicate, Collaborate, and most importantly to Create. All of these “C Words” however revolve about the biggest  “C Word” of all in education, Content. Every teacher is familiar with the expression “Content is King” It is what has driven education since its beginning. It is the focus of lecture and direct instruction alike. It also, to my casual observation, appears to be the biggest draw for educators at these education conferences. The products that offer content delivery seem to draw the largest gatherings at the vendor booths on the exhibit floor. Of course, when this observation first gelled in my mind, I may have only then viewed the entire conference through that lens which might have skewed the results in my head.

Content delivery, however seems to be the magnet that draws in educators because that is how many educators envision themselves, as content experts. Of course that has been drilled into the heads of American educators for two centuries, so it should come as no surprise. The 19th and 20th centuries did not have the wherewithal in technology to support educators the ability to Communicate, Collaborate, or Create with any efficient, or convenient way. If it could not be done face-to-face and created by hand, then it could not be done. Of course this began to slowly change in the second half of the 20th century and sped up as that century closed out.

The addition of electricity first, and then computers moved everything forward at a rapid pace, but again it was all for content delivery. Movies and filmstrips dominated the 20th century. The overhead projector, which is still used to deliver content today, is technology that is over 75 years old. Video was a great step forward, but again for presenting content. As videotaping became easier, cheaper and a more convenient technologically, more creation began in the form of TV shows and videotaped presentations. Once students discovered the power of video, it was a game changer. Think MTV.

As technology advances, our abilities to use it to expand what we can do, and how we can communicate, collaborate, and most importantly create has changed. We can do all of this more effectively and efficiently than any of the previous centuries allowed.

Communication has taken on many new forms that affect us every day. Texting was only an idea in the 20th century and now we live by it. Collaboration was a face-to-face process in the bygone days of the 20th Century. Today, we are not bound by time or space for collaboration. It takes place anywhere, at any time, both locally and globally. The ability to create has surpassed anyone’s imagination in the 20th century. The computer can replace publishers. Movie, TV, and Sound recording studios also now can be computer-based. Creation of content has never been so easily accomplished.

Yet, with all of this change in our ability to Communicate, Collaborate and Create with content, many educators insist on focusing on content delivery. This is squandering a great opportunity to educate. Whatever happened to Bloom’s Taxonomy? If we fail to change the way we teach, we will have quickly outlived our ability to do so. Our kids do not need content experts, or content deliverers. The Internet does a far better job of that, than any educator can do. Content may always be King, but the approach to it must change in education. Educators need to be sounding boards and mentors, guides and counselors. We need to teach kids what is worthy and what is not – Critical Thinking. That is the biggest “C word” of all.

Kids are no longer limited to learning in the classroom. That is a myth that many believed in for decades. Access to information takes place 24 hours a day, but that is not education. We need to stop viewing technology as a distraction from education and see it as an attraction to it. It is only a distraction to students who have teachers who do not know how to approach technology meaningfully to use it to educate.

Technology is not the silver bullet for education. It is a tool for information and content that continually develops. Content and information are the basis for all education. If educators can’t adapt to the developing tools for communication, collaboration, and creation students will find their own mentors and guides. Educators are left with two choices, Relevance or Irrelevance. There will be little time to catch up at the rate technology is changing. Open minds and a continuing need to learn must be part of the profession. We need to continually develop as professionals and share out what we have learned to our community of educators. Technology is as much of a tool for the educators as it is for the students. Educators need to employ the best methods of; communication, collaboration and creation to do with content that which needs to be done to educate technologically driven students. This will require a change in both attitude and methodology on the part of today’s educators. The big problem is to get this concept across to educators who are not reading this post, or any other education Blog, the unconnected educators. How do we change the minds and hearts of people not connected to the means to do that? The other “C word”, Connected.

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My career as a teacher began way before the introduction of Rubrics to education. As an English teacher I was required to assess students’ writing and convert that assessment into a grade for the student. Back in the 70’s the most progressive grading method I was exposed to was giving a grade over another grade  (85/95). The top grade was for the piece and the bottom grade was for the effort exhibited. The entire grade was almost totally subjective, and dependent on the good will of the teacher to attempt to be as objective as possible. I always considered the effort grade a way to clear the conscience.

I thought that this subjective method of grading was pretty much gone until I had a recent conversation with my daughter about her college writing class. It would seem her professor was old school and assigned grades on assignments using the holistic method of just reading and assigning a grade. Little explanation, or justification for the grade was presented. I began to wonder how many educators still employ these methods. I have seen research that indicated most kids do not read or respond to comments on papers left by instructors, but whatever was the basis for any assessed grade should be explained somewhere. We often tell students it is more about the learning than it is about the grade, yet we give the grade without an explanation, so how can learning take place? Of course time, or a lack of it, is often the reason for this, and that is a factor to be dealt with. As a former English teacher I know my visceral reaction to those who argue that class size should not matter; the more kids we have the less time we get.

Again, back in the day, I would underline mistakes without comment. My intent was to have students attempt to figure out why segments were underlined on their own. I even provided collaboration time so they could check with a “study buddy”. I would then meet with them for a brief face-to-face meeting for feedback and comments. This was time-consuming, but effective for some, not all. It was still difficult to objectify what was, so obviously, a subjective assessment. Can tone outweigh a few grammatical mistakes? Are two simple sentences worth less than a compound, or even more a complex sentence? Does the grasp of the content overshadow the poor sentence structure? Was I being consistent for every paper from each of my students? Were all papers being assessed equally? I was rarely satisfied with the answers to these questions that kept popping up in my head with every graded assignment.

I remember the first time I heard the term “Rubric” in a department meeting. I had no idea what it was, but I did not want that to be found out through my questioning, so I sat quietly until the conclusion of the meeting. My mistaken impression was that we were to break down the components that we were grading for, and assign a rating scale for each. That seemed simple enough. I have come to learn that many educators hold this simplistic view today. It is not truly what I came to understand as to what a Rubric is.

We were, as a department, giving a grade level assignment, so to make sure that the assessment of the assignment was as fair and objective as possible, we were to develop rubrics that all concerned teachers could live by. That would also enable anyone in the department to grade any paper with consistency.  We discussed what was to be graded. What each section was to be worth. We described in detail what the top of the scale should include for each section, as well as the middle, and the bottom. We even defined what specifically constitutes a zero paper in the event that we got one.

I found the process in developing these Rubrics eye-opening. For the first time, I had a clear understanding of what it was I was looking for with specific guidelines and values. It was no longer a gut thing. We developed the entire list of Rubrics, arranged them in boxes, and placed the entire elaborate display horizontally on a single piece of paper. This was going to be great. I would include this with each of the assignment packets, and all would be clear to each of my students.

That clarity never came to my kids. I failed to recognize that what took me time to analyze, digest, and appreciate with understanding, only occurred over a period of time while developing the rubrics. That experience could not translate to reading a document, no matter how elaborate, or eye appealing it might be. I realized after the first class which I tried this in, that I needed a better strategy. I needed to spend more time up front, so I could use less time and get better results on the back-end.

My plan was simple: I was going to develop the Rubrics with my students. I reasoned that the process that worked for me, should work for them as well. I knew where I wanted to take them, because I worked out the rubrics already. I needed to guide them through it, taking their ideas, while explaining not only my expectations, but also what my means of assessment would be in determining their grade. They became part of the process and took ownership of the rubrics. I made some small adjustments based on their suggestions.

From that day forward, they had an understanding of Rubrics that lasted. It actually gave some means of control to the students. I was as limited to adhering to the Rubrics as the students were. It was a pact to be honored by all parties. The Students had a clear understanding of expectations on the assignment. They understood what would be graded and how it would be counted.

Some might argue that Rubrics enabled students to do less work to attain a minimum-passing grade. Rubrics might limit a few students in some ways to go beyond the rubrics. I did not find that to be true.

I know as an adult I want to know what is expected of me in given situations. As an adult, if I am to be judged on something, I want to know on what am I being judged and in what way. Kids should be afforded the same answers and it should not matter what subject in school this happens. This is how we learn. Is learning not what education is about?

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From my introduction to Dan Pink through his book Drive I was amazed at how he could write a book about business that pertained so much to what educators do. It was not in the sense of how to create widgets, which is often a business approach to education, but rather what incents people to do what they do in the best way possible. It was more than just the best way to drive students, but the best way to drive educators to their highest potential as well. For that reason Dan has been recognized and engaged by national and international education organizations to address their memberships. I have listened to several of his keynotes with never a disappointment. In personal conversations I have found him to be a really nice guy. I sought him out at a recent trip to D.C. to ask him about his new book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others . I was hoping to find his latest book to be as educator-friendly as Drive.

1. You say that today, like it or not, we’re all salespeople.  Is that true even of teachers? 

On the first question, the answer is “yes.”  When you look at what white-collar actually do each day, it turns out they spend a huge portion of their time persuading, influencing, and convincing others.  It’s what I call “non-sales selling” or “moving” others. Money isn’t changing hands. The cash register isn’t ringing. And the transaction isn’t denominated in dollars, but in time, effort, attention, energy commitment and so on.

This is what teachers do much of their day. Think about, for instance, what a good algebra teacher does.  At the beginning of a term, students don’t know much about the subject.  But the teacher works to convince his or class to part with resources — time, attention, effort — and if they do, they will be better off when the term ends than they were when it began.  

2. You also say that sales has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous 100. How have the forces causing that change affected education?

The biggest change in the buyer-seller relationship.  One reason that selling has a bad rap because most of what we know about it arose in a world of information asymmetry — where the seller always had more information than they buyer and therefore could rip the buyer off. But today, information asymmetry is giving way to something at least close to information parity. That’s changed the game in ways we’ve scarcely recognized.  In conditions of information asymmetry, the operative principle is “buyer beware.” In a world of information parity, the operative principle is “seller beware.”

This has affected teaching in some interesting ways. One hundred and fifty years ago, we began to have schools in part because that’s where the information was and teachers were the mechanism by which students accessed that information.  Those conditions prevailed for a very long time. But now — thanks to the Internet, mobile phones, social media and so on — students have the same access to information that teachers do.    That means that a teacher’s job isn’t to transmit the information, but to equip students with ways to analyze the information, make sense of the information, evaluate the information.  What’s more, it has begun to change what happens inside the classroom itself as more teachers move to flipping the classroom — providing the lectures electronically and use class time for hands on work that computers can’t replicate.

3. What are the underlying principles of this new approach to selling — whether you’re selling your product, your idea, or yourself?

The result of the change I just described is that sellers — of anything — need a new set of skills. There is a rich body of research — in psychology, economics, linguistics, and cognitive science – that reveals some systematic ways to become more effective in moving others on a remade terrain of information parity.  The old ABC’s of sales were Always Be Closing. The new ABC’s of Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity. These three qualities are the platform for effectiveness. Attunement is perspective-taking. Can you get out of your own head and see another’s — a student’s, a colleague’s, a parent’s — perspective. Buoyancy is staying afloat in an ocean of rejection.  And clarity is helping students move from accessing information to curating it and from solving existing problems to identifying hidden problems.

4. On your concept of attunement, what is something a teacher can do to become more attuned with his or her students?

It’s important to understand at the outset why attunement matters so much.  All of us today have less coercive power. It’s tougher for bosses, teachers, parents, and so on simply to command something and expect compliance. The better approach is to understand another’s perspective in the hopes of finding common ground.

But that can be a challenge. One sturdy finding of the social science is feelings of power and acuity of perspective taking are inversely correlated. That is, feeling powerful tends to degrade our ability to take another’s perspective. This is important because teachers are often in a position of relative power with regard to their students. So being effective often requires beginning from a different position: Assume that you’re not the one with the power. This of it as persuasion jujitsu, where you enlist an apparent weakness as a strength. Start your encounters with the assumption that you’re in a position of lower power. That will help you see the student’s perspective more accurately, which, in turn, will help you move them. 

 5. What is one other tip teachers might glean from your book?

One of my favorites comes from a technique know as motivational interviewing. With this technique, you can deal with resistance by asking two seemingly irrational questions.  So imagine you’ve got a student that simply doesn’t do his homework. Instead of threatening him or punishing him or pleading with him, use the two-question strategy (which I learned from Yale psychologist Michael Pantalon).

The first question is this: “On scale of 1, with one meaning ‘not the least bit ready,” and 10 being ‘totally ready,” how ready are you to begin doing homework.

Chances are, he’ll pick an extremely low number — perhaps 1 or 2.  Suppose he answers, “I’m a 2.”

Then you deploy the second question: Why didn’t you choose a lower number?

The second question catches people off guard.  And the student now has to answer why he’s not a 1. “Well, he might say, if I did my homework, I might do a little better on tests.” “If I did my homework, I might learn a little more.” “I’m getting older and I know I’m going to have to become a little more responsible.”

In other words, he moves from defending his current behavior to articulating why, at some level, he wants to behave differently. Equally important, he begins to state his own autonomous, intrinsically motivated reasons for doing something. When people have their own reasons for doing something, they believe those reasons more deeply and adhere to them more strongly.

So on a scale of 1 to 10, how ready are you to use Pantalon’s technique? And why didn’t you choose a lower number?

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When it comes to an understanding of the term “literacy” most people understand it as the ability to read and write in an effort to communicate, understand and learn. That has been the accepted understanding of literacy for centuries. Of course with the advancement of technology in our world today that simple understanding of literacy has rapidly expanded. It has probably expanded so much, and so fast that most people have yet to grasp all of the new literacies that have come about in this technology-driven society in which we live. There is actually a growing list of new literacies.

The very tools that we used for centuries in support of literacy have disappeared under this wave of technology. The typewriter is no longer with us. Photographic cameras using film are becoming scarce. The print media itself no longer relies on huge printing presses. VCR’s, although state of the art at one time, are now DVR’s, even more state of the art. The world has been changed and continues to do so at a rate never before imagined. Technology continues to expand and catalogue all knowledge. The methods we use to access, curate, communicate, and analyze all of this information have undergone continuing change in the last few years.

We have come to recognize that technology has expanded our access to so much information, in so many different forms, that there is a need to recognize many other literacies beyond just reading and writing. In a technology-driven society being literate enough to only read and write may be enough for our kids to get by, but will they be able to compete, thrive, and succeed? Digital Literacy has blossomed with this digital age. It provides an understanding and ability to adapt and use digital tools to access, curate, communicate, and analyze information in this time of digital access. It also enables us to collaborate on a global scale. These are all necessary skills for success moving forward into the world that our kids will occupy.

Education has always taught literacy. Education’s function is to create a literate citizenry. In order to accomplish that, we have always used educators with credentials of proven literacy to educate our children.

That may not be the case today when one considers additional and necessary literacies that may or may not be being addressed in Higher Education, or in the professional development of existing educators. That is certainly true of digital literacy.

Does the hiring process of teachers and administrators call for a proven demonstration of digital literacy? Are schools directing and supporting professional development to address digital literacy for all of their educators. Are Administrators digitally literate enough to recognize a digitally literate educator during the hiring process? Does a school have a model of what skills a digitally literate educator should possess if not master?  Hopefully, those skills exceed the ability to do a Google search, or a Power Point demonstration. Even the CCSS recognizes the need for digital literacy and requires that it be demonstrated within the curriculum. Are all of our teachers prepared for that component?

A literate educator in the 20th Century is not the same as a literate educator in the 21st Century. Our education system is loaded with many 20th Century holdovers. Most are great people, and good teachers, but they are illiterate in 21st Century terms. We need not cast them aside. They are valuable and revered sources and educators. We need to support them with methods to upgrade their literacies. It must be a priority.

Additionally, we need to update our hiring procedures. We need to better define the educators we want. They need to be literate in every sense of the word. They need to possess multiple literacies in order to accommodate the needs of today’s learners, our kids. If we continue to support illiterate educators to teach our children, we can only expect our children to be illiterate as well. That is not properly preparing our kids for the world in which they will live.

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I have been involved with Education chats on Twitter from the beginning. I am a cofounder of #Edchat, so over the years I have gotten to know my way around chats. I delight in the fact that there is now a huge list of chats educators may participate in. The weekly chat list abounds with a variety of areas in education that would interest educators from almost any area of expertise. The best part about Chats is that if nothing is meeting your need, you may start your own chat to address it. Here is the current Schedule for the Weekly Chat List.

Every week #edchat offers up five education Topics to choose from on a poll open to all. The Top vote getter is the 7 PM topic, and the second top vote getter is the Noon Chat Topic. Each week however, I need to come up with five new topics that we have not yet discussed in the last six months. It is a chore. One method I use to come up with #Edchat Topics is to bounce into other education chats to see their topics of concern. Often times I just lurk, or I might interject a provocative question on the Topic to stir things up a bit. On occasion I find myself engaging in the discussion, pulled in by someone else’s provocative comment.

Yesterday, I found a chat that intrigued me, and a tweet from an educator that grabbed me, so I bounced in. The Topic was on student voice and students having more of a say in the decisions about their own learning. This is a very relevant topic in education today. What drew me in was an educator’s tweet:

I dont get overly excited about student control bc theyre still kids. They arent capable of knowing whats best. As a long time educator I recognize this to be partially true, and maybe someone needed to say it, but it is also a condition that we as educators have created in the system that may be in need of change. If we continue to say kids are incapable of knowing what’s best, and do not address it, does that condition immediately and completely change on its own when kids become 18? Although I attempted to engage this educator in a dialogue on this topic, the response was that it was a scary thought and barely a consideration because it was a ridiculous idea. With that response I knew I had nowhere to go, so I left the discussion. If it were an #Edchat I probably would have taken it on, but I am a believer in the idea that there is a 10 percent mark of people who do not change their minds regardless of the facts. This educator had all the symptoms.

This set me to thinking down two paths of thought. First, Why do educators, who are set in their ways, and unwilling to open up to a different perspective, engage in chats. It is good to have opposition to ideas. That opposition both tests and strengthens new ideas. It forces compromise or it debunks ideas that have no real foundation. The idea of the chats is to explore the options, and be open to alternatives. If everything worked, as everything should, there would be no need for chats. Let us recognize that change is inevitable in everything, and that it is better for us to control that change than to have that change control us.

The idea of these chats is to explore what we do, and see if we can do better. The idea of collaborative chats is that the participants are varied and many. This offers us a range of experiences gathered for a chat that could never before been done virtually. It is in the sharing of these varied experiences that we may glean the best of the best and root out that which is not working. For any of this to work however, we do need to come to the chat with an open mind willing to explore change.

Of course the more important take away for me from this engagement was that there are still educators out there who believe kids incapable of making decisions that affect their lives. Of course, if we program kids to believe only adults may determine what kids should learn and how they should learn it, we are not creating or even encouraging life long learning. We need to begin programming kids to make decisions from an early age. We as educators need to instruct, mentor, and guide decision-making in students until they can take it on fully on their own. Their decisions need to be real with all the rewards and all the consequences. The decisions need to be gradually upgraded and age appropriate, but by high school our students should be making academic decisions for overall courses as well as in class decisions. We as educators need to get from teacher centric lessons to student centric lessons giving weight to the decisions kids make.

Left to that educator that I encountered in that chat, kids would never make a decision because they are not mature enough to do so. The irony is that we demand mature behavior from kids every day, but we do not credit them capable of mature decision-making, because we rob them of that ability. Decision-making is a learned skill like any other and it is a life skill, yet we limit our children’s ability to make them even in the areas that affect them almost every day. We limit their decisions and turn them out into a society that demands decisions on a daily basis. Who benefits by this process?

 

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This week’s #Edchat was about teacher-centric learning vs. student-centric learning. It is a topic that often gets teachers actively involved in discussion. The reason why so many teachers are so passionate about this subject is unclear, but if Twitter chats and tweets are any indication, it is obvious that many of our connected educators strongly favor student–centric learning. Many view it as 20th century education vs. 21st century. In fact we have been having the “sage on the stage” vs. “ guide on the side” argument for quite a few decades.

Direct Instruction and Lecture are methods of education that have dominated our lessons in education for centuries. They are probably the lessons that most Americans imagine when they are asked to think of what a typical lesson in school should look like. It is the way that most content experts often deliver content to their students. Lecturing is the mainstay of college courses. The majority of the work in this model falls on the teacher to take in and understand the content and deliver it in digestible chunks to the students. This is then noted and memorized by the students for a later summative assessment. That would be the model applied from: chapter to chapter, unit to unit, subject to subject, and textbook to textbook. Both teachers and students were programmed into this model for the most part. Does any of this sound familiar?

The last few decades however have had teachers experimenting with other ways to deliver content. I remember the first time I used simulations in an integrated social studies and English project in the late eighties. It seems a little lame by today’s standards, but we were pushing the envelope back then. The classroom was noisy, the kids were all over the room, the furniture was used as anything but furniture, but we were all engaged in learning. It was active learning and not passive listening.

Moving ahead to the 21st Century we see the use of Project-Based learning, Problem-based learning, and now the Maker movement. None of this is really new, but many educators in larger numbers are newly employing it. We are seeing in more and more literature that lecture and direct instruction may not be as effective as these other forms of learning.

Collaborative learning, which has always been with us, has been turbo-boosted by technology. It once required face-to-face environment to even be considered. It was always effective, but the requirements of time and space limited its use in the classroom, and made it almost impossible outside the education setting. Technology changed all of that. Collaboration now has no boundaries of time and space. Collaborative learning can take place anytime and anywhere. Connections are both local and global. This has become the heart of connected education, and collaborative learning on a global sc

Direct Instruction and Lecture are elements of education that will always be with us. They should not however be the focus of education. Technology now provides the means for student-centric lessons. We need to educate our educators in the benefits and implementation. We also need to get our students familiar with having a voice in personalizing their learning. We cannot hold them responsible for learning, if we don’t teach them the skills of learning. This student-centric learning strongly supports lifelong learning. It creates independent learners and thinkers. It is a learning-by-doing philosophy.

The deterrents to this oncoming wave in education are few, but they are daunting. Observations by administrators are used to assess a teacher’s performance. The easiest observations to do are teacher-centric lessons. Otherwise, in a student-centric lesson, an administrator would have to observe student learning as opposed to teacher delivery of content. Although not impossible, it is a more difficult way to do things. Nevertheless, there are forms of observations that accommodate student-centric lessons. We need to prepare administrators with those tools. More importantly we need to get them as supporters of a method of teaching and learning that has not been the mainstay of education. This is a difficult task in an institution as conservative as Education.

Technology is a driving force for much of the student-centric learning. We need our educators to be at the very least literate in this relatively new digital literacy. It is not a generational thing that people over 30 cannot ever understand. It is a learning thing that teachers can be taught through collaboration, support, and prioritizing ongoing teacher learning for professional development.

The idea that content is king may just be a passing phase in education. Content should be the tool that we use to teach kids the skills of learning. What we learn should take a back seat to how we learn. Once we know how to learn, the content will come to us, as we need it. We need to prepare this generation not only to learn, but also to think critically as well. Learning and thinking are a far cry from listening, memorizing and regurgitating facts.

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For those who may be unaware, The WISE Summit is an education conference held each year in Doha, Qatar. The Qatar Foundation, which supports innovation in education around the world, sponsors it. It was my good fortune to be invited to attend last year along with my good friend and colleague Steven Anderson. The invitation to attend the WISE Summit comes with travel and accommodations paid for by the conference. This enables attendees to be truly representative of a huge number of countries worldwide. I was quite fortunate to be invited back a second year and lead a discussion in a common ground session.

One thing that sets the WISE Summit apart from all other education conferences we have become most familiar with is that the WISE Foundation is able to act on their good intentions. When they find educators who are passionately pursuing innovative educational endeavors, The WISE Foundation shares not only the idea with their summit attendees, but they deliver those very innovative, passionate educators to personally tell their stories to the WISE Conference. This in person delivery more than anything else best shares that passion and innovation in hopes that it becomes infectious. This conference sets itself above all others in that it fully support its intentions with actions, and of course this does not come cheaply.

The result of the huge investment in this education, and innovation connection is that the very necessary ideas for change in education can be discussed and shared at levels that potentially can make a difference on a worldwide level. Some of the most influential, Non-Government Organizations, responsible for educating millions around the world have personal access to these exceptional individuals and their ideas. The best part of this from my personal perspective is that, as an educator, and a blogger, I have the very same access to those folks. I find their ability to share their stories based on their ideas and experiences is not just inspirational, but also empowering.

There are so many people with whom I connected at this conference that I could write about, but a single post could not begin to scrape the surface of connections. Almost every business card handed to me at the conference brings to mind something about the individual represented. Of course it helps that I made notes right on the card after receiving it. It was my personal method of keeping up with so much information.

Of all of the connections and friendships that I made in Doha, Qatar, there are two individuals who are probably best described as unlikely standouts among educators. At a truly international conference I tend to bond more quickly with American educators. I find myself naturally attracted to and comfortable with people who seem familiar when I am in unfamiliar surroundings. To my advantage however this was my second year attending the WISE Summit, so a great deal of venturing beyond my comfort level took place. The two people I first came in contact with upon my arrival probably had the most profound effect on me for the conference. One was an African-American man from South Los Angeles, California, and the other was a white man from the South Bronx, New York. The three of us met for the first time in Doha. It was their first trip to Qatar and they were both wondering what it was that got them the invitation. I knew why they were invited within minutes of each of them telling me their story. Both men had a mission in life and each was passionate about it. Both were about helping people and each was laser focused on that goal. Both encountered great obstacles set up by culture and politics and each had battled and won great victories. One was steeped in hyperactivity and had a hard time sitting in a chair. The other was mellow and very laid back. I was comfortable with both guys and we got along fine. They are people I will keep in touch with and follow, as they continue to do wonderful things for their communities and that alone will drag or push many of us along with them.

I could not do justice to their stories in attempting to describe them to you in this post. I could not begin to even attempt to describe the passion and enthusiasm of these men for what it is they each do. It is ironic that each was brought around the world to meet for the first time when one considers what each of them did to get there. To best serve you as a reader, I can connect you with their video, so that you can see to some measure that which I saw in full measure. Even that should be enough to recognize these men as extraordinary educators and people we need to hold in high esteem with our support.

These are the Ted Talk videos of my new friends, Ron Finley, and Steve Ritz. I would expect you to view them, and hopefully, pass this along to other educators as well.

 

Simply click on each title to view the video.

 

Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA

 

Stephen Ritz: A teacher growing green in the South Bronx

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When I think of Professional Development for teachers in the traditional sense, I am more and more convinced that being connected as an educator is more effective in accomplishing the goal of professionally developing. The biggest roadblock to teachers connecting may very well be the way teachers have been programmed throughout their entire education and career.

Any course, or workshop that a teacher has ever wanted to take for academics, or for professional development was either controlled, or in some way approved by someone in authority. Some districts put this on the responsibility list of an Assistant Superintendent, or that of a Personnel Director. The determining factor for acceptance of any teacher’s PD would be: does the course, or workshop comply with the specific subject that the teacher teaches? Some districts require that teachers stipulate how the specifics of the course will impact the subject that he or she teaches. Once the course is completed, usually some proof of seat time in the form of a certificate must be provided before permission for acceptance can be granted.

This traditional method of Professional Development has gone on in this fashion, or something close to it for decades. The question is: Does it work? Of course nothing works 100 percent of the time. I would venture to say however, that if we base our answer on an observation of the dissatisfaction with our education system, and the grass-roots movement of tens of thousands of educators in search of something more in the way of PD, our current method may be failing us miserably, or at the very best, falling a bit short of the mark. Either way, PD in its current form is not making the grade.

Someone other than the learner directs the learning in this model, because it was designed around control, compliance, and permission. It would be a big plus if the needs of the learner aligned with the needs of the director, and I imagine that sometimes it does. However, that would probably be more coincidental than a planned outcome. The methodology of a majority of this PD is pretty much “sit and get” or direct instruction. Of course some teachers of the PD might use other methodology, but “sit and get” is pretty much the staple of most PD.

With the era of the Internet, came the idea of very easy-to-do self-exploration of topics. Educators could look stuff up on their own from home, or school. The idea of self-directing leaning suddenly became much easier, and I might add, a whole lot cheaper. The problem for districts however was that there was no way to control it, or to regulate it, or even give, or withhold permission to do it.

The entire self-directed learning thing was further complicated with the advent of Social Media. SM was at first thought to be the bane of all educators. As soon as educators stopped yelling at kids who used it, and tried it for themselves, things changed. Educators began connecting with other self-directed learning educators, and shared what they had learned. The learning has become more collaborative and through observation, and reflection, and based on the interactions of other educators, it has become more popular and more clearly defined.

There are two factors that seem to be holding many educators from this self-directed collaboration. First, it requires a minimal amount of digital literacy in order to connect and explore, and collaborate. This seems to be lacking for many educators, as well as a resistance to learn the literacy. Ironically, educators are supposed to include digital literacy in their curriculum for their students to be better prepared.

Second, educators have been programmed to the model of Control, Compliance, and Permission for Professional Development. That is also the accepted model still employed by most districts, and a huge roadblock. As tough as it is for educators to buck the system, it seems worse for administrators. They too have been programmed, but additionally, they are in the position that has the Control, that demands the Compliance, and that grants the Permission. To give that up by some who are in a position of power is a much more difficult leap of faith. Maybe administrators need to be reprogrammed as lead learners rather than just administrators. It becomes an obligation to continually learn. If they become self-directed learners collaborating with other educators globally, what effect would that have on their leadership capabilities?

In regard to professional Development maybe it would prove more effective to have teachers demonstrate the effects of their learning, instead of a certificate for proof of seat time. That would become the portfolio of a teacher’s learning placing more emphasis on the brain and less on the ass.

The term “connected educator” may be a term that scares people. This was mentioned at a recent education conference. If that is the case, why not use the term “collaborative learner”. Learning through collaboration has been done from the beginning of education. The tools to do it however have dramatically changed and improved, enabling collaboration to take place anytime, anywhere, and with any number of people. It is done transparently, recorded, and archived. Never before in history has collaboration occurred this way. As educators, we would be more than foolish to ignore this potential. As learners we would also be remiss to ignore the personal opportunity to expand and advance.

As educators we recognize the importance of reflection and critical thinking. We need to employ those skills to examine where we are, and what we are doing with the things that we rely on as educators. We need our professional development to be useful and relevant in order to ensure that we, as educators, remain useful and relevant. We can’t have a relevant system of education without relevant, literate educators.

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 I have spent a great deal of time communicating the need for educators to connect, communicate and collaborate in order to improve our education system and learning in our computer-driven culture. Many educators have boarded that train, but many, many more are still waiting at the station for a train that is easier to board and more comfortable to ride.

Maybe my efforts and the efforts of many other educators and bloggers have targeted the wrong group to affect a change in our education system. Maybe instead of pushing educators into the fray, we should be supporting other groups that will eventually pull educators into a systematic change. Connectedness is not a condition that is only available for educators to benefit. If educators fail to see the benefit of connectedness in our education system, maybe another group could be targeted for modeling the positive effects of connected learning. Maybe the model of the educators being the leaders for the learners needs to be flipped. What would happen if the learners connected to model the benefits for the educators?

Many educators might say that is impossible, and even laughable to think that is even a possibility in our system. Educators decide the “What and How” of students’ learning in our system and that will never change. Educators have always led the way for the students. So it is written, and so it shall be done!

That foundation on which our education system has been based lo these many centuries seems now to be on shaky ground. I attended an education conference in the Bahamas where I attended sessions delivered by students on student connectedness, enhancing, and even directing student learning. It was an eye-opener for many educators in the audience. I saw a keynote speech at an education conference in Indiana delivered by an eleven-year-old on the advantages of connectedness for students. This kid achieved more as a connected learner than many in the educator-audience even were aware to be possible. Major education conferences are including more and more student sessions exploring the possibilities of student connectedness, connected learning, and choices students have in this technology-driven culture.

Many educators are fascinated by these types of sessions. Many educators view these sessions as something unique. Many educators consider these kids to be anomalies in a system of passive, compliant students. Many educators are oblivious to change as it is happening.

I am not a big believer of the digital native theory. Kids, however, are more open than their educators to learn with technology. They may not be learning with technology in their schools, but they are willing and able to explore and learn on their own. Students are unaware of the excuses of lack of time, or lack of a comfort level used by many of their educators. Kids have vast texting networks that are potential Personal Learning Networks. They are already connected in many ways. Taking that connectedness and applying some collaborative and networking methodology could yield great learning benefits in many cases. The potential of connected learning is but a few steps away for kids.

In many cases creating a collaborative community of learners among students might prove to be an easier and more successful task than the efforts already expended on the same concept for the educators. There is no need to convince kids of the uses of technology, because they get it. There is no need to teach them the bells and whistles of every application, because they learn what they need by trial and error without fear of making mistakes, or breaking something. As a target group to learn through connectedness, students offer far more potential than educators.

Once we have achieved the ultimate goal of connecting all students to develop their Personal Learning Networks, they will begin to direct their own learning beyond the limitations of their teachers. The walls of the classroom, or the location of the school building will not limit students.

Educators who wish to remain relevant will need to play catch up. Educators who wish to gain the same advances in learning as their students may accept the benefits of technology while abandoning the excuses of time and comfort. Educators will be dragged into the progressive education movement rather than being pushed. The idea of students being able to circumvent their educators in a successful pursuit of education may drive educators into a culture they should have embraced from the beginning. Enabling, and, modeling the use of technology, and its ability to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create should be a primary goal in education. Teaching the skill of how to learn outweighs the idea of memorizing what to learn.

Could this happen? Probably not tomorrow, but it might eventually. If educators do not strive to be relevant, the outcome will be irrelevance. Students will need to circumvent an irrelevant education system at that point. Technology can and will provide the means to do that. Relevance: If we do not use it we will lose it!

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