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Archive for the ‘Curriculum’ Category

If there is one thing that could be said of what I do professionally it might be that I do get around to many education conferences. This past month I attended two International conferences ISTE14, BLC14 and one Indiana regional conference, the Greater Clark County Schools Conference in Indiana. All of these conferences were outstanding in their offerings to educators. I usually comment on the structure and quality of the conferences, but today I think I need to address the educators who attend these conferences based on some recent observations. What set me to thinking about this post were two separate comments from very different educators.

A short time after attending ISTE14, I flew to Boston for Alan Novmber’s BLC14 conference. It was there that I saw a keynote by Michael Fullan, a Canadian education researcher and former Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. From that speech my main take-away was that in education today Pedagogy is the foundation and technology is the accelerator. For me that was a statement that was clear, concise, and right on the money.

After a one-day layover at my home, I was off to the GCCC14. It was the 2nd annual conference created and directed by Brett Clark of the Greater Clark County Schools. I landed in Louisville Kentucky, which is just over the river from my Indiana destination. A GCC educator, JT who was transporting me to my hotel, picked me up. I met JT when he performed the same task last year. He is quite an affable fellow and easy to talk with. On our ride we talked about this year’s conference compared to the last. JT shared a conversation he had with a colleague about the conference. His friend asked if JT was going to be at the “day-long computer training”. Obviously, some Indiana educators did not view the Michael Fullan keynote on livestream. Unfortunately, it is an attitude or a mindset that is shared by more educators than just those in Indiana. Many conferences are viewed as computer training and not education methodology or pedagogy.

It is the way of learning that should be the focus of education conferences and the goal for the attendees. The technology should always be secondary. We should first explore the place collaboration has in learning before we talk about the tools we need to collaborate. We should explore the need and benefits of communication and understand where and how it benefits students in their everyday lives before we explore the modern tools that enable and enhance communication. We need to understand the differences and the effects between lecture, direct instruction and authentic learning before commit to developing a year’s curriculum. Understanding the need for formative assessment is essential to determining what tools we will use to assess formatively, as well as what adjustments we need to make when we get that information. Let us get a full understanding of summative assessment to determine whether to use tools for testing, or tools for digital portfolio assessments.
Conferences should be more about the learning first and then balanced out with the tools to make it all happen efficiently and effectively. These conferences are not about computer training, but about learning and education.

As Chris Lehmann said at the GCCC14 conference, we don’t teach math, English, or social studies, we teach kids. Conferences should not be viewed as computer training, but rather teacher training. They teach teachers the ways of education and all of the necessary, modern tools to enhance authentic learning to attain the teachers’ intended goals. Connecting with the educators from each conference is an additional way of continuing the education discussion beyond the conference. It helps create collegial sources to be called upon at anytime for clarification, validation, new ideas, sources, or just to say hello. It makes no sense whatsoever to meet great people with great ideas at a conference and never to connect with them again.

Educators should come to conferences eager to learn about their evolving profession. It is not a stagnant profession. There are constant changes and developments that happen at a pace never before experienced in education. We need these conferences to offer a balance of pedagogy, methodology and tools for educators to learn, understand, develop, and evolve. We also need educators to connect in order to live the change and not just experience it at an annual conference. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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I have written about why I feel Tenure is important and how it is used as a scapegoat for inadequate follow through on the part of many administrators in Tenure’s Tenure. I guess it comes as no surprise that I am appalled at the recent decision in California against Tenure.

Of course the statement that upset me the most came from the presiding judge. Judge Treu wrote, “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently in California classrooms,” I do not know what defines a “grossly ineffective teacher”. I know how I might define it, but it would have nothing to do with standardized test scores of children. Even under my personal definition, I would think it would apply to an insignificant number of teachers, many of whom could be brought up to competent levels with properly supported professional development.

Based on articles that I have read since the judgment, the number of “grossly ineffective teachers” in the poorer districts referred to by the judge may have been made up on the spot by a conjecturing witness. Fuzzy Math: guesstimate that struck down California’s teacher tenure laws.

The fact of the matter is that a teacher’s role in a child’s education is very significant. It is not however, the sole influence on that child’s education. This is especially true of children in schools in areas of poverty. The unfortunate truth is that before we can apply Bloom’s taxonomy in many schools, we need to first apply Maslow’s Hierarchy. If kids are coming to school stressed because they are hungry, tired, undernourished, and concerned about their safety, there are no teachers trained well enough to convince those kids to put all that aside for the sake of schoolwork.

The issue with schools in poverty areas both rural and urban is not the teacher quality as much as it is the poverty itself. Poverty brings with it issues in schools that no amount of high-performing teachers can fix.  Teachers are beaten down in their attempts to teach in these schools. Toxic cultures have evolved as a result of fighting the good fight and being defeated by social prejudice, poor infrastructure, and lack of support. These are reasons for high turnover rates of administrators and teachers alike that are commonplace in schools in poverty areas. These are many of the reasons teachers do not actively seek positions in these schools. None of this failure has to do with Tenure. None of this failure has to do with a made up number of 3% of highly incompetent teachers.

Lets make up our own numbers and blame 75% of the do-nothing, ineffective and incompetent politicians who do not address the very issues of poverty that actually are the real reasons for schools in areas of poverty not performing in the same realm as schools in affluent areas.

The idea that teachers are the key to getting all kids thinking and learning at the same level of competence throughout the country is ridiculous. If we can’t even attempt to standardize the environments and conditions in which kids learn, how can we expect the results to be the same nation-wide?

Tenure is only a guarantee of due process. It is not a lifelong commitment. Incompetent teachers can be fired as long as we have competent administrators providing due process. Too often administrators blame the law rather than their inability to follow it.

Without due process teachers will serve at the whim of whatever politicians are in control. Whatever trend school boards, or state legislatures buy into could be thrust upon teachers to teach or else. If the school board is of the opinion the Earth is only 9,000 years old and wants that taught in the schools, who could stand up to that at the risk of loosing a job? If books are banned by a board, who stands against that? If policies are changed in favor of budget over safety who advocates for safety?

Without due process in times of economic considerations, teachers who earn the highest wages are considered the biggest liability. Being an economic cutback is hardly a just reward for years of service. All of these factors do not create a profession that would attract and maintain the brightest and best this country has to offer. Doing away with due process is the best way to weaken an already shaky profession. Half of all teachers entering the profession leave before the fifth year. Some of the most successful and experienced teachers are leaving for consulting positions after years of teaching. The very reason many of the most experienced leave is the current atmosphere of teachers being vilified, and not even involved in discussions of reform. The profession needs to attract more and maintain what it has, and not drive people away.

Rather than talking about easier ways to eliminate teachers, why not find better ways to teach, support, and maintain them. Why not focus efforts on affecting the hard things to fix, the things that have a real effect on education and learning. Poor schools are a symptom of poverty, not the other way around. Let’s deal with poverty, as an issue and education will improve. Fixing education will come at a cost to us all and not just a cost to teachers. We can’t reduce taxes as we improve education. Great education is a long-term goal investment that, unfortunately, exists in a short-term goal-oriented society. Public education is what will keep America safe with informed citizens able to critically think, analyze, process, and create. We can’t afford not to support it.

Maybe, Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court should look at politicians who obstruct any programs to address the issue of poverty as an attack on education and an obstruction to “a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education”. This might have a more positive effect on education than attacking due process, tenure laws. To paraphrase or rather reuse the words of the judge, there is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective politicians currently in the California legislature rooms.

 

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I just finished reading a post from my good friend and co-author of The Relevant Educator, Steve Anderson. His recent post, “Why Formative Assessments Matter” got me thinking about assessments in general and how often they are misunderstood and often abused by well-meaning educators.

We have all been taught that there are two categories of assessment, Formative and Summative. Formative assessment is done during a particular lesson to gauge student learning and understanding as the lesson progresses. This often takes the form of quizzes, but there are less formal forms that are as effective. The summative assessment is usually, but not always an exam of some type. It is to determine how much the student learned and understood from the overall experience. This could be a unit exam with various types of questions, or possibly some type of report done by the student.

With my education students I would explain assessments with a cooking metaphor. As a chef prepares a meal he or she would taste it along the preparation process. Based on those tastings adjustments are made. Spices may be added. Cooking time may be lengthened. Some components of the meal may even be eliminated. All of this is formative assessment. This assessment is for the chef to read the results of his or her preparation in order to adjust for the best outcome.

The summative assessment has nothing to do with the preparation, and everything to do with the final outcome. The summative assessment happens when the diner experiences the dish by eating it. How successful was the preparation in the final outcome?

Now, how can such a simple concept get corrupted? Grades! We are all held accountable by some measure. We have determined that grades are what we will use to hold students accountable. We will measure their every effort to learn and assess it with a grade. I guess if the chef assigned a grade to the dish with every tasting and averaged the grades it would not be an outstanding average. But then again how can the dish be measured when it has not yet been completed in the preparation process. Similarly we hold students responsible for quiz grades on assessments, which were originally intended for the teacher to consider in order to make adjustments to a lesson. If the kids do not get it, is it their fault or could it be a shortcoming in the lesson? Yes, students do have a responsibility to bring something to the table as well, but the bulk of the responsibility lies with the teacher.

Grading formative assessments to measure students understanding makes little sense. They all learn in different ways and arrive at learning specific things at different times. To use formative assessment to grade a student is a misuse of the assessment. It is expected that some will get it others won’t, but that is for the teacher to understand and adjust accordingly. That is the purpose of formative assessment.

Of course grading the summative assessment might have some value, as long as the summative assessment is assessing the learning. Too many unit tests however are nitpicking questions for content recall. I guess that lends itself well to Scranton testing. We all know how quickly we can bang out those Scranton test results. It is as easy as ABCD. Essays take too long to grade.

Of course not every teacher does this, but how many is too many? We need to better understand why we do things as educators. Often times the only reason for doing something is because that’s how others do it, or that’s the way it’s always been done.

If we better understand how to utilize assessments, maybe we can better our delivery of lessons without penalizing kids for things that they have little control over. Formative assessment comes in many forms and none really require grades. Summative assessments come in many forms as well. We need to choose those forms that show what individual kids have learned overall. To aim for the low hanging fruit of content questions is missing the mark. They have their place, but they should not be the focus of any test.

This should be a topic of faculty or department meetings. These are the things that need to be addressed by educators more than the usual fare of such meetings. We need to better understand what we do, and why we do it as educators. We need to be more reflective and critical within our own profession.

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Recently, the editors of Edutopia were considering a theme for their bloggers to blog about concerning testing. In order to keep things timely, they needed to find out when most schools were being affected by standardized tests. It was a reasonable consideration, worthy of a responsible examination of the subject. It was the question posed to the bloggers however, that set me off about our evolved approach to these standardized tests. When is your Testing Season?

Every standardized test has a date or two or three that it is to be administered, but the question was not what are the dates of the standardized tests in your school. The idea that any school would have a “testing season” is enough to drive an advocate for authentic learning to skip taking his scheduled life-saving medications in order to stay on task completing a post about this culture of testing that we have allowed to develop. Every state has its own schedule for tests and a list of grades to take them. New York was at one time considering testing from Pre-K to 2nd grade as well all as the other grades. How does anyone get behind testing toddlers? Testing as it stands now begins in New York at 3rd grade. Here is a site that outlines what each state requires for their Standardized testing. Standardized Testing State By State, Standardized Tests Are Here to Stay

The thing that has really gotten me bothered is this culture change in education. It is no longer about the learning, but rather it is all about the testing. We no longer view the test as an assessment tool of learning to adjust lessons to meet the needs of each student. It has become a means to manipulate data to affect factors beyond that of just student learning. Standardized tests are certainly not the best form of student learning assessment. That seems not to matter however since for whatever the reason, we have had to expand and elevate testing day, or days to The Testing Season.

I remember a conference that I attended a few years ago where a New York City teacher was complaining that his elementary school dedicated an entire month to nothing being taught except for test preparation. The principal of that school monitored the classes to make sure that this strategy was adhered to by one and all. The most recent change in the testing culture is the need to accommodate the tests with all available technology. Some standardized tests are to now being administered via computers. Many schools provide Internet access to their students and teachers solely through computer labs. The tests however, take precedence over learning during “Testing Season” requiring limiting or even shutting down access to these labs in order to prepare for, and administer these computer-delivered standardized tests.

I guess each season brings us feelings associated with it. From the season of summer we may feel invigorated with warmth and recreation associated with it. The season of winter brings on good feelings of sharing holidays, and hot-chocolate comfort. From the season of Testing we get stress and anxiety for kids and adults. I guess the season of Testing is not the season about which many poems are written.

Of course teachers will tell you that they are comfortable in setting their students at ease about the tests during “Testing Season”. I often told my students that I had every confidence that they would do very well on any standardized test that they took because their education prepared them for it. That of course was to reduce their stress and build their confidence, but I am glad I did not have a wooden nose. It would have been a dead giveaway.

Today’s teachers are very stress bound when it comes to these tests. The tests have become less of an assessment of student learning and more of a club or Thor’s hammer for teacher evaluation. Of course teachers are stressed and that is generated to the students for the duration of the “Testing Season”, whether or not the teacher intends for that to happen. If teachers could select students for their classes, crafty teachers would always opt for classes with the slower students. Those are the classes that can show the most advancement in “testing season”, making the teacher a shining star. A great teacher with an outstanding class is cursed and possibly deemed inadequate because kids performing at the very top of the scale will show little improvement. Of course, according to the assessments, it must be the teacher’s fault that kids in the 95th percentile did not move at least five points higher. How can there not be stress and anxiety in the “testing season”?

We may need to research any drop in attendance at schools with stress related illnesses during “testing season”. We do flu shots in the winter season, so maybe we need stress reliever shots in the “testing season”.

Of course pushing testing into a season has had a great effect on the testing industry and all of its requirements. We need to prepare for “testing season”. We need to test in “testing season”, and we need to develop tools and curriculum for “testing season”. The result of all of this is a billion dollar a year industry and we have yet to develop the “testing season” greeting cards.

Maybe we should take a step back and assess our assessments. We do not need this testing season. Tests have grown beyond what they were intended for. They were intended for the teacher to gauge student learning in order to adjust lessons to better meet the needs of students. Tests were never designed to become the goal of education at the expense of actual learning.

This is the part of the post where I should be proposing a thoughtful alternative as a positive spin for this unpopular aspect which has been pushed into American education. Unfortunately, I have no recommendations. I have no ideas that can replace a billion dollar a year idea. Portfolios, individual conferences, and authentic learning projects would all be improvements over standardized testing for student assessment, but they do not provide easily calculated data.

We as a society have allowed business and politicians to corrupt an assessment tool in order to use it as a money-making device for a select few companies. Education needs to be more transparent, but certainly the best people to administer education should be the educators and not business people or politicians. We need to realign education’s goals on learning and not testing. We do not need a season of testing, but a life of learning.

 

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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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