Wednesday, January 27, 2010

AFL - not Assessing Facts Lots

What are we going to ask on our tests when students are
walking in with Google in their pockets?

David Warlick

I was working on a presentation connecting technology and Assessment for Learning after reading a blog post by Konrad Glogowski. His blog, blog of proximal development
often has interesting ideas on it, and he is wrestling with some of the big questions of Collegiate Renewal. Most recently, the connection between what technology does the classrooms and the role of assessment for learning have been merging in his thinking. I lifted this quotation from his blog:

As Michael Wesch recently argued,

All of this vexes traditional criteria for assessment and grades. This is the next frontier as we try to transform our learning environments. When I speak frankly with professors all over the world, I find that, like me, they often find themselves jury-rigging old assessment tools to serve the new needs brought into focus by a world of infinite information. Content is no longer king, but many of our tools have been habitually used to measure content recall. For example, I have often found myself writing content-based multiple-choice questions in a way that I hope will indicate that the student has mastered a new subjectivity or perspective. Of course, the results are not satisfactory. More importantly, these questions ask students to waste great amounts of mental energy memorizing content instead of exercising a new perspective in the pursuit of real and relevant questions (Wesch, 2009).

Wesch, M. (2009, January 7). From knowledgeable to knowledge-able: Learning in new media environments. Academic Commons.

Warlick's point regarding those mini computers we call cell phones is a valid one and Welch's point about how we assess connects in a critical way. For many teachers, testing is still an act of checking to see which invertebrates traits a student can correctly identify. I know I've given more than one exam where students had to define poetic devices.

The question of what is robust and compelling for student to learn shaped not only by what students will give their heads and hearts to (as my boss always says), but also by what things they need, given that the facts are already there.

There is an ongoing debate in educational technology circles about how much knowledge you need to be able to engage in media and information literacy. I actually happen to think you need quite a bit. But "testing" is one of the worst ways to see what students can do with information they know, and testing low-level factual recall is more than a little pointless.

When learning is shaped around real questions and assessed through an interactive process that is collaborative and designed to promote growth, then we actually have alignment between our technical reality, our teaching philosophy, and how we assess.

Now all we need is a mark book that can keep up new types of evidence and use specific descriptive feedback instead of numbers. . .

Digging out

Saskatoon was hit with a substantial snowfall of 30 cm over the weekend, and we are still digging out. Since school and city buses aren't running , my husband has been driving us all through a quagmire of snow over the last three days. As I was looking at this slide from John Pederson yesterday (made by Saskatchewan's own, Dean Shareski), I realized that the trudging I have been doing inside my work and in the great outdoors is eerily connected.

Many divisions in the province still operate using an 80s-90s mentality about technology. (Solomon and Schrum, 2007) lay out the shift to Web 2.0 this way:
  • Application based to web based
  • Isolated to Collaborative
  • Offline or in labs to online anywhere
  • Purchased to free online
  • Single creator to multiple creators
  • Proprietorial/copyrighted to Open source or shared content
The implications of this shift are far reaching and difficult for school divisions to make. However, by looking at this list, it is clear which world view is closer to student engagement and life long learning.

This week (close to a year after we decided to), we are finally opening our filters to allow access to web 2.0 applications for students in our high schools. It has been a really difficult transition. We are worried about safety, digital footprints, bandwidth - all the things that could be problems in this new reality.

I contend we are thinking about it wrong. Let's try the metaphor of the school bus here. In order to travel in the winter we need to keep roads clear, we need certified drivers, we need safety protocols, permission forms and a massive communications infrastructure. But no one says we should not bus kids to school. We understand that as a reality.

Web 2.0 is our magic school bus. Like Miss Frizzle's class, our kids need to be warned about dangers, but they also need to do it for themselves in order to really understand it. We need to teach kids to use web 2.0 tools safely, because they are using Web 2.0 now and will continue to. Thinking about and teaching information and media literacy is just smart teaching in the 21st century.

But, it is bigger than that. A school bus can only travel a short distance from the school. Virtual field trips, simulations, gaming, blogging and wikis have a travel radius that spans the globe. The opportunities for web 2.0 learning vastly exceed those offered by the school bus, but the smaller barriers are still too immense for use to feel safe venturing out.

We are snowed into a 80s-90s view of technology because schools are slow to change. Teachers and administrators are careful people. But like this snow storm, the perfect storm of Web 2.0 technologies is not a choice. It is here.

We can be snowed in.

Or we can we can help our neighbors shovel out, go tobogganing, and remember that all this precipitation will grow our crops this summer.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Teacher as learner

We always say that if we want deeply engaged learners, we need deeply engaged teachers. Growth mindset, commitment to renewal, a focus on each learner - these are all things that we value. I recently came across a power point by Wes Fryer on Slideshare that articulates many of the things I aspire to be and hope that my children have.
The problem is, Wes picks so many things. I'd have a hard time picking ones I don't think are important, and I know that teachers are busy people and we are always adding to the list of things we want them to be and do. And they can't do them because we compel them too, it has to be because they really want to or it is not enough. Teachers have to really want it.

What can I do to create the conditions where teachers want to engage in the way Wes suggests? What barriers do we need to address?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Learning in CLASSrooms or Communities

I watched an interesting video tonight - it connects to all the pondering I have been doing about how we rethink school to engage our students. Take a look and let me know what you think. What makes the best connection between Collegiate Renewal and technology?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Choice as pain killer

Patterson (et al) argue that there is a critical difference between punishment and sacrifice. They both have pain, but you have no choice with punishment and choice with sacrifice. That's the nugget, Patterson argues, that leads to personal engagement.

I first encountered Paterson reading an article in December's issue of Teacher Librarian. The whole issue is about teaching and learning with technology. My favorite article is by Vicki Davis, whose blog I have followed for a while. Davis ask, "How do we unleash the intrinsic desire of teachers to help students learn and help teachers make the sacrifices it will take to get there? "(p. 9). Yup, sacrifices. She argues we want to teachers to act as teacherpreneurs: "someone who organizes a classroom venture for learning and assumes the risk for it" (p. 8). Sounds a lot like Collegiate Renewal.

When discussing Collegiate Renewal, we also talk about how engaged learners need engaged teachers. We know what we are asking is actually a really big shift. Sometimes I think we forget about how painful it is.

I think we always need to come back to that intrinsic desire to help kids learn. That's why we are teachers - we make the decision to do things with that desire in mind. Ask two teachers with opposite practices why they do things, and they will both tell you they do it for the learning.

So if choice is the pain killer we need, we have a problem. It is antithetical to "prescribe" choice. And yet, choice in a vacuum is often uninformed or outright wrong.

I have been willing to do a lot of gruelling, devastating and tedious things when I see results for my students. I'm even more willing to do these things when other teachers encourage me to do so. I got my copy of this article from a teacher librarian friend of mine, on the recommendation of another TL. I've shared it with 5 other educators. I went out today to interview a teacher and he talked about why Collegiate Renewal was the only way to go, and then he talked about how hard it is. The choices he is making in his classroom sacrifice his time and energy, but in talking to him, I was reminded that I was prepared to engage, even knowing the pain.

Patterson is right that choice is key, and it is really hard to make a change . Davis quotes Herold et al in the article: "There is no such thing as an 'organizational change...'. When we say an organization has made the transition from 'point A' to 'point B', we really mean individuals within the organization have changed their behaviour, so that collectively the organization now reflects these changes" (p. 70). I guess that means we need to keep talking about what is happening in our classrooms, and about what difference it made for our students. That choice to engage is the only balm.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Google Jockey - a simple step in the opposite direction

A teacher I was working with today asked me about a simple thing she could do. She has a new data projector in her history classroom. Like many teachers, she feels pressured to create presentations to show in her students. I told her the best thing she can do it put the technology in the hands of the kids and appoint a Google Jockey each day when they are discussing or looking at notes.

To the best of my knowledge, the term originates in 2006. A Google Jockey is a student who has Google open and looks up terms, ideas and events as the class is working. This frees the teachers to work at the front facilitating discussion and provides the other students with visuals and ideas to extend what is happening in class.

4 great tools for playing with Google in this way:
  • Use the Wonder Wheel to find related terms or ideas to the one you are discussing
  • Pull up Google Earth and search for resources connected to your topic - you can find maps, stats and historical images.
  • Do a standard image search and show pictures of the people, places and ideas you are discussing. Be sure to set your filter to strict filtering to avoid inappropriate images.
  • Current events? Use time lines, twitter searches and comparison sites to give a real sense of what is being said by people or news organizations around the world.
Collegiate Renewal is about creating opportunities for students to be deeply engaged and be responsible and caring citizens in our community, nation and world. A google jockey models some of the skills to be a life long learner, and the stream of visualizations, different world views and people's thoughts help us really be a part of something beyond the classroom. A google jockey also meets the needs of our digital native students, who prefer image and video to text and want many rapid pieces of information.

If we don't think about how to use our data projectors, they become just another tool that the teacher uses to transmit to students. A google jockey is a simple step in the opposite direction.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Of course we believe collaboration is a good idea – right?

For the last two decades, education journals have been publishing studies that extol the virtues of professional collaboration. In fact, creating a collaborative culture has been identified by some educational researchers as the most important factor in successful school renewal.

Research is clear that, for teachers, working collaboratively:

· inspires the desire to renew professional practices,
· increases instructional competence and confidence,
· makes complex professional tasks more manageable,
· promotes coherence and consistency in instructional practices

Together, teachers have more energy, skills, resources and ideas than an individual teacher and their synergy leads to higher quality planning and instruction.

Thus it is not surprising that we are all familiar with Professional Learning Communities, inquiry teams, PGN’s, teacher learning groups and many other structures designed to promote collaboration. Also, countless sub-days are provided and many detailed facilitation plans are developed so that teachers can work together. These are prevalent in our schools because we want to realize the benefits of collaboration in our division.

However effective these structures and expenditures are, I do wonder if collaboration - an idea with such wide acceptance - requires so many extra efforts and supports. If collaborating is such a good idea, it seems to me that planning and teaching together would occur naturally as a part of our day-to-day work. Does it?

Do we plan instruction together on a regular basis? Is team-teaching common in our schools? Do we develop common assessments with colleagues? Do we invite other teachers into our classrooms as an extra set of eyes and ears to provide feedback on something we can’t take note of while we are teaching? Are our actions evidence of our belief in and commitment to collaboration?

If the answer is yes, let’s share examples of teachers collaborating and the benefits of their work together – to reinforce this as a core element of our professional culture. If the answer is no, let’s find out how to grow a collaborative culture in our division.

Based on what I have read and experienced, I know that time and courage are required for meaningful collaboration. Collaborative planning and instruction take more time and deprivatizing our practice is a professional risk that may be uncomfortable.

To realize the benefits of collaboration we can overcome those two factors:
· Do we already have time built into our work lives that we could use for collaboration?
· Do we have trusted colleagues with whom we can establish a more collaborative professional relationship?

To enhance the quality of our instruction and our students’ learning, we can find the time and the courage required to collaborate.

We believe that collaboration is a good idea – right?

More: Read an “old school” DuFour perspective on collaboration.

Mindset green thumb

“How can growth-minded teachers be so selfless, devoting untold hours to the worst students? Are they just saints? Is it reasonable to expect that everyone become a saint? The answer is that they’re not entirely selfless. They love to learn. And teaching is a wonderful way to learn. About people and how they tick. About what you teach. About yourself. And about life.

Fixed-mindset teachers often think of themselves as finished products. Their role is to impart their knowledge. But doesn’t that get boring year after year?”
p. 201, Mindset by Carol Dweck.

Collegiate Renewal
asks teachers to be engaged learners in concert with their students, I have been thinking quite a bit about the implications of a fixed or growth mindset lately.

If you've got a fixed mindset and you get a bad grade you think:
  • I’m an idiot, failure etc. (the self is caught being bad and publicly exposed).
  • I have no life, its unfair, my teacher is mean (students learn that bad things are in the control of others).
  • I’m not putting time or effort into that. (if I am not good at something, I should stop doing it).

If you've got a growth mindset and you get a bad grade you think:
  • I need to work harder in that class, but I have the rest of the semester (making a mistake is something you can fix, not who you are. The solution lies in changing the circumstances or marshaling resources to get better).
  • Next time I will get help from my friends, or ask the teacher for extra help (if I am not good at things, I need to make a specific plan to learn more or do more. I like a challenge).

Clearly, we want our students to have a growth mindset if we want them to keep learning, and we hope assessment for learning will make a difference for them. Dweck argues that teachers play a critical role in nurturing the seedlings that are their students' mindsets.

The roots go even deeper than that. Teachers with fixed mindsets see the potential of a student as fixed; they predict what mark a student will have at the end of the class, and they see believe it is the job of the teacher to evaluate what students can do. Fixed mindset teachers impart what they know and and then test students on what they have learned. They believe assessment for learning and differentiation are a lowering of standards because performance is the most important thing. In a classroom with a fixed mindset teacher, it is important not to make a mistake, because everything is reflected in your grade and you need to get as close to perfect as possible. You should not take the risk of trying something that is hard - you should do what you know how to do.

The problem with this way of thinking is that it actually prevents learning. So a critical question for Collegiate Renewal is: How do we get teachers and their students to embrace a growth mindset?

Assessment for learning (Davies), delaying marking (Kohn), differentiation (Hume) - we've talked about them all. But for some teachers, the mindset the traditional education system remains a critical barrier.

Every year, my husband and I do a bunch of things to help our garden grow despite the harsh conditions of our Saskatchewan climate. We start seeds on our indoor grow table, transfer them to the greenhouse slowly, acclimatize them to the sun, and finally plant them in May. We'll have been growing things for 4 months before the 4 month gardening season starts.

I think we need to consider the transformative change of mindset in Collegiate Renewal the same way. Sprouting growth mindsets will be laborious, and even when it succeeds, we are going to take years to understand how to really teach with a growth mindset. We'll need to shelter it from the winds of public criticism and accountability, and slowly expose it to rays of deep engagement and real partnership with our learners.

Lots of times people ask me if all the work I do in my garden is worth the fresh produce I get in the end. I do really like the great taste, lack of pesticides and the enhanced nutrition when you eat seasonable vegetables off the vine. But mostly, I love to garden. And gardening, like teaching, is a wonderful way to learn. About our world and how it works. About what what we eat. About myself. And about life. In the end, I believe that our transformative change of mindset in Collegiate Renewal will bear fruit in the same way.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Professional Doublethink

I really enjoyed School by Design (Wiggins, Grant and McTighe) when I read it this fall, but it challenged my thinking in a number of ways. I was on board with the thinking on curriculum and on the critical role of the teacher. But when the discussion of the professional teacher came up, I struggled a bit more.

I am a member of the Saskatchewan Teacher's Federation. I have always thought of myself as a professional, and as part and parcel of that, thought that it was the teacher's right and obligation to decide how to teach.

Wiggins, Grant and McTighe: Indeed, schooling and reform have been hindered by the view that it is most 'professional' if teachers decide for themselves how to teach (P. 111, Schooling by Design: Mission, Action and Achievement, 2007) .

Me: But that's what professionalism is. All professionals make decisions based on their experiences and knowledge. When I weigh a variety of complex variables to make a good choice for my students, I am being professional.

Wiggins, Grant and McTighe: The result is not merely an inconsistent array of unexamined approaches to instruction (as if medicine were still what any country doctor 200 years ago thought it should be) -

Me: Wait. But the process of learning is, at best, highly contextual. That's why we are professionals. I respect the wisdom of those I teach with, and their collective wisdom helps kids. I know that sometimes we use the instructional strategies that we find most comfortable, or teach what we like best, but in general (pause). Well, I also know there is clear research saying what we should do and why we should do it, like the research on the need to change our assessment strategies, the fact that summarizing is an important think for students to do -"

Wiggins, Grant and McTighe: The result is not merely an inconsistent array of unexamined approaches to instruction (as if medicine were still what any country doctor 200 years ago thought it should be); a more harmful effect is that any critique of teaching inevitably is seen as an attack on teachers (P. 111, Schooling by Design: Mission, Action and Achievement, 2007) .


Me: (as implications for school change and view of professionalism collide) Oh, dear.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Engage me

When one of the men I work with describes engagement, he talks about finding his cousin obsessively playing video games in the basement. His cousin has all the indicators of deep engagement while gaming:

• Clear goals-sense of purpose
• Connectedness—to people, things, ideas, and/or actions
• Intensity—concentrating and focusing—deep learning
• Direct and immediate feedback
• Balance between ability level and challenge
• Sense of personal control
• Intrinsically rewarding (read p. 3 of the 2008-2009 Board Report)

My colleague asks, "What must a school be in this context? is engagement something we need to do for kids?" His question is designed to get us thinking, and that is just what everyone in schools needs to be doing.

Marc Prensky, an advocate of gaming in education says that if students aren't actively, or at least ritualistically, engaged, they truly resent their time being wasted. He notes that students have long attention spans, read above grade level or solve complex problems anytime they are doing something that really matters to them. Presky does note, however, that it increasingly isn't school.

So what does Engage Me mean? Must teachers be as exciting as video games, respond as quickly as texting and provided all the choices a habitual multi-tasker could want? Does it mean we must be so exciting that kids are forced to be engaged?

That's clearly a battle we can't win, and Prensky argues we don't need to. Like many advocates of 21st Century learning, he doe values choice, visuals, authentic audiences and creating. However, he says the key to "creating engagement is not about those fancy, expensive graphics but rather about ideas. Sure, today’s video games have the best graphics ever, but kids’ long-term engagement in a game depends much less on what they see than on what they do and learn. In gamer terms, “gameplay” trumps “eye-candy” any day of the week." In gaming we often talk about levelling up - acquiring enough skills to take on bigger and more important quests. If we want to engage in levelling up as a group of educators, we need to provide our student with the opportunity to think about ideas that a relevant to them, create things that impact their world, and gain skills that matter. That's what Engage Me is about - the opportunity for a worthy quest.

Cited in this post:
Engage Me or Enrage Me -- What Today's Learners Demand (in Educause Review, Sept./Oct. 2005)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Affable Lurking

Two years ago my school division embarked on Collegiate Renewal. The goal of the renewal is lofty:

All collegiate students will be engaged in their learning so they will graduate
as active participants in lifelong learning and as responsible and caring citizens
in the community, nation, and world.

My principal put out a call for people to be Learning Leaders in our high school. I had recently finished a masters focused around professional development and technology and wasn't sure it was the gig for me. I think part of me wanted to keep lurking.

On the Internet, lurkers are people who consume what others post but rarely or never enter the conversations themselves. Some 90% of us are lurkers (Nonnecke and Preece, 2003). In the world of teaching, almost every adult lurks. We all went to high school, we all have strong opinions about how school should be taught, but few of us teach. Those who do often lurk in the school system, observing and privately commenting on our students, our peers, those who lead us, and the school system itself. When I decided to become a Learning Leader in 2007, I decided to stop lurking.

Change processes, particularly transformative changes, are a difficult proposition in high schools. Like blogging, leading change in Collegiate Renewal is a far cry from the affable lurking of my teaching career. I find myself talking publicly about changes as I am making them, sharing what I am doing even as some of it goes wrong, an act of inviting the comments of observers. It is a process we are asking our students and teachers to embrace as we all learn about the role assessment for learning plays and it is a place of vulnerability.

For the last two years, I have been muddying the torpid waters of our high schools even more. I am now working on helping lead professional learning around how technology can help us with renewal. There are days I could really use a little camouflage. One of the things that buoys me the most is understanding that I am not alone in the work I do. I have been reading everything I can - research on change literature, assessment for learning, learner engagement, differentiation, and 21st Century literacy. But more than anything, I have been lurking on the blogs of other educators who write about the value of technology in transforming the classroom. The wealth of their ideas and richness of their shared conversation reminds me that lurking, however affable, is the opposite of contributing. Deeply engaged learners are always participants, and I need to be one myself.

Cited in this post:
  • Blair Nonnecke and Jenny Preece (2003). "Silent participants: Getting to know lurkers better". in D. Fisher and Christopher Lueg. From Usenet to Co Webs: Interacting with social information spaces. Springer. pp. 110–132. ISBN 1852335327.