College and career ready

Think back to the beginning of your college career.  What did innovation look like for you?  What did technology look like for you?  What did learning look like for you?

I know what it looked like for me:

 

 

I’m sure that each of us could come up with a different description of what learning and innovation looked like at the beginning of our college career.  Then I think back to my 5th and 6th grade years.  The first time I remember using a computer was as a 6th grader.  Our school put in a computer lab that year as part of a remodel.  The only thing that we did with the computer was learn keyboarding skills (as far as my teacher was concerned, the computer was just a fancy typewriter).

Now let’s think about what innovation might look for our students after they graduate from college.  For those of you who work with kids who haven’t even hit junior high yet (like me), it’s kind of hard to imagine, right?  The sixth graders in my school will graduate from high school in 2024, and our fifth graders will graduate in 2025.  We could make predictions today about what specific skills our kids may need when they graduate, but knowing how much things changed between the time I was in 6th grade and when I graduated from college, and knowing that technology is accelerating at a pace much faster than it did during my formative years in the 80s and 90s, there is no way for us to be sure what specific skills our kids will need in terms of innovation and technology.

And yet, there’s always that idea that we need to “prepare our students for a successful future.”  Isn’t that what most teachers would agree is our goal?  So how do we do that when we don’t know exactly what our kids need to know?

Edutopia is one of my favorite social media follows, and this is what popped up in my Instagram feed the other night:

In the future job market, social and emotional skills will be at a premium.

A post shared by Edutopia (@edutopia) on

What strikes you as you look at that graph of job growth?  Look at the growth in the need for analytical skills and social skills, while there is a massive fall off in the need for an ability to complete repetitive tasks.  What are you doing in your class to explicitly teach social and emotional learning to your students?

Daily Quotes

Recently I was sitting in a meeting with a family, and the teacher of the student leaned over and said to the student “When you’re here, I’m worried about expanding your heart … and your brain.”  I loved how this teacher put the heart first, and how there was a pause before the brain!  In a world where the answer to almost any question can be found by looking on Google or YouTube, college and career readiness isn’t going to be defined by how many factual questions your students can answer.  It’s going to be driven by your student’s ability to be empathetic towards others.  It’s going to be driven by your student’s ability to see problems in our world, and collaborate with peers to find solutions.

I’ve recently been reading the book Creative Schools by Ken Robinson, and there was a quote that stood out to me:

Our communities depend on an enormous diversity of talents, roles, and occupations. The work of electricians, builders, plumbers, chefs, paramedics, mechanics, engineers, security staff,

Let us all remember that our students’ futures don’t necessarily rely on their ability to recite their math facts, to memorize 20 vocab words in this unit, to be able to identify all 50 states and capitals, or be able to list the names of the planet in order from the sun to the end of the solar system.  All of those things can be answered now, in most living rooms, by asking Siri, Alexa, or Google.  Also remember that academia may not be the path for every student who steps into your classroom.

There is such a diverse range of needs for the future that I believe the best thing we can do is to focus on those so called soft skills.  Take the time to model what collaborative skills actually look like.  Use a fish bowl activity where some students model while others observe, then have students both on the inside and the outside of the fish bowl discuss what went well and reflect on areas that they need to continue to grow.  If needed, as the teacher you should give them the feedback that they need to be successful the next time they are working collaboratively.

Help your students learn how to use technology to accelerate their learning.  It’s not just for consumption, but also for creation.  Allow them to notice real world problems, and then help them to figure out ways to solve the problems they notice.  Keep working with them on their communication skills – both written and spoken.  Find ways to encourage every student not only to speak, but to lead in the classroom.

As the Friedman quote above reminds us, we are preparing our students for an unknown future.  The constants for our kids will be collaboration, technology, problem-solving, communication, and the ability to be a leader.  As you plan your lessons, focus on those skills.  If you empower your students in all those areas, they will be ready for whatever the future holds.

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Planting trees

8 years ago when my daughter was born, we planted a tree in our backyard. It was a Japanese Maple, and at the time of planting it only came up to about my waist. Unfortunately, we no longer live in that same house, so I am not quite sure exactly how tall that tree is now, but based on what I know about the growth rate of trees like the one we planted, it’s probably no taller than me. Given that amount of growth, I’m sure it only provides shade for a small section of the lawn. As any of you know, planting trees for your own benefit is a long-term project. The Chinese have a proverb that I believe says it best:

Chinese Proverb

Education can be a lot like planting trees. When our kids first come to kindergarten, they are a like a seed, and before long they begin to sprout. The amount of change that takes place in that kindergarten year can be truly impressive. Throughout elementary school, students develop much like that sprout, and by the time they hit the intermediate grades, they are a bit like a sapling. Those saplings are more developed, and beginning to look a little like a tree, but saplings still have a lot of development to do in order to provide meaningful shade.

One of our roles in education is to be like the gardener, and help each of our seeds grow into a mature tree over the life of their education career. There is an important thing to remember though – trees don’t completely mature in just a year. It takes time and effort to get them to grow.

In the house we live in now, there are 3 maple trees in the backyard. Two of them were already there when we moved in, and a third was added last summer. The tallest of the three is not even as tall as our house, and I didn’t even have to rake the leaves that were produced this year, I just ran over them with a mower. They don’t give off a ton of shade yet. At times that can be frustrating – especially on a hot summer day. Each year I have to trim back a little on the branches, but I know that trimming them back is sometimes the key to new growth.

I know that in time, those trees will grow and provide our backyard with plenty of shade. Two of them are close enough together that I may even be able to hang a hammock between them for some relaxation.

Just like those trees, our students don’t always come along quite like we would hope. Some of them are challenging, and we need to do work to help them to learn and grow as we would want them to. Some of them don’t seem to grow as quickly as we’d like them to. It’s easy to become frustrated when our students don’t get to where we “think” they should be, but we have to remember that the education of each of our students didn’t start with us, and it won’t finish with us. We get the opportunity to do the best we can with each of our students, help them to learn and grow the best that we can, and have the confidence that through our best efforts, they will continue to develop into the mature tree that we want them to be.

As I know I’ve shared before, I believe that every one of our students has a path to success inside of them. Sometimes it isn’t easy to see that path, but it is there. All we can do is to guide them along their path of development.

The value of communication and collaboration

Lombardi - Work Together

About a month ago, one of my posts (What are you learning?) made reference to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook report.  I want to come back to that report today and look at the top 6 items on the report.  As I look over the list it keeps bringing me back to one of my favorite questions when thinking about learning in our classrooms: What do our kids need in order to be successful in the future?  This list can help serve as a guide.

NACE Attributes Employers Seek

Think about some of the most successful companies in our world today.  Whatever the company is, if they are trying to be innovative in their field, they are focused on creating the best products possible for their customers.  What does work look like for those innovative companies?  I’m guessing that they are concerned about their teams of employees working together to create innovation.

Think for a second about your best lessons.  How many of you can claim that every aspect of your best lesson for your students was imagined, planned, created, and developed completely by you?  I know when I was still in the classroom, I was constantly collaborating with other teachers to improve my lessons, to add cool new ideas, or to make the learning experience even better for the learners in my classroom.  I’m guessing that most (if not all) of you will say the same thing.

If we know that innovative companies seek communication and collaboration, and we know that we achieve our own best work through communication and collaboration, and the data from the most recent NACE Jobs Outlook report shows that employers value communication and collaboration, what are we doing in our classroom to explicitly teach our students how to communicate and collaborate?  Paul Solarz, the author of Learn Like a Pirate has an entire chapter on peer collaboration.  He shared lots of great ideas of how he creates a collaborative environment for his students.

Early in the chapter he talks about the importance of establishing classroom expectations and norms as a group, where all members of the class have their input in those norms.  As you build in and truly teach collaboration skills, students will take ownership of those skills and will help one another to be better collaborators, letting each other know what they need from one another so that all can be successful.

Even with the opportunity to teach collaboration, the only way students will be able to learn and grow in this skill is through the opportunity to practice.  Be looking for as many ways as possible to integrate collaboration and communication into your lessons.

And something has to be said about the classroom environment in order to create an environment that is conducive to communication and collaboration.  Think about when you are working with colleagues, how do you choose to sit?  Based on my informal observations visiting team PLC time in our building, generally we sit in a group in such a way that everyone can see everyone else.  Students need to be able to do the same when they have time to collaborate.  Rows aren’t conducive to communication and collaboration.  Seats where students are far away from their nearest neighbor don’t facilitate collaboration either.

Many of the classrooms in our school have created opportunities and spaces for students to be able to sit together and collaborate, whether it’s a small spot on the floor, a rug area, creative seating options, a couch, or high tables and chairs, there are places where students can sit together and collaborate in the classroom.  To take it a step further, how many of you have considered not having a seating chart in your classroom?  A true flexible seating environment can be created where there are norms about students choosing the space that they are able to do their best space.  And as a safety net for you, you can always set the norm that poor choices by students may result in the teacher asking the student to make a different choice.  Think about the way you would empower the learners in your room to be able to select their own seat each and every day in order to meet their learning needs!

I want to conclude this post sharing some pictures from offices for Google and Apple, two of the most innovative companies around today, as well as one of my favorite shared working space, Starbucks.  I’m not saying that our classrooms need to necessarily look like these (they’re a bit extreme), but we might want to think about how spaces like this create environments where employees are able to put out amazing and innovative products.  We also should realize that some of the students will be doing work in environments like this in their future.  What can we do in our classrooms today to help them be successful in their future?

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So what are your thoughts?  Have you had success teaching students communication and collaboration explicitly?  What has worked for you?  What concerns do you have about integrating more collaboration and communication into your classroom?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

What does the research say?

A couple weeks ago I wrote about John Hattie’s work developing a ranking system that rated the effectiveness of a variety of influences on student learning. If you didn’t get a chance to read that post, you can find it here: Research, meta-analysis, and John Hattie. As I shared in that post, sometimes it’s overwhelming to begin looking into educational research for ideas to implement in our classroom. What I love about Hattie’s work is that he does most of the heavy lifting for us. He has combed through nearly 1200 research studies, and has a list of 195 influences that can relate to learning outcomes.

In today’s post I’m going to look at a couple of the most promising influences on learning outcomes. These are the things that we might use to find the answer to the never ending question of “What works best in education?” As a reminder from last week’s post, mileage may vary based on the background and influences in your classroom, but the larger the effect size in Hattie’s meta-analysis, the more likely it is to impact learning for the students in your class, and an average effect size is a 0.40. Anything over a 1.0 would have a huge impact.

  • Teacher Estimates of Achievement (Effect size 1.62): We all naturally make judgements about students. For a long period of time, research has shown that teachers have lower expectations for students from low-income families and black students. In an interesting study out of Brown University, boys and girls who start school with the same types of behavior problems generally end up in very different places down the line. Boys in this group have lower test scores and lower graduation rates. Why does this happen? Boys from this background are not expected to be successful, so they aren’t. I’ve always loved the Henry Ford quote “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”  What if we change that quote slightly – Whether you think they can or think they can’t, you’re right. The research is solid – when we believe that our students can learn and be successful, they are much more likely to live up to it. We’ve all had moments where we think (or say) “That poor kiddo just can’t do it.” Be aware of these thoughts, because they can impact your attitude. Our attitude affects our choices, and our choices have consequences.The reality is that if we believe we can make a difference for these kids, they are more likely to be successful!
  • Collective Teacher Efficacy (Effect size 1.57): This refers to a group of teachers who believe that through working together, they are able to develop students’ abilities. Basically, if you believe in yourself and your own abilities, you are much more likely to be able to help your students to learn and grow. When a teacher has a high level of efficacy, that teacher is likely to have a higher level of effort and persistence, be more willing to try new teaching approaches, set more challenging goals for themselves and their students, and attend more closely to the needs of students who require extra attention.
  • Self-Reported Grades (Effect size 1.33): Another name for this strategy could be student expectations – how prepared do students believe they are t show what they know? Children are generally pretty accurate in predicting how well they will do on a test prior to taking it. As the teacher, you would then find out what those student expectations are, and then pus the student to exceed their expectations (Growth Mindset!). A way to do this would be to ask a kiddo to write down their predicted score on the top of an exam prior to taking the exam.  se that information to engage your students to try to do even better than what they predict!

There are many more influences in Hattie’s meta-analysis, but I wanted to point out these three because they are all more than 3 times the average effect size, they are all relatively easy to implement, and especially in the case of the first 2, they are entirely reliant on our own beliefs about students and learning!  We’ve talked a lot about growth mindset in education – to implement these influences, we need to practice our own growth mindset!

Hattie - Good things follow

What are your thoughts?  Do any of the three influences above strike a chord with you?  What can you do with this information to impact the learning of your students?  In a recent interview, I heard one teacher talking about the importance of starting right now.  Sometimes in education we’re tempted to wait until after a break, or until the end of the semester.  The teacher shared that in her opinion, if you know better, why wouldn’t you want to do better?  Take something from this post, and think carefully about how you could use it for the benefit of your kids, and then… Just do it!  Don’t put it off, dive in!

Growth mindset and the innovator’s mindset

In the past 6 weeks I have been participating in #IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course). For those of you who aren’t aware of #IMMOOC, the course is centered around the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. The book focuses on these guiding questions:

  • How do you move from “pockets of innovation” to a “culture of innovation”?
  • How do we start to innovate inside the box?
  • How do we move from “engagement” to “empowerment”?
  • What does innovation mean for education, and should every educator be an innovator?

In the first week I wrote a blog post titled Innovate…why? in which I pointed out my 3 main reasons for innovation in education. One of the items I shared was on the role growth mindset plays in innovation in education. After posting my blog, I got the comment below from George:

Couros Comment

With this comment, I began thinking about the role that growth mindset plays in The Innovator’s Mindset.  Couros defines this mindset as:

the belief that the abilities, intelligences, and talents are developed so that they lead to the creation of new and better ideas.

I believe that all teachers agree that we are looking for ways to help the learning that happens in their classroom be “new and better”.  As I read more and more of The Innovators Mindset, I began making connections between what I read from Couros, and the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.  In this book, Dweck shares a quote from Benjamin Bloom that I feel relates to The Innovator’s Mindset:

After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.

Think about the power of that statement. This is not about the top 1-2 percent – the ones we might call geniuses – being able to learn anything. It’s the belief that with the right circumstances, anyone can learn anything.  What does that fact do for you as a teacher? I know that for me, that drives me to think about what those appropriate conditions are that will lead to the best possible conditions for learning.

I don’t think that the traditional model of school creates those best possible conditions for learning. I think that we as educators reflect on what we can do to learn and grow in ways that will create new and better learning environments for our students. As I think back on the conversations through Twitter, through the guest sessions, and the text of The Innovator’s Mindset, there are a few things that I see as imperatives, and all of them take a growth mindset from us.  Here are 4 of them:

  • Risk Taking: This is not just about getting our students to take risks, it’s about modeling our own risk taking as educators. During our course kick off with Jo Boaler, a statement really resonated with me – “It’s hard to give kids a growth mindset if you don’t have a growth mindset about your own learning.” Statements like “I’m not good at technology” or “Math was never my strong suit” show your students a fixed mindset, and does nothing to encourage their own risk taking. Instead, we might say things like “We’re going to try this and see how it works out.” Even if you fall flat on your face, you modeled for your students a willingness to step outside your own box, which encourages them to do the same.
  • Homework: You better be coming at me with research on this one, because I know some of us in education view homework as a must. As Alice Keeler pointed out, that 10 minute per grade level rule of thumb for homework is totally bunk with no research to support it.  “Some dude just made that up” she says.  The research on homework, especially at the elementary and intermediate grade, shows that the effectiveness is very low. On the other hand, relationships have a very high correlation to learning and growth. What gets in the way of those relationships? One thing is the negative interactions that happen at the start of class when we are discussing homework that wasn’t completed last night. If we take that away, we instantly remove one of the barriers to great relationships with all kids! If you must give homework, assign 20 minutes of free reading time. That reading is correlated with a lot more success than any worksheet! And if the worksheet is so important, shouldn’t you be doing it in class so that the students have appropriate guidance?
  • Grading Practices: For years, there has been a tradition of teach the lesson, hand out the homework, collect it the next day, grade it, put it in the gradebook, and hand it back (that’s what was done to me, and at least for a while, it’s what I did in my classroom). Let’s be honest though – most of those papers we hand back end up in the trash. Kids didn’t value them. Parents often only valued the grade in the gradebook, and how it affected their child’s overall grade. Learning was not the focus, an A-F letter grade was all that mattered. When we put a grade on anything, that signifies an end of learning on that topic. If we want to continue the learning, meaningful feedback is so much more powerful.  And I have to ask, are there times that you don’t pick something up as quickly as a colleague? Maybe some new tech is taking you a while to get used to, maybe you’re trying to figure out how to embed more inquiry into your math, whatever it is, there’s probably somebody who “got it” more quickly than you. Should you be evaluated lower because it takes you longer to make it work in your classroom? I want to applaud those who try something new – even if it takes longer than the teacher next door to them! Students are entitled to the same chance. If the focus of your classroom is on learning, how can we not reteach to those who struggle? How can we not offer a retake to someone who wants to show that they are learning and growing? We need to celebrate that learning, whenever it happens!
  • Flexible Seating: This isn’t just about putting fancy furniture into your classroom and then assigning seats just like you did with desks. True flexible seating is like what happens each time you go to Starbucks to work. I know that sometimes I like the table and chair so that I can spread out. Other times I like the high table so that I can stand while I am typing, or use the stool if I must sit. And every once in a while, that comfy chair in the corner calls may name. How sad would it be if every time I walked into Starbucks, they told me where I had to sit? Kayla Delzer reminded me that “Starbucks is a better learning environment than our classrooms.” A true flexible learning space leads to ownership and choice, which leads to more motivation, which leads to better learning. And here’s the fact – if flexible seating can work in kindergarten classrooms, there’s no way you can’t set the norms for your class to make flexible seating successful! Have kids try out each seating choice, have them reflect on what is their best learning space and why, and then encourage them to choose the spot that works best for them! As you set the norms, remind them that you always have veto power on any poor choices that they make, and then give it a whirl. Why wouldn’t we want our students excited to get to class so that they can pick their just right seat?

OK teachers, how many of you are feeling challenged by some of the things in this post? That’s ok! Are you feeling intrigued to make a shift? Then just do it! Don’t wait for the weekend, don’t wait for Thanksgiving Break, if you believe that a change here could impact learning for your students, then take that leap. Have a growth mindset, but even more, have an innovator’s mindset to try something that will be new and better for your students!

Couros - Best for this learner

Research, meta-analysis, and John Hattie

Marzano on Research

All right, be honest, how many of you have begun to dig into some educational research article, and before you make it all the way through the abstract, you’re feeling a little bit overwhelmed? Trust me, my hand is up too! As educators, we all know the value of research based strategies and skills, of using best practices, and of trying new ideas to meet the needs of our kids. Even with that knowledge, there are times that it is so hard to try to make it through the research.

Add to that another frustration that I sometimes come across when reading research… The fact that they don’t all seem to agree! I can read study A and it says to try one strategy, but study B gives me another option, and before I can make my mind up, someone shares study C with me, and it tells me something totally different. Talk about frustrating!

So imagine my happiness when I started to learn about the idea of a meta-analysis. For those of you that aren’t familiar with that phrase, a meta-analysis will combine data from multiple studies and develop conclusions that have a greater statistical power.

That brings me to the work of John Hattie, the author of Visible Learning. In his work, Hattie developed a system of ranking a variety of influences based on how great an effect they had on student learning. The study was most recently updated in 2015, and includes a list of 195 effects. When you look at the effect sizes, you will see a variety of items with a number score based on the effect size. In Hattie’s work, he identified the average effect size as a 0.40, and uses that as his guide for what works best in education. The things that fall above the 0.40 are considered successful, while things that fall below do not have as meaningful of an effect.

While not every strategy will work for every kid in every situation, the more you rely on the strategies that have higher effect sizes, the more likely you are to provide meaningful learning opportunities for your students.

So I guess all that’s left is to look at the rankings. This link will take you to an interactive visualization of Hattie’s rankings: Hattie Rankings Interactive

Some advice on how to read this visualization:

  • The larger the effect size (in other words the higher the number or larger the bar) the more likely this strategy would be listed in a “What works best in education?” blog post.
  • Several things that we often think of as “go to” reasons for student success and failure (home life and things that happen outside of school) fall pretty low on the list.
  • Many things that are within our control have very large effect sizes.

Hopefully you take some time to analyze the items that appear on this list, think about what it means, and think about how integrating some of these strategies into your teaching (or maybe just your thinking) could have an impact on learning for your students. One of my big takeaways as I analyzed the data that appears here is that we should change the things that are within our control, and ignore the things that we can’t control.  The data here, along with our own common sense of what’s best for kids, tell us that we do have control over the learning that happens in our classroom every day.

What are your thoughts on Hattie’s rankings? Are there any that you feel missed the mark and are too high or too low? What about things that aren’t on the list? Anything that you think needs to be there? Share with us in your thoughts below!

#IMMOOC Week 3: Proactive vs. reactive

In my first year as an assistant principal, I felt at times I was running around, putting out fires, and never seeming to make any progress on the things I was doing.  For those of you who have been an assistant principal, you probably recall the feeling of only being able to react to the things that were happening around you.  I was trying to learn my role, learn the expectations that students and staff had for me, and help however I could to lead our students towards success.

I’m so glad that I’m past that feeling! (Most of the time, let’s be real, sometimes you have no choice but to react!)

Currently I’m in my sixth year as an assistant principal, and it has become a lot easier to identify ways to avoid reacting.  I have learned that every year there is a group of students that I lovingly refer to as my “frequent flyers.”  I typically know who those 6th graders will be because I probably got to know them in the 5th grade year.  I typically learn who those 5th graders will be because they start to have some difficulties early on.  For these frequent flyers, I work (and sometimes it really is work) to build relationships with them.  I talk with them at times other than when they have made a poor choice or are feeling escalated.  I work to get to know what makes them tick, and use that to my advantage.

This strategy helps me to recognize when something is off.  At the start of every school day I’m on the sidewalk greeting students as they come in off the buses.  If one of my “frequent flyers” has his/her head down, or is behaving differently than normal, I know that something must be off.  I might pull them aside to have a quick chat right there, or I might go find them as classes get started so that we can have a more private conversation.

School teachers (or leaders

By getting to know those kids that most need to be known, I have found that they are not as likely to have the explosive behavior that might lead me to have to go back to my reactionary steps.  I’m a big believer that when we know what makes a kid tick, we are a lot more likely to be able to find the spark that leads to success and learning.