The impact of words

watchsuccessChances are that you have seen the quote to the left before – it’s hanging in our building outside the gym.  According to the poster by our gym, the quote is attributed to Frank Outlaw.  As I was researching the quote, I found it attributed to several people including Lao Tzu and Mathatma Gandhi, among others.

For the past couple of years we have been on a path of shifting assessment practices in an effort to focus more on the learning process, rather than the outcome or finished product.

Combined with that, I know that many of us have given thought into the idea of mindsets.  Many of you have talked with your students about having a growth mindset as compared to a fixed mindset.

Recently I was reading an article in Education Week by Starr Sackstein (@mssackstein on Twitter).  Sackstein is a high school English teacher and teacher coach in New York.  She is also the author of the book Hacking Assessment – part of the Hack Learning Series.  I have not read the book myself, but have listened to Sackstein talk about her shift in grading practices, as well as follow her on Twitter where she an active proponent of making a deliberate shift in assessment practices to focus on the learning our students accomplish as opposed to the grades they earn.

In the article I was reading, she shared her beliefs that the language we use matters as much as, if not more than, the practices we employ.  She goes on to say “What we say and how we say it has a big impact on how students and other stakeholders respond to our choices.”  Take a look at this chart from her book:

grades-vs-assessment

If, as educators, we use the terms on the left side with our students, or their parents, what are we saying we value?  I may be going out on a limb here, but to me the terms on the left are focused on the product.  They are a fixed mindset concept that doesn’t allow room for growth.  In addition, it says to students that they don’t need to learn anything from their mistakes.  These terms symbolize an ending to the learning, and each time we use those terms in our classroom, we are telling our students that we are more concerned with the product.

I know from conversations that many of you have already shifted your thinking about assessment, and are truly focused on the process.  Using those terms that appear on the right side of this chart will truly show our students and their parents what we value.  Assessing students where they are, providing feedback, and encouraging students to try again will help students to understand that you value their learning, not their grade.  It will help students see their challenges as a way to grow and move towards proficiency.

Think about the language you use in the classroom with your students.  How can you shift the words that you use in the classroom to show that you truly value student growth?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Best Practices and Innovation

ny-times-best-sellerHave you ever noticed that the majority of the marketing you see, whether it be related to a movie, a book, a car, or music, is focused on the newest stuff?  If you go into Barnes & Noble in the coming weeks, the first thing you are sure to see is the newest releases from popular authors.  But then if you look at the best-selling list, you may notice that not always do those newest books show up.

I was recently reading a post to Seth Godin’s blog – simply named “Seth’s blog” – titled Understanding the backlist (for everything, including books).  For those of you who haven’t heard of Seth Godin, he is an author who writes on many different topics.  He’s probably best known for his writing on marketing, leadership, and change.  In the post he was talking about the difference between backlist and frontlist items.  Backlist items are those things that a company has been making for a long time, while frontlist items are the things that are brand new.  A great example of a backlist item would be a Dr. Seuss book – people don’t buy those books because they’re new, they buy those books because it’s what everyone buys.  On the other hand, frontlist items are the hot new thing that we don’t really know how long they’ll be around.

Earlier I asked if you had noticed that marketers focus on the newest stuff, but think about where consumers spend their money.  If you decide to pick a book as a present for someone, what are you more likely to choose?  A new book that you know nothing about, or that classic that you’ve read several times and love?  Book publishers make 90% of their profit from books that they published more than six months ago, but they put just 2% of their effort into promoting and selling those books.

In education, there are a lot of things that would be considered backlist items.  My first copy of the book Best Practice by Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde is copyrighted in 1998, and it is a second edition, with the first edition coming out in 1993.  Many of the strategies that are defined as “new standards” are things that I recall happening in my elementary and secondary education in the 80s and 90s.  The book has been updated a couple more times, and is currently on its fourth edition, however if you compare editions, you’ll notice that the key ideas haven’t really changed.  I think we all can agree that in education there are backlist items that have been around for a long time and we use them to help our students learn.

At the same time, there are frontlist items that come along in education.  It might be the shiny new learning tool, some new curriculum idea, or a new app that works wonders.  Some of us are early adopters and try out all the new things to see what works in the classroom, while the more cynical of us might say “I’m just going to hold out and see if this is just going to go away.”

Companies are really good at watching the frontlist items, seeing how they perform, and if things look right, they will make it a core product.  I remember when the first smartphones (think Blackberry) came out, and I thought I would never need/want one.  Then the iPhone came out and it suddenly seemed like something that I had to have.  Currently I’m on my 4th smartphone, starting with a Droid, and then moving to the iPhone.  Frontlist items can become a backlist product with time.

Today's Students are Wired Differently - Matt Miller
Today’s Students are Wired Differently – Matt Miller

In education, not all of us need to be the early adopters or early innovators, but when we find a tool that has shown student success, it’s hard to justify not giving it a try.  I know that there are some among us who don’t see themselves as innovators, but keep in mind that as the youth we serve interact with the world in new and changing ways, that will affect how they learn.  There are some of those best practices that guys like Zemelman shared over 20 years ago that will continue to be valuable for our students, but some of those innovations will serve our students just as well, if not better.

What are some of the things that you have tried that are new that you couldn’t do without?  I know we have some early adopters out there, and the ideas you share could serve as a resource to the rest of us.  Share your thoughts and successes in the comments below!

Media Literacy

Last week I encouraged all of you to take a moment to reflect on the sessions that you attended and really think about what you learned from the perspective of the following three questions:

  • What can you do to transform your classroom tomorrow?
  • What can you do to transform your classroom next week?
  • What can you do to transform your classroom in the long term?

I’ve loved the conversations I have had with several of you about the new things that you are trying, or are planning to try.

As I reflect on the sessions I attended, one of them stands out more than any of the others.  That was the morning session by Katie Muhtaris called “Wide Awake Minds.”  Her focus in this session was on media literacy and why media matters.

Think for a moment about the amount of time that you spend on a screen – your computer, phone, iPad, TV, etc.  According to information that was shared in this session, tweens ages 8-12 are on their device about 6 hours a day, and that study did not include time spent on devices directly related to school.

Now think about your consumption of media.  Any digital news source you go to now, whether it be CNN, BBC, Fox News, Facebook, or ESPN, what is the first thing you notice?  Probably the pictures.  What are our students’ favorite things to do on shifts-in-literacytheir devices?  Think Instagram and Snapchat – two social media services that are image and video based.  In the “Wide Awake Minds” session, Muhtaris shared that media literacy is redefining what it means to read.  How do we bring that into our classroom? When talking about media literacy, Muhtaris shared the following questions as entry points for discussions on media literacy:

  • What do you see?
  • What does it make you think?
  • What evidence do you have?

Muhtaris also shared some great resources that we can use to bring media literacy into our classrooms.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • What’s Going On In This Picture – This source from the New York Times shares an interesting or intriguing picture on Monday morning without captions or descriptions. Come back on Thursday afternoons for additional information about the picture.
  • The Kids Should See This – This cool blog posts interesting videos curated by a mom and her 5 & 8 year olds. The tag line on the site is “not-made-for-kids, but perfect for them.”  The videos can spark interesting conversations and discussions.
  • History in Pictures – This twitter feed shares great historical pictures and can lead to great conversations.
  • National Geographic Photo of the Day – Awesome daily nature and society pictures from all over the world.
  • Daily Infographic – The group that runs this site just looks for interesting infographics on the web – one caveat… Make sure you preview any infographics you’re going to use and read every word!  While most are school appropriate, some might not be!
  • Wordless News – This site’s illustrator chooses a single news story each weekday, sketches something to go with it, and then publishes the picture. You can first discuss the picture, then click the link to see the article that goes with it.

In addition to simple media literacy, images and video can inspire inquiry.  Simply showing an interesting picture or video (like those you might find on the sites above) and asking some questions can lead to inquiry.  Here are some potential questions that you could use to get the process rolling:

  • What questions do you have?
  • What does this image make you wonder?
  • What more would you like to know?
  • What else does this remind you of?
  • Where can we look to find answers?

Have you tried anything to introduce your students to media literacy?  Have you ever tried using images as a jumping off point for inquiry?  Share your experiences in the comments below!

Freedom to explore

So this week, I’m going to simply recommend a piece from NPR Ed that I recently listened to titled Freedom to Explore.  If you’ve never checked out the NPR Ed website, there’s tons of interesting information there.  Some of the pieces are articles that are freely available, while other pieces are audio that you can play over your computer, or listen to on your smartphone.

This piece fits with our thinking in the HSE21 model so well!  Listen to how 2 schools (admittedly very different than our school) are moving towards a more progressive version of learning.  Maybe there will be some ideas here that you can bring into your own classroom!  To listen to this piece, click on the link below, then click the listen button on the page.  You can listen from your computer, or on a smart phone.  Enjoy!  After you’ve listened, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Freedom to Explore

Seeing past the behavior

Looking back on your life as a student, how many of you would be able to describe yourself as a good student, a well behaved student, or maybe even a perfect student?  I know it might be hard to imagine, but I don’t know that I would be able to use any of those phrases to describe my schooling career.  I definitely wasn’t a bad student, but I wasn’t a perfect student either.  Some classes I did well in, while others I struggled with.

As I was writing my last post on responses to student behavior, most of the strategies were for those more serious issues and serious behaviors.  But not always do we have behavior that we would call serious, and not always is the behavior a function of some type of trauma – more likely it’s those slightly annoying (maybe even seriously annoying!) things that kids do in the classroom.  When I think back on the classes where my behavior wasn’t so great, I don’t know that any of the strategies I talked about in my last post would have been any help for my teacher.

A lot of times, the behaviors we're dealing with are a lot more like Calvin's...
A lot of times, the behaviors we’re dealing with are a lot more like Calvin’s…

I can tell you that the classes where my behavior was poor, there was a pattern.  The pattern that I have come to realize over the years is that normally when I was in a class that was hard for me academically, I would often choose to goof around.  I’m sorry to my freshman English teacher, and my sophomore biology teacher, but the truth was, I didn’t do well in those classes.  I struggled to understand what I needed to do to be successful, and as a result, I chose to goof around.  In that freshman English class, I had several friends and I never would have wanted to appear like I didn’t get it in front of them.  So what did I do instead?  I goofed off.  I’m not going to list the things that I may or may not have been responsible for here, but if you’re dying to know, just ask me.

My behavior, and in turn my relationship with my teacher, was a direct function of how well I understood what was going on in class.  When I wasn’t getting something, my behavior went downhill.  It was a lot easier to appear as the jokester than to be the dumb kid who didn’t get it.  And I’m sure that my teachers who saw that sort of behavior didn’t think too highly of me.

We’ve all had situations where a student seems to struggle behaviorally in one teacher’s class and does well in another.  Now that many of you are teaching blocks of classes (STEM or Humanities) you may have begun to notice patterns with some of your students where their behavior is different within the same block.  As you notice patterns where a student’s behavior is different between your classroom and a teammate’s classroom, or even within your block, take a moment to reflect on what might be the root cause of the behavior.  Is the student struggling in one subject, and not in the other?  Sometimes those struggles bring about the behavior that you see.

I don’t know that I have the solution to these issues, but wanted you to be aware (as a formerly less than perfect student) where the behavior sometimes comes from.  Maybe just the awareness will lead us to be able to make a difference for a student in our classroom.

What ideas do you guys have?  Have you run into situations like these?  Have you found any ways to support those struggling students, and in turn change the behavior?  Does this make you think of any of your current students?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Defining inquiry

Earlier this year the staff in our school created a chart that described what we could all expect to see more of, and what we could expect to see less of for this school year.  In the more of column, several groups listed inquiry-based learning.  For some of us, that term can bring on some anxiety.  If you Google “Inquiry-Based Learning”, you often find links to amazing long term projects that students have done.  For some, the immediate response to this concept is “I don’t have the time for that.”

So what is inquiry?  Merriam-Webster defines inquiry as the act of asking questions in order to gather or collect information.  So really, that means that simply asking a question is a form of inquiry.  For those of you who immediately say there isn’t time for that, I hope that you can take some solace that anytime you ask a question in your class, or anytime a student asks a question, you are engaging in the base level of inquiry.

Depth of KnowledgeIf you’re looking for a starting point for integrating inquiry-based learning, it can begin with intentional thought about the kinds of questions you are asking, and some time teaching students how they might be able to ask higher quality questions.  The depth of knowledge chart to the right can be an excellent tool to help us think about inquiry driven study in our classrooms.  If you pay attention to the questions that you and your students ask in your classroom, you can start to gauge the level of inquiry for your classroom.  If you want a quick assessment of where you and your students fall, create a simple chart on an index card – have 4 sections and keep a tally of the level of every question for a portion of a class, or a whole class, or maybe even a whole day.  What do you notice when you reflect on that data you collected?  If most of your marks are appearing in the Recall or Skill/Concept area, you need to up your game a bit (or help your students up their game).  If you want to make this basic assessment even more meaningful, separate the questions you ask from the questions the students ask.  Who is asking the better questions?

Now, while I said that asking questions was the starting point, that by itself doesn’t get you to true inquiry.  This summer I read the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.  I loved the definition that he shares for Inquiry-Based Learning:

Effective inquiry is more than just asking questions.  Inquiry-based learning is a complex process where learners formulate questions, investigate to find answers, build new understandings, meanings and knowledge, and then communicate their learning to others.  In classrooms where teachers emphasize inquiry-based learning, students are actively involved in solving authentic (real-life) problems within the context of the curriculum and/or community.  These powerful learning experiences engage students deeply. (pg. 192)

Now, I’m sure that some of you read that definition and immediately go back to thinking that inquiry leads to some massive project that eats up tons of time and resources, and while that is what inquiry may sometimes lead to, it doesn’t always have to be that way.  The most important piece of inquiry is to start with the Inquiryquestions of the learners.  Inquiry happens when a baby picks up one object and hits it against another object – the noise makes them curious, so they test it out.  Inquiry starts when a child notices one single giant tree in the middle of an empty field and they wonder how it got there.  Inquiry starts when a student sees a picture of an unusual animal or a unique environment and it makes them wonder.

Giving students the opportunity to wonder from time to time, and then allowing them to share the things they wonder about, is a next step in the Inquiry-Based Learning process.  In recent posts to this blog, I’ve shared a lot about nonfiction reading skills.  One of the posts focused on the 3 big questions that Kylene Beers and Bob Probst share in Reading Nonfiction.  If you’d like to review those questions, check out this post: How do we take them further?  Using the nonfiction reading strategies and these 3 questions are a great form of inquiry.  I would also say that we could probably add one more question to the list of the 3 that Beers and Probst shared, and that question would be “What does this make me wonder about?”  Then, asking students to turn and talk to their neighbors about the things they noticed in the text is an opportunity for the students to communicate their learning. 

If you don’t want a long term project, but you’d like to give your students the opportunity to try out some Inquiry-Based Learning, you could start with a series of pictures, or bring some interesting or unique objects to your classroom, or maybe some things from nature (if you’re looking for a digital resource to start with, you can check out the website http://wonderopolis.org/).  Give students a few minutes to look at these things and encourage them to jot some notes on the things they wonder about.  Next, allow them some time to investigate their wonders.  With their iPad they should be able to do some quick research – no more than 10 minutes.  Let them know that as they wrap up, they need to think about how they would like to share TheCycleofInquirybasedlearningwith others what they wondered about, as well as what they learned.  Allow them another 10 minutes to create some way to share their learning – a simple Prezi, a PowerPoint, a short video, etc. (the key is to let them choose their method for sharing).  Then have them get into pairs or triads to share their wonder and what they created.  Finally, have the groups split up, and have the students do an exit ticket to reflect on their initial question, what they learned, and maybe new things that they wonder about based on their learning.  All of this can take place in one class period, and you have gone through the complete cycle of inquiry.  If you try this, force yourself to take a step back and just watch what happens for a short time.  What you will notice is that the vast majority of students will be completely engaged in an activity like this.

My hope is that after reading this post, you are inspired to try something new in your classroom.  Hopefully there are a few little nuggets here that you can bring back into your class to create new and different learning experiences for your students.  I’m curious though, what have been your experiences with Inquiry-Based Learning?  What went well?  What struggles did you face?  Do you have resources you’d like to share?  Keep the conversation going in the comments below.

Defining Innovation

Recently in education there has been a lot of talk about innovation.  The question is, how do we really define that word?  What is innovation in education?  Do we get there by handing our kids a digital device and then stepping back?  Do we get there by taking our old worksheets or workbooks and fill in the blank packets and making them digital?

This electric car dates back to the 1890s at a time when electric vehicles outsold combustion engines at a rate of 10 to 1.
This electric car dates back to the 1890s at a time when electric vehicles outsold combustion engines at a rate of 10 to 1.

When I think of innovation, I don’t just think of something as new – I think of something that is both new and better.  Electric cars have existed since the 1830s (look it up!), but not until recently with companies like Tesla (or Toyota with the Prius) have electric cars begun to be innovative because not only are they something new, but some would argue that they are better than other options on the market.

 

Avoid the $1000 Pencil
Avoid the $1000 Pencil

 

If we hand our students an iPad and then take our old lessons and make them digital, then that iPad is nothing more than a $399 (or maybe more depending on the model of iPad) pencil.  Are we being innovative by spending that much on something that we were already doing?  Probably not!  In the past, I have talked about the SAMR model.  Substitution and Augmentation are the basic levels of tech integration – to get to the Modification and Redefinition is a high bar to climb.  Look back at a previous post for what it takes to get there.

So to be innovative, we have to shift our mindsets.  Just adding tech does not make you innovative.  Being intentional in our choices about how we use technology is what gets us to the innovative activities that will lead to greater student engagement and growth.  And here’s what’s amazing about that – what’s innovative in one classroom or for one teacher may not be innovative for another.  Innovation is different for all of us because we all are at different places on the spectrum of innovation.

As you think about how you want to grow and innovate as a teacher, take it one activity at a time.  Think about what you could do to make this one thing new and better.  As you innovate one thing, you may get the bug to innovate in another area.  With each step you take you move further along that spectrum.

It’s easy to get stuck in a creative rut and say we don’t have time, but if we don’t try new things, we aren’t modeling for our students what it means to learn and grow.  Sometimes we all have to be a little uncomfortable with where we are or where we’re going.  Think about how often you expect your students to try new things, to be a little uncomfortable, and to be willing to fail.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves what that feels like by pushing ourselves to go a little further.

What is one activity that you think you can play with this summer to make it new and better for your students in the fall?  How will you make sure that you keep pushing yourself to be innovative?  Add your thoughts in the comments below.