Attention: Focus it.

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Attention. Attend.

From Apple’s Dictionary: ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense ‘apply one’s mind, one’s energies to’): from Old French atendre, from Latin attendere, from ad- ‘to’ + tendere ‘stretch.’

To learn, we must attend, apply our minds, and stretch our knowledge. I found Peter Skillen’s comment important in this post because our students need to find their connections and passions; that often starts with small steps — reading or writing shorter blog posts or connecting with tweets and their links. They are often the reflection to solidify the learning from other areas — longer texts or critical discussions. We need both the short and the long.

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Let’s find balance in our expectations and requirements for rigor and attention.  Whether a tweet or classic, let’s “Stop. Look. Listen.” Dialogue. Learn.

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Reframing Henry

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Change the way you think about it.

Thanks to Paula for this bit of wisdom.

That’s my goal for reframing the focus on skills / test prep to include  Authentic Projects.

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I’m going to turn around my last post about blaming Henry Ford  and think again about community of learners in the classroom, like when I taught writers and readers workshop.

Communities are messy; they aren’t the perfect working machine; they change and flow from one need to the next. And they get stuck in ruts. They need to “Change the way you think about it.”

I’m going to start by asking my students what “work” they want to do — as readers, researchers, and authors. Perhaps, we’ll change our way of thinking about our skills together, as a community of learners.

It’s actually starting from them now. We just finished a short iSearch project in which students learned questioning, research, collaboration, analysis, interpretation, presentation, speech. Two students asked, based on their chosen article [ Drama VS Bullying ], if they could create a video about their learning. Their work will be my first model for the others… They have changed the way they thought about their research. I love that.

Blaming Henry

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How do we change our thoughts on grading so that we are teaching and assessing for learning with feedback so students can improve? Teaching for learning does require patience, reteaching, kid-watching, and engaging tasks that require thought. I don’t want to catch kids — I want to inspire them to be more.

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I’d like to also to change our thoughts on assignments that focus on one objective. People don’t learn to ride a bike by 1) practicing pedaling, 2) practice steering, and 3) practice braking before 4) putting them together. No, we get on and ride. Shouldn’t we dive into good books? Write about what know and read about? Then get feedback on how to do it better, based on the real work being done?

I blame Henry Ford for breaking things into pieces and organizing assembly lines. Many of our schools with students who need more positive experiences are just like assembly lines — not places where we actually “do” stuff together, and learn to get better. Students enjoyed the work, did better on more skills, learned more, and liked school with authentic projects — something that required integration of skills with mini-lessons and flexible grouping to help. We created posters, brochures, skits, models, memoirs, video-memoirs — filled with our learning and all requiring reading and writing. When I’m told to post my objectives every day, it seems that we are focused on the parts and not the whole; we’re teaching the bits and not understanding the world of authors, scientists, historians, etc. We’re pushing the pedal, but not steering towards anything authentic.

What do you want for your child? Objectives for Test Prep or Authentic Projects ? Tell your school board today, and tomorrow, and the next day.

 

#zerotohero What Might Have Value?

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Our challenge, Day 12,  for the #zerotohero WordPress blogging challenge is to carry forward the conversation from one of the three blogs for which we commented on yesterday.

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In The Learning Pond by Grant Lichtman, Grant asks:

“Innovation is the process of enhancing the value of an organization.  In schools, if we believe that what customers will value in the future is the same as in the past, we run a real risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant as educators. How do we gauge what might have value?”

The rest of the article explains some truths about schools — inward thinking, bound to historical models, and in need of listening to families and students. He grounds the solutions in the work of  Stephen Wunker, who works in new market creation [See Forbes ], suggests ways to assess future value. Be sure to read the post for Grant Lichtman’s application to education.

As I read these statements:

Innovation is the process of enhancing the value of an organization.

How do we gauge what might have value?

I considered the past twenty-seven years of my teaching and the many teachers I have known. Those days are gone. What days? Days of respecting the professional decisions of teachers to help students learn, helping them in many ways through as much feedback and practice projects as needed for them to grow in spurts as each is ready to learn. Students engaged in art and music, often integrated in reading, writing, and social studies projects. School could enhance the talents of each student this way, and the projects helped each student learn or practice the needed skills. We didn’t focus on the skills; we focused on the students and added to the projects in different ways for different kids. Teachers spent hours finding – innovating – just the right lesson or activity that would help a kid build his or her skills as they completed the work. There was a wholeness about the process, a compassionate  community of learners with the teacher as guide. A social studies unit becomes a skit, a poster, a speech that synthesizes the essence of the topic. A science topic led to jars and boxes in back of the room or on the window sill to apply and try the learning from the book. Both of these include reading and writing, and many included math. If a kid didn’t learn through the one way, he might learn from his neighbors, or the next project. There were goals, joy, feedback, and continued support in a learning community that respected the wholeness of us as people. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development [ ASCD ] promotes a Whole Child Initiative – be sure to read about it, and I hope you support it.

Today, schools teach in skills by mandates in often scripted curriculum with specific posted objectives to force students to practice the skills in hopes they will pass standardized tests that supposedly test those skills. But kids are funny and learn in different times and ways, and they want to learn more than just those skills. They want authentic learning— learning like John Dewey espoused a century ago, learning that reflects the world in which they live.

So I think Grant Lichtman is correct — schools today are bound to history – a factory model. And schools today are inward looking — and top down — purchasing more and more skills-based programs without realistic connections to students’ lives, especially in schools deemed “poor performing.” Those schools receive more skills instruction and less art, music, and real reading for their own purposes. In addition, the students are speaking out about their need to create and connect as they do in their real lives. However, schools have no funding for the infrastructure or technology to update to this type of access and learning, nor do teachers have the time to learn or try a curriculum with technology tied more closely to students’ learning ideas. Technology alone doesn’t change the direction of education — it will take the teachers again, focusing on what students need — in a more authentic, whole way.

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So, “How do we gauge what might have value?”

What do you think? Do you think we might need to step back and allow teachers to plan for the students in the classrooms, instead of planning for the objectives for a test? Do you think we might bring back projects with art and music with reading and writing and help students develop their thinking, their talents, and their own ways of demonstrating learning? Even without technology, these creative and authentic projects focus students’ critical thinking and motivation in learning. And that would be the value to which we would gauge innovation and success.

Dan Pink explains that people are motivated by autonomy, purpose, and mastery. In the past before the emphasis on standardized tests, teachers had the purpose of guiding students’ learning and the autonomy to make it happen using their mastery of curriculum and instruction. And teachers hooked students on the purpose with projects, providing a level of autonomy through choices so students could master the skills needed with support in various activities.

Somehow, we’ve lost that by expecting the impossible: that all children will learn the same things at the same time — in order to pass a test and receive a score that says they have “met” or “not met” the standards. Hmmm. Autonomy? Purpose? Mastery?

Think about your best experience in school. Do you remember when you inferred the main character knew her enemy was nearby? Or do you remember creating something, debating something, doing something?

Let’s step back and see this big picture of learning and what might have value. But you’ll need to step into each classroom to know it’s truth.

Day 3 #zerotohero First Posts Jump In the Middle

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What’s on my mind? What was I thinking about writing when I started this blog, or started this blogging challenge?

That’s our assignment today for the #zerotohero WordPress blogging challenge.

I’ve written my reasons here and here, but wondered what my first post presented. Jump in the middle...  fits with this task, as it refers to:

“Beginnings are always messy.” ~ John Galsworthy, English novelist and playwright

and explains a strategy we use in our writing classroom: just jump in the middle — starts writing, and go back to fill in the before and afters. So I’ll jump in the middle of that first post and continue:

I talked about the beginnings of our school year with this:

“…from Teaching Unmasked by John Spencer:

‘Still, in the middle of May, I always feel that I should have done more. I should have given better feedback on work. I see some students and think, “I hardly know you.”’

I so identify with that. It’s a sinking feeling because I let the fast pace of forced objectives obscure the time needed to know each student. I should have slowed down, taken one more day for sharing, one more day for writing/conferences, one more choice project each quarter. Each of those would meet objectives and meet the human requirement of personalized learning.”

What happened? We did take pictures of parent involvement, but they didn’t make it into a portfolio, although they easily could.
Why not? Because no matter how I try to slow down, I’m always faced with “I let the fast pace of forced objectives obscure the time needed to know each student.”  It happens every year, and now — teachers are also tasked with documenting everything to prove what they do.  And all of these mandates are based on “research.” Today I read Ira Socal‘s post about research. It’s a long read, and an important one. He quotes Peter Høeg:

“When you assess something, you are forced to assume that a linear scale of values can be applied to it. Otherwise no assessment is possible. Every person who says of something that it is good or bad or a bit better than yesterday is declaring that a points system exists; that you can, in a reasonably clear and obvious fashion, set some sort of a number against an achievement.

“But never at any time has a code of practice been laid down for the awarding of points. No offense intended to anyone. Never at any time in the history of the world has anyone-for anything ever so slightly more complicated than the straightforward play of a ball or a 400-meter race-been able to come up with a code of practice that could be learned and followed by several different people, in such a way that they would all arrive at the same mark. Never at any time have they been able to agree on a method for determining when one drawing, one meal, one sentence, one insult, the picking of one lock, one blow, one patriotic song, one Danish essay, one playground, one frog, or one interview is good or bad or better or worse than another.” – Peter Høeg Borderliners

We are all points on an imposed scale.

And improving those points, that scale, on those tests demands that we work towards those goals, rather than towards the learning needs reaching out from the eyes of the students in front of me. We’ve lost our true purpose of education — to draw out the strengths, to lead the person learning — from where each is to where each dreams to be.  Sad, isn’t it?

Over break, I wrote a poem and sketched a book entitled, “Know That You Can” [ link when available] for The Sketchbook Project.  A verse encourages:

Whatever they try

They hear that, “We can”

Together, learning they could

And knowing they can.

The expectations and mandates of teachers, principals, and schools today do not encourage a positive, nurturing, engaging, yet challenging environment. The only focus is on those numbers because the consequences for not achieving those scores are devastating: school takeovers, school closures, teacher firings, negative community images, more intensive skill-based focus without art, music, drama, etc. The reality of how we learn is ignored.

There’s tons of research on how we learn, how we are all so different and do not learn at the same time in the same way. Here’s just a bit from Larry Ferlazzo’s blog at EdWeek.org :

“…Research by Rosalie Fink…Different students have different interests. Teachers can be most effective not by forcing students to learn from one standard curriculum, but by helping them to discover what they are passionate about, what they are especially interested in. Then learning becomes a natural activity for every student.”

It just makes sense, but the focus — in politics and by those who don’t work in schools but make the mandates — is not about students and sense, but is about sensationalism and scores.

So, even though I need to work with my student’s passions and curiosity, as soon as I get back to school I’ll be expected to teach the standards that supposedly teach to the test (and that’s another story). Our school is filled with dedicated teachers and paraprofessionals and a principal who want the best for students to lead them to the opportunities we don’t even know they’ll have. But we’re tied to mandates that teach to today, no matter what the student’s vision is.

However, we have one addition to our curriculum: Genius Hour, which is a time for students to follow their own strengths through coding, art, computer science, their interests. [ More Genius Hour ] It’s a small amount of time, but it’s a start.  [ Personalized, Connected Learning: Here and Here ]

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Progress [ Genius Hour ] has occurred. And I’ve written this post, which shows 1) that change occurs slowly and 2) I’ve got other passions [ writing and drawing ]. Clearly, I know how and as a child I knew how to “play school.” But if you read Ira Socal’s post, you’ll see why learning, and school, is not the same for everyone; so each school needs to be different — one size does not fit all [ nor does one curriculum nor one test ].

What do you think? Have you accepted the negative view of schools, or will you dig into your school district and support schools that focus on helping kids find their strengths rather than focus on tests? The change comes from you — the people.

What’s next? I’m going to jump into the middle of a blog that holds things I consider worth looking into, but I never get to [ So Consider ]. That’s the source for ideas, and an idea for you to try, if you get stuck for ideas. Join Twitter, follow hashtags of interest to you, and send those especially noteworthy to a blog for you to peruse later for further writing.

So, although my original intent was to “jump.. in the middle of an idea, pausing to reflect, and planning how it will or how it could play out in the classroom community,” this new beginning has been a bit messy, but I do want to branch out. This post presents a glimpse into the broader implications of our school system’s current status and brings it back to working around the dilemma through Genius Hour.

What about you? How do you learn? When do you learn? Is it like school is and has been, or do you learn differently? How would school today need to change to accommodate your learning needs? Does your standardized test score from your school years reflect your success today?

Jump anywhere in the middle of this blog, and extend the ideas.  That’s what blogging is all about… extending the conversation. It’s OK if it’s messy; we’re all still learning — because real learning takes time.