Education: Shadows of Society


Pause to reflect…

I wonder if you sense this, that perhaps education ripples as a shadow of society, and now is a target of false criticisms because of faulty expectations that prevent its possibilities and opportunities.

First of all, in this age of “accountabalism” (Phil Schlechty), EL by ASCD), I’m amazed teachers still strive to ponder the possibilities of our teaching profession. This constant testing forces teaching to tests and limits learning. But, teachers of today, who came to the profession because they care about each student rather than each score, do consider their impact and their improvement. They look to the future and frame their own learning to better the the learning of their students. 

So, Paula White wrote one of the best posts pondering 21st Century education in an effort to clarify needed changes: Education: the Past, The Present, and the Future. She had read  Rob Mancabelli‘s post Three New Pillars of 21st Century Learningin which Rob wrote:

The textbook, the lecturer and the classroom are three pillars of modern-day schooling that date back hundreds of years. Each was invented to solve a problem. The textbook was invented because information was scarce, the lecturer because teachers were few and the classroom because learning was local. These enduring icons persist into the Internet age, shaping our view of learning and driving the popularity of their digital grandchildren, things like iPad “textbooks” and the Kahn Academy “lectures.”

Paula noted the dichotomy existing in the education continuum:

“Past: research and recite

Present: research and present

Future: research and do”

These she translated into teacher roles:

“Past: Sage on the Stage

Present: Guide on the Side 

Future: More Experienced Learning Peer Who is Near?”

What a thoughtful explanation.

Next, Paula wrote another post, Education: the Past, The Present, and the Future 2, again quoting Rob Mancabelli on the pillars that support education:

“Pillar #1: “I’m only one of my students’ teachers, but I’m the most important because I teach them to connect to all the others.” Implication area: Instruction

Pillar #2: “My students should learn from me how to learn without me.” Implication area: Curriculum

Pillar #3: “My students’ knowledge lies not only in their minds but in their networks.” Implication area: Assessment”

Paula thinks those pillars (above) are actually the assumptions, and proceeds to suggest these pillars to support instruction, curriculum, and assessment:

Pillar 1–Instruction

The Pillar is actually Learning how to learn; teachers have got to move from thinking of teaching to helping students learn. 

in Pillar 2–Curriculum

I think the Pillar is actually Connecting-relationships, both online and off; connections between what you know, what you need to know and what you want to know.

and in Pillar 3, Assessment, the Pillar is actually Doing–using what you know and what you can learn from the Internet, your network and local and global resources to mix, remix, create content and do something that adds value to our world.”

Paula’s and Rob’s ideas present a timeline of sorts that matches education trends that meet the needs of students and society. The focus of their discussion is mostly on learning, which is the goal of education, to lead to learning. 

Our current emphasis on assessment changes that focus from learning to teaching, while claiming to test learning. Teachers are focused on requirements to be taught rather than on the needs of students in their local community. We are losing our goal of education, to lead to learning. We have moved from the reality of human interaction and relationships into a closed system, stamping individuals (students or teachers) as certified or not, relative of course, to outside requirements. 

And yet educators like Paula and Rob continue to remind us of the reality of society – of the learning realities of the communities around our schools. They have suggested the pillars that support that learning. Assessment is included, but that assessment is more than a test, it is to “do something that adds value to our world.” And that brings the focus back to learning. The student’s project demonstrates learning.

Play to Learn…

Paula and Rob are two of thousands of educators struggling to regain the power of education to transform the lives of our people, especially our children. I am in awe of the work of the people in my personal learning network, and in this instance, attempt to wrap my mind around the ideas and play with them for my own understanding.

It’s the focus on a timeline of learning that inspires me:

In a simple dichotomy, these learning strategies persist through the needs of society:

Past: Research and Recite — an agrarian and factory society

Present: Research and Remix— an information rich society

Future: Research and Refresh— a global, diverse, connected society


The pillars that support this societal timeline include:


Past— to research and recite needs support through the textbook, lecturer, and classroom.


So the curriculum, instruction, and assessment refer to:

Curriculum – Textbook

Instruction – Lecture

Assessment – Recite


Present— to research and remix needs the sup
port through internet connection, search and analysis coach, and a connection platform (online or actual space).


So the curriculum, instruction, and assessment refer to:

Curriculum – Internet — primary and secondary resources; connections to experts and peers

Instruction – Coach — how to learn

Assessment – Remix — new representation, a transformation of understanding


Future: to research and refresh needs support through internet collaboration, debate facilitation, and an action organization.


Curriculum – Discussion and collaboration on the internet with global experts, peers, primary and secondary resources of issues and problems

Instruction – Facilitate resources and collaboration of debates for solutions

Assessment – Refresh: Fresh solutions presented and decided in an organizational platform populated with the voice of students

We are transitioning among past, present, and future. Students, if not in school, then on their own, remix their ideas into YouTube videos and Facebook chats. A TEDx Youth Day shared many ideas by young people. Students, facilitated by teachers, have started to move to future pillars and actions by participating in Kiva solutions , Youth Voices ideas, and service learning ( Media Saves Beaches- video below).

Indeed, platforms are beginning to spring up like this Platform for Good

But will educators and educational institutions be allowed the freedom to guide students to learning within the needs of their local community, and learn through those needs?

So, what do you think? Are your schools struggling with accountabalism? What has worked in your school to engage students in learning that matters? What should we, as educators and community members, do to encourage engaged and relevant learning? How do we overcome the negativity towards education in current vogue? How do we move out of the shadows and cause ripples of change in education and in the learning we and students really want and need in today’s society?




More Resources:

A film by Nic Askew. More at Soul Biographies.

Video from KarmaTube

The Flipped Classroom and Tinkering: Authentic, Relevant, Applied learning and resources.

Photo: Sheri Edwards, recreated as oil painting with

Thanks to my PLN friend, Tracy Watanabe, whose post on service learning popped up in my search, leading to the Media Saves Beach video. 🙂

Let them read, please…


Pause to Reflect…

What does the reading classroom in your school look like? Are bookcases filled with books? Are baskets of books set around the room? Are book talks occuring? Do kids talk about books? Do kids share their books?

In my classroom on Friday, a first occurred. One student turned to another and said, “You should get this book and read it with me. It’s really good.”

Imagine that. An impromptu bookclub starting right in the reading classroom. How did that happen?

Students in my classroom read. They read their own texts — texts they have chosen: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, magazines (hunting, motorcycles), etc. Everyday they have at least ten minutes of time to read, and it’s the “I’m done” activity for the school. They take their books to every class, just in class they say, “I’m done.”

It was a struggle at first. They would come each week with a different book with barely even starting the last one. They’d pretend to read. So, at first, I asked them to write to prompts like “What happened in your story today?” “How is the character like someone you know?” “What part do you like in your book today?” 

So, most of the year, students have had twenty minutes of choice reading three days of the week, with at least 10 minutes on the other two days.  They maintain a daily reading log of title/pages read and a booklog for finished books. On some days, they respond to prompts based on our reading lessons. Some days, but not all. 

I wanted kids to read, to read to learn the joy of reading, to read to find connections to themselves in the choices they make.

Probably half of my students had never read a book on their own. Now, all of them have read at least one, many have read five or more. And they’re recommending books to each other. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a favorite. Hunger Games tops the list for the older students. Some now have genre preferences: realistic fiction, nonfiction history, nonfiction science, sports stories, graphic novels. That has never happened before either.

And some students now read science books in preparation for their choice in science investigations– without a suggestion, and well in advance of the project.

Kids choosing books.Kids recommending books to other kids. Kids starting their own bookclubs.

Play to Learn…

So what about those pacing calendars, objective-based lessons, pull-out interventions, and endless tests?

Something more important is happening in my classroom. Students choose to read. They ask to read. And now, some are choosing to read and share together, and they are choosing to read for class before a project starts.

Isn’t it time,

we added time,

to just let them read.



It’s Easy…

Pause to Reflect…


It’s easy to follow the usual road with the time you have in the day speeding by. Sometimes the road is not clear. I read a wonderful post by Chris Wejr, It’s Easy, which I found in my Twitter feed this morning. 

37022323-tweetcwejr copy

It’s amazing how the path of a twitter feed leads to solutions. Have you ever felt as if what you do is for naught? –You’re given a task of leading others, and resistance abounds? Or perhaps it just seems that way because you receive little feedback?

The easy path is to give up, but then then this tweet appeared:


to this post: Steve Jobs: Thoughts on Life   [updated link: Improve it.]

“Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

“You can change it.” “Improve it.” “Make your mark upon it.”

It’s easy to step back and give up.

It’s hard to keep going to help “change it.”

After re-reading Chris’s post, I could now reply:

It’s easy to read this post and agree.
It’s hard to ignore the ignorers and focus on the movers.

It’s easy to forget that time and lack of tech are issues with teachers who wear so many hats in these changing and budget-strapped times.

It’s hard to search for support and solutions that encourage such choices.

It’s hard to do it all.
It’s easy to take one small step.

What small step?

Two other posts guided the path today:

1) a comment from a colleague, Tracy Watanabe, on a previous post, which included this suggestion:

WOW and a Wonder (something that is a specific praise and a question meant to guide them to think about one way they can improve)

2) a post on Facebook by my granddaughter:

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Relationships are key. Appreciation is key. Build relationships and appreciate what has been done. Teachers are overwhelmed and under-appreciated. We all wear so many hats to help schools function and students learn, and the technology needed is not always at hand. During my teacher prep time (I teach full time), I take Tech walks (my other hat) to see what staff need. I need to preface the visit with a specific appreciation. And in staff meetings, I need to Wow before I Wonder.

Play to learn…

One small step to help move forward would be to WOW with a specific appreciation for what is working and improving. Appreciate the small steps by others. In staff meetings, WOW again the positive steps in tech use throughout the school. Then ask an “I wonder”– a small step that could be taken next — a step towards implementing technology by non-techy staff. Perhaps it will be an app for instruction; perhaps a way to communicate with students or parents; perhaps a tool for productivity.  At any rate, start with a WOW and add an I wonder if…

So the road may be unseen, but find the path while wandering through the blossoms of appreciation to find the next staff-needed I wonder.

It’s hard to do it all.

It’s easy to start with one small step.

37024379-meadow4 copy


Thanks to the inspiration of   and

Wow and Wonder Strategy by Tracy Watanabe


Occupy Your Classroom



Pause to Reflect…

Teachers in today’s “reformed” schools often are pressured by time, mandates, and test scores into lessons that:

Post the objective.
State the objective.
Explain the objective.
Practice the objective.
Test the objective.
Evaluate the objective.
Move on or reteach the objective.

Sometimes we can add art into the lesson.

For instance, after learning (see above steps) Reading Comprehension 2.2.3 Literary Elements: Characterization, students demonstrated the objective with the following process.

Note: a frame provides the foundation to focus on the object and to save time; it provides the outline into which the students creatively add their characterization responses. Students:

  • Wrote the title/author in the top frame of a character frame template.
  • Read the pages describing the character’s physical description, and drew the character within the picture frame template.
  • Added into the character’s hands the most important prop for that character relevant to that story.
  • Listed the most important personality trait for the character on the bottom frame of the poster.
  • Explained the evidence from the text for that trait in the left side frame.
  • Explained how the character’s trait affected the plot in the right side frame.

What happened:

Within this art lesson, the students who usually just make the standard even after several reteaching sessions, were shining. They created a text-based image including not just an appropriate, but pointedly relevant prop. They helped others discover the best prop for their characters. Where usually these students fail, just this twist of objectives that allowed them to “visualize” through art this story and their characters, they demonstrated a deeper level of understanding into more than Reading Comprehension 2.2.3 Literary Elements: Characterization. They discussed cause/effect, setting, plot, and character while reminding others of the story events from the particular point of view in which their little minds work.

Play to Learn…

In our mandate to teach all the standards to mastery, time is the enemy. Pressure forces lessons to cover enough objectives so students can pass The Test that determines student progress, school-wide growth, and teacher effectiveness. Differentiation seems to demand lessons that meet the needs of students who think and work differently, who need a different framework from which to understand the objective and its required response. This lesson differentiated the product so students who struggle with strictly linguistic responses could demonstrate that they did understand the character development. However, this project took time, time from other objectives because art takes time. How many students think in ways that prevent them from answering textual questions in written responses? How many are retaught and re-skilled over and over in ways that don’t meet their needs because of the lack of time to plan and implement lessons that would open their pathways to expressing comprehension and application of the objective? How much is the pressure of classroom mandates affecting the learning community?

Differentiation is not individualization; it is knowing student readiness, interests, and learning profiles. Flexible grouping and respectful tasks provide the vehicle through which students and teachers in a community of learners can successfully learn standards. Our goal is for all students to shine. Start slowly; build differentiation. Occupy your classroom for the students. Differentiation is one way. Take the time.

Resources for differentiation:




Robert Sternberg Differentiation pdf

Six Vocabulary Visits


Pause to reflect…

It’s summer and time to visit friends. Yet, teachers often wander back into their work to improve their strategies for the next year. I know the research on Vocabulary Instruction by Marzano— see a review and many resources here: And in thinking about instruction for next year, I decided to visit six vocabulary friends, and I hope you enjoy the visit.

Play to Learn…

1. Listening Vocabulary

  Every teacher knows how valuable a working vocabulary is to learning and understanding. Many kids are exposed to conversations, books, museums, travel, sports and science camps, and other engaging family activities that enrich their understanding of how the world works today and in the past, with a rich vocabulary that accompanies those activities. A good listening vocabulary, those words you understand in conversation, guide the understanding of written words. In order to read well, then, a good oral listening vocabulary will improve the ability to understand written text.

What if students could listen to stories and hear the words?

Did you know about these free audiobook sites for children?

Lit to Go by Florida’s Educational Technology Clearinghouse


Storynory’s Catch Phrase (explains common phrases in stories)

Sync (13+) What about student research and reading online?


Try: Reading Words Online — turn text to speech (add to your browser) Turn your blog into a podcast

If you have access to a Mac OS X, check out these accessibility features, including text to speech, built in to the system: (text to speech directions) Literacy Learning

For Students with Disabilities:  

Where do you see these fitting in?

I see students link to them from a class webpage, students listening on their own or the school’s iPads/iPods/computers. I see a class or group of students listening and enjoying together (whiteboard or computer). And I see students access these at home, either downloaded on their own devices at school or accessed directly from home. I see students choosing what and where.


2. High Frequency Words

To facilitate reading, students learn the high frequency words used in texts to develop automaticity in reading.

What are these high frequency words?  

Lists can be found here (free)

Sight Words


1200 High Frequency Words  


For Students and Teachers

Spelling City (freemium)



For Students Fun with Learning Say the words before they disappear.  


Where do you see these in your classroom?

I see kids reading flashcards with each other (see visit number three), or on Fun with Learning. I see kids noticing these words as they write. I see kids making up their own words using the meanings of the words they have learned. I see kids using words more precisely (“underneath” instead of “over there”). Merrium-Webster allows users to build an online dictionary. We could add our class favorite words there. I see a class wiki or google site with our own Great Words to Know. I see students choosing how and where they practice their words (in class, self, groups, at home, online) as part of their self-learning/reflection.


3. Academic Vocabulary:12 words

Standardized tests drive instruction today, like it or not. I’ve been reading many blogs who have mentioned Larry Bell’s suggestion that students learn twelve important academic words frequently found on standardized tests.

Here’s one blog with these words: 12 Words (trace, analyze, formulate, explain, describe, summarize, infer, compare, contrast, predict, evaluate, support) This would be a great start to helping students with school-based learning. Learn them. Use them in questions and tests. Students apply them in their work and self-created test questions.

One way to learn words is through flashcards and learner-friendly glossaries. I found two sites that help students and teachers create and use flashcards or glossaries. First, quizlet, a freemium online app allowed me to easily created a set of online flashcards of the twelve words. I also created a set to use to teach with which included examples. Students can sign up to create their own in quizlet. Teachers can create private groups for students. Second, in Wordsmyth, I quickly created a glossary of the words with audio, mostly kid-friendly definitions, part of speech, an example, and related words. I could choose a dictionary (beginner, childrens, advanced) which then suggests kid-friendly definitions accordingly. This is important in learning new words: the definitions need to be in kid-friendly terms and their own words. In this set, I added the word, “evidence” to the list. For the related words, a great strategy is to place those words on a continuum of least-strong to most-strong in its meaning. Reading Rockets provides a wonder lesson and resources about this: Semantic Gradiants

Other Flashcard Apps:

Google’s Widget in Spreadsheet How To

Studyblue — free

Studystack — Sample flashcards about Google Apps

Many of these apps are now available for the iOS platform (iPhones, iPads, iPods). gFlash is available on all devices.  

Where do you see these in your classroom?

I see kids creating their own glossaries and flashcards which will deepen their word understanding. I see kids using words more precisely (“underneath” instead of “over there”). I links to their creations on a class wiki or google site with our own Great Words to Know. I see students choosing how and where they practice their words (in class, self, groups, at home, online) as part of their self-learning/reflection.  

4. Academic Vocabulary: Content Words

As students study in textbooks and online to become experts in their area of study, they encounter words particular to each discipline. We want students to recognize and take time to learn these words so they can speak and write as historians, geographers, biologists, authors, etc. We want our classrooms filled with literate conversations.

Where can I find these academic words?

Building Academic Vocabulary

Bringing Words to Life available on Kindle

I discovered a wonderful site from Tennessee filled with resources and lists for helping teachers and students master academic vocabulary. And one from New Zealand which also includes exercises for students who are English language learners.

By choosing the words, and helping students choose the words, that are content-specific, we ensure students have the opportunity to develop better understanding of the content. Using wordsmyth or quizlet or any other site that helps students generate and practice these vocabulary words will aid in their progress.

vocabtriangleA strategy I use in my class is called word triangles. Here’s the strategy sheet. Students choose a word and list it inside a triangle. On two legs of the triangle, students write two details from the text that relate to the word on the lines next to each triangle. On the third line, students write a connection to the word. This helps students focus on the word, the text, and their understanding through a connection. It’s been a powerful addition to our learning.

Where do you see these in your classroom?

I see kids developing a relationship with words, in their own lists, at home, online, and in class. If our daily routines in the classroom focus on the art of the wordsmith, student wordsmiths will emerge. I see teacher and student choices in academic vocabulary with brief daily discussions using the words we choose. I see continuing our Vocabulary Wednesdays for more focused instruction with wordlists, games, sharing.  

5. Improving Vocabulary

Yes, automaticity and academic vocabulary is important, but what is more important is lifelong learning. Becoming a wordsmith is fun. In my classroom, my wall is adorned with Donald Murray’s quote, “Writing is hard fun.” Vocabulary is “hard fun” too. But key to learning new words is putting those words into one’s own frame of reference with one’s own images, words, and connections and using the words correctly in daily use.

Students need kid-friendly definitions: The Oxford dictionary is for language learners, so the definitions are written in easily understood words and so is this learner dictionary, both specially designed for easy understandings of definitions. And, suggestions for activities to practice, learn, and use words can be found at this Learning Tasks site. Students can create their own learning center at

Using the strategies in our first four visits with learner-friendly dictionaries, and interactive activities, and maintaining an online vocabulary center will propel students to become wordsmiths.

Where do you see these in your classroom?

  I see kids challenging each other and recognizing their new word power. I see a hallway of Wordsmith Wonders, where students add their words in a graffiti -like wall that encourages wordplay, poetry, and interactivity. I see blogs with improved vocabulary and word challenges.I see our wiki or Google Site growing in power. I hear the hallway chatter with laughter of a found phrase to share on the Wordsmith Wonder or blog. I see and hear students choosing their own wonderful words.

6. Sharing Vocabulary

Choosing, learning, practicing words need social connections. Our Wordsmith Wonders will begin the interaction of sharing and applying our vocabulary. Working with partners and groups for learning on Vocabulary Wednesdays will offer more sharing time so we learn from each other. A new book of strategies I will try is Inside Words by Janet Allen (available on Kindle).

Merrium-Webster allows users to build an online dictionary; add to it.

Word Whirl

Students bring their best new vocabulary words, ready for Word Whirl. Students think about a poem or speech with their words for two minutes so that in one to two minutes they speak on a topic or recite their poem. They try their ideas out with a partner, seeking questions on content and format, and offering those to their partner. Students rethink their work for two minutes. Now the whirl: students pop up and share their work to the class. Listeners write down the interesting word(s) they hear, and one compliment. Next person pops. At the end all students either turn in their list/compliments or type them into a shared google doc. The document is discussed as a class as it is projected, or a leader shares the compliments and key words. What did you like? What did you notice? What was confusing? What word will you try?

Students add their whirl to the Wordsmith Wonders, their own blog, or a common wiki or site.

And now how about you share: share1 What word did you learn today? Share it so we learn too…. at  

Where do you see these in your classroom?

I see wordsmiths recognizing each other for vocabulary choices. I see impromptu discussions where words carry weight by their succinct addition to the topic. I see restatements of content more clear and concise, a group endeavor to summarize with pizazz. I see a badge of honor anyone can earn for the learning and using of vibrant vocabulary, like our vivid verbs in writing.  

7. Listening Vocabulary

Vocabulary is required learning. While the teacher must direct the learning of specific vocabulary for their content area in each lesson, students should also consciously construct their own improved vocabulary. How students learn new vocabulary should not just be teacher directed, but also interest driven (new buzz word: passion). These activities provide opportunities to listen to our words in conversation and discussions and in written work for class or on blogs. Which brings us right back to listening: Wordsmiths listen to the way words work wonder in our minds. So if you find your classroom filled with wordsmiths, grab this badge to share with them. wordsmithbadge

Where do you see these in your classroom?

The friendly vocabulary visiting is done, except will you please share your favorite vocabulary friends here? I know I would love to meet a few more before school starts! And after you have shared, grab the badge for yourself.

Inspiration for this blog comes from Elizabeth at Apache Junction.

My Growing Vocabulary Diigo

Cross-posted at What Else

Photo Credit:

Wordsmith Badges by Sheri Edwards CC3.0



Pause and reflect…


Who are heroes?

I read somewhere that heroes are ordinary people who do extradinary things. Harry Emerson Fosdick said, “Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.”

My son is a hero to me: he could give up after his tragic motorcyle accident, but he doesn’t. He continues to live his life — his style is shorter (from a wheelchair), but everything he strives to do now, he accomplishes.

My husband is a hero. On his way out of town he noticed smoke, and stopped to grab a neighbor and hoses to help contain the fire until firefighters arrived, saving two homes.

All over the world ordinary people have stepped up to help in floods, storms, and earthquakes. 

When the need arises ordinary people do extraordinary things. We carry the possibilities to bring our communities together when nature pulls them apart.

In our lives we have many communities: family, friends, church, work, play. And in each of these communities, we pull together, and in small ways are heroes to each other when the need arises. For stories of heroes from communities around the world, see the Giraffe Heroes Project.

In the US, all of us have a community in our classrooms and schools. In each classroom are heroes, including the teachers who are not just instructing, but often are mentors, counselors, referees, coaches, nurses, mediators, cheerleaders, tutors, etc. to those children in their care who come to us not as objects to be filled but as whole persons with ideas, dreams, issues, problems, hopes, needs. Despite the requirement to teach the curriculum, it is the child that is to be taught, to be understood, to be encouraged, and to be engaged. Without this consideration of the whole child, the child will probably not engage willingly with learning. Imagine guiding a classroom full of students, each of whom you are to inspire. Look at their faces in your mind. To do this, is to be a hero; it often takes extraordinary skill to guide each child in one’s care.

Yes, guide. Look at the root of educate ( 



1580–90;  < Latin ??duc??tus  brought up, taught (past participle of ??duc??re ), equivalent to ??- e-  + -duc-  lead + -??tus -ate

So, to educate is to lead.  Teachers lead students towards each one’s learning, and help bridge the gap from individual to community.



Play to Learn…

If we want our hereos to jump in for our many communities, then our common community, our schools, must be allowed to lead to learning that which is most important: forming and supporting a learning community. That takes time, conversation, and more than the basics. It’s why project-based learning is so powerful: solving a problem to complete a project together is engaging, inspiring, and energizing. How else could we guide students to see their possibilities? 

What Does Successful Project-Based Learning Look Like? By Bob Lenz explains that project-based learning includes, among others, these:

  • Lasting learning of a deeper learning skill, idea, or way of thinking that is relevant to students’ lives, their futures, and transforms who they are as human beings.
  • Mirrors real-world work of professionals in craft, process, or skill (e.g. historians, writers, mathematicians, artists).
  • Moves beyond classroom in purpose, audience, or contribution to community.

I’d like to thank the heroes of reform today who keep voicing the need to develop schools for learning rather than for testing — no test can assess the kind of learning we need to lead students to learning within a community, so the students too will be heroes in their communities.

So even though I teach in a test-prep school, I will also conduct that preparation within the confines of both district requirements and engaging projects– and to find “extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.” Our democracy depends on this, don’t you think?


What about you? Who are your heroes? What are your communities? How will you best lead students to a sense of community and learning? How is it that educators lead us to find “extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people?”



Photo Credits:

Missour River and Jake by Sheri Edwards

Purpose, Pedagogy, and Beneficence

Pause to reflect:


It’s not the technology; it’s the teaching and learning: pedagogy and purpose. I read often about technology and instruction; one more article about this, called “It’s the Pedagogy, Stupid: Lessons from an iPad Lending Program” by Heather Beattey Johnston and Carolyn J. Stoll, drew me to reflection.

No matter what it is: program, device, technology, software, or curriculum, for learning to occur, the focus will always turn to the student and the teacher. That is where the magic is, not in any silver bullet.

That said, let’s look at today’s learners and their future: they expect to be engaged and their future requires active participation in a collaborative and creative culture.

How do I know?

Students expect to be engaged:
Almost every student has some device with them at school (even though it is, unfortunately, banned).
If they aren’t engaged by the learning, they engage themselves with classroom distractions or their devices.

Future job requirements:
Think about it: Will future jobs require:
  • reading
  • writing
  • listening
  • speaking
Yes– but there’s more needed. Think about it:
Did you know that in the United States, 47.0 million people (18 percent) spoke a language other than English at home? (Source: Census )

The number is growing, and with our global culture growing, the need to connect wit others as part of one’s job is also growing.

Look at the applications now developing so people can meet online but at their own time and place (webinar systems (Adobe, Blackboard), collaborative documents (Google Docs, Wikis). 

The future is participation as part of global teams collaborating on documents for which the people involved collaborate as well as protect the information.

Johnston and Stoll shared in their article, “”Being able to demonstrate the solution to a problem or provide examples for a concept by simply handing over a device as you would a piece of paper is transformative.” It’s not just a piece of paper the device holds: it’s the research, the graphic, the problem, the tools, and the documentation and collaboration all in one device held in one’s hand.

Therefore, to engage students and to deliver relevant and real instruction, the technology tools are very important. 
But that’s not all that is needed by teachers to engage students, is it?  There is no magic yet for deeper learning.

How do I know?

Does this sound familiar?
Middle school students come to class from their little worlds of drama with friends,  days of gaming, and dreams of hoop heroes. When asked what their goals are, they usually have none, except to become an NBA or NFL player. If they plan for college, it’s just to “get a good job.” A few will say doctor or lawyer, but without any reason or dream behind it. Let’s get real, though. They are only middle schoolers, what should they be thinking? If our schools are preparing them for their future and their future careers, and they have no clue of the possibilities, what is their purpose for coming to school, let alone planning for life?

That led me to a blog by Thom Markham, Ph. D “Reaching Young People to Go Deeper — The Power of Purpose.

He shares research by Bill Damon, Stanford professor and child development expert who indicates that “25% of teenagers claim to have no purpose in life. And, while others ‘dabble or dream,’ only 20% have a solid sense of direction.”

Just engaging youth in gadgets won’t inspire deep learning of the communication and collaboration skills needed in their future. Dr. Markham suggests “that the school’s most important goal is to help students discover their purpose in life—to go deep into themselves and come out the other side with insights about who they are and what they want out of life.”

What does this mean?

Dr. Markham explains:
“Purpose is a critical asset for healthy adulthood. Without a reason to get out of bed in the morning, a host of problems start to show up in people’s lives that impact their health, behavior, and productivity.
Purpose also relates directly to the pursuit of new skills and knowledge. Research clearly shows that purpose, meaning, and mastery move in tandem. Without tapping into a sense of purpose, high schools are reduced to rules and incentives—primarily the promise of college—rather than relying on the deeper wellsprings of learning that lead to the highest levels of student performance.”

Without purpose, why involve oneself in the learning?

In another post at Edutopia (Project-based Learning and Social-emotional Learning ), Dr. Markham points out that “At its best, PBL taps into intangibles that make learning effortless and engaging: Drive, passion, purpose, and peak performance. But peak performance doesn’t start with a standardized curriculum.”

He continues with these suggestions (condensed):
Step 1: Redefine rigor
Rigor is a measure of personal performance, not a standar
d to quantify how much information has been learned
Step 2: Establish a “drive and thrive” culture
Establish a culture of inquiry, excellence, and personal responsibility.
Step 3: Acknowledge the “soft” skills as “hard” skills
Navigating a changing world demands a communicative, creative, and collaborative person with a flexible, empathetic, resilient, and persistent temperament.

If my purpose is to help students discover their purpose in life as well as learn the skills needed to achieve that purpose, then the learning standards cannot drive the learning, the student’s purpose must. We’ve heard this many times: “Student-centered learning.”  With the purpose, there’s drive and passion. With drive and passion, there’s peak performance.

Think about it — the project-based learning process:
Guide students to their possibilities and opportunities which will provide the purpose to find personally relevant information with rigor and through a drive/thrive culture of inquiry while communicating, creating, collaborating in this discovery. 

In my mind, Dr. Markham expanded the past pedagogy of rigor, relevance, and relationships to today’s terms: personal rigor, personal and future relevance, and the relationship to the work, peers, and teachers as a community of learners using today’s collaborative and on-demand tools.  

Is that all? Is that the magic?

It’s not the device. It’s not the pedagogy. It’s not the purpose. 

I really thought about this quote: “Without a reason to get out of bed in the morning, a host of problems start to show up in people’s lives that impact their health, behavior, and productivity.”  Especially when, near the end of the blog, he suggested “A new set of best practices for 21st century education is emerging, melding youth development principles with inquiry-based methods that stimulate a young person’s desire to know more about the world and serve it well. That’s how we can prepare students for the future.”

Our civilization progresses when our people have “productivity” and “serve it well.” 

How do I know?

First thing that pops into my mind — The wheel — someone invented it, and the rest of the world was served by its benefits.

The computer — some people invented it (it sat in huge rooms for awhile before Steve and Steve made it small and personal), and the rest is history.

True, the inventors may not have set out to “serve it well,” but, in the end, they did. 

Think back to the classroom — when do classroom activities work best? For my room, it’s when the classroom is a community of learners, helping one another. 

Therefore, It’s not the device. It’s not the pedagogy. It’s not the purpose. 

The magic of engaged learning is Purpose, Pedagogy, and Beneficence.

How do I know?

This year, the seventh grade reading teacher found a way to get her small group of active boys reading: they partner read with kindergarten students (pedagogy). In order to read to the students, they needed to know how to read (purpose). Once they read to the little partners, and realized the impact, they did not want to stop (Beneficence). 

Also this year, the seventh and eighth grade students did not have presenters for our Outdoor Education Day at the lake, so the two teachers decided we would plan an Outdoor Eduction day as a service project (pedagogy) for the Kindergartener’s who are not part of OED. The older students planned with maps and checklists created themselves a Nature Walk around the campus, including science and nature talks at each stop. Since the younger students had just read about pirates, the older students also planned a Nature Scavenger Hunt using a “Nature Treasure Map” and based on the Nature Walk. It was a great event, and the immediate response back at the room for the older students were self-evaluative discussions of a) managing younger students and b) planning better information for next year. 

Purpose, Pedagogy, and Beneficence equals engaged learning.

Play to Learn

So how does one move to Purpose, Pedagogy, and Beneficence?

At all ages we need to share careers of opportunities for students. Connect them to our curriculum. Allow students to learn about them. Most importantly, create the pedagogy of the content area so that students think like careers in that content: So their work, thinking, and products are that of writers, geographers, historians, geologists, scientists, cartographers, authors, etc.

Make sure the purpose is relevant to the learner and the purpose engages the class in a community of learners whereby each member adds to the project in ways that enhance the community, or some other person or entity. Purpose, then reflects the targets required, the learner’s desires, the project’s cause, and the learning community’s goals.

A project could be:
Annotated artwork for nursing home
Website of facts about animal abuse prevention
Letters to agencies
and on and on

For all of this to occur, the classroom process and goals need to be taught — the purpose of this school or classroom will look and feel differently. In addition, students will need skills in collaboration, listening, analyzing, discussion, problem-solving, etc.  See resources below for ideas.

My Goal to Begin:
Engage students in introductory, short projects (example: prepare and teach about digital citizenship to younger students– a review for my students, and a purpose/product that is achievable).
Evaluate that process and establish protocols and procedures for successful completing.
Evaluate content skills learned and set goals for improvement.
Evaluate the effect of our work on others.
Begin career investigations.
Brainstorm and plan further projects.

What do you think? How do you know? What will you do?

Project Based Learning

Think Like A Scientist

Think Like an Historian

David Perkins – Thinking Skills

Questioning by tbond

Educational Origami by Andrew Churches

Thinkers Toolbox by paulajamieson

Habits of Mind

Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks