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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Relationships Matter pt. 3: Acting with Conscious

Seeing when students respond to learning, have epiphanies, dive into deeper understanding is an adrenaline rush. If you've ever won a big game or tournament, gotten that first publication, accepted to prestegious organization, or hired some place special, then you know the emotions.
"Yes, yes, yes!!!" Metaphoric pumping of the fists.

There is no better experience than that moment when teaching skills reap fruit...

These experiences most often happen when teacher and student understand each other, which is to say, when we invest in understanding our students to a depth beyond academic skill level. The message: I understand where you come from, and the challenges you face that weigh more heavily on you than anything I assign. Now let me guide you to see the strengths inside you"

There is no better experience than that moment when teaching skills reap fruit--

Except for that same moment when the student makes important learning connections.

Yawp!


Dangerous Minds - Choice

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Relationships matter pt 2: "Listening to Voices"

Each year we are responsible for the learning success of a group of students. Whether they are on your attendance roster, or someone whose facial features is a silent cry for help, our calling as educators draws us to help. Yet this instinctive desire is often buried by the numerous tasks and pressures that compete in loud voices demanding attention.

Sometimes, as we scan students, noting with our instincts needs for support, we need to pause, mute everything else that shout demands, and

listen to the student.

In this video, what does the student struggle to communicate...in scene one,...two,...the rest of the video...



Think back on a student or students you're recently noticed concerns---a need to listen. Check in with that student, pause, mute external demands, listen...

What do you hear?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Relationships Matter pt. 1 - Layers of a student

One year nears an exit and a new year--on the horizon--waits it's turn. It's a time for midyear reflection during a 2 week bubble that gives educators opportunity to recharge and retool. What will follow in the next couple of blog entries including images and/or videos to capture our thinking on what's best for all learners.

Thank you for your consideration...

New Boy is the winner of Best Narrative Short at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. It's about a boy's first day in a new school, and for the boy, a vastly different place. Consider the students new to your class after school starts, when culture is established. Consider how the boy's life story is a treasure chest that could enrich the lives of the boy, the other students, and the teacher--if you were her.

New Boy


Pause reading. How did the boy or other characters make you feel?

Tell yourself about an epiphany or affirmation you got about the importance of knowing students...


Every student has a back story. It can be the key needed to help them succeed where once they believed only laid failure, achieve where they didn't know there was more to uncover, and learn new talents and interests where they didn't know they had.

Learning about backstory is work that's worthwhile to student learning and liberates educators in uncovering more options for instructional support.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What matters is Achievement

Act 1: Scene 1

Mr. Stevens carried a stack of papers to the front of the classroom. “These are your final exam results,” he said while walking up the first row of desks, and handing a stapled packet to each sophomore. “You’ll recall that this test covered all the work we did this semester. The grade reflects your level of knowledge and skills acquired.” He walked down the next row, passing out more papers.


Paper crackled and slapped the desk as students looked through the pages. A few students raised a hand. The teacher headed up the next row of seats. “There are two grades. The first is the exam grade. The second, which is circled, is your grade for the course.” Hands dropped, except for one.


“If you have any questions, see me after class.”


“Mr. Stevens, how can I have an A on my exam and a D for the course?” Tony asked, while keeping his hand in the air. The sounds of rustling paper ceased.


The teacher continued his measured steps, turning down the final row. “As I’ve already stated, I’ll answer questions at the end of class.”


“Sir, I got an A on the exam. You just said that it covered the entire semester work. An A means I know a lot about this course. So how come you gave me a D?” Tony was short of breath.


Mr. Stevens exhaled. All eyes watched and waited for his response. “Alright, since you insist. You’ve turned in few homework assignments and you’ve participated little in class discussions. Calculating those grades, the A’s and B’s on tests, and the Final exam results in a D.”


“Sir-“


"That’s the real world Tony. Apply yourself better next time."


Act 1: Scene 2

Ms. Stevens carried envelopes to the front of the conference room. “These are the 6 month commissions,” she said while walking around one side of the table of sales reps and corporate executives, and handing an envelope to each person. “Based on your quota for sales and contracts negotiated, your commission represent how much you made for the company. Checks will arrive this coming Friday.


Paper ripping filled the room as the people pulled out statements. Some chuckled or whispered. Several hands rose. Ms. Stevens rounded the table, passing out more envelopes. “There are two numbers listed. The first is the total amount you've earned for the company. The second number is a multiplier for your commission.”


People murmured.


Stacy, her had still raised holding her letter. “Ms. Stevens, I’ve attended every meeting and turned in all memos on time. I made sales quota exactly. Why do I have the minimum multiplier? Tony over there misses meetings and he’s chronically late on memos. Yet he’s got a huge multiplier.”


Ms. Stevens sighed. “Tony exceeds every sales and contract goal set. He keeps that up, he can miss some meetings and turn in memos when he’s not making a sale or closing a lucrative contract for the company."


"But-"


"That’s the real world. Apply yourself better next time."


***

Resources to explore

15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O'Connor

Webinar - Book links 1st - 2nd - 3rd


Here's a link if the video does not show on this page.


Here's a link if the video does not show on this page.


Your thoughts...?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why Leadership Matters...

A leader is a dealer in hope.
Wisdom is found sometimes in the unlikeliest of places. Napoleon may have been a dictator, and one who aspired to rule. A "dealer in hope" is part of what leadership can do. When put to good use, people are inspired to dream of possibilies.

The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet.
Another important facet of leadership is guiding people fulfill that vision. Sometimes it takes connecting with what's in the hearts of other, other times its sweetness, or cold facts of the new reality. People will follow that which is clear and shown to be in their best interests.

In education, schools, even districts, build and follow school improvement plans whose intent is to provide students a successful learning experience. This is done, in part, giving teachers the tools to do that job, and for guiding administrators with a road map for leading the adults towards success. Such accomplishment takes a lot of work and sacrifices by the adults. There are no short cuts. No free rides. In most cases, effective school improvement plans require a shift in thinking by educators as to the ways business is done must change.

What gets monitored, gets done. What is not monitored does not get done.

As schools strive to become more skillful, better at meeting student needs, success is about building buy-in among staff. Not everyone will be on board. Yet a persistent leader can bring along staff by staying the course of action. There are veterans who with each initiative will murmur, "This too shall pass." While seeming cynical, those teachers and administrators speak from experience not fantasy. Resistance is a form of conserving ones energy for the real work. Change for its on sake does not by nature take root.

Strong leadership is needed to have effective school improvement plans. Leaders need to involve staff in the planning, include them in the shaping of a plan, and hold them accountable to their commitments. A leader who pays lip service will see the school improvement plan become a paperweight rather than a vehicle for improving success by teachers teaching students, and learners learning. Sadly, too many well intentioned leaders get trapped in the day to day demands. Like parents of kids going away to college where they are out of sight and no longer guided, a swamped leader "hopes" the staff is following the plan and doing what's expected. Just like the leader, the staff also struggle to keep their heads afloat. Priority is survival. The first things cast overboard are the tools and expectations of the school improvement plan.

'Good directors, playwrights and leaders are enablers who make it possible for others to succeed by providing the means and opportunities for actions.' Anon

Leadership is passionate persistence about what's best for learners needs and ensuring that all staff strive to meet those identified needs.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Responses to Texted Questions

John McCarthy, Ed.S. – General Session on August 13, 2009

Participants texted questions they needed answered to move forward as edcuation leaders for re-imaginging Differentiated Instruction. The questions reflected the varioius needs for action from leading by example to facilitating professional growth and systemic change. Here are responses.

  • Any books or websites available with examples of tiered lesson plans across the curriculum?
Fulfilling the Promise of a Differentiated Classroom by Carol Tomlinson (Tool box) Sample chapters list here.

http://www.doe.in.gov/exceptional/gt/tiered_curriculum/welcome.html
This site has several examples under Readiness. The interest and learning styles examples are not necessarily tiered focused, but may have ideas to look at.

  • Teachers in our district want to know how to grade tiered lessons where students are working on different levels of activities?
Hold clear standards-based objectives for all students. The assessment can be common or differentiated based on the tiered focus. When different, it’s because the learning is at different stages of mastering the concepts. Eventually you want your students to have similar core level of understanding. Some may be above expectations, but all will share the essential knowledge and understandings. Rubrics can be helpful in this format.
  • What is the name of the ASCD video series you showed this morning?
Instructional Strategies for the Differentiated Classroom, Part 1: Complex Instruction, chapter 2 (Sample video at this link)

  • Where do you start using Differentiated Instruction?
Begin where you feel most comfortable, preferably in a content area you feel confident in. Two books to consider for guidance are by Carol Tomlinson:
How to Differentiate Instruction in a Mixed Ability Classroom
--Great primer for where to start and common vocabulary
Fulfilling the Promise of Differentiated Instruction
--Deeper book for instructional practice and curriculum. Great resource for strategies.

  • High school teachers will ask you about time! How do we fit DI into our short periods and still cover all the hsce’s?
The challenge of short periods exists at all grade levels. Elementary teachers deal with the daily challenge of instruction being broken up by specials and other important needs. Having taught in a 40 minute period, I feel your pain regarding teaching and learning in general, much less “coverage.” Addressing the HSCE’s is not a challenge with regards to DI. We differentiate because it’s what students need in order to achieve. To not differentiate virtually guarantees that students will fail. The pressures for teaching HSCE’s and GLCE’s are real, and should not be ignored. A path for meeting that need is addressed by Concept-Based Instruction. This approach is championed by Wiggins and McTighe in Understanding by Design, Lynn Erickson (Concept-Based Instruction), and the Buck Institute (Standards-Focused Project-Based Instruction), just to name some. Their approach is about “uncoverage” of essential learning.

  • What is Compacting?
“A 3-step process that (1) assesses what a student knows about material to be studied and what the student still needs to master, (2) plans for learning what is not known and excuses student from what is known, and (3) plans for freed-up time to be spent in enriched or accelerated study.”
Carol Tomlinson. How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed Ability Classrooms. 2nd Edition, p. 98. (Book preview)

  • What’s a good article on Standards-Based Grading?

ASCD’s Education Leadership has an excellent article for why schools should transition from traditional grading practices to a Standards-Based grading approach. In the issue, Expecting Excellence, read Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading by Patricia L. Scriffiny, Pages 70-74, October 2008 | Volume 66 | Number 2

A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor is a great resource, and What’s Fair Isn’t Always Equal by Rick Wormelli is an effective way to start the conversation that leads to real change in grading practices. Here's a sneak preview.

  • Can we get the Math video?
Ma and Pa Kettle doing multiplication is a YouTube video at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bfq5kju627c

MI ASCD Conference on DI: Day 2

Day 2 opened with a general session to "Re-Imagine Differentiated Instructruction." In the course of the morning session participants explored the need for integrating Differentiated Instruction as part of effective models for student learning, beginning with the reflective question: Will you take responsibility for the learning success of your students? The learning time generated quite a productive conversation that spilled into the break as well as the entirity of the session.

Exploration included looking at how "Teachers respond" from Carol Tomlinson's work on the 3 cogs for differentiation (Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom, ASCD. p. 28.) Read the sample chapter. 3 Dimensional Instruction (John McCarthy, 2008):

  1. Identify the objective(s)
  2. Develop the assessment
  3. Brainstorm 8-15 3D processing activities to teach the concept(s)
  4. Build lesson steps with 3D processing activities

We looked at 4 Quadrants for instruction and learning by International Center for Leadership in Education, and Project-Based Learning (Buck Institute and support by www.leading pbl.org)

In this busy morning, participants texted questions, some of which were addressed during the session, while a compilation was answered in a post at MI ASCD. Here is the transcript.

The afternoon was a big hit. Participants left with much information and take aways to begin implementing in their schools. Thank you all who attended. The conference existed to support the critical need to help all students achieve.

Now the planning starts for next year and adding additional strands that go deeper and more complex.

Have a great school year!!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

MI ASCD Differentiated Instruction Conference: Day 1

Dr. Susan Allan’s keynote and general session set a great tone for the necessity, if not the urgency, for differentiation to take a greater role in instruction. She addressed the misnomers about what is differentiated instruction (DI) and what it is. For example, it’s not planning individualized lessons for every student, nor less work for struggling students and more work for students further along in their learning. Rather it’s meeting students where they are in learning, which forms groups based on common needs, interests, and/or learning profiles. DI is about teacher flexibility and developing a classroom towards a student-centered culture. She guided participants into a deep exploration of Readiness issues and strategies that support students from struggling to advanced. By the end of the morning session, I hope that participants walked away with a core understanding of Differentiated Instruction, and steps towards implanting.

In tomorrow morning’s general session I will discuss how as education leaders, administrators and teachers, we must re-imagine DI in a 21st century world. Thinking of DI needs to be expanded in our thinking, and viewed most significantly as a cornerstone to instructional pedagogy, regardless of the model or system that is followed. There’s a taste. More to come.

The Teacher panel was well balanced. The four teachers ranged from elementary to high school, and veteran to a teacher who completed one year. The questions were diverse. Responses had a common strand as to how best to develop successful practice that includes DI:

  • Peer collaboration,
  • Leadership support,
  • Recognition of the complex work,
  • Communicate with peers, students, and parents

One question focused on how to differentiate instruction with large class sizes. A panelist stated, “Differentiated Instruction may vary with class size, but there is no question that it will be implemented.”

The Grading and Assessment session was surprising in the turnout. I expected 10 or less as it was a mini-break out of 85 minutes. Most sessions were 3 hours and the mini-break out that preceded mine was a small number. Over 40 participants came after the common break. Clearly, grading is a hot enough concern that people want to know what are new options.

The issues around grading are challenging as traditional practices appear to fail students on multiple levels. Entrenched ideology around grading makes the issues more complex and deeply problematic. As one educator shared, what is a situation that plays out in many districts, getting a group of educators to agree on new solutions is next to impossible as discussions get bogged down over what to do. My intent in a 85 minute session was to raise awareness for why grading practices need to be assessed, and explore issues that might compel educational leaders to establish changes in grading policies. Not too ambitious :)

There are many compelling arguments for rethinking grading. Perhaps in a later piece I’ll go more in-depth into each.

  1. Percentages, Zeroes, and Mean (averaging) scoring are inconsistent in accurately assessing learning at best, and at worst kill student desire to put forth their best efforts.

  2. Grading often hurts students who take longer to learn a concept. In connection to this, mismatched assessments, that is reliability is questionable, gives inaccurate information.

  3. Factors such as participation, homework/classwork completion, and extra credit distort assessment of learning when factor into grades.

There’s more. A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor is a great resource, and What’s Fair Isn’t Always Equal by Rick Wormelli is an effective way to start the conversation that leads to real change in grading practices. Here's a sneak preview. In the end, I’d like to believe that the time was well spent. From the anecdotal feedback I received, perhaps it was.

A next step is to Standards-Based Grading. ASCD’s Education Leadership has an excellent article for why schools should transition from traditional grading practices to a Standards-Based grading approach. In the issue, Expecting Excellence, read Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading by Patricia L. Scriffiny, Pages 70-74, October 2008 | Volume 66 | Number 2

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

MI ASCD Conference on Differentiated Instruction

A major conference on Differentiated Instruction starts tomorrow in Michigan. It's a 2-Day event, kicked off by Dr. Susan Allan. The breakout sessions are done mostly by teacher practicioners. Participants will learn alot and take away much to impelement in their schools. May MI ASCD continue this great tradition each year.

During the conference, follow the goings on:

MI ASCD on Twitter
http://twitter.com/MichiganASCD
Check for conference updates, news, and DI ideas.
 
MI ASCD on Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michigan-ASCD/125394864523
Check here for post conference news and updates, plus upcoming events in Michigan.

More to follow...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New Tech High

It's day three, the final day of the conference. I'm here early for a highly anticipated presentation by a school staff from Rochester, IN, who implemented a 21st century skills culture wrapped around a project-based learning curriculum approach. Will report after.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

H. Wong's 7 Principles

Harry Wong talked about his "Secrets" to year long success based on what you do on day 1.

1. Am I in the right room?

2. Where am I suppose to sit?

3. What are the classroom rules?

4. What will I be doing in your classroom this year?

5. How will I be graded?

6. Who is my teacher as a person?

7. Will I be treated fairly in the classroom?

How well these questions are answered in planning prior to the 1st day is critical to success.

Online Gaming = Learning?

The session, Game On, described something just around the corner. MMORG games that support curriculum. http://www.spngameon.ning.com
Their focus is on playtesting games written for curriculum support. I wonder what's out there where lessons and units are using MMORG as the environment. I'll follow the ning to learn more.

June 29 Highlights

Yesterday was a mind filling experience. Starting with McNulty on student engagement through relevance I attended many good sessions. See previos post on Harry Wong.

2 highlights were an elementary and a middle school. English Estates Elementary does project-based learning as curriculum approach. http://teachercenter.scps.k12.fl.us/ees What makes this worthwhile is their culture-building element. All students engage into Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as part of their learning content concepts. See their resources on their site. They have several resources on their systemic work.

Salina Intermediate School uses teacher leadership with the principal to improve instruction and learning. http://salina-int.dearbornschools.org

They're doing great work on establishing focus on learning as a learning community. Students and teachers use many methods to teach and learn together. One example is through videos, such how and how not to meet collaborative and Co-Teaching.



Here are some usefulresources.

D-Tube: http://video.dearbornschools.org
Blog: http://blog.dearbornschools.org/salinaprincipal/my-presentations
http://battee.blogspot.com

Today, I'm at a session called Game On.
http://www.spngameon.ning.com

More later!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Harry Wong

Harry Wong is amazing in person. High energy, full of examples, humor, and laser focus ideas. Classroom management is not discipline. It's having a plane to communicate meeting needs of students, making kids feel valued and safe, and getting them to work. Read his work online. Buy his book, First day of school. He and his wife write a monthly column in the Teachers.Net Gazette. The online zine, TG, is worth checking out.
Ok, I'm at the models school conference this week. http://www.leadered.com. I'm blogging by text as things happen, as long as battery holds. Will

Sunday, June 28, 2009

In my desire post more often, I'm linking text messages. Adventures abound.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Think Time

There have been studies that looked at the length of time teachers pause after asking students questions. I ask this question of teachers during the professional development I'm asked to do about instruction and differentiation. Their guesses are pretty close to the results that researchers found.

Researchers found ranges of .7 to 1.7 seconds that teachers pause.

That is less time than to take a breath. Considering that an inhale is required to speak, only students with an immediate answer, and who is ready to articulate immediately has a chance to respond. And in some cases even they don't have enough time to "start" speaking. What researchers and other educational thinkers suggest is pausing for 3 or more seconds. Pause time is dependent on purpose and situation, but extending beyond the current pause rate has been found to give benefits to learning. Students are given time to think through the question, compose their answer, and speak.

This Ferris Beuller clip is a great parody of 0.5 pause time creates:





Reflective responses, and other answers that require critical thinking, I suggest pausing for 5 to 15 seconds. 10+ seconds may seem an eternity--I've done this, I know--but it gives consideration to the internal thinkers who are sometimes known as intraverts. (Link 2) These thinkers need personal time to consider their thoughts and check for understanding before they feel comfortable sharing with others. In 3 seconds, they will most likely not be ready to answer the question, unless the required response is based on recall or low level understanding. 5 seconds might be a stretch.

Used judiciously, 10 to 15 seconds is also a class-management tool. Ask a question. Pause for all students to consider the answer, because anyone of them could be called on. After the waited time, call on a student to answer the question. Don't wait for volunteers. Up to 15 seconds is plenty of time for most students to formulate an answer depending on the expect complexity of answers.

3-5 seconds of wait time is useful in other ways, such as pausing after giving students time to articulate their questions, teacher pauses in a lecture to give emphasis to a concept, thus allowing students to digest the information, or giving students time to consider the response by a peer or teacher.

What's important is recognizing that the giving of pause, or think time, emphasizes the value of the question being asked and the quality of answer expected.

What is ‘Think Time’?

Information processing involves multiple cognitive tasks that take time. Students must have uninterrupted periods of time to process information; reflect on what has been said, observed, or done; and consider what their personal responses will be.
Robert J. Stahl

The Role of Wait Time in Higher Cognitive Level Learning

Kenneth Tobin

Western Australian Institute of Technology

Wait time is defined in terms of the duration of pauses separating utterances during verbal interaction. The paper reviews studies involving wait time in a range of subject areas and grade levels. When average wait time was greater than a threshold value of 3 seconds, changes in teacher and student discourse were observed and higher cognitive level achievement was obtained in elementary, middle, and high school science. Achievement increases were also reported in middle school mathematics. Wait time appears to facilitate higher cognitive level learning by providing teachers and students with additional time to think.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A leader is a dealer in hope.
Wisdom is found sometimes in the unlikliest of places. Napoleon may have been a dictator, and one who aspired to rule. A "dealer in hope" is part of what leadership can do. When put to good use, people are inspired to dream of possibilies.

The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet.

Another important facet for guiding people to fulfill a shared vision is to be a servant leader.


Sometimes it takes connecting with what's in the hearts of other, other times its sweetness, or cold facts of the new reality. People will follow that which is clear and shown to be in their best interests.


In education, schools, even districts, build and follow school improvement plans whose intent is to provide students a successful learning experience. This is done, in part, giving teachers the tools to do that job, and for guiding administrators with a road map for leading the adults towards success. Such accomplishment takes a lot of work and sacrifices by the adults. There are no short cuts. No free rides. In most cases, effective school improvement plans require a shift in thinking by educators as to the ways business is done must change.

What gets monitored, gets done. What is not monitored does not get done.

As schools strive to become more skillful, better at meeting student needs, success is about building buy-in among staff. Not everyone will be on board. Yet a persistant leader can bring along staff by staying the course of action. There are veterans who with each initiative will murmur, "This too shall pass." While seeming cynical, those teachers and administrators speak from experience not fantasy. Resistance is a form of conserving ones energy for the real work. Change for its on sake does not by nature take root. 

Strong leadership is needed to have effective school improvement plans. Leaders need to involve staff in the planning, include them in the shaping of a plan, and hold them accountable to their commitments. A leader who pays lip service will see the school improvement plan become a paperweight rather than a vehicle for improving success by teachers teaching students, and learners learning. Sadly, too many well intentioned leaders get trapped in the day to day demands. Like parents of kids going away to college where they are out of sight and no longer guided, a swamped leader "hopes" the staff is following the plan and doing what's expected. Just like the leader, the staff also struggle to keep their heads afloat. Priority is survival. The first things cast overboard are the tools and expectations of the school improvement plan.

'Good directors, playwrights and leaders are enablers who make it possible for others to succeed by providing the means and opportunities for actions.' Anon

Leadership is passionate persistance about what's best for learners needs and ensuring that all staff strive to meet those identified needs.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Taking the Journey to endless learning...


“I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” –Socrates

Socrates continues to have an enormous impact on my life. He leads the teachers that influenced my thinking and the lenses I use to interpret the world. He’s known as one of the greatest philosophers for human kind, even in his own time. He taught or influenced Plato and Aristotle, both men also arguably great thinkers who transcend their era to ours. Consider Socratic Questioning, a highly respected instructional strategy named after the philosopher. The questioning process proves effective for helping expand student thought process. Socrates thinking, called the Socratic Method, was so phenomenal that his peers feared him for the power of how he influenced others to think for themselves. Yet this man believed that he “knew nothing,” that there was so much more for him to explore. And he did so until his death, orchestrated by those who feared him.

This blog exists for personal and professional reasons. My work as an educator drives me to explore many, many ways of teaching and learning. Blogging serves as an instructional/learning tool and a means for personal reflection. I’m not sure what reflections will have value beyond my desire to examine my thinking and, hopefully, grow my understanding. My interests are in ways of teaching and learning that are effective. I know and teach about many systems and strategies. There is so much more that I understand little or am not aware of. So this blog is a way to mine gems, explore undiscovered territory (at least unexplored by me), and experience many cognitive shifts by maintaining open-mindedness.

If there is vanity in publishing my ideas and belief systems so that others might examine what “wisdom” is contained, my hope is to recognize illuminations for what it is, and in that process grow beyond that naïveté. Learning is everywhere if we keep open-minds, and allow for the possibility that knowledge is malleable.



Socrates is a constant reminder to me of living with humility. The adage applies here in that the more I learn, one truth holds…there is so much more that is unknown. Every open ended question answered uncovers multiple questions. Especially in areas of my expertise, the people I teach benefit my understandings as well as from the leading thinkers in and outside the field of education.

This journey will explore concepts and views on education and life in general. For experience is indeed an effective teacher if we are but open to her lessons. My travels will lead to areas that don’t exist in my understanding, and into examining self-beliefs that I as yet do not hold. Perhaps my path will intersect with others, and for that opportunity, perhaps we’ll both be the richer. Throughout this experience, Socrates’ wisdom is my compass and Experience is the two by four for helping me keep perspective.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Just Breathe...


Seek first to understand then to be understood.Stephen Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Covey tells a story about being on a train during a crazy moment. Two young children jumped on chairs, shouted and chased each other. Their behavior was better suited to a playground, not a public transit system. In the confinement of the train, people stared at the father with increasing impatience and agitation, demanding action with their eyes. The father sat oblivious to the silent demands and to his children, who’s activity increased in volume and intensity. When confronted about his kids needing attention, the father noticed his children as if breaking from a trance and seemed helpless to act. Apologetically, he explained that they’d come from the hospital where his wife just died. The father said he did not know how to tell his children that they’d lost their mother. What was apparent from a distance of a man with undisciplined children shielded the passengers from the deeper reality of pain and loss.

In “The Red Shoe” by Linda Webb (full text), an article from Education Leadership (September 2000), the author tells a story about her childhood experience entering kindergarten. Full of enthusiasm for the exciting world of school, she did everything asked of her in class. One day the children demonstrated if they knew how to tie their shoes. The girl volunteered to go first. She began tying her shoe using her teeth to pull the shoelace through the loop made with her fingers. Aghast, the teacher shouted, “Nasty Girl! What would your mother think of you putting that in your mouth?” What the teacher did not know is that the kindergartener’s mother was born without hands. The girl learned to tie her shoes from her mother.

Seek first to understand then to be understood.” This Covey principle deals with being open to other people even when their actions or beliefs seem in opposition to our own. So when a person says something that makes me think they’re from another planet or the thought bubble that appears is, “I can’t believe you said that,” the temptation is to mentally close the door on them. Disengage in further genuine conversation, and if I can’t leave immediately, then watch the clock for when leaving is possible. Most times, I resist this urge and ask questions to understand that person’s point of view. Rather than set them up for failure by shutting down, inquiry gives the person voice, opportunity to express themselves. I may discover a perspective that brings me pause to consider. In the end, I may discover a new understanding, or respectfully agree to disagree.

People, especially children, need their voices to be heard. When their actions or behaviors appear strange or inappropriate, it’s tempting to make executive decisions and move on. So much more is gain time is taken to understand, as was needed for the man on the train and the kindergartner.

Seek to understand before being understood” reminds me to breathe. It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment, focus on one view, and miss the crucial detail. Consider an experiment on video. In it, people wearing white shirts and black shirts, pass two basketballs. As you watch, count how many passes are made by the players in white shirts.



Did you count 13, 14, 15, or 18?


Notice anything?


Try this video instead, and count the passes by the players in white shirts.



Did you see the AgLoLrIiRlOlGa the first time?

When dealing with someone who I do not understand or agree with, this is tough to do in situations that are tense, emotional, or demand a decision. Breathing helps a person to pause long enough from acting so as to suspend judgment and consider the other person’s perspective. In some difficult situations, filled with tension and anger drives people to fight or flight. The person who flees or loses the battle is voiceless.

At a steering committee, members tackled the complex issue of drafting minimum competencies for computer skills by employees. I was among advocates who laid out a rationale and suggested guidelines to support the educators in the building to develop needed core skills to do their work and bridge the cultural gap between them and their technology literate students. The discussion seemed amicable and supportive of implementation when one fellow teacher expressed opposition to the plan. Her tone moved from conversational to argumentative to punishing statements that bordered on bullying. Any reasoning that I or others said seemed only to inflame her more. She used words and tone as a weapon to beat us into silence. Finally, a break was called in hopes that the tension would abate.

As combatants went to separate corners, I approached the leader of the opposition and asked her to explain her reasons. Her words were like a rough wind buffeting me. I leaned into the gale seeking understanding to the meaning behind her attack. Why, I wondered, was she so upset?

What became clear was that she was afraid of failure. Lacking computer skills, she did not want to be labeled. Prideful of her skills as a professional, admitting that she was unskilled in technology was a heavy blow to her confidence. I let her know that I understood how she felt, and that guiding her to the needed skills would be my personal mission. She felt heard. She believed that support would be at hand to ensure her success. Opposition dissolved.

While adults need to be heard, students are especially in need. An elementary child might be a monster in the classroom, doing everything possible to disrupt class from screaming, damaging property, to hitting other kids. Discipline is necessary to maintain authority, and understanding is a way to discovering and eliminating the on-going problem. What if the child’s parents are divorcing, and the kid believes demanding attention will bring them back together? Knowing the background, what if an adult talked to the child about the pain of parents separating, and suggests that positive attention is better than negative attention? How might that child respond? Or, what if the student is sent to the principal’s office, and, ultimately, is suspended for the improper behavior, but the root of the behavior is never explored with the child.

The beginning of a school year, I welcomed high school students to English class. One student, a large teen with a shock of curly red hair, entered class. Tardy, he strolled across the room with an amused expression as if challenging me to say something. Some would have asked for a tardy pass, and when one was not forth coming, sent him back to the office. As I breathed, something about his manner suggested taking a different course of action. Ignoring him, I continued the introduction. Seated, he tried to “press buttons” that would get my attention and send him swiftly to the discipline office.

Finally, I had him step outside of the classroom. He looked at the other students, moving with a triumphant swagger. He believed that his prediction would come true, that I would send him to the assistant principal’s office. Outside of the classroom, I asked him why he tried to disrupt the class when I’d done nothing to him? Belligerent at first, his words were like rushing water. I stood in the stream, allowing the water to pass. Breathing deeply, I held my objective in mind—to understand him and connect with his sense of fairness. His words turned from his game and became about his feelings of frustration and anger that he was labeled for failure. I was one of few adults who gave him space for his voice. He remained a constant challenge, but he came to my class and strove to be part of the community.

What I learn from these experiences is that breathing is a constant challenge. When stress is high, the airwaves constrict as instinct says there’s little time to breathe. Pausing even a few seconds can make the difference. Hopefully these stories help you to understand my perspective. If not, breathe, and search for the gorilla. :)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cell Phones in Learning: Disney Style




Geography, mapping skills, and attention to details are key to solving clues as you help Team Kim Possible stop 7 major villains from taking over the world. Each villain is in a "country" in Epcot. You're job is to learn about the culture so as to solve clues to prevent the bad guys from completing their quest for world domination.

Disney World in Florida has an attraction based in Epcot called: Disney's Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. It's a mystery game where individual or a team follow clues to different locations in one of seven world culture stages. Clues are communicated via cell phone.


I visited a Kim Possible station, where upon registering for my family, the KP Team member gave us a cell phone. Using its video capabilities, one of Kim's friends directed us to our destination: Japan. Each adventure is composed of about 5 quests, which took us throuhout the cultural center. At designated hotspots, we used the cell phone to activate more clues such as a baby robot peeking out of store shelves, a monkey statue rising out of the water, and spirits inhabiting a glowing chimney.









The kids loved the experience. They plowed through the clues, never allowing frustration at a subtle hint or evidence to deter. Each adventure took 30 to 40 minutes to complete, and the kids never tired. Japan, Great Britain, China, and Norway. We visited museums, stores, and restaurants. Each had history to tell and another clue to solve.
While Disney's approach might seem to some as too complex, it's not when you consider the power of Web Quests. Cell phones with internet access turns webquests into mobile activities through out the building and beyond. Every team, not each student, needs a cell phone to use. This elliminates the concern of access for everyone. It's even possible for one person, the teacher, to input data on the phone and give out instructions for the next step in the exploration. Students moving around, exploring their surroundings to connect abstact concepts to their world, is a powerful learning experience.

More pictures from my adventure in crime fighting.
Webquest Resources:




Monday, February 23, 2009

Classroom Walkthroughs: Supporting Teaching and Learning?


Classroom walkthroughs are an effective means to support powerful learning for all stakeholders. The intent is that administration, and teacher leaders, visit all classrooms 2 to 4 times a week (depending on building size), and time in classrooms is 3 minutes. The intent is to support and monitor school improvement initiatives for good instruction and learning.

Teachers benefit from administration understanding the challenges and celebrations of instruction. There is a deeper knowledge of what resources instructors may need. Most importantly, reflection sessions after several visits can lead to teachers realizing their effectiveness and areas to expand their repoirtore of tools.

The role of administrator is observer coach, not evaluator. Doing walkthroughs raises awareness of areas of good practice, where systems are being implemented, and support needs. Administrators and observing teacher leaders deepen their knowledge by asking questions based on the lesson's objective(s) and assessment.

Students are the big winners as initiatives are implemented as intended, and instructional practices are honed. The result is that the educators get a good sense of what's really working, what needs to be changed, and what should be let go.

Walkthroughs support the addage: What gets monitored gets done. Too often initiatives are "implemented." Teacher leaders spend many hours planning and in-servicing the staff, or paid consultants conduct workshops, and then behind closed doors the initiatives are paid lip service. Which leads to another addage: This too shall pass.

There are good resources available. One is The Three Minute Classroom Walkthrough.
Another resource is this info packet, included is a walkthrough form.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Must keep new teachers well fed


Of the many workshops I do, my favorite group to work with are new teachers. Each year I do 3 to 4 sessions on Differentiated Instruction for districts and my organization. For the record, I like working with veterans too. But there's something critical about supporting new teachers. It's a desire to help them maintain their passion, optimism, and idealism about what's best for kids. Veterans have established support networks and know where to get support, or have figured out how to manage. New teachers deal with so much in the first several years. One article cites a report that says 30% of teachers leave the profession after 3 years, and 50% after 5 years.


During my first 3 years of teaching, I had 2 informal mentors, a department head and another colleague. They took me under their wings, and got me involved in professional development such as an Essential Schools conference, the Great Books course, and the National Endowment for Humanities program. I learned so much from these experiences. The core concepts that I took to heart is that I don't know what I don't know, therefore there is always something I can learn to sharpen the saw (Stephen Covey) of my practice, and there are endless ways to connect learning for students. In subsequent years, each new school I worked at a veteran teacher stepped up to guide and continue my education for effective instruction. The life lesson I gained was that my turn would come to support others. That time is now.


President Obama called on the American people to volunteerism. In schools across the country, veteran teachers and other educators need to reach out to those new to the profession. Even in schools where a mentor program exists, new teachers can always use extra perspectives.


The experience is mutually beneficial. The impact for students...


Priceless

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More Reflections about Web 2.0: Cell Phone use for learning


Whenever cell phone use in the classroom comes up, there's excitement about the possibilities for learning and engagement. Inevitably roadblocks are raised because of the potential abuses or inequity of resources. Suddenly the energized conversation bogs down and is mired in the "why it's not possible." Reminds me of the conversations around using the Internet for learning 15 years ago. The unknown, or rather "unfamiliar", can be the biggest obstacle to the richness and freedom that comes with possibility. In this case, using cell phones to support student learning.

Resources:

Children using cell phones to chat or pass answers is as challenging to deal with as those students who pass notes and conceal text books or notes during tests. During a test, if we're walking around the room, proximity inhibits cheating of "any" fashion. I can't imagine any instructor sitting behind their desk while administering a test. Can you? It's not that I don't trust my students, movement around the classroom helps keep them focused and makes me available to offer guidance, not answers.

For those industrious students who think of and plot out innovative ways to circumvent the rules, I want to find ways to channel that energy for "good." Thinking about it now, those kids are our future engineers, inventors, scientists, and teachers. No, I'm not implying anything shady here. Those occupations require ingenuity and thinking outside of the box.

Concern for misuse of cell phones is a serious issue to problem solve. The approach to finding answers could be best effective if we look for ways how to do, and not let fear or unfamiliarity forces us into a U-Turn.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Think 23 (23): Wrap Up: Reflect on your journey


The primary concept I learned from this experience is how powerful these tools are for communication as part of an elaborate interconnected community. Blogs, rss, wikis, Delicious, Flickr, Bloglines, and other tools can work together. There is space for authorship along with collaborative data production. The journey from Thing 1 to Thing 23 was so consuming with learning and reflection that with completing the steps myself, I might have become sad that it's over.

But, it's not over. I'm enjoying so much reading other participants' blogs and responding to them. Plus I have more ideas to explore, go back and deeply use what I'm learning. It's simply not over.

As I consider how to implement many of these tools, a new chapter opens, new adventures await, and I am excited like a college graduate is for the possibilities that stretch ahead.

Thing 22 (23): Create a wiki

This is lots of fun. I could not see a use until I created one. Just doing that and collaborating with others is helping me understand. Experience helps. I tried the host WetPaint. So far the pages are definitely easy to create, edit, and publish. Now that I've fiddled with it, I'm thinking of using it for several projects I'm working on in the areas of Differentiated Instruction and Project-based Learning. As soon as either begins to unfold, I'll add a link to them.

Thing 21 (23): Learn about Wikis

Comparing the Hemisphere helped me understand how children could be involved, with teacher supervision. It's a collaboration between students in NY and Austrailia. The asynchronous approach is effective, along with the sharing of data gathered at each site. With a clear purpose, I see how this approach is a great way to ferment thought and reflection. I'm continuing to digest this concept, as I want to look for ways to implement. By the way, I could see this used for some of our internal logging of events. Can it be set up like bulletin boards that shield non-participants from seeing anything? That's not the common approach I wish to do. It is an option that would be useful at times.

[Addendum]: Got my answer while doing Thing 22. Sites can be private where needed. Learning is a great Thing.

Thing 20 (23): Podcasting: Locate and subscribe to podcasts

I think I did Think 19 and 20 together. Already had iTunes installed. The podcasts sites listed previously, I subscribed to. They are:

iTunes has the feature in its settings to delete previous downloads so as not to fill-up your computer or mp3 player, or iPod. I'm liking it. I prefer Podcast Alley because it has variety beyond education. Other topics are sometimes great places to find education related ideas for students.

Thing 19 (23): Podcasting: Learn about podcasting

This is really nice. Exploring, I found several that I'm interested in. I have iTunes. What are other options if I want to switch? MyYahoo has it, but can you play those offline? The ones I picked are:
This is a great way to stay abreast of topics for interest, work, and learning. It's so easy to do, once you get started.

Thing 18 (23): Online Productivity pt.2

Slideshare could be helpful. Certainly it's a way to not reinvent the wheel. The thing to be careful of is quality control. Like the web, anyone can post anything and call it whatever they want. It's another opportunity to teach students good research skills and to review closely the information for accuracy. It's a great tool.

I do a lot of work on Differentiated Instruction. This is an interesting way of explaining. Well worth using.

Thing 17 (23): Online Productivity pt. 1

Bubbl.us is nice brainstorming tool to web out ideas. It's quite intuitive. I like it better than Inspiration as a form of thinking out ideas. Learners who are visual will appreciate this. Teachers will find this as a simple means to show how concepts and ideas are connected. Just discovered that Bubbl.us has a blog for learning more about it. Think I'll explore it, starting with this video:

Thing 16: Online Productivity

Google Docs is a great collaboration tool. I use it in my work, with a writer's group I facilitate--Deadwood Writers-- and for personal use. In fact, as I work through 23 Things I'm keeping a record of my thoughts in a Google Doc. Which is why you see so many rapid posts :)
What's also nice is that the files can be exported in a variety of formats to share with others. Great tool for students to use. They can make the teacher a viewer to track progresss, or a co-user to post guiding comments and questions. Students have email of their own, particularly middle to older kids. Younger kids could, with parental permission and monitoring. It's a way to get them writing.

Thing 15 (23): Revisit RSS feeds

The interconnectivity of Bloglines and Delicious is helpful to know. I begin to see how the web strands meet and support. This is a nice way to start a search for sites and check back each day to mine for useful sites without doing the initial grunt work. The list is already been filtered, although based one popularity, but it gives a more manageable place to begin searching. This would be helpful to students and educators for research.

Thing 14 (23): Experience Delicious

I could grow to like Delicious. I started with importing my bookmarks. Big mistake. There were way to many. So I deleted the account and started anew. Building from the ground up makes far more sense. Far better than trying to catalog what's in the basement. At least in mine, you'd be stuck for months. At my neighbor's it might be years. Starting from scratch and tagging gives me a sense of what I hold as important. I'm also able to learn tagging without committing to any specific one until I fully get it. This adventure of 23 Things is becoming more than I bargained for. Life changing.

Addendum: Tagging is nice. Organizing is much better than the folders I have on my browser. I still am working on switching to going online for my bookmarks. I know that I can have them present as a side panel. I'm not sure I want to give up that screen space. Anyway, this is a delicious experience :)

Thing 13 (23): Social Bookmarking

Social bookmarking has been around for awhile. Making bookmarks public is a difficult pill to swallow. I do like the concept from a collaborative perspective. I wonder, and need to do it to learn about this, if I can keep some things private and others public. Or is it best to run two accounts, one for personal and one for private. A problem with that is that some sites would overlap. Sigh. Big Brother has become a fabric of our society.
The advantages to tagging is that it would be far better than the folders. I have useful sites I probably never see or duplicate bookmarking because I forget where they were. An important element is tagging accurately. That will take time, observation, and lots of practice.

Thing 12 (23): Add a Widget

I see how widgets enhance a blog or personal site for reference needs. iGoogle is built on this principle. With a blog, the widget has to fit your need or focus. I'm still learning how to maintain a home page on a blog, if that's possible, so as to post widgets that are always available. Is that possible? I did post the global counter on my blog. With collaboration globally, that could also be used as part of Social Studies units.

Thing 11 (23): Building Community

Commenting is a nice tool. I'm still exploring how to link a community of bloggers, like a club or class. Each person has their own blog or everyone shares in one blog. Perhaps a bulletin board is more suited to what I'm thinking of. Commenting feels good, especially when a response is received. My goal is respond to anyone who responds to my blog. :) And also, comment on others blogs to support a shared journey for learning.

Additional thoughts:
I've been following a couple of blogs through Bloglines (Did I say I love that tool? I'm saying it again). Some get a lot of response. The discussions sometimes get heated, even disrespectful. But you know what? The people are ingaged. Many make conscise points, even if at times with limited logic. I've "watched" read where people with opposing opinions respectfully disagree, and continue their disecting of each other's thoughts, as well as some aha moments. Detentionslip is one such place to check out for current events in education. Warning: Material may suck you into the debates.