Friday, December 31, 2010

Life Long Learner

Read any mission statement for a school improvement plan or sometimes posted in the main hallway, there is usually some reference to developing a love for learning in the students. If you can't get a copy, or don't see the mission statement, ask any educator what do they want their students to develop when they graduate from the school or district. Included in their list will be a hope for students to become life long learners.

This hope and dream is an important expectation, a blessing, which when happens, leads to the prospect of an interesting and fulfilling life long endeavor. Scientists have shown that when learning occurs, adult brains grow dendrites. I've experience a natural high when I have an epiphany from some area of study, or seeing something in a different light from a conversation or conference. Don't you recall similar experiences?

So to truly help students develop a desire and drive for life long learning, we need to first inspire ourselves to practice the same, and share our experiences with students. Teaching is challenging and time consuming. Improving teaching craft requires a constant drive to learn more.

The result is...

What's Best 4 All.

Happy New Years.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How well does your data drive your decision making? Three elements for continuous improvement - News Archive -Pawley Lean Institute

How well does your data drive your decision making? Three elements for continuous improvement - News Archive -Pawley Lean Institute

This is an interesting article to consider regarding avoiding data rich, information poor scenarios. That is to say that often we have plenty of data, from assessments to demographics, as a small portion of the plate. The challenge is how best to organize the information so that it's useful for informing our decisions in the classroom, building-wide initiatives, and district direction.

Important, Timely, and Sufficient are the guide posts this author uses. How well do you use these guidelines in your respective work? What other considerations are there?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Experts & Newbies | Bloggers on Project Based Learning: What's up with PBL in the Elementary Grades?

Experts & Newbies | Bloggers on Project Based Learning: What's up with PBL in the Elementary Grades?: "EDITOR'S DESK | John Larmer We're working on a new book about PBL in elementary school, part of BIE's PBL Toolkit Series. As a former high s..."

As Project-Based Learning (PBL) grows, it's nice to see resources that help teachers implement a curriculum structure that helps kids think critically, gain depth, and find context to their lives. I had the chance to read the book prior to publication. Preorder it when it comes available. Well worth reference.

Thanksgiving Parade rejects Mayflower kin | | The Detroit News

Thanksgiving Parade rejects Mayflower kin | | The Detroit News

This article at face value was startling. An organization of direct descendents from the Mayflower colonists are denied a spot in the Thanksgiving Parade? Definitely grabbed my attention. The organization made 4 separate attempts to know what was wrong with their application or other reason why they were not included. While they received no response, the news writer included this quote from Anthony Michaels, president and ceo of the MI Thanksgiving Parade Foundation, who runs the parade:

"We get hundreds of applications from groups and people — all kinds that want to be in the parade," Michaels said.

"We're setting this up to be an entertainment-oriented parade, so we want to make sure everything has entertainment value."

Among the new entries this year are floats from DTE, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Strategic Staffing Solutions. DTE has been a financial backer of the parade for years. The utility's entry this year will be titled "Energy and Our Future."

From The Detroit News:

Hmmm, the red highlights show part of my thinking. Mr. Michaels' comments might be interpreted as saying that Cultural history has not the value of say, Utilities and Insurance companies. One wonders what Project Inquiries students could do around this topic, or perhaps for public understanding of the relationships between culture, politics, and business. When or how should the three be intertwined for effective decision making.

There is another lesson in this experience. I wondered what might be the reason(s) for Mr. Michael's foundation to reject the group. May be the group has a political agenda which its presence might overshadow the focus of the parade--like a protest that they'd spring during the parade. So I did some digging.

1. I googled their name to find their website.
2. Reading through the website, I searched for the organization's agenda, both public and hidden.
3. Searched for links of other groups that are linked to the organization.***
4. Searched for similar groups.***

I couldn't find anything underhanded or subtly sinister. My point for this research reaction is that knee jerk posting creates lots of contentious statements (rants?), which denies a substantive dialog. Having students do due diligence prior to responding is a good tool to hone, especially in this digital age.

*** One place to do this is at Google Advanced Search. Open "Date, usage rights, numeric range, and more". Under "Page-specific tools:" are two options to choose from:
Find pages similar to the page
Find pages that link to the page
Paste a website in either and find out who they are referenced and related too.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

21st Century Learning Skills...Tools for Making it Real

My kids do a lot of problem solving in the games they play. They play online games such as World of Warcraft and Wizards 101 where they work in teams with other players to complete quests. Often the tasks can only be done through collaborative strategy, problem solving, and communication. Lack these skills, a player is mercilessly booted from the team to make room for someone who can fit in this group concept.

They play Farmville with their grandmother. The Facebook game is about growing crops and raising livestock, and selling products for "money" to expand the farm. They barter and exchange goods. They tutor their grandmother in the nuances of the game to gain the most output from their farms.

My youngest used the Nintendo DSi to record podcast stories with friends, sometimes grabbing the digital camcorder to shoot video tales. In Little Big Planet, they create new levels, which are uploaded via the PS3 to share with a global user group.

Many schools politely tell children to leave these tools and skills outside the building.

In unstructured time, they use 21st Century Skills but lack deep understanding metacognitively. How can anyone hone expertise if they don't know the structures for what they do? In school, where they spend 7 hours a day--almost half of their waking time, these skills are little practiced. Often instruction is the conversation between teacher and student, or content is delivered by the teacher with few opportunities for students to discover the content themselves through inquiry. Students need "mucking about" time with concepts. Traditional teaching tends to be a "I told you about xyz". Telling is theoretical. Doing is permanent.

Here are a variety of tools that can support students practicing communication, collaboration, and critical thinking with in a learning context, which benefits them for academic achievement and life skills in a global community.

Team Building
Students need practices in these skills, especially communication and collaboration. Teambuilding and icebreakers can be effective when students do multiple experiences, and reflect after each session.

Free Online Communication

Voice or video chat: Now students and outside experts and mentors can have conversation around the work anywhere, anytime, and for free. Students can maintain collaboration experiences while not in the same building or country.


Rubrics are excellent tools for assessing students' growth in 21st Century Skills. It's important that students are part of the evaluation process, both of themselves and their team members. A good rubric brings clarity to expectations.


Blogging is a way for students to comment to a broader audience, publish works and ideas, and engage in relevant dialog. Blogger integrates well with users of Google tools and apps. WordPress also has great functions.

Reviewer Publications

Students need avenues to voice their opinions. Shape and express ideas to a general audience based on their learning of the current curriculum and learning targets.

Collaborative Editing & File Sharing

Resources for asynchronous sharing and real-time editing of data are important for developing and refining ideas during and outside of school.

Survey and Polling Tools

During inquiry, students need tools to more efficiently gather data from peers and other audiences who can inform their explorations of study. All are online.

Creating, Collaborating, and Publishing Content

There are social network tools that students use to exchange ideas and develop content such as Twitter and Facebook. Wikis are great for developing a Social Education site where students and teachers can share ideas, develop content, and problem solve. All within an environment used for learning and exploration through the 21st Learning Skills. (Example would be this very site)

Web 2.0 Tools

To develop 21st Century skills as educators we need to learn and use the tools ourselves. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Books on Grading worth Evaluating and Reflecting

Grading has one of the most impactful influence on students' progress and learning, yet the skills for formative and summative assessment practices remains under trained, and often glossed over by teaching programs. While assessment practices tell teachers what students need and levels of understanding, the results influence lesson planning to best support students in a variety of forms. Differentiated Instruction is based on a clear reading of data that is unencumbered by human bias and flawed calculation processes.

Essentially, to assess and grade effectively, educators must let go of personal experiences "when I was a student", which perpetuates the broken model, and become a pioneer, exploring new territory with an open and fresh perspective.

There is good literature available that focus on engaging educators to reflect on the quality of current practices, and explore new ways of thinking--with an open mind.

Two books that make for a strong reflective exploration of grading are by Rick Wormeli and Ken O'Connor:

Wormeli, Rick. Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing & Grading In the Differentiated Classroom. Stenhouse Publishers: 2006
Address quality elements of good assessment and grading practices based on getting an accurate understanding of student learning. Provides strategies and different views for thinking and methods for effective assessment and grading. Great for teachers and administrators. Makes for an excellent book study for schools and districts looking to build clarity in assessing student learning.

O’Connor, Ken. How To Grade For Learning. Corwin Press; 2nd Ed.: 2002 (additional resorces)
The author shows how to link grades and standards. His eight models assist teachers in designing and conducting grading practices that help students feel more in control of their academic success. This eye-opening dialog remains an exceptional way to begin a journey with even the strongest skeptics.

Ken O'Connor wrote a book that is my personal favorite because it tackles the most difficult issues. Many of the challenges that educators have difficulty digesting tend to be more about control then the deeper issues that need addressing in a constructive, positive, and clear intend for what is best for clean assessment and the development of the learner.

Teachers and school/district leaders gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved in sound grading practices. Includes: practical strategies and alternatives to help change how students are graded.

I intend to explore some of the concepts in this last book with the hope to encourage a rich dialog about where grading needs to play an effective role for student achievement.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Waiting for Superman -- Cause to Pause

Tonight I watched the movie, Waiting for Superman. Prior to viewing it, I've heard criticism about it as promoting charters and bashing teacher unions. Interestingly, some of the criticism came from people who had not yet seen the movie. The buzz or the hype had a skeptic flavor for what can a "movie" tell, except the agenda of the film's producers.

Trailer for Waiting for Superman

Having watched the movie, and being a school improvement consultant in a county containing 34 school districts and many charter schools, I found the issues and message compatible. An education system based on a 1950's model with an 1890's philosophy has a complexity of problems and multiple stakeholders that share in the responsibility for the perpetuating failures. The movie focuses on three issues:

1. Many public schools are failing to develop students to be competitive with kids from other developed countries.

Sure, the movie throws out a lot of statistics about failing public schools where students' chances of success is depressingly small. These Dropout Factories create hopelessness for students before they enter the school. There's a site that allows you to search your local schools and see how they rate.

Whether we take the movie at face value, or rather lets' be skeptical that the claim might, just might, be exaggerated, the real perception exist by parents who feel their kids are under served by their local schools. Unfortunately, school culture tends to be mystifying to parents and community, which does little to ease concerns. Just ask a child on 3 consecutive days, "What did you learn in class today?" The answer is predictable. When students, the major source for promotion of what schools accomplish, can not describe in depth what they are learning and why that learning is important to know...the negative perceptions are unsurprising.

How do we change the perception? Break the teaching and learning mold while simultaneously changing school culture to one of learner collegiality.

2. Charters serve as an alternative choice for students
The movie acknowledges that only 1 of every 4 charter schools achieve outstanding success. One could point to the 75% that do not do any better, sometimes worse than traditional school systems. Or, we can ask, What makes the 25% so good? It's not money. They get no more than traditional systems. In fact, having fewer resources is a challenge. It is the professionals in the school that reinvented themselves into a school that truly is "student first" focus. Criticize charter schools, and there is much to critique. Even point out that charter schools have flexibility that traditional schools do not. The reality is that good charter schools are successful. Student results prove this out repeatedly.

Yet what charter schools do with limited resources, traditional school districts should be able to do effectively given their greater resources. How can such resources be harnessed so that dropout factories become achievement oasis?

Charter schools must hold a lottery when there are more applicants than there are student spaces. It seems cruel to turn away students. Perhaps the bigger question is why did so many families apply for the limited spots of a charter school, instead of attending their local school district?

3. Unions need to become part of the solution
The movie does critique unions. It sites an example of the teacher's union in Washington D.C. along with the NEA and AFT. Unions serve a purpose to ensure teacher work conditions. There is nothing inappropriate about such a responsibility. Whatever side of the argument about tenure and work conditions, when it comes to children--everyone is on the same side. We, the adults, want all students to be successful. There are many issues for why not all students achieve. There are multiple stakeholders that help or create obstacles to learners learning--parents, administrators, communities, students, organizations, and teachers. Assuming that the responsibilities for support is equally held by all, or even slanted to parents, students, and communities, there are teachers who are ineffective, and should not be in classrooms.

How can the teachers union be a leader for other stakeholders to improve quality teachers are working with our children? It's not just the unions' responsibility, but far better that they lead so as to find that balance for bringing into the fold good teachers, and then keeping them in the profession.

If we agree that the purpose of education is to develop students so that they are all growing developmentally and achieving appropriate academic success, then there is little that can not be achieved in a 21st Century Global Society.

Watch Waiting for Superman. Share your response.

An Introduction to Project-Based Learning (Edutopia)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sea Change to Culture Permanence

We are living during a time of culture change. Remember this day, this Summer, as when ebooks and books lurch to a tipping point. This author interview from J.A. Konrath's blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing is an intriguing illustration. In this case it looks at the evolution of print media (books) to eBooks from one author's perspective.

It's also a slice of life about the Change process, from idea to implementation, to CULTURE Change, and then Permanence.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything - Tony Schwartz - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review

Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything - Tony Schwartz - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review

Here is an intriguing article that opens the premise that there is no ceiling to what a person can do. Genetics can play a role in inherent advantages such as growing over 6 foot to make dunking "easier." Yet there are those like Spud an NBA point guard who once WON the dunking contest.

The 6 keys seem interconnected. What stands out to me are how several of the pieces are recognized as part of effective teaching practice such as "Seek expert feedback" and "Pursue what you love" which I interpret in the classroom as making learning contextual to what students view as relevant.

This is a worthy read.

Assessment-Friendly Grading Categories

Open a gradebook. What do you see?

Typically there are columns for recorded scores from a variety of assignments. The left-most column lists the names of students. Row 1 is a header that labels the type of assignment, followed in the column with the scores that recorded the work by students.
It's difficult to know what such a table of numbers tells us about students' understanding of the coursework. All that can be said for certain from what is displayed is that Summer and Thor excel in taking quizzes--thus labeled--while no clue as to what the "quizzes" are about.

What if, instead, the gradebook looked more like this:

Labels are one key to unlock understanding of achievement data. In this second example, the data has significant meaning. Isn't more important to know what the assignment focused on, then the type of assigned work? There is more to the data in these examples, but to just look narrowly at the impact of substantive labels can raise our understanding of a student's progress.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Whose Performance Would You Stake Your Life On?

Consider this scenario: You’ve taken a skydiving class. At the end of the course, you are going to jump out of a plane with a parachute. [Note to Reality Police: Yes, beginning parachuters are typically tied to an instructor for their first jump. This is a Scenario. Work with me :) ]
There are 3 professionals who pack all parachutes for course participants. You get to choose which person will pack your chute. Who would you want packing your chute: Packer #1, Packer #2, or Packer #3?

Every time I conduct this scenario, no one wants Packer #1. Sure this person started out great. Initially, scores are consistently above the Competency/Mastery Line. But on Week 6 and onward, this packer is unable to pack a chute that is safe for your jump. Choosing this packer is asking for a Once in a lifetime experience.

Packer #2 gets several votes. I’m always intrigued about why this person is picked. Here is a packer who is consistently inconsistent. The exam results are as much below the Competency/Mastery line as above. The common response is that based on the last test in week 9, this person is due for some good packed chutes. Choosing Packer 2 is for those looking to literally gamble with their lives on whether their chute will be the one packed well.

Packer #3 is an interesting story. Looking at the exam results for the first 6+ weeks, and you wonder how did this person stay employed? There is no way I’d want this person in the same room as my chute. Yet something happened beginning in week 7. Not only is this individual packing good chutes, the quality level exceeds the other packers and continues to excel to higher standards. Most people choose Packer #3. There is much to gamble with one’s life when jumping out of a plane. Having a chute packed by this professional, ensures that the focus on risk and reward is based on what you learned by the end of the course.

Interestingly, if we look under the hood of the chart at the raw scores by the packers, a different story is revealed. Traditionally supported or directed by schools and districts, teachers use a 100 percent scoring system for grades. The scores are averaged to get the reported grade. 
[Note: One variation is to “weigh” categories of grades, such as 30% Tests, 20% Homework, etc. Within each category the scores are averaged. More on weighing grades in a later post.]

What if the Packing Chart reflected a school course? Plug-in the class you teach or are taking.
How do the results differ from a record of what students truly know and understand of the curriculum? 

Packer #3 who the vast majority of teachers surveyed would risk their life on her competency has a grade of “D”, while the others who you’d really need a psych test if you chose them to pack your parachute get a “B”.

Assessment and grading practices are complex, and should be treated as such in how academic learning is evaluated. Yet, one component, averages, is a primary tool used for its simplicity in making judgments. Averages might not need to be thrown out of the mix. What’s needed is to include other factors for analysis of student competency. Beginning with clean assessment data, add in a shift in thinking about assessment practices, and add in an educator’s professional experience about curriculum, learning, and the student, will improve students’ growth and academic achievement.

If the primary purpose of grading is to measure academic skillfulness of students, one potential long range outcome is developing and/or nurturing highly qualified future professionals. Our assessments should indicate or track progress of learners.

At the end of the day, if our approach to assessment is multi-faceted and continuously reviewed, there will be more future professionals like Packer #3, and we can help Packer #1 and #2 become more than a facade. 

How does solely using Averages a potential fog to accurate grade reporting?
What elements of good assessment practices do you find important?
How should an educator’s expertise factor in such decision-making?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Grading Practices Re-examined

With a new school year approaching, a month from now, there is so much to prepare for in schools and classrooms. With a refreshed, often times rejuvenated, focus on the "calling" recognized as student learning achievement, this seems the time to consider how best to serve students. Much of our decision making is based on student work and the assessment and grading practices used to get as accurate a picture for meeting learner's needs.

What will follow is a series of posts focusing on grading practices. While I have a bias, which will become obvious, my intent is to offer information and examples for people with experience about grading to consider and join me on a reflective journey to discover what practices are best suited to meeting learners' needs. Those "people" include anyone who has ever been (or currently is) a student, teacher, administrator, business, and/or a parent.

To begin, what's needed is a agreed upon description for the primary purpose of grading. Much is taught from academics to citizenship, to responsibility. Yet, promotion to the next grade and graduation at the HS, MS, and Elementary** level is determined based on academic progress. While "social promotion" happens it's never been the standard by which students are expected to move forward. Our first impression on looking at a report card is that the "Grades" are indicative of academic understanding and skills based on a standards or learning objective orientated curriculum. Tom passed Freshmen English, so he's ready for Sophomore English, Susan is starting the year as a 4th grader, so that means that she has sufficient understanding of 3rd grade curriculum.

**Universities share a similar focus, and are included in this exploration. Their culture has some different challenges, grading practices share some common problems to study.**

Consider this statement, and does it, in general terms, address a commonly accepted view, your view, for the purpose of a Report Card?
The primary purpose for a Report Card grades is to represent a student's level of academic proficiency.
  • Primary is underlined to recognize there may be other factors which schools wish to report and/or parents want to know about in the student's development.
  • Academic Proficiency is underlined to emphasize that instruction and student learning expectations are keyed to academic curriculum. Look at the Common Core movement, and the impact that NCLB (wiki) has had on states developing common learning standards as proof. (ex. Michigan standards: GLCE and HSCE).
  • Proficiency is used instead of Mastery because expectations are not always expecting mastery. Students do need a level of proficiency which could range from recognition to mastery.
The primary purpose for a Report Card grades is to represent a student's level of academic proficiency.
Does this statement reflect or come close to your understanding for the primary purpose of grades?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

6 Beverage Industry Secrets They Don't Want You to Know

6 Beverage Industry Secrets They Don't Want You to Know

Lately, several teachers I've worked with are developing projects around the theme on nutrition. Here's an article that could make for a great entry event. While not a big fan of the author's early books--seems to promote eating one unhealthy food over another because it's not "as" bad--this article is thought provoking in a healthy way. The premise is to read and understand labels, particularly the ingredient list. Never accept the advertisements for "natural", "organic", "zero calories", or "low calories".

I could see students reading this article and then analyzing labels for common drinks to determine the reality of health impact.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Unfetterred Inquiry & Creation (iPad 1 of ?)

Testing the waters...
I'm not an early adopter of the iPad, or for that matter pc tablets. I would not give of my laptop, nor the desktop--although their growing compactness is very appealing. What the iPad provides is a "light weight" computing system with above average web access (as of this posting my local library Internet is not friendly to this iPad. To be fair I have similar problems with laptops there too) and good content tools. Combined with the social networks and communication tools (like this blog) there is no single desk or chair I must reside to work.

With wifi a part of our society. Including many free access points + cellular access there is more possibility for students to do field research. Traditionally, Science corners the market on technology used in the field, such as water quality studies and measurements of force and speed on roller coasters. It's time to open the field. Think of data collection that can occur through a robust system that allows for such data collection as survey work with upload access. Or if I want to collect costs in a supermarket, upload and do a comparison with stores in other regions--same or different store chains.

Even better follow a news item in it's reporting in different locales or across states or countries. What does Joe and Joanne Citizen think about a current event. Bring up a source document and see how view points change. Students learn the importance of reviewing multiple sources before making a judgement, rather than leaping to conclusions. Take for example the current flap around ShirLey Sherrod, an employee of the USDA. She was forced to resign over alleged racist remarks. Now the White House is apologizing for jumping to judgement. The incident raises many issues from misuse (deliberate and otherwise) to a need to verify sources and facts. just for the record of this example, reserve judgement until you see the full video. The edited version, slanting context, is on YouTube.

A final note on usage is that this entire piece was constructed with related, reviewed links on an iPad.

More to explore and share...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Anywhere, Anytime

Recently, I was reminded of the changes in information access, which was either not easily unavailable or clean access online than what exists today. While driving my kids to school, my daughter realized she’d left her notes on the three Laws of Motion on the kitchen table. Her test was that morning, and the trip to school was an opportunity for study. Hmmm, no time to turn around as we were 10 minutes into a 30 minute drive.

After a moment’s thought, she took my smartphone and used a website with the information to review for her test. Cellular and wireless technology has come a long way. While internet access via phone has been around for awhile, the speed and page view quality are recent improvements. My son routinely asks for the computer, my phone, during drives for research or to find his favorite program online. Video streaming isn’t too bad, depending on cell tower proximity. iPads, e-Book readers like the Nook and Kindle, are just some of the gadgets available that offer excellent portability and internet access anywhere, anytime.

Outside of schools, adults and children are plugged in using these tools. Information, both acquired and created, are so integrated into our culture because of widely available access, schools must seek ways to incorporate them into the students’ academic world far more pervasively than currently exists. Universities and post secondary institutions have heeded the call several years ago. There are k-12 schools that have also made the shift, fully embracing the possibilities such as High Tech High, New Tech High, and Holland Christian Schools. Yet the trend in k-12 continues to be slow. Either schools maintain a comprehensive ban on students bringing phones and other electronics into classrooms, or if allowed, the usage is held to a minimum.

Bans exist because of fear that students “might” commit serious abuses from academic dishonesty to not paying attention to instruction. The former happens regardless of such tools and the latter is an indication that instructional practices may need to be restructured for engagement. In either case, how can students learn responsible use when they are denied the opportunity?

Minimal use of such tools in the classroom is often due to an educator’s lack of experience with using the tool in the educational world. One solution is to recognize that students are an important resource to channel their expertise with the tools. Provide clear academic criteria for work, and allow students to innovate ways to use their gadgets to accomplish the learning targets. Students are amazing creative people when given the chance to use what they understand. A second solution is for educators not to dismiss their own innate strengths with these tools. More adults use social networking sites, research online, and use such tools as digital multimedia, e-Readers, and cell phones. How can communication, research, collaboration, and critical thinking be incorporated into an academic assignment or unit? Then embed the gadgets.

K-12 needs to get on the bus, and then drive it to newer innovations, and not be left at the corner or sitting firmly in the back. The tools continue to evolve. As I sit on a plane more than 10000 feet up, the airlines provides wireless internet access, truly,

Anywhere, Anytime...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Choice 3.0

A common learning tool that's part of the teaching craft is student choices. Here's a look at the levels that choices are used for student engagement and empowerment.

Choice 1.0
When students are working on artifacts, options is an obvious strategy that is commonly used. Choices encourages student buy-in. When they select an option they're saying, "This is what I want to do."

Choice 2.0
One way to deepen options for students is to incorporate learning profiles, such as
multiple intelligences (Howard Gardner and/or Robert Sternberg, Thomas Armstrong), brain-based (Jensen), or other approaches (4-Mat, Meyers Brigs(test), True Colors (test), etc.). If we know how our students think and process problems, learning can be structured to suit those needs. For example, when the objective is to contrast diet programs (Adkins or Weight Watchers) in terms of effectiveness, students could demonstrate understanding through an essay, podcast, video, or presentation using posters or digital slides.

Another example, during a lesson, students need time set aside to process the blocks of instruction as a transition to the next activity. This can be accomplished by summarization--journaling, talk to a partner, outlining or webbing ideas or think-pair-share. We use a strategy or combination that suits the ways our students digest comprehension.

Choice 3.0
Have one option be "Student Created." The ultimate buy-in approach is to have students help structure their learning experience. I call it: Doing the Heavy Lifting. It can be too much to ask teachers to develop a customized version of a product for a small groups of students and individuals. There is lots to plan and keep track of. Time becomes a nemisis. When done, the investment of time can be well spent as student engagement rises, along with a belief that "I can do this."

These requirements need to be filled for success of Choice 3.0.
1. Establish clear criteria for a successful outcome.
2. Provide 1-2 options.
3. Allow students opportunity to revise proposals with a deadline for student proposals.

Clear criteria is important for the teacher as to what are the critical learning points that lessons must address, and assessments need to track for student growth. For example in building understanding of persuasive communication, criteria might include:

  • Main focal point
  • Word choice
  • Details, examples, and/or anecdotes
  • Counter arguement
  • Tone
  • Illustrations/Visuals

Clearly articulated criteria can be turned into an effective rubric, and used as part of a coaching conversation with students to guide their reflection on their learning. Students use the criteria as sign posts to keep them on a good path, without getting lost. There's nothing wrong with students wandering off the paved roads to trailblaze a new or innovative direction. The criteria allows for this, but also gives them guidance for how to get back on the main road if learning runs into a dead-end. Perhaps most important is that criteria allows for consistency with evaluation for the teacher and other judges to make effective assessments regardless of the product. Using the criteria for persuasive communication, students could explore use of media in governmental politics, product/services advertisements, or social issues. The final product might be an op-ed article, commercial (video or podcast), photo essay, protest music, or graphic novel. The teacher developed option might be the article. Students could propose alternatives that include ideas from this list or something else.

Teacher develop options provides students with choices that the resources are available in the classroom. Students may want to go along with these fixed choices ready-made for immediate use. These options also provide a model or template for students who want to create their own proposal. Criteria is tightly aligned with the models so that students can understand how their proposal must fit the requirements. A student proposal should be based on the resources that she has access to, which may or may not be available at the school.

When students develop their own proposals, teachers evaluate the pitch to accept, revise, or send back to start over. This development and revision process is an effective learning experience for students. The deadline helps students manage their time, and by when a proposal is approved. Otherwise they must choose from one of the teacher options to ensure enough time to complete the work.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Lesson on How it Should Have Ended...

In the Michigan Curriculum for English Language Proficiency Standards for K-12 (pdf) there are two standards for Reading that form the basis of a common learning activity:
  • R.8 Make inferences, predictions, and conclusions from reading
  • R.9 Analyze style and form of various genre
In many classrooms students get assigned the task to create an alternative ending to a story, play, or other form of literature. Sometimes there is the restriction to maintain the integrity of the genre for the story; other times students are free to transform the story into another genre while maintaining the integrity of the story. R8 and R9 have their fraternal twins in other states, and perhaps other countries. The task for alternative endings equally has its familiar incarnations.

As with any concept, students learning effectiveness increase when they find connections to the task, and/or are given options from which a student finds a pathway appealing. I saw this represented in a high school class studying Shakespeare's Othello. In one pivotal scene, Othello spies Iago conversing with Cassio. The two men talk of Cassio's romance with Bianca. Othello believes that the woman spoken of is not Bianca, but his wife Desdemona, which inflames Othello's jealousy and steers him towards a dark and tragic path.

The assignment for the students was to collaborate in teams and come up with a modern version of that scene.
  • One team had Iago sitting before a laptop using Skype (See VoIP Software) to talk to Cassio who's face is on the screen. Iago wears headphones so that Othello, hiding out of sight of the webcam, can only hear Iago's part of the conversation. With Iago's ill intent, you can imagine what he says that will ignite Othello's jealousy.
  • Another team set the scene at a basketball game. Cassio and Iago talk adamantly in the stands, as Othello sits in the stands directly across the court from them. Iago and Othello text each other regarding the conversation. Once again, Othello is seething.
A different approach is having students write alternative endings. Or as the following option demonstrates, let learners produce them. Here are two examples from Twilight and Lord of the Rings. Both not only change the ending while staying within genre, setting, and situation, they incorporate a humor that enhances the changes while staying true to the story. What literary analysis might be included to mine the thinking of students if they made similar learning artifacts?

Here's one more to make the point (More found at How It Should Have Ended):

What's great about these tasks is that those students or communities with the resources can choose these tasks. If there are students who do not have the resources, nor a manageable way to get access to the resources, a low tech or no tech option is provided as a choice for everyone.

I'm curious about other ways students are encouraged to be innovative in their thinking. What, perhaps, have some seen or heard about...?