Update from readingbyexample.com: An article, a post, an opportunity, and a reading celebration

Having trouble navigating Twitter? Check out an article I wrote for EdTech K-12, on how to use this social media tool for better professional learning:

How Twitter Can Power Your Professional Learning

Continue reading “Update from readingbyexample.com: An article, a post, an opportunity, and a reading celebration”

Determining What is Lifeworthy Learning in School

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” -Yogi Berra

In a previous post, I asked those that I am connected with online what they feel is the one thing a student should know, understand, or be able to do by the time they leave their respective school.

I also asked this same question of the members of our school leadership team, our school’s parents, and our outgoing 5th graders.

Why do this? We have two days of curriculum writing planned for next week. Our goal is to develop at least an outline of six content units of study for each grade level. There’s so much to teach and not enough time. We have to be picky about what’s essential. These units will be scheduled throughout the year, hopefully incorporating literacy and other areas of instruction. Using the Understanding by Design process (Wiggins and McTighe, 1998), we also hope to create more useful assessments for our students, performance tasks that allow them better opportunities to show what they know.

By gathering input from more stakeholders, the idea is there will be more ownership in this process of designing instruction. Parents and students have also been invited to our actual curriculum writing days. Their roles will be as a representative voice for all students and parents as we work together to make their school experience even better. Our school definitely has some successes, but we also have opportunities for growth, such as making learning opportunities more accessible for our marginalized students, and to better integrate technologies so they are a transformative piece of instruction, instead of merely augmenting current practice.

I took all of the input provided by our teachers, parents, students and my PLN, and condensed their ideas down into six-word-or-less learning statements. They were written on large Post-its and displayed in our LMC, which will serve as our workspace.

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I left some spaces open, to allow for more suggestions for what we as a school community feel is an essential outcome of a student’s school experience. David Perkins refers to this idea of what’s essential as “lifeworthy learning”, from his book Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World (Jossey-Bass, 2014).  LIfeworthy learning goes beyond basic skills, preparing for an unknown future and expecting students to generalize bigger concepts across disciplines and experiences. It is more than just a personalized learning experience or a fun activity, Perkins states.

The basic curriculum can’t be molded around the individual enthusiasms of learners. We need to figure out what’s likely to be lifeworthy for most students, kindling enthusiasm there as much as we can while also making room for individual learning experiences. (16)

Here are a few of our proposed lifeworthy learning statements:

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You can view all of the statements by clicking here.

The purpose for this display will be to look for ways to include these skills and understandings within units of study when appropriate. This process will happen after we review our mission and vision, recommit to our beliefs and best practices, and introduce the Understanding by Design process.

Here are a few questions I’ll be throwing out to our group when we arrive at this point in our time together:

  • What is stated here and it should be?
  • What is not stated here, but you feel should be?
  • What is not stated here, and it should stay that way?

This last question might be the most important. I have found conversations around instruction to be very powerful when a faculty finds consensus on what to stop doing in classrooms. Writing these obituaries may have a larger impact than on anything we might add to our instructional toolbox.

What are your thoughts on this process? Have you had any experience in determining what’s essential and lifeworthy for student learning with a group of educators? How have you “trimmed the fat” from curriculum in a fairly agreeable manner? Comments on this topic are welcome here.

(For a good description of this unit design process, check out the post Planning for the Planning on the Two Writing Teachers blog.)

Do you want to develop digital portfolios with your students? Join our book club!

The single most important thing you could do tomorrow for little to no money is have every student establish a digital portfolio where they collect their best work as evidence of their skills.

-Dr. Tony Wagner, Expert in Residence, Harvard University

Developing digital portfolios with your students can be a game-changing action in your classroom. Here are just a few of the benefits:

Not sure where to begin? Then join our July Book Club!

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Here is how to get started:

  1. Purchase the book on Amazon (link), iBooks (link), or Nook (link). I am offering 10% off this month when purchased directly through me, if you don’t mind the brief lag in response and a PayPal request.
  2. Request access to our Google+ Community (link). This is where our conversations will be housed.
  3. Check out the dates below for a timeline of chapters to be read.

June 29 – July 3:   Chapter 1 – Purposes for Portfolios

July 6 – July 10:    Chapter 2 – Performance Portfolios

July 13- July 17:   Chapter 3 – Progress Portfolios

July 20 – July 24:  Chapter 4 – From Files to Footprints: Beyond Digital Student Portfolios

In August, we will keep the conversations going informally. It would be a good month to ask final questions and conclude our time together with a celebration of sorts.

What you can expect from me:

  • A thought-provoking question posted once a week day in our Google+ Community throughout the four weeks. Also expect possible follow up responses from distinguished members of our community and/or me.
  • Full access during these four weeks to me for questions and demonstrations you might request regarding digital tools, processes, and leadership strategies. I will include my personal phone number and offer Google+ Hangouts to chat in real time.
  • An update on what our school is implementing regarding digital portfolios, current tools of choice, and our school’s brand new process for helping students reflect on and respond to their important and lifeworthy work online.

Not bad, right? I am also willing to issue very formal (~ahem~) certificates of participation for this book club, assuming frequent and thoughtful activity in our Google+ Community. This documentation may be used toward professional hours/accreditation within your district or university. Please check with your supervisor before assuming anything.

In closing, I can confidently state that the teachers I’ve observed who have experienced the greatest growth in their students’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions are those that a) highlighted their students’ best work, b) provided time for them to reflect on their progress, and c) gave feedback on their current capacities and allowed for personal goal setting.

If these descriptors sounds like the teacher that you might want to be in 2015-2016, I highly encourage you to join us for our July 2015 book club. You won’t regret it.

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What one thing should a student know, understand, or be able to do by the time they leave elementary school?

I don't want to know how many other faces have been pushed into this toy.
I don’t want to know how many other faces have been pushed into this toy.

My daughter and I were in a waiting room today, trying to occupy ourselves while my son was with the dentist.

I browsed through the magazines available and saw the most recent edition of Popular Mechanics. The title for the cover article was “42 Things You Should Know How to Do at Every Age”. This question spurred a bigger question with me, which is the title for this post. Our staff is starting to discuss how to make our portfolio assessment process more coherent across the grade levels and more authentic for our students.

I shared the question out on Instagram, Twitter, a Facebook group, and a Google+ Community. I got zero responses from Twitter and Instagram. No surprise; I have found the bigger the pond, the less likely I am to get a bite. However, three members in the Google+ Community I moderate offered insights worth sharing here.

Think critically and be able to support original ideas with evidence. I think it’s important at that age to demonstrate independent thinking and believe in something that they can passionately argue for with conviction and valid evidence. How they do this should be open to individual choice.

Know how to safely search the Internet for information based on keywords, and evaluate the authenticity and bias of the resources found in order to make an informed decision about what they have learned.

How to problem solve….if something doesn’t go their way and they still need to complete an activity, what could they do to solve their own problem.  (ex.  I don’t have a pencil, I forgot what the HW assignment was, I left my book at school, I don’t have a lunch)

Continue reading “What one thing should a student know, understand, or be able to do by the time they leave elementary school?”

Recommended Series: Tom Gates by Liz Pichon

This review is by Brendan and Finn, 2nd grade students in Mrs. Akey’s classroom at Howe Elementary School, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.

logo-homeThe Tom Gates series is totally amazing. It is one of our favorites. The drawings are good and there are tons of funny parts.

The books were amazing because there were many things that happened to Tom Gates that seemed unbelievable.  For example, he saw his teacher, Mr. Fullerman, outside of school at a concert … and he was wearing LEATHER pants!  Wow!!!

The books were full of funny events, like the time Tom had to wear his friend, Derek’s, swimming trunks.  The funny thing was that the swimming trunks had teddy bears on them, and they looked like Derek had worn them when he was four years old!  Way too small!!!

The drawings in the books are great!  We liked that they are pictures that we could draw ourselves.  It actually looked like a kid drew them!  There are also A LOT of drawings on each page.  Most of them have some sort of label, and that makes the books easier to understand.

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Dinner Before Dessert? (or, Should We Really Be Pushing for More Nonfiction Reading?)

I was in the staff lounge grabbing a cup of coffee recently. Next to the Keurig machine is a lending library. No one really runs it. People just put books on the shelf, assuming others might want to read what they are sharing. I think there is a decent amount of traffic in what is coming and going.

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Even at a glance, this collection would not be Common Core-acceptable in any classroom. Way too much fiction, and not enough informational and explanatory text.

But before I go back to the lounge and start sneaking in nonfiction books into this library, what do we see here? First, we have a lot of avid readers on our school staff. This alone is cause for celebration. Second, the books here are fairly complex texts, having read a number of them myself. In addition, this activity is independent of any requirements. As the school’s principal, I have not mandated that every staff member bring in “x” amount of books for this exchange. It just happens. It should also be noted that we have a book-a-day calendar next to the Keurig machine, as a daily recommendation for our next potential read.

I share this because of a recent article regarding the lack of nonfiction reading that is observed in today’s students. In this report, students’ reading habits and willingness to tackle complex texts start to decline after 6th grade. The journalist suggests that U.S. students will not be college and career ready at this rate, noting that “a key cornerstone of reading comprehension is vocabulary” and that “words that need to be encountered are in literature”.

What is not focused on in the article are the possible reasons as to why students are reading less once they hit secondary school. Maybe this is too simplistic in thinking, but could it be that independent reading – the time in which students are reading what they want, and often fiction – starts to go away in favor of the more traditional, departmentalized schedule? In my experience, the subject of reading is renamed “English”, “Language Arts”, or “Disciplinary Literacy” once students hit adolescence. Sounds depressing, if you ask me. No wonder kids are reading less.

Instead of assigning fiction with the blame of lower reading scores, what if we reconsider the way we promote reading in general? As an avid reader myself, I find fiction to be the gateway to a host of possibilities for reading in other areas. The thinking required for some of the novels I choose is deep, comprehensive, and often demanding of a second perspective. These inquiries naturally lead to book clubs, where a reader can share questions and become a better reader than they were before. Deep and complex thinking, asking questions, seeking new information…these strategies are the same that we demand of learners tackling nonfiction.

So if fiction is more than fluff, in comparison to the “rigor” of nonfiction, what are the implications for literacy instruction? It is much easier to teach anyone how to do anything when they are engaged in the process of actually doing it. We are giving them a taste of what is possible. Dangling dessert in front of our kids so they will eat their supper might work at the dinner table. But for more complex activities such as lifelong reading, we should reconsider our approach.