Opting In

Testing season is upon us. In our Title I elementary school in Central Wisconsin, we have had students preview the computerized assessment. The Chromebooks have been configured and the wireless tested. For the next six weeks, all 3rd through 5th grade students will be taking the Forward Exam, our third different standardized test in as many years.

All of our students except one: My son. He will be sitting this one out.

Our reasons are many. As a parent, I don’t believe the test will glean any useful information about his abilities as a learner. As our school’s principal, I want to set the example with regard to my position on this issue. As a person, having a student sit for multiple hours taking an examination that will have no bearing on his school career makes little to no sense. Students at this age cannot advocate for themselves.

This is not a simple or straightforward decision. Our school has been the recipient of $100,000 in state-level grants for the past three years in large part due to our student achievement results. We have taken pride in receiving these awards, in spite of the reality of how we received them. If other families in our school elected to opt out their kids, our school could lose federal funding – 95% of a school’s student body has to take the test to avoid sanctions. As I said, not so simple.

For these reasons, we are not only opting our son out of this year’s standardized test; we are also opting him into a performance portfolio assessment.

While the rest of the student body is testing, my son and I will be working together to develop an online repository of different artifacts that demonstrate his progress and performance during the school year. Each artifact will be accompanied with a personal reflection about why he included the piece and what knowledge, skill or disposition it showcases about him as a learner. We are using Google Sites for this process. He can take this digital portfolio with him throughout his school career, adding to it and replacing artifacts when appropriate.

I have no problem with families electing to opting their child(ren) out of the standardized test. It certainly makes a point and, collectively, can lead to some much needed change in education. At the same time, when we express our dissatisfaction with something currently happening, I believe we should also be offering some alternatives and creative solutions. Otherwise, we may create a vacuum that gets filled with something pretty similar to the problem we were trying to get rid of in the first place.

If we are opting out our kids of the standardized test, let’s be honest about why with them. When I spoke to my son about this decision, I explained that I believe developing a performance portfolio of his best work from the school year was a better way to showcase his learning than a standardized test. (He responded with, “I’m not sure what you are talking about, so I’ll just go with it.”) I also shared with him that this decision was both taking a position on an important issue and offering a solution to the problem.

Opting out is easy. Coming up with solutions is harder, yes, but it is also an essential part of advocating for equity in public education. Why not be a part of the solution?

Podcast: Five Commonly Accepted Myths About Education Technology @BAMRadio @ASCD

I joined Dr. Rachael George for a podcast on BAM Radio to discuss my ASCD Arias book 5 Myths About Classroom: How do we integrate digital tools to truly enhance learning?  Enjoy!

Student Engagement Still Low in U.S. Schools

I don’t often repost other bloggers’ content, so when I do…

Scott McLeod shared on his blog survey results from Gallup about the level of engagement in learning that secondary students are experiencing. When almost 1 million students state that they become less engaged the more years they spend in school, this is a cause for alarm. These results say more about education than any test score might reveal. Below is his post.

The latest results are available from the annual Gallup poll of middle and high school students. Over 920,000 students participated last fall. Here are a couple of key charts that I made from the data:

2015 Gallup Student Poll 1

[download a larger version of this image]

2015 Gallup Student Poll 2

[download a larger version of this image]

The biggest indictment of our schools is not their failure to raise test scores above some politically-determined line of ‘proficiency.’ It’s that – day in and day out – they routinely ignore the fact that our children are bored, disengaged, and disempowered. We’ve known this forever, but we have yet to really care about it in a way that would drive substantive changes in practice. The disenfranchisement of our youth continues to happen in the very institutions that are allegedly preparing them to be ‘lifelong learners’.

Why do you think students continue to become more disengaged as they progress through our school systems? Please share your ideas in the comments.

What Educators Can Learn from Uber

I wrote this yesterday as part of my staff newsletter. My experience at #IPDX16 was excellent, and it wasn’t only the conference. The city of Portland offered lots of experiences. Here is one of them.
Big image
While I was very busy presenting and learning during the day, I did have some time to explore the city of Portland with colleagues and on my own. One of the most interesting experiences was using Uber to get around. It is a self-organized taxi service. You use the Uber app to connect with a driver. Anyone can be a driver as long as you have a reliable car. Once the driver sees your request, they come over within a couple of minutes. Payment is handled through the Uber platform, similar to PayPal.

Uber: Riding in Cars with Strangers

As I used this new service, here were a few observations I noted during the time.

  • It can be both scary and fun to try something new.

When a colleague told me to try Uber, I initially resisted. “Who’s the driver? How do you know they are safe?” They reasoned that you didn’t really know the taxi driver either, and that Uber has improved safety and reliability. So I took a chance, and it was positive. My first driver was welcoming, his car was clean, and he drove me to my destination quickly. In fact, all four Uber experiences were consistently good.

  • Competition can increase quality.

Prior to Uber coming into town, I was told that the Portland taxi service was not something to brag about. They weren’t timely about picking you up and were not always the most pleasant people to be around. Now that the traditional taxi service is not the only game in town with Uber, they have had to step up and improve their service.

  • Technology has it’s limits.

Using the Uber app to call a “cab” is a remarkable idea via a digital tool. It is also imperfect. For example, when I was trying to connect with a ride to go from downtown to my hotel, the driver could not pick up my GPS signal. I was in the middle of the city – with lots of smartphones. Of course, it was the one time it was raining in Portland that I couldn’t find a ride…

  • Never assume.

During my extended wait, one car that seemed to match the description of a driver pulled up to the curb. As I reached for the door, another person started getting into the front and asked, “Umm, what are you doing?” At first dumbfounded, I quickly realized that I was attempting to get into a stranger’s car! My eventual driver explained that this happens often, and to look for the “U” symbol in the window to confirm they work for Uber.

Big image

So What Might Educators Learn from Uber?

Here are some possible connections between Uber and education.

  • It can be both scary and fun to try something new. Thinking about change, such as our upcoming peer coaching/observations, I imagine we might be feeling the same way. There is risk involved, but also the potential for reward. Having spoke with other schools that have engaged in peer observations, it sounds like the risk is worth it.
  • Competition can increase quality. If you know me at all, you know that I am a strong advocate for public education. I do not agree with the approach taken by supporters of school choice and the voucher program. That said, public education is feeling this pressure to increase our effectiveness, which has led to more awareness and effort. We have to keep innovating in order to provide the best education possible.
  • Technology has it’s limits. We’ve all experienced the lack of a wireless signal, a slow Internet, and login problems. I am glad that we don’t rely too heavily on digital tools to drive our instruction. Pedagogy usually comes first at our school.
  • Never assume. Observing student actions through an outsider’s perspective can help us avoid making snap judgments about the issue at hand. We can become aware of our own biases by asking some simple questions to develop a better understanding of the situation. I do this sometimes in my instructional walks.

Also check out John Spencer’s smart post, offering a comparison between education and the city’s food truck industry.

From Idea to Iteration: Honoring the Process of Learning #IPDX16

41t7g4xHHzL._SX258_BO1204203200_One of my favorite books to read aloud, to staff and students, is What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada and Kae Besom (Compendium, 2014). According to the summary posted on Barnes and Noble:

This is the story of one brilliant idea and the child who helps to bring it into the world. As the child’s confidence grows, so does the idea itself. And then, one day, something amazing happens.

This is a story for anyone, at any age, who’s ever had an idea that seemed a little too big, too odd, too difficult. It’s a story to inspire you to welcome that idea, to give it some space to grow, and to see what happens next. Because your idea isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s just getting started.


 

It’s been a year and a half since I published my first book on digital portfolios for students. In the time between then and now, my beliefs regarding the smart use of technology to provide authentic, connected assessment for students to showcase their understanding and skills have largely stayed the same. I continue to reference this resource in my workshops, such as the one I facilitated today at AcceleratED.

The consistency in the concept that learners require access, purpose, and audience for this type of learning to take place gives credibility to what I’ve shared today and in the past. This is what I knew at the time:

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 12.25.19 AM
Source: Digital Student Portfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Assessment (eBook, 2014)

The visual was designed to locate access as the cornerstone for all of the other work we might engage students in with regard to digital assessment. The purpose of the learning task and the audience for this work would envelope the access students require to share their learning in ways that best meet their needs and preferences.

My thinking has not changed in these three tenets of engagement with digital assessment. However, I am wondering if this visual is the only representation for this framework. As I was flying over the Rockies from Denver on my way to Portland for the excellent AcceleratED experience, a new visual coalesced.

unnamed-1

This graphic was not rendered with the same production quality as the previous graphic, but the difference is hopefully clear. By provide access to students with multiple ways to represent their learning (audio, video, image, text), they can feel more successful as well as better inform the teacher about the next steps (purpose) in their learning journey. Motivation is increased when there is an authentic audience involved in viewing student learning, namely their family through digital tools such as FreshGrade (www.freshgrade.com). One tenet of engagement informs the other, which informs the other, and back again. Kind of like learning! 🙂

In my subsequent experiences as a school principal who visits classrooms regularly since writing this digital resource, I have found that the digital portfolio assessment process is as much of a cycle as well as a framework. Was I wrong in my initial thinking? I don’t think so. It was my paradigm at the time. I think the premise still holds true. What I’ve realized since then is, what I imagine as a mental model doesn’t necessarily translate to reality. As a lifelong learner, I’ve received a lot of feedback from other educators and explored different perspectives on this topic. The more I learn, the more questions I have.


 

The main message from What Do You Do With an Idea? is that when we share something new and possibly innovative to the world, it is hard to predict where the idea might lead. Others start to own it, put their personal stamp on it, and eventually make it their own. This is okay. I have given digital portfolio assessment “some space to grow, and to see what happens next.” It wasn’t my original idea anyway. The initial framework has evolved due to other educators’ perspectives and from my own reflections. Who am I to stop these continuous iterations? I look forward to what the framework might look like in 2017.

 

 

Being Connected is Not the Same as Connectedness #CEM15 #edtechchat

This past weekend, my family and I headed south to visit family in Illinois. This is where I’m originally from, and most of my family members still reside there. The highlight of our trip, besides the “really awesome” pool our two kids enjoyed at a hotel in Rockford, was the Halloween party hosted by my aunt and uncle in Seneca.

12182435_10156289603010595_3597715382384628058_oCell phone service was very limited. It was just as well. Everyone who was there I rarely got a chance to see in person. We spent time with each other next to the night fire, sharing our news and our personal highlights. More than once, a relative referenced a picture and/or comment one of us made on Facebook (usually about our kids). We shared a laugh about the event that we would not have known without social media. These connections served to bring us closer together.

1385552_10201293071026266_94201855_n

Online interactions are a mere shadow compared to the connectedness we experience when we physically come together as people. It’s not always easy, especially for introverts such as myself. But it doesn’t mean I should avoid it. Contrast this with my first day back at school: I started the week by leafing through the latest issue of EdTech: Focus on K-12 magazine. In one of the front pages is a highlight of tweets reposted within a section titled “Connectedness”. Here is a sampling I found, collected from a recent “#SatchatOC” chat:

How should we be defining connectedness? Many of us view this concept through the lens of social media and online networks. Do we prioritize our digital connections over the those we are in close proximity to every day? Can we be simply connected and still experience a feeling of connectedness?

My preferred definition of “connectedness” within the education profession comes from Parker J. Palmer, in his classic resource The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (Jossey-Bass, 1998, 2007). Palmer defines connectedness as the ability of teachers “to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves” (pg. 11). This web extends beyond our online connections.

While there is no question about the role of social media in education, we may view these digital networks as the main way for educators to pursue new knowledge and skills. Unfortunately, this mindset might lead to further distancing ourselves from the possible relationships right in front of us: Our colleagues in neighboring classrooms, departments, and schools. Have we successfully mined the possibilities that these potential face-to-face interactions will provide? My guess is no.

In her new book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin, 2015), MIT scientist Sherry Turkle documents studies describing the negative effects of keeping a largely online network of human connections:

  • The mere presence of a phone changes what people talk about, for fear of being interrupted by a text message or notification. (21)
  • Online messaging leads to less emotional connections compared to in-person conversations. (23)
  • People who use social media the most have more difficulty reading human emotions, including their own, when compared to those not as connected. (25)
  • For young people, online life is associated with a loss of empathy and a diminished capacity for self-reflection. (41)
  • People don’t like posting things online that their followers won’t agree with – everyone wants to be liked. (50)

This concerns me. What do we unknowingly give up when we add on and delve more deeply into online connections? Do we reduce our capacity for connectedness in our efforts to become “more connected”? I’ve attempted to counter these tendencies in my own role as a school principal. For the last two days, teachers have come together in face-to-face conversations regarding professional goals for the school year. When I listened to their ideas, I put aside my digital tools and gave them my full attention. Full disclosure: My phone was still present. :-/ Still, as I offered suggestions, I paid attention to how they responded physically, such as facial expressions and their eyes, as well as what they had to say. These verbal and nonverbal cues guided our conversation.

One of the best feelings is knowing that you are being listened to. It’s hard to articulate, but you know it when it happens. You feel appreciated, acknowledged, and supported. There are certainly situations where online connections are the best option. Usually it is in the absence of in-person conversations. But when the opportunity for a real conversation presents itself, is it a priority or merely a formality?

My mom and me
My mom and me by the campfire at the Halloween party

Learning Through Words: Some Thoughts from “The Art of Slow Reading” by Thomas Newkirk (Heinemann, 2012)

imgresI have been reading an excellent resource lately. It is titled The Art of Slow Reading: Six Time-Honored Practices for Engagement by Thomas Newkirk. He was a college professor, former urban high school teacher, and now the lead editor for Heinemann.

Newkirk believes that education moves way too fast, with the advent of technology plus all the standards and academic expectations set upon us. Classrooms should slow down and be more mindful about what students are learning right now. He speaks about strategies he has found that helps with student engagement and slow reading (p 42-43):

  • Performing (attending to the texts as dramatic, as enacted for an audience, even internally)
  • Memorizing (learning by “heart”)
  • Centering (assigning significance to a part of text)
  • Problem finding (interrupting the flow of reading to note a problem or confusion)
  • Reading like a writer (attending to the decisions a writer makes)
  • Elaborating (developing the capacity to comment and expand on texts)

One of the most surprising quotes for me addresses the importance of committing words to memory. On page 77, Newkirk believes that memorizing a piece of text “isn’t rote learning. It is claiming a heritage. It is the act of owning language, making it literally a part of our bodies, to be called upon decades later when it fits a situation.”

Memorable phrases, such as principles and analogies, make the abstract more concrete. Consider the following precept, discovered in Wonder by R.J. Palacio:

When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Isn’t this so much more accessible for people, young or old, instead of “Make better choices”? Dyer’s words seem worth owning. The phrasing and word choice also help to make the precept memorable. It is language that I am committing to memory.

As you and your students explore excellent literature together this year, in what works will you all find phrases and principles to live through, share, and discuss? How might this slow down learning and deepen engagement in your classrooms? I am excited to find out – please share in the comments.