Boys Will Be Boys

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My son, appreciating the view of the Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania

At one point in the school year, I was in my office with two different students, both males. A primary student was sent out of class because he refused to complete his math work. I helped him with the last part, which was challenging, although the student was fully capable. An intermediate student went into a complete shutdown in the LMC. He and another boy were playing tag in the library. After taking a break, he refused to leave, which led to climbing on windows, which led to threatening to pull the fire alarm, which led to…

Outside my office were three more boys. They had taken a snack off of a classroom table and then gotten into an argument with the teacher about who was the guilty party. When I attempted to engage in a conversation about what happened, lots of arguing and finger-pointing ensued. “I did not take that snack!” cited one student. “That’s not true – you were totally there!” a peer responded. Our counselor stepped in and helped them process through this situation and then write an apology note to the teacher.

Misbehaviors in school are certainly beyond a “boy” problem. Around the same time, two girls became very argumentative with the art teacher and were removed from class. Poor choices are not exclusive to one gender.

But after looking at our school behavioral data over the past three years, the results are clear: 4 out of every 5 behavior referrals are attributed to boys. The most common incidences involve physical aggression, disruption, and defiance. Why are they misbehaving? I’ve heard from educators in the past that “boys will be boys”. Is this a fair assessment? The fact that girls are now faring better than boys in school achievement leads one to believe that this is not just a boy problem, but rather an issue with the educational system as a whole.

When you combine this information with the unfortunate reality that higher academic expectations has led to more ADHD diagnoses, and that boys are more likely than girls to receive this diagnosis, a sense of frustration can set in. How do educators respond while still holding all students responsible for their actions? In addition, changing how school looks and feels for males can be a significant adjustment for teachers. It might involve giving up some control and allowing students to determine their own learning destiny more often.

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My son, listening to an audiobook on our iPad

Designing school with boys in mind is also a departure from the historic role of school: To disseminate information and build basic understandings. If a school were to alter their approach for teaching boys, a priority would have to be placed on hands-on experiences, constructing knowledge at their pace, and not placing such a premium on assignment deadlines or the printed and written word.

The last part of the previous statement might rub literacy experts the wrong way. My position is in no way a condemnation of current literacy practices found most effective for learners. Rather, I am questioning the limitations teachers and school leaders set on students when reading text and producing writing. For example, how are digital tools being leveraged for this kind of work? A multimedia presentation, such as an interactive video, doesn’t have to replace the traditional report. In fact, the report could be a prerequisite for the digital-based task which could complement the original writing project. This could lead to a more robust performance task for a unit of study.

Another idea is to allow students to dictate their writing using voice recognition software. This circumvents the oft-cited complaint of boys that they hate the physical act of putting words on paper. This deficit is supported by research that shows boys develop more slowly than girls in fine motor skills, a critical skill for writing. Conveying that writing is more than just a piece of paper and a pencil might alleviate some of these frustrations.

I don’t believe educators have to think too hard or do any significant extra work by designing school with boys in mind. The most challenging aspect may be in rethinking our belief that many boys are not built for schools. Rather, we need to rebuild schools and make them more accommodating for how boys learn. The best part of this approach? That both genders would benefit from changes that would be made if educators more closely considered the needs and interests of males in the learning process. Offering appropriate challenges, lots of choice, reasonable accommodations, and opportunities to be active are strategies that allow for all learners to be more successful and less frustrated with school.

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:

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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.

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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.

 

 

How Can I Rethink Reading Logs with High Schoolers?

This post is actually a lengthy reply I left for a reader, who asked me the question via comments in a post I published a year and a half ago. So great to see how what we share online impacts other schools!

Hi Francisco. I appreciate your honest question. I’m not experienced with high school, but I have some thoughts. My initial suggestion is to get your students on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/about/how_it_works). If you are not familiar with Goodreads, it is a social media tool for readers. They can use their Facebook accounts to create an account within Goodreads. Readers can rate and review books, read what others are reading, and have suggestions sent to them based on their past interests (https://www.goodreads.com/recommendations). Students can also make “to-read” lists, selecting what books they want to read next, which all readers should have anyway.

Maybe have them take the Goodreads Book Challenge (https://www.goodreads.com/challenges/), where they select a number of books they plan to read for the calendar year. They can then see their progress as time goes on. They can also recommend books to peers through Goodreads as long as they are “friends”. In addition, the students can download the book titles they’ve read so far into a spreadsheet to share with you periodically. They could also use this list as a way to reflect about their reading, such as what genres they prefer and who has been influential in their reading lives.

I also like the “groups” function of Goodreads, which is an online community around a topic, favorite author, or a genre. Discussion boards can be created within a group. Goodreads is very mobile friendly, so they can use their smartphones and tablets for this purpose at school. One more idea: As students build a substantial list of books they’ve read, they can start creating libraries around the categories of books they have been reading.

If there are privacy/sharing concerns from families or administration, you could also have students use Google Docs to keep track of their reading and thinking, but it is not as authentic. As for strategy work with high schoolers, if they are engaged in what they are reading because they could pick the texts and talk about them with friends, older students have shown that they can teach themselves strategies because they are motivated to read. Our jobs as teachers at this age level is to educate our students about the strategies they are using, which can then lead into future instruction using more complex texts they will need to read closely today and in the future.

As I stated, I do not have a lot of background in adolescent literacy, but reading enough of the research tells me that older students’ reading instruction should be as authentic and relevant as we can make possible. Your students may continue to use Goodreads as they get older, which also helps them leave a positive digital footprint in their future. Using a social media tool would allow your students to continue their conversations with peers beyond the school day. They will be doing exactly what you ask of them with less of the griping, because they won’t see it as school work.

Good luck!

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(Re)Defining Student Engagement

“The best evidence for student engagement is what students are saying and doing as a consequence of what the teacher does, or has done, or has planned.” – Charlotte Danielson

This past week I conducted instructional walks in ten different classrooms. Using only paper and pen, I wrote observations describing ten distinct teaching styles. These initial visits have confirmed what I have known for several years of experience as a school principal and teacher evaluator: Engagement in learning happens most frequently and deeply when students are actively involved in instruction.

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photo credit: IMG_6414 via photopin (license)

Engagement (student involvement in instruction) can be described in a variety of ways. I think too often engagement is exclusively predefined by educators as “hands on”, “students doing more talking than the teacher”, or “active”. These descriptors may all be key indicators of engagement. But the definition should not stop there.

For example, I was the fortunate observer of a math lesson that would seem to run counter to this pattern, at least at first glance. The learning target: Demonstrate multiple ways to solve multiple digit addition problems. The teacher, who already modeled a few problems by working through them in front of students on the document camera, asked if there were three students willing to show their peers one of three ways to solve a given problem. Several hands shot up. Once selected, the three volunteers headed to the board.

The rest of the class was directed to also try one of the three methods at their desks. As some students completed the problem before others, the teacher, who was roaming around the room doing spot checks and providing quick feedback, announced, “If you solved it one way, why not try it another way?” Every student who was ready took her up on the challenge. This option gave other students more time to work.

Once the students at the front of the room were done with their work, they went back to their desks. Their faces beamed with pride. The teacher went over the process with the whole group: “Yes, you regrouped here…the place value alignments are accurate…” The teacher also asked the rest of the class to show their work on their dry erase boards with their partner sitting next to them. “Did your method work just as well as your partner’s? Talk about that.” They did.

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photo credit: UF Keene-Flint Classroom Desks Windows via photopin (license)

We in education talk so much about engagement in concert with terms like “collaboration”, “technology”, and “passion”. Is this where the best learning takes place? Sometimes, maybe even often, but certainly not always. For example, I can have passion about something, but if I don’t put the necessary time, thought, and energy into developing the skills and understandings related to it, then it is merely a hobby and possibly not worth knowing well. One passion of mine is writing. If I didn’t sit down and “do the work”, I’d have nothing but half-developed ideas floating around in my mind.

It’s important that we take the concept of engagement and rethink its meaning, as it has been defined within the context of today’s classroom. Consider:

  • If students had been left to their own devices and allowed to work in loose groups, what guarantee would the teacher have that everyone was developing a better understanding while this collaboration was happening?
  • Speaking of devices, kids could certainly have seen some worked problems online prior to class, and then provided more time during class for the teacher to work with students who needed the support. But could we be assured that every student watched the recorded instruction actively and without distraction?
  • As a former middle level mathematics teacher myself, I know how challenging it can be to instill a sense of passion for the subject. By including the students in the instructional responsibilities, everyone had a stake in the process and the outcomes. Passion is then connected with purpose and community.

I call on all school leaders, myself included, to put aside our biases and misconceptions regarding student engagement, as we engage in our own learning experiences during our frequent visits to classrooms. When classrooms that are set up in rows of desks are described as “tombstones”, we make unfair generalizations of a teacher’s abilities to educate their students. When we document the lack of technology integration in a lesson that has no need for it, we show our bias toward a maximalist approach to digital learning. When we find a quiet classroom, it may be inaccurate to assume that learning isn’t occurring. Let our student actions and dispositions guide our professional assessments.

Do you know how I know my son read his book?

  1. He was asking about the next book in the series before he was halfway through the first one.
  2. The thickness of his book doubled while reading it, due to spilling his drink on the pages while eating and reading.
  3. Creases regularly appeared on the spine of his book while reading it.
  4. The book’s covers were bent because he fell asleep on top of his book one night while reading.
  5. The book’s corners were frayed because my son shoved his book in his backpack every morning.
  6. My son wanted to watch the movie about his book before he was finished.
  7. His classmates wanted to read his book once he finished, after seeing him immersed in it.
  8. My son continued to think and talk about his book, long after he finished it.
  9. My son can identify a related series to his book that he might want to read next.
  10. My son’s love for reading increased after reading his book.

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Book Review: No More Summer-Reading Loss by Carrie Cahill, Kathy Horvath, Anne McGill-Franzen, and Richard Allington (Heinemann, 2013)

imgresAt only 65 pages, I was surprised at how rich this book was in research and strategies for stemming summer reading loss. Cahill and Horvath start this text by asserting that “the lack of summer reading is actually a reflection of how well we have taught them to be independent readers during the school year” (4). They follow up this provocative statement with why it is just not conducive to try requiring dormant readers to engage in literature without considering their interests. Motivation is the key.

McGill-Franzen and Allington share the research on motivation and engagement in the next chapter. They frequently highlight the power of having choice and access to high-interest books, both during the school year and over the summer. Maybe the most surprising fact to me was, when schools just give kids free books of their choice over summer, the effect is just as powerful as most summer school programs (and at a fraction of the cost).

Cahill and Horvath round out the text with some practical and economic ideas for facilitating summer reading projects. The use of online tools, such as blogs and literacy-focused websites, were especially intriguing to me. While it is only January as I write this, I thought it is well worth my time to have read this text now and prepare for the reading possibilities in the future.

Five-Tool Literacy Apps for the iPad

If you are a baseball fan, you know what a five-tool player is. They can run, throw, play defense, hit, and hit for power. All-Stars such as Mike Trout, Ryan Braun, and Alex Rodriguez would be considered five-tool players.

So what are five-tool apps for the classroom iPad? They address the following five areas of literacy:

~ Reading ~ Writing ~ Conventions ~ Speaking ~ Listening ~

Here are five of my favorite five-tool literacy apps for the iPad in the elementary classroom, in order of complexity.


Toontastic by Launchpad Toys

This is an excellent primary-level app for learning about narrative elements. Students can set up scenes and act out the story. They control the character’s movements with their fingers and add dialogue by recording their voice. Their final products can be uploaded online so anyone can view their learning.


Drawing and Storytelling HD by Duck Duck Moose

In this three app bundle, you get Draw and Tell, Superhero Comic Book Maker, and Princess Fairy Tale Maker. Students can create scenes with a wide variety of characters, settings, and even onomatopoeias. These are words that suggest the sounds they make, such as “Whizz!” and “Ka-pow!”, which are commonplace in many comics. Even better, when you click on them, they make the sound. Learners can record their voice with each scene.


Educreations

This simple-to-use whiteboard and screencast app is perfect for introducing students to the concept of the flipped classroom. Their motto is “Teach anything to anyone from anywhere.” Using the drawing, audio recording and image capturing tools, learner can summarize a math lesson or create a book trailer. While the website boasts its use at the secondary level, I have seen it integrated in classrooms as young as 1st grade.


Book Creator by Red Jumper Studios

Students become authors with this app. After inserting images, text, drawings, and audio recordings, they can print their final products out as PDFs. Also, students can save their eBooks in the iBooks app. They stand alongside any other professionally published text. Classrooms can create digital libraries on their iPads for literacy centers. As well, teachers can upload students’ work to YouTube so anyone can see and listen to what they created. Check out my son’s eBook on how he deals with asthma.


Explain Everything by MorrisCooke

The best way to describe this app is a more complex version of Educreations. You can embed video, images, files from Dropbox or Google Drive, and put everything together into one coherent presentation. A student can also use a laser pointer to call attention to a specific slide during their instruction. The final product is then exported to a variety of locations, from the aforementioned servers as well as Evernote and iBooks. Definitely for the older crowd. Here is a screencast I created with Explain Everything for my book Digital Student Portfolios: