Advocacy

This weekend I responded to a call from colleagues to sign an online petition, about an issue that had been on my mind for a long time. I felt confident sharing my position on the issue, but wasn’t happy with the outcome of my action.

My “signature” generated emails to a number of people, many of whom hold positions of influence, but who are not directly able to take action on the issue. I didn’t know how broadly my “spam” emails had travelled until I began receiving responses from several people I greatly respect.

I am so embarrassed that I filled their inboxes on a weekend, and expressed my position to them via email.

Despite the fall-out from this campaign, I still respect the organization that requested my “signature”, and the colleagues whose tweets had inspired me to sign.

However, I would have preferred the option of composing individual emails to each person. And I would not have timed them to interrupt the necessary rest time on the weekend.

What have I learned? I am certainly going to be much more hesitant about signing any online petitions. And I am going to have to think more seriously about those issues that mean the most to me.

I am also going to much more sympathetic to my colleagues, who may find themselves with a much more public profile than they anticipated, due to this campaign.

Having taken a stand, I now feel compelled to become part of the solution. I cannot speak out, and then not follow through. I own my words.

So, I now must give thought to possible solutions. Stay tuned for my next blog post!

Alternative Education

It’s back to school for me yet again. This year I’m working as a Vice Principal in an Alternative School, providing secondary school courses to students from grade 9 to 12. It’s an amazing place, and here’s why:

Safe Alternate Timetable

We have a consistent Monday to Friday timetable, rather than the hybrid model, with its two 2.5 hour classes each that run for a week and then switch with the other two for the following week. Our students attend either for two hours in person in the morning or two hours online in the afternoon, once a week for each credit. They are working independently for the balance of the week, with the goal being to complete two credits each quadmester.

This means that we have very few people in the building, with very small classes in person, so students and staff feel much less at risk of COVID exposure. And students always have the option to shift to online, should the degree of risk change.

No Deadlines

While the goal is to complete two credits each quadmester, our students have the option to “roll over” their students into the next. Our schedule will be the same from September to June, so students can anticipate support until they complete their credits. They can even roll their courses into the following school year, if needed. Our teachers have structured their course content to provide both direct instruction during their two-hour classes, and rich supportive materials in their Virtual Learning Environment (either D2L/Brightspace or Google Classroom). So control is truly in the hands of our students.

There is really no reason why this couldn’t be the case in our traditional secondary schools, but we have strong cultural norms that function to deny flexibility to our students.

Personalization

Because we have intake at multiple points in the year, and students are progressing at different paces, our teachers provide individual programs and support to each student. Our class sizes are very small, and our teachers are able to customize the program for each student.

Our students thrive in this environment, with very few returning to a traditional secondary school, but remaining with us until graduation.

First Names

All of our staff are addressed by their first names. This serves to “flatten” the organization, and puts everyone on the same level. I may be the Vice Principal, but I’m “Terry”, not Dr. Whitmell. Our Principal oversees seven alternative program sites, so she is here only a few times a week, but she is known by her first name, as is our custodian, the office staff, and our educational assistants.

This is a strong cultural indication to our new students that they are not in a traditional school, and with that realization comes hope and optimism that the rest of the school will be different as well.

Optimism

In all that we do, the focus is on success. Missing are detentions, penalties, suspensions, and many of the control mechanisms of a traditional secondary school. Instead our teachers can, as our school vision says, “Inspire Success, Confidence, and Hope”. Our students may remain with us until age twenty-one, and with a small teaching staff of two dozen they are able to forge strong relationships.

Support

We provide a range of programs, from grades 7 to 12, serving students whose needs can be academic, social, emotional or just a need for a safe place. Despite what we read in the media, students who are suspended or expelled are not abandoned by the education system. Instead they are enrolled in one of our programs, and are able to access Child and Youth Workers, Social Workers, and a range of community agencies as well.

A Safe Harbour

With all the uncertainty and fear we have been experiencing in the past eighteen months, I am thankful that I am working and contributing in such an amazing place!

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 10

So we’re back for week three, and trying a different approach.  Kindergarten in Ontario is “play-based in a culture of inquiry”, and I am going to do my best to support this. If you’ve been reading my blog you will know that I am an experienced secondary school teacher and administrator who has most recently been teaching at the university level, so this is not within my comfort zone.  However, I did go to Kindergarten myself (and, you know, this is what makes everyone an expert in education), and I successfully raised two children of my own.  I’m hoping that this will give me some of the resources I need!

In preparation, I downloaded the curriculum document and began to deconstruct it, to make sense of the policy that C’s teachers are working with.  As a proponent of backward-design, or Understanding by Design, I began with the curriculum expectations, and discovered that the program has 31 overall expectations, and 126 more specific expectations.  While policy indicates that only overall expectations are evaluated, having 157 articulations of criteria is overwhelming!

The backward design process begins with expectations, considers what might be evidence that the expectations have been met, invites creation of essential questions, and then develops instruction to support this learning. So, over the next couple of weeks I will be examining expectations, considering how C might demonstrate them, and then selecting from the class resources, internet sources, and my own experiences, to support his learning.  Each day we will join the class in the morning, and stay as long as he is able.  We’ll make use of the Bitmoji classroom, ensuring that we look at each suggestion, and then modifying them to fit.  I will attempt some “pedagogical documentation”, beginning with a printed paper list of expectations, and then hopefully figuring out a better technological solution.

Our first challenge of the day was managing the transition to the Chromebook, and preparing for attendance.  C asked me to cut letters for him to glue to a piece of paper, and then was immediately upset that I created his full name; he only wanted his first name.  Then, because he finished this five minutes before the Google Meet link appeared, we went into the Bitmoji classroom to explore.  He chose a link to an Arkansas Zoo presentation that was almost 12 minutes long. Needless to say we battled over “pausing” this, and I chose to allow him to continue to view, making C “late” for class.  

I know that the Education Act requires that teachers be in their classrooms 15 minutes before the start of the school day, so this allows some flexibility, and a gentler transition into the work of the day.  However, that doesn’t seem to be required in our new online setting, and the transitions are much more abrupt. In the 15 minutes before class, in my experience, the room is prepared, music might be playing, and teachers can ensure that they are ready.  Since we arrived eight minutes late to the class, we could hear them beginning the land acknowledgement, before our connection dropped.

Back into the Google Meet, using a different internet connection, we arrived in time for the national anthem.  Because of the need to stand still, we turned the camera off. This was followed by their physical education session, beginning with the warmup.  C was being a T-rex, and so was unwilling to follow along. It would seem that we missed attendance, but his presence was acknowledged verbally.  The second activity was “Zookeeper”, where the teacher held up a picture of an animal to the camera, the students were moving like the animal, and then the teacher tried to guess which animal the kids could see.  C said he hadn’t learned how to be a bear yet.  The second was penguin, and C was able to “waddle” and the teacher guessed almost immediately.  Third came a seal, and this was difficult both for the children and the teacher! The giraffe invited “tall necks”, and then the panda generated an “eating bamboo”.

C then decided he was too hot, and he had to go upstairs where it was cooler.  He signed out of the Google Classroom, having been there for only 15 minutes, and headed up the stairs.  While there he saw my sewing machine, and asked we could sew. This turned into a literacy and numeracy activity, since the sewing machine has codes to sew shapes and letters, and he was able to identify the letters of his name and enter the code into the machine, then press the pedal to have the machine sew each letter in turn.  The code for A was 11, so he correctly read and keyed two-digit numbers up to 37, and spelled his name from memory.

A bit of laundry had him reading “Power” and “Start”, and then he decided that going outside would be a good solution for the mud in his monster truck’s wheels. So, we headed out into the snow. My new snowshoes worked perfectly, and I was able to pull C on a sled through the fields to say “hello” to neighbours.  We discussed how different each of the three homes we passed looked, from how they had appeared in the summer.  We noticed tracks, and considered who might have made them.  And then we headed back for a slide down the hill and then lunch.  (The monster truck was accompanied on the trip by his skid-steer and a windshield scraper, which made a great ice axe.)

Lunch included “Abby Hatcher” on his tablet while he ate.  TVOkids lists this program as kindergarten, and it certainly engages C! Nickelodeon says that the program supports “problem solving, being a good friend, and persistence”. Glad to see Overall Expectation: “4. demonstrate an ability to use problem-solving skills in a variety of contexts, including social contexts” and “23. use problem-solving strategies, on their own and with others, when experimenting with the skills, materials, processes, and techniques used in drama, dance, music, and visual arts”, among others. Abby certainly supports Specific Expectation: “3.3 demonstrate an awareness of ways of making and keeping friends”.  Although this is viewing, not doing, there is modelling of Specific Expectation: “7.2 demonstrate persistence while engaged in activities that require the use of both large and small muscles (e.g., tossing and catching beanbags, skipping, lacing, drawing).” There is certainly a great deal of creative play that is inspired by C’s viewing of this program, including his singing of the theme song!

Among his afternoon activities was a visit to my desk (while I was in the other room) where he found my Cricut paper cutter (which he has seen me use, and shouldn’t have accessed without permission….) and offcuts of cardstock.  He also asked for post-its, which I gave to him to use to create labels.  Instead of making labels he drew lines, and then cut along the lines, to create four squares out of each larger post-it note.  He cut triangles off the corners of a rectangle, and began gluing pieces together.  When he needed eyes, nose, and mouth, he drew these on a post-it, and then came to me to ask for assistance to cut them out. The tail required a larger piece of paper, but again he drew and I cut.  You can see the results at the top of this post.

When looking back on the day, I am pleased to see that he demonstrated a lot of expectation 7.2, with persistence throughout.  Never once did he give up, even when arguing this morning for “gummies” for breakfast!

His impromptu artwork certainly addressed “31.3 explore different elements of design (e.g., colour, line, shape, texture, form) in visual arts”, and “8.4 demonstrate control of small muscles (e.g., use a functional grip when writing) while working in a variety of learning areas (e.g., sand table, water table, visual arts area) and when using a variety of materials or equipment (e.g., using salt trays, stringing beads, painting with paintbrushes, drawing, cutting paper, using a keyboard, using bug viewers, using a mouse, writing with a crayon or pencil)”. But I guess I am going to have to order some safe scissors, for him to continue on this creative path.

Our school day ended by making beds, where C chose to be under the fitted sheet, rather than on top. He enjoyed being “trapped”, and how everything looked red from within his burgundy tent.

We had a visit in the afternoon from C’s great-aunt, whose own grandchildren are now almost all fully grown. Our conversation connected what we were seeing with our own rather narrow experiences at the same age. We identified skills and knowledge far beyond that which we had at age four, and expressed our wonder at how much C knows.

So, I will continue our “follow the child” approach, and connect what I see back to what we are “supposed to be doing” in the curriculum

Want to bet that we hit most of the curriculum expectations without a “plan”?

 

 

12 Gradeless Models

In 2019 I interviewed 28 Ontario secondary school educators who are moving away from marks.

They all grounded their assessment practices in clear communication of learning expectations in the form of task lists, curriculum expectations, or overarching learning goals. They communicated achievement of these expectations through the use of hidden mark, traditional four-point rubrics, single-point rubrics, or descriptive feedback. The combination of these three types of communication of expectations and four modes of communication of achievement can be expressed as 12 models of gradeless assessment, of which 10 were utilized by the teachers interviewed:

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Gradeless Model 1: Tasks and Marks

  • Marks are assigned based upon number of steps or concepts, which are added together to calculate a final mark.
  • Feedback is assumed by number of points or marks given by teacher.
  • Marks may be shared with students, or maybe hidden or deferred.

While gradeless model 1 includes marks, the two interviewees using this model expressed their belief that it qualified as “gradeless” when they hid or deferred sharing of marks until the end of the learning cycle.

Gradeless Model 2: Curriculum Expectations and Marks

  • Assessments are coded by course expectations which are then weighted to calculate a final mark.
  • Feedback is assumed to explicit links to course expectations.
  • Marks may be shared with students, or may be hidden or deferred.

As with gradeless model 1, this model was felt to qualify as “gradeless” when the marks were deferred or hidden. Gradeless model 2 was valued for its strong connection to the curriculum, and promotion of mastery learning, and was adopted by five of the interviewees.

Gradeless Model 3: Overarching Learning Goals and Marks

  • Assessments are coded by Overarching Learning Goals, or Big Ideas, which are weighted to calculate a final mark.
  • Feedback is assumed by links to goals, and is shared with students.

There were no interviewees who had developed Overarching Learning Goals while retaining marks. It is possible that it is more difficult to assign mark values to items on an assessment, where the criteria are broad and less specific, and so teachers find it necessary to move to rubrics and feedback to reflect achievement of Overarching Learning Goals.

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Gradeless Model 4: Tasks and Rubric Levels

  • A holistic or four-point proficiency scale rubric is created, with detailed checklists.
  • Descriptive feedback may or may not be included.
  • A final mark is determined at the end of the course, possibly with the use of anchor marks.
  • Conferencing between teacher and student is possible.

Only two of the interviewees retained task criteria when developing rubrics to communicate with their students. Both were teaching subjects that involved development of skills by production of physical objects, and they explained that specific criteria relating to the creation process were necessary to support their students to develop skills safely in their classrooms.

Gradeless Model 5: Curriculum Expectations and Rubric Levels

  • Detailed expectation-based rubrics are used, with a four-point proficiency scale.
  • Descriptive feedback may or may not be included.
  • A final mark is determined at the end of the course, possibly with the use of anchor marks.
  • Conferencing between teacher and student is possible.

Gradeless model 5 was the most used model, and was a component of the current assessment practice of 18 of the teachers interviewed. It was also described as a past, intermediary, practice by those who had moved to single-point rubrics or to a fully-feedback model.

Gradeless Model 6: Overarching Learning Goals and Rubric Levels

  • Generic four-point rubrics are utilized, based upon a limited number of goal statements.
  • Descriptive feedback may or may not be included.
  • A final mark is determined at the end of the course, possibly with the use of anchor marks.
  • Conferencing between teacher and student is possible.

Only two interviewees retained rubrics with levels as they moved to overarching learning goals. Both were teaching in subjects where expectations were consistent from one grade to the next and spiraling supported development of skills and knowledge.

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Gradeless Model 7: Tasks and Single-point Rubrics

  • Task checklists are utilized.
  • Descriptive feedback may or may not be given.
  • Conferencing occurs at end of course to determine final mark, possibly with use of anchor mark.

Three interviewees made use of task criteria and single-point rubrics. As with gradeless model 4, these teachers were in technology and fashion classrooms, where creation and construction was supported by clear task criteria.

Gradeless Model 8: Curriculum Expectations and Single-point Rubrics

  • Single-point rubrics are used with curriculum expectations as criteria.
  • Descriptive feedback may or may not be given.
  • Conferencing occurs at end of course to determine final mark, possibly with use of anchor mark.

Eleven interviewees utilizing gradeless model 8 had developed single-point rubrics, with curriculum expectations as the criteria, making this the second most common model in use. They used language such as “met/not-met” or “not yet” in their rubrics, and most presented the criteria in the middle of the page, with room for feedback on either side of each criterion.

Gradeless Model 9: Overarching Learning Goals and Single-point Rubrics

  • Single-point rubrics are used with a limited number of large goals.
  • Descriptive feedback is given.
  • Conferencing occurs at end of course to determine final mark, possibly with use of anchor mark.

Four of the teachers interviewed utilized single-point rubrics with overarching learning goals as the criteria. With only a limited number of criteria, these rubrics were flexible, and able to be applied to a range of demonstrations of student learning.

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Gradeless Model 10: Tasks and Feedback

  • Descriptive feedback is given, linked to checklists.
  • Rich, frequent descriptive feedback is given.
  • Conferencing occurs at end of course to determine final mark, possibly with use of anchor marks.

None of those interviewed provided descriptive feedback-based on task criteria. This may be because task criteria are commonly communicated as a checklist, with little need for further information to be communicated.

Gradeless Model 11: Curriculum Expectations and Feedback

  • Descriptive feedback is given, linked to course expectations.
  • Rich, frequent descriptive feedback is given.
  • Conferencing occurs at end of course to determine final mark, possibly with use of anchor marks.

Four interviewees made use of descriptive feedback that related specifically to curriculum expectations, but with no level or measure attached. These teachers represented a range of subject areas including English, physical & health education, visual arts, and geography.

Gradeless Model 12: Overarching Learning Goals and Feedback

  • Descriptive feedback is given, linked to overarching learning goals.
  • Rich, frequent descriptive feedback is given.
  • Conferencing occurs at end of course to determine final mark, possibly with use of anchor marks.

Three of the teachers interviewed had moved almost exclusively to the use of descriptive feedback, relating to four or five overarching learning goals for their course. Their subject areas included music, drama, French, and mathematics.

While some of those interviewed utilized one tool consistently throughout their assessment process, many made use of two or three different gradeless models, with one teacher reporting use of six of the gradeless models in his various courses.

What’s next?

I hope that one of these models might be a starting point for YOUR shift away from marks towards a competency-based feedback model.

School Online – Journal – Day 7 and a half….

Well, you know we are in a “new normal” when emails are sent out at 4:37 on a Saturday, to respond to changes since Friday.

Our teachers received an email, ahead of the posting of a letter to parents on our board’s website, letting them know that our online population has grown from 54,000 to more than 64,000 in the past week, and so additional time will be needed to build a new timetable, to ensure an equitable and successful start for all staff and students.  For our secondary folks this means that their students will work on a cross-curricular independent inquiry project aligned to our core subject, which can then be reviewed by teachers as a pre-instruction assessment, to gauge where students are in their learning.  Students will have access next Tuesday, will receive their timetables by the end of the week, and will join their classes the following Tuesday.

I’m hoping that this additional time will provide a respite for them, following four days of COVID orientation in their community schools.  And knowing that they will have some time to prepare before launching their synchronous classes should offset the anxiety that this uncertainty might be generating.

I’m thinking that, if this trend continues, we should change our language from “excessed” from the community school to “seconded” to the Online School.  I’m also imagining that for some teachers the fully online will have some appealing features missing from the hybrid community school model.  They will see their students every day.  They will be working with a full class each day, rather than half. They will be able to create a scope and sequence and then follow it in a cycle between synchronous and asynchronous. And they will be able to refine their online processes, and develop expertise.

And those in our community schools, where they see half a class on Monday morning, and the other on Thursday morning, with asynchronous between, and a synchronous session on Tuesday and Friday, will have a more challenging planning task ahead of them. Three different learning environments within one class, and not always in the same sequence, will require that they abandon their linear approach.  It’s likely to be unsettling, but I think it will break down some of the routines, and promote creative solutions to better serve our students.

In both settings this promises to be a year of growth and learning, for both teachers and students.

School Online – Journal – Day 6

Well it’s almost bed time for me, and I’m having to think hard to remember what my day looked like today. It started out slow, and then ended like a freight train!

As I mentioned earlier, our teachers don’t yet know what they will be teaching next week. So, a survey was designed to be sent out to our more than 400 secondary teachers, to request their input as we begin to assign teachers to classes.

Since we are a new school there are no distribution lists. So, I hand-keyed all the names, and hoped that our Outlook email system would find them accurately.  It did, for the most part, but there remain about 20 teachers whose names on our list don’t quite match their email names, and so they won’t have received the request to complete the survey.

It took me a couple of hours to copy and paste both the subject line and body text, and then to BCC each person. When it was done I breathed a sign of relief…. until I received the “gentle” email pointing out that I had identified this year as 2020-2012!  I must have copied that at least  10 times without noticing.

All I could do was laugh!

The survey will be due at the end of the day tomorrow, and then I’ll work with the resulting spreadsheet to create lists for each of the courses we offer, so that we can do our best to match requests to available classes.

That matching will take place on Saturday (no choice but to work the weekend), so that we can get the information out to teachers.  Fortunately the plan is to begin teaching on Wednesday, so they’ll have a bit of breathing space at the beginning of the week to plan, and to reach out to their students.

In my last post I talked about the challenges I anticipate. The one that is preoccupying me is how we create community for our teachers, so that they don’t feel isolated as they embark on a full year of distance learning.

I find that I do my best thinking in the middle of the night. So, it’s off to bed.

I hope your “school start” is going well, or at least as well as it can in these unique times.

School Online – Journal – Day 5

Day 5 for both our “bricks and mortar” schools, and our new Online School!

In person, our teachers are welcoming Cohort B of Grade 9 students, combining COVID training with our traditional welcome to secondary school. I can’t imagine what it’s like for our teens, heading off to “high school” in such a time.

Online, we are still awaiting creation of our timetable for almost 9000 students.  Did you know that software developers have never considered this eventuality? So, there have had to be a lot of last-minute software tweaks, and many tasks have had to be “redone”.

Since we have no solid timetable, we haven’t yet been able to assign our teachers, so they are out there in limbo.  As an administrative team we are working to define our jobs.  We need to support our students and our staff, and ensure that the needs are met by a team of Principals and Vice Principals, some of whom are working part-time.

So what are the roles of Principal and Vice Principal? We are thinking that the Vice Principals might take responsibility for a group of students, probably according to the placement of their last name in the alphabet.  Our Principals primary work could be to support teachers and liaise with parents.  So they may be grouped according to subject areas, in order to create smaller communities.

However, some of these departments will be very large.  We estimate courses for students in a year to be 7.5. and teachers each lead 6 classes of anywhere from 22 to 31 students. So our 9000 students will require somewhere between 450 and 550 teachers. Tomorrow night is the deadline for students to opt to join our Online School, so our number of teachers may grow as well. For English alone we are looking at 50 to 60 teachers.

It is hoped that teachers will know their assignments as of the weekend, and will have Monday and Tuesday to prepare before classes formally begin on Wednesday. But since this is still a tentative plan, the communication is awaiting confirmation, and our teachers’ anxiety is growing.

My role as a Principal will be to allay their fears, find out what my teachers require, and figure out how to get it to them as soon as possible.  They will be learning to use an LMS (Learning Management System), refine their use of Google Meet or Microsoft Teams, collaborate with others who are teaching the same course (many of whom they will never have met), and then connect with their students (whose anxiety is likely similar, as they sit at home!)

Since we still have two more days this week, and there may not be much news, I’ll take the next couple of blog posts to consider how I might support my teachers and students, beginning next week.

How will I build community with my teachers?

How will I support teachers to utilize research-based, student-focused instruction and assessment strategies?

How will I support the Mental Health of my teachers, and their students?

More questions than answers right now!

School Online – Journal – Day 4

After the long weekend, we teachers expect to head back to school, meet our students, and embark on the new school year with excitement and optimism.

This year is different.

Teachers in “bricks and mortar” schools in our district are spending this week orienting students to the new reality of COVID-19. Today they welcome Cohort A of the grade 9’s, and tomorrow it will be Cohort B of grade 9.  Thursday and Friday will Cohorts A and then B of grades 10, 11 and 12. They won’t be together as a class until next week, and then it will be the start of the “Quadmester” rather than “Semester”. Students will be enrolled in two courses, and they will be at school for two mornings, and working both asynchronously and synchronously at their computers at home for the rest of the time. So, teachers will be doing icebreakers and syllabus review for their four groups on Monday, but some will be F2F, some will be asynchronous, and some will be synchronous. No longer can they plan one “Day One” lesson.

But these aren’t even the School Online teachers. These are the teachers who are remaining in the “bricks and mortar” schools, to teach 83% of our secondary schools.

The School Online teachers don’t yet know what they will be teaching, have not yet been told who will be their administrators, and have received no training. They remain in their Home schools, doing primarily hallway supervision and directing the flow of students.  Not a very exciting or inspiring way to begin the school year!

So, today we meet as an admin team.  I am hoping that timetables have been built, and that teachers will soon learn their assignments.

Our “bricks and mortar” teachers can begin to plan their new repertoire of instruction, with some content provided F2F, some asynchronously, and some synchronously.  Since they have Cohort A and Cohort B of the same class, they are also going to need to duplicate the same content and activity in more than one mode, if they wish to follow the same scope and sequence. Or, they are going to have teach in lessons that do not have to follow a specific sequence, if they wish to use the same asynchronous content for both Cohorts. And since Wednesdays will be a “bonus” day for each of the four groups, as soon as we complete week 2 the groups will be out of synch. So many things to consider!

One of our district teachers has built a beautiful planning spreadsheet to help. Check out the twitter account of @miss_jtoor, and her Google Sheet at bit.ly/338150a. It’s wonderful to see teachers make sense of their new reality!

But our School Online teachers are in limbo, so their anxiety is growing. They don’t know what they are teaching. They don’t know who they will be teaching. They don’t know their schedule, beyond 8:30 to 2:30. And it is the first day of school!

Tomorrow I will share more details of both our hybrid “bricks and mortar” schools and our online school.

Sunday Reading: Wired to Create

wired-to-createA rainy Sunday and a good book; what could be better?  And even better when it can be read in a few hours, and generates the thought “yes” at every page!

This Sunday it’s “Wired to Create:  Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind” by Scott Barry Kaufman (@sbkaufman) and Carolyn Gregoire (@carolyn_greg).  Inspired by Gregoire’s 2014 article for the Huffington Post, “18 Things Highly Creative People do Differently“, and building upon Kaufman’s research, this book provides a wonderful framework to compare with my most recent reading, (See #IMMOOC – Tradition vs Innovation, Laying the Foundation for Innovation – #IMMOOC Weeks 3 & 4, Prensky’s #21stC Model – #IMMOOC), and with my current view of education and schooling.

As a start, I’ve pulled out some of the ideas for consideration:

Quote Response
Introduction: Messy Minds “To build these skills, we must encourage risk taking and orginality, and give people the autonomy to decide how they learn and create” (p xxxii) Our educational structures are designed NOT to allow learners the autonomy to decide how they learn and create. The introduction of “choice” is a step in the right direction, but we need to get out of the learners way, and remove the roadblocks.
1 Imaginative Play “The science shows that hybrid forms of work and play may actually provide the most optimal context for learning and creativity, both for children and for adults” (p 11) And “direct instruction” is “work” but rarely is it “play”.
2 Passion “..we must not only fall in love with a dream of our future self… but also love the process of becoming that person” (p 27) As teachers, we need to facilitate the process, but not prescribe.   Opportunity and feedback will nurture the love of the process.
3 Daydreaming “We should allow ourselves to balance the focused mind with the wandering mind, and skilled daydreamers do this naturally”. (p 43) I don’t recall anyone talking to me about my daydreaming as a child, though I do believe it lead to an ability to focus, as I developed thinking skills to organize what I was thinking.
4 Solitude “the act of creating requires us to find time to ourselves and slow down enough to hear our own ideas – both the good and the bad ones”. (p 48) I’m not certain that our students have any solitude: they are accompanied by their devices, music, and continual input.
5 Intuition “Intuition arises from unconscious, or spontaneous, information-processing systems, and it plays an important role in how we think, reason, create, and behave socially”. (p 64) Allowing students to express their thoughts, and to explore those that arise spontaneously, seems absent from our classrooms.
6 Openness to Experience “We need new and unusual experiences to think differently”. (p 82) We need to facilitate these experiences through field trips, clubs, and events, and to bring them into our classroom with a deliberate plan for novelty.
7 Mindfulness “The capacity to deeply observe is not only a key attentional skills, it’s also a distinct creative advantage”. (p 105) Our teachers often take the more efficient action of “telling” or “showing” rather than allowing students to see at their own pace.
8 Sensitive “If we think of creativity as ‘connecting the dots’ in some way, then sensitive people experience a world in which there are both more dots and more opportunities for connection”. (p 126) For sensitive learners, filtering out the irrelevant “dots” can be a challenge in our classrooms. And at the same time, we need to bring some of the “dots” to the attention of others, who aren’t even aware that they are there.
9 Turning Adversity into Advantage “Experiences of extreme adversity show us our own strength”. (p 146 We’ve done a lot of talking about resilience and how we can nurture it in our students. Our “lawnmower” parents ensure that their children never face adversity, and our educational accountability structures cause teachers to do the same with their students.  Those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s have often spoken of the value of not really knowing what the teacher wanted, nor how she was coming up with a mark.
10 Thinking Differently “The suppression of free thinking and imagination often starts in the educational system”. (p 174) There are so many “don’t”s in the world of our children, both at home and at school. My students believe that there is a “formula” to life, and that if they merely find the first step on the path, they will succeed.  We know that isn’t how life works, but we persist with the fantasy in the school system.

I’ll certainly be returning back to this book, and revisiting these concepts, over the next little while!

 

 

Dealing with Disappointment

We talk a lot about student engagement and motivation, but a whole lot less about what de-motivates, or disengages learners.

My personal “aha” this week is that one of the best ways to shut someone down is to have them experience a failure that they don’t understand.  Set up criteria, have them provide evidence of having met it, and then tell them they didn’t succeed, but without any explanation.

In my case, I know I’ll get the feedback eventually, and I’m sure it will make sense and I’ll eventually feel fine about it.  However, in the meantime, I’m investing all sorts of negative energy into trying to figure out where I went wrong.  This is wasted, unproductive energy that would be much better put to use moving forward, rather than wallowing in disappointment.

So, as teachers, working with students, we need to:

  1. Set, or even better co-construct, clear criteria for success.
  2. Assess and evaluate
  3. Provide both the pass/fail AND the detailed feedback, as close to simultaneously as possible.
  4. Determine next steps, and begin the cycle again.

As administrators, when hiring, we need to:

  1. Set clear criteria
  2. Assess and evaluate
  3. Provide both the decision AND the detailed feedback as close to simultaneously as possible.
  4. And if we are mentoring this teacher/TA/office-assistant then we need to set them back on the path with hope and optimism.

If we don’t, then we run the risk of shutting down the very initiative, enthusiasm and energy that we are trying to nurture.