McDonalds, Schools, Learning & Standardization

So as I lay in bed reading and thinking, I can’t help but wonder what it is that the education system is trying to accomplish.  We are constantly hammered with quotes touting the need for students who will become “21st century learners,” “problem-solvers,” and “collaborators” yet we inundate our students with one standardized test after another.  It is a scary dichotomy-on the one hand we want thinkers and on the other hand we will standardize learning to multiple-choice tests (which leads to teaching to the test, which means test prep books, less time for the arts and phys. ed., etc.).  If you want to have great collaboration, I do not think you can have a group of people who all think alike. In reading slow food nation by Carlo Petrini (in conversation with Gigi Padovani) and in one section they were discussion how Ray Kroc brought standardization to food prep.  There is a line that states;

“Taking its impetus from industry rather than the centuries-old tradition of food preparation, standardization also ushered in another tendency in food consumption-that of the “global palate,”…For the first time, taste is becoming standardized on a global level.”

Let’s change the quote to say; “Taking its impetus from industry rather than the centuries-old tradition of inquiry based learning, standardization also ushered in another tendency in education-that of the “global student,”…For the first time, students are becoming standardized on a global level.”  Isn’t that what we have now? Students who have been standardized, all basically learning the same concepts at the same time, whether it is appropriate for them or not.  They already have taken play out of kindergarten and turned it into math and science lab (and not in a good way).  If we want children who will become life-long learners then we need to teach them in a manner that reflects such a philosophy.

In Good Stuff: An Open Letter to Arne Duncan, Herbert Kohl says;

“It is hard for me to understand how educators can claim that they are creating high standards when the substance and content of learning is reduced to the mechanical task of getting a correct answer on a manufactured test. In the panic over teaching students to perform well on reading tests, educators seem to have lost sight of the fact that reading is a tool, an instrument that is used for pleasure and for the acquisition of knowledge and information about the way the world works. The mastery of complex reading skills develops as students grapple with ideas, learn to understand plot and character, and develop and articulate opinions on literature. They also develop through learning history, science, and technology.”

How can we ask kids to “do” summer reading?  They should they already be involved in book clubs, reading for pleasure, reading to learn something new, and not reading as if it is a chore.  If society wants more mathematicians and scientists, I am sure the path is not through a multiple choice test.  I am pretty sure they need to inquiry, test hypothesis, collaborate, read, debate, and the like to reach their potential.

In the end, do we want to see “Yellow Arches” in the middle of the piazza di spagna?

Results Now!

In a recent op-ed in Education Week, the author spoke about it’s not what we teach, it is what the students learn.  This is the crux of the matter for many educators and in the book, Results Now! by Mike Schmoker.  Now one can sit and complain about testing, leadership (or the lack thereof), instruction (or the lack thereof) but it is of no use.  So what are the ideas from this book that we can incorporate into our schools to improve student learning?

Mr. Schmoker makes the case that the number one factor in improving learning is instruction.  I assume that the professionals in question have taken into account student interest.  If we teach based on student interest, learning should occur.  The better the lesson is designed, the greater the chance of learning.  The better the lesson plan is executed, the greater chance for learning.  The better the local, home-grown assessment, the more information the educator can derive from the student learning to improve instruction.  The cycle can then begin again.  Sounds easy enough, why doesn’t it happen?

Mr. Schmoker says it’s the teaching stupid.   “Teaching needn’t be exceptional to have a profound effect; continuous commonsense efforts to even roughly conform to effective practice and essential standards will make a life-changing difference for students across all socio-economic levels.” (pg. 9)  I would say get out of your dimple (the classroom) of the egg-carton (the building) and learn from and with others.  No one knows it all.  No one can ever know it all.  But if you think of the collective intelligence of you and your colleagues and the experiences they have had…there is no reason why we can reach all learners.  We need to come out of our individual dimples and wobble around like eggs.  This means the learning is going to be messy. There are going to be cracks and breaks but through collective effort and kaizen (continuous improvement) we can help students learn.

Read Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody or James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of the Crowds and you will understand that a collection of minds will consistently create better ideas then any intelligent person or two who work alone.  Or read, Wikinomics,  by Don Tapscott and his ideas about how mass collaboration changes everything.

In David Warlicks post, Method vs. Approach he states that we “as educators, need to beg(i)n to picture ourselves as master learners, and to project that image of ourselves to the community.  If we become enthusiastic learners, then we are modeling the concept and process of life-long learning.  If we walk into our classrooms as master learners, then we might come to better understand that working with information is as much about approach as it is about method.” 

Educators need to be willing to work together, not alone, for the common good.  PLC’s and PLN’s can be the answer.  Professional Learning Communities and Personal Learning Networks.  PLC’s I look at as being inside the learning community.  PLN’s are built on the outside but can be used to meet the goals of the community you learn in. 

A professional learning community, as defined by Wikipedia, is an extended learning opportunity to foster collaborative learning among colleagues within a particular work environment or field. It is often used in schools as a way to organize teachers into working groups (a PLC in action).
According to Mr. Scmoker, PLC’s have several key characteristics:

  • they require educators to establish a common set of curricular standards and teach to them on a roughly common schedule.
  • educators should meet regularly.  At least twice a month for 45 minutes discussing specifics about instruction and the results achieved with the lessons and units used.
  • educators must make frequent use of common assessments.

By structuring the community in this manner, it appears as if the professionals would be able to work together to learn from each other, to focus on “best practice,” and to develop units and lessons based on informatin gathered from the students.  Considering the way public school is currently structured, this may help students achieve state standards.  If you think that meeting state standards and meeting a certain level of performance on a state exam are what students should know then I guess this is a step in that direction.  I do not know if this will lead students to become “life-long learners,” more intrinsically motivated to learn, or inspired to find their passion and what they are great at to fully reach their potential but that is a story for another time.

A piece of PLC’s that I think is important is professional development.  Our current model, which is hamstrung by the phrase; “two hours contiguous to the end of the school day” is not maximizing the potential of professional development.  There are the occasional one-shot workshops that are beneficial but in reality the great majority of it does not suit the needs of the learners.  In a recent Educational Leadership (February 2009, Vol. 66, No. 5), I read an article entitled, “Research Review / Teacher Learning: What Matters?”  Linda Darling-Hammond and Nikole Richardson that summarized the research on professional development.  The results are as follows:

Research Supports Professional Development That

  • Deepens teachers’ knowledge of content and how to teach it to students.
  • Helps teachers understand how students learn specific content.
  • Provides opportunities for active, hands-on learning.
  • Enables teachers to acquire new knowledge, apply it to practice, and reflect on the results with colleagues.
  • Is part of a school reform effort that links curriculum, assessment, and standards to professional learning.
  • Is collaborative and collegial.
  • Is intensive and sustained over time.

Research Does Not Support Professional Development That

  • Relies on the one-shot workshop model.
  • Focuses only on training teachers in new techniques and behaviors.
  • Is not related to teachers’ specific contexts and curriculums.
  • Is episodic and fragmented.
  • Expects teachers to make changes in isolation and without support.
  • Does not provide sustained teacher learning opportunities over multiple days and weeks.

Professional development needs to be led by all the professionals in the community.  From the building principal to the teachers, to the aides, everyone needs to take on a leadership role in providing quality professional development. There needs to be a sustained focus, with a resistance to the latest fad or catch phrase.  There needs to be a sense of urgency or dedication to high-quality teaching that focuses on the process of how students learn.  

Professional Learning Networks or PLN’s is another way for professionals to learn from one another.  The difference being that you can learn not only from the professionals in the building you learn in, but from professionals around the world.  In the past week or so, my colleagues and I have learned from the following sites/people:

I have never met any of these people in person, yet they have all had an effect on the place in which I learn.  They have all helped me understand something that I needed or wanted to know.  I in turn, passed that knowledge along to members of the our PLC.  If you want to learn more about bloggers and wikis that can be useful to you and your PLC read the article, Learning with Blogs and Wikis by Bill Ferriter (Educational Leadership, Feb. 2009, Vol. 66, No. 5). 

I have more questions, then answers.  But I do believe it is all about the students and building a passion and excitement in them that burns so brightly that they take off and never look back.  It is about guiding and not being the center of attention.  It is about being humble, driven, and always improving.

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I am reading a book by Victor Canto entitled Cocktail Economics-Discovering Investment Truths from Everyday Conversations. I came across these couple of lines that I keep coming back to in my head. I don’t know if I have an “oceanic issue” with my writing but I keep thinking about whether or not education and POB in particular are elastic enough to provide an appropriate 21st century education.

“By elasticity, I very simply mean the ability of an industry to adjust to economic shocks. An elastic industry shifts and alters and transforms when an economic “tsunami” envelops it, thereby helping to guarantee its own survival” (Canto 50).

What if instead it said “adjust to 21st century literacy shocks” and instead of economic “tsunami” it says “21st century literacy tsunami.” What are we doing district-wide to ensure we are shifting, altering, and transforming as opposed to being devastated by the 21st century literacy “tsunami.” In terms of acquiring technology, there is some promise as we hope to see more projectors and and finally a number of smartboards. As well we will have a district management system. The Kindergarten Center will finally have a computer lab. This is all based on the budget passing. Although I understand the tools are not the answer by themselves although how many classrooms have you seen that have 2 dusty Dells sitting there looking quite lonely?

What about best practice? The pursuit of understanding digital literacy (even though I am not exactly sire what this entails yet) and the tools associated with it, for me, is what it is about. Students of this generation are digital natives. Technology is a part of who they are. It is very disappointing to here people in our district say things like we need to coax parents to restrict computer access, kindergarten students don’t need computers, and technology is just a waste of time. We cannot be pushing the teaching of digital literacies out of the schools. Adults in our school should not be saying I am taking that Ipod away, we should be figuring out how to best incorporate that tool into our day.

We are at an interesting juncture at POB, a fight, as I see it, for 20th century vs. 21st century learning and teaching. Do we want to be a district that has good test scores but students who cannot think, synthesize, analyze, create, collaborate, and converse? Personally, if we have to live with the state exams, so be it (although they are not measuring what we want or expect from our students). But if the answer is a worksheet for homework that has 70 problems on it, I can’t be a part of that. If a student knows the first 10 and the next 60 are the same thing (with no rhyme or reason) what is the point? That a student persevered? This would seem to be quite inelastic.

I am hopeful. More teachers are attending conferences related to technology. There have been more informal conversations about the use of technology and its role in best practice. Wikis have been created, Google Docs is being used regularly, VoiceThreads have been used as lessons, and websites have been developed to build communities of learners. That seems elastic.

There is more to be done. Are we going to adapt and change or be smothered by the tsunami?

What do you think?

Canto, Victor A. Cocktail Economics-Discovering Investment Truths from Everyday Conversations. Upper Saddle River: Financial Times Press, 2007.

The 2.0 Riptide

Web 2.0. I get it (I think). Our students are using it outside of school. We need it inside our schools. The question is how. I was reading the blog post, The Embedded Practitioner, from the blog “blog of proximal development” by Konrad Glogowski. He posed three questions that have me thinking about POB and what we can do to create a 21st century learning environment. The questions from the post are:

“1. How do we prepare teachers (my change) all educators to teach 21st century learners whose lives are based on rich interactions in multiple on-line environments?

2. How do we help new teachers move away from what Marshall McLuhan once called the “imposing of stencils” and adopt a practice of probing and exploration?

3. How do we help new teachers acquire the courage to transform their classrooms into communities of learners and transform themselves into participants who can embed themselves in those communities?”

How do we turn the tide in POB? Is it like a riptide where you need to find the middle and go through it instead of trying to fight it? If so, what is the middle? By middle I don’t mean middle ground (settling) I mean the middle of the riptide.

(Picture from Wikipedia)

To educate 21st century learners we, as educators (teachers, aides, administrators, board members), need to be 21st century learners. We need to stop using the phrase life-long learning and start living life-long learning. Personal Learning Networks should be a way of life for educators. It shouldn’t be imposed like our 18-hour staff development. We need to get rid of this 18-hours of mandatory staff development (which can only be 2-hours contiguous to the end of the school day). All educators should be developing PLN’s to meet their needs. Overtime, PLN’s change as your needs change.

Besides PLN’s, staff development should be replaced with professional learning communities. What are you interested in? Form a group of like-minded individuals. Chase it (the learning) down. Apply it (what you have gleaned from the PLC) to the learning environment you are in. Assess it. Refine it as needed to meet the needs of all learners. We need to move away from it being about us, the educators at the front of the room, to being about students and listening to what they have to say. Create the learning around their needs. Check your ego at the door. Pick it up when the day is through if you must.

Yesterday, I was reading a post at Teaching College Math and I found this quote and follow up that I think summarizes what I am trying to say. “Quote from Hunter Lovins: “What is the purpose of education if not for future generations?” Now that’s a quote I can sink my teeth into. As educators we can’t dwell on “how we learned it” – we’ve already been educated and have moved into the world community, but the students we teach need to be prepared for the world they will enter. If that means that instructors will have to continue to be learners themselves – so be it.” There is no way around it. To have students become 21st century learners we need support each other in our own learning in order to facilitate student learning.

Questions 2 and 3, I feel help move question 1 along the path of where we need to go. Where are the early-adopters, pushing the envelope? I believe there are some that already exist in the schools and we need to bring them to the forefront of every building, school district, state, and country. I also believe that every new hire needs to have the capability and desire to be a 21st century learner. How about an intensive course in the summer of the new hire to teach tools (Thanks Tom Schwartz)? How about a mandatory blog, website and a wiki that is created and maintained by their students. How about as part of receiving tenure, a teacher should have a portfolio of these creations to share with other educators to demonstrate their own growth and learning?

Teachers should not have to be asking for the hardware; it should already by in place. You really can get by with a minimum amount of hardware, as long as it is functioning and filters do not restrict you. I recently heard a quote from a podcast by the “techchicks” and I may be paraphrasing; “Technology can no longer be integral integrated, it needs to be integrated integral.” This is why administrators and board members need to be aware of what is going on in the 2.0 world. They do not need to be aware of every tool, but they need to see the ways in which it helps students and teachers. If the see it, I believe they will support it and provide the necessary funding.

Educators need to be steadfast in their beliefs, willing to learn and always have at the forefront the students. The new educators will need to seek out and find (and vice-versa) the established teachers who are doing things to promote 21st century learning. No longer can teachers go into their “dimple” (classroom) of the “egg carton” (school) and not be aware, share, and be a part of what is going on around them. Educators need to take risks and stand up for what they believe in.

Do we want this: Teach different

or this: Sir Ken Robinson.

I am going to spend some more time thinking about these things but in the meantime I want to leave you with this: