Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Finals: Have they outlived their usefulness?

Here's a scenario that plays out in many secondary schools all across the globe...

The teacher explains what will be on the final. This 'final' encompasses everything that has been covered throughout the prior semester. The teacher also explains how much the final will be worth and the impact the final will have on the students' semester grades. The teacher then hands out some kind of study guide for the students to use to review and prepare for the final. All learning stops as class time becomes solely focused on preparing for the final.

The students use the study guide to guide their studying in preparation for the final, but the study guide is so broad and far-reaching the students are unable to specifically identify what they should really know. The students then play out scenarios in their head about how the grade on the final will impact their final semester grades. The students then begin a sporadic process of cramming as much possible information in their heads in preparation for the final only to be forgotten soon after.

So, here are some thoughts and questions...

Finals are summative assessments with no opportunity for revision; no opportunity for feedback/input; no opportunity for a correction... so is there a point other than filling the grade book?

We spend all semester and all school year working with students... do we need a final to tell us what our students know or don't know?

Are we doing finals just because the next level of schooling does finals? If so, are we ok with robbing our students of so much time and energy at the end of each semester?

Almost all school districts have a final exemption policy... if kids can exempt, then the argument that finals prepare kids for some next level of schooling falls short. Shouldn't every kid be required to get this 'experience...?'

Related to exemptions... the students who aren't able to exempt are the same students who for the most part won't be successful on the final, so aren't we basically setting them up for double failure?

The typical final uses low-level questions and focuses on quantity over quality in an effort to cover as much as possible. Finals are often the shotgun approach to assessing with very little ability to identify specifically what kids know vs. don't know.

Many finals are able to be scored via scantron and are built around memorization of facts, terms and dates, just to be forgotten as the kids walk out the door.

So, is it time to revisit our practice of doing finals?

Is it time to eliminate finals? http://goo.gl/m89c8i

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Learning time loss: Why bell-to-bell learning matters

Imagine this scenario: You teach at least 5 classes or 5 hours a day (this accounts for both elementary and secondary teachers). Each 1 hour block takes about 5 minutes to get started and ends about 5 minutes early. 

This means that roughly 10 minutes out of every 60 minutes are underutilized. Over the course of the day, this means that roughly 50 minutes out of every 300 minutes are not focused on learning.

Over the course of a typical 5 day week there will be 250 minutes not spent on learning out of a total 1,500 potential learning minutes.

Over the course of a typical school year of 174 school days there will be 8,700 minutes not utilized for learning.

Now, let's be realistic and cut that number in half because we all know there are assemblies and other events that cut into learning time throughout the school year. That leaves us with 4,350 minutes of time not spent learning.

4,350 total underutilized minutes divided by a typical 300 minute school day = 14.5 days per school year are slipping through our fingers. 

Does every minute need to focused on learning, of course not. Are there times when kids and educators need a few moments to simply 'breathe,' of course there are. 

It's unrealistic to think every minute can be focused on learning.

However, even with conservative numbers, almost three weeks of school each year are being lost. In other words, 8.3% of a student's year in a 36 week school year. And, there's one thing all educators can agree with... time is precious and we always need more of it. 

Let's really focus on making sure we are maximizing the time we have.

Friday, October 2, 2015

10 questions every educator should be asking...

I firmly believe in self-reflection as a means toward growth and development. As such, we all would benefit from an intense session of self-reflection. Through self-reflection we will better understand who we are as educators, as well as how our actions are aligning with our beliefs. Regardless of your position or role in education, here are 10 questions to ask yourself:

1) - How and what are you doing to build strong and enduring relationships with your students and staff?

2) - What are you doing very well? Where are you seeing a lot of success? Do you know why...?

3) - What are you not doing very well? Where are you not seeing a lot of success? Do you know why...?

4) - What are you doing to improve your craft? How are you ensuring that you will be better able to address your students' and staffs' needs?

5) - In your absence, can your students and staff continue learning and growing? Do they absolutely need you to continue?

6) - Do your students and staff know the expectations? Do they have a part in establishing those expectations?

7) - Do you give your students and staff enough praise for the great things they are doing? Are you filling the buckets of others?

8) - Do you practice what you preach? Do your actions speak louder than your words?

9) - What is the biggest mistake you've made (educationally speaking) so far this school year? What did you learn from this experience?

10) - If you never saw your students and staff ever again, what do you think they would say about you? If it's not flattering, what are you doing to change their minds?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Change: Choose the crockpot over the microwave...

Change isn't easy.

Leaders live and die by the sword of change.

Some choose to move quickly and without hesitation... while others choose a more methodical and systematic approach.

In the end, more times than not, change is short-lived and typically associated with the individual who first initiated it. In other words, when the individual who initiated the change in the beginning leaves, the change often times goes with them and doesn't sustain itself within the organization.

Change isn't easy.

Change takes time and change takes careful preparation and planning.

Change requires one to be patient.

Change needs someone who is able and willing to allow things to slowly take shape.

Change has good days and change has bad days.

Some of those bad days will make one question if it's all worth it.

Change doesn't always need involvement by the leader... sometimes it's when the leader steps back the most progress is made.

When discussing change and developing a plan for change, keep a simple comparison in mind...

Choose the crockpot over the microwave...

Thank you Banks Summers, a The Leader in Me trainer, for sharing this great perspective.

Should all classrooms be like kindergarten classrooms?

If you've never had the opportunity to visit a Kindergarten classroom, you should find time to do so.

To be frank, they are really amazing places.

Typically, there are 20-25 students and one teacher. That in itself isn't that big of a deal, but add in the fact that some of these students have never been away from their parents. Some of the students have never been in an environment where there is structure and organization. Some of the students have never had to walk in a line and some have never been in a public restroom without the assistance of their parents and/or guardians.

In spite of the before-mentioned dynamics, Kindergarten classrooms are really magical places where kids are able to collaboratively and independently create and design. Kids move like a well-oiled machine from one center to the next with very little if any teacher direction. These students, most of whom have never been a part of such madness, are able to find structure and are able to be trusted to do the right thing.

Students are able to 'playfully work together and learn about the creative process: how to imagine new ideas, try them out, test the boundaries, experiment with alternatives, get feedback from others, and generate new ideas based on their experiences.'

Kindergarten classrooms are a hotbed for makers and the maker movement. Kindergarten classrooms are spilling over with exploration and discovery. Kindergarten classrooms beam with pride as kids put their best efforts forward to please their teachers and expand their knowledge of the world.

Kindergarten classrooms are indeed a magical place.

So, what can other classrooms at other grade levels learn from Kindergarten classrooms?

What if 'instead of making kindergarten more like the rest of school, we make the rest of school – indeed, the rest of life – more like kindergarten?'

'We live in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before. Today’s children will face a continual stream of new issues and challenges in the future. Things that they learn today will be obsolete tomorrow. To thrive, they must learn to design innovative solutions to unexpected problems. Their success and satisfaction will be based on their ability to think and act creatively. Knowledge alone is not enough; they must learn how to use their knowledge creatively.'

So, what if all classrooms were like Kindergarten classrooms?

Ideas and several lines in this blog post came from this article titled, 'Lifelong Kindergarten:' http://goo.gl/NB03RN