Thursday, April 17, 2014

8 things I'd like to change in schools

I'd like to see fewer walls. I think walls are limiting and confining and make it way too easy for silos to form. Information is stymied and doesn't flow well when walls prevent the information transfer. When we tear down walls, a whole new world becomes possible.

A shift away from traditional report cards and more conversations and presentations demonstrating realistic evidence of learning and mastery.
I wish we would realize that fair isn't always equal. We know that every student is different, therefore it seems rather silly and almost moronic to try and teach and assess each student the same way and call that fair.

I'd like to hear fewer bells and fewer signals that supposedly tell us when to start learning and when to stop learning. The concept that learning should stop and start like turning on or turning off a light is obsolete and we should be moving toward authentic and realistic learning.

It would also be nice if we made a conscious effort to increase physical activity and movement in the educational setting. The benefits of movement on cognitive processes and overall health are indisputable. While we are talking about health, why can't we make breakfast and lunch learning experiences where kids learn about lifelong health and the process that must occur to bring food to the proverbial table.

District and building policies can be a blessing, while at other times they can be monumental roadblocks. It would be worthy and very positive if we figured out a way to not policy ourselves to death. People get deflated and overwhelmed when they feel like policy is driving every decision they make. Remember, education is about individuals doing things for other individuals.

Zero tolerance anything should be avoided... schools shouldn't treat students and situations that happen at school in absolutism. There is very little that is black and white in education thus each situation and each student needs to be treated consistently on an individual basis.

A complete elimination of the focus being on adults. I know we adults are important, but when we make decisions based on what's best for adults, we tend to forget and miss out on what's best for kids. Keep the kids first and you can't go wrong.

Monday, April 14, 2014

We might not be as far along as I thought...

I recently sent out these three tweets and the responses I got were somewhat surprising and startling to say the least...

Now, when I say surprising and startling, I'm referring to the push back I got from these statements. I realize we are all in different places in terms of our philosophies and approaches to grading and assessment, but I didn't know there were still so many who opposed these beliefs.

If we are to move forward with these discussions in an effort to align our beliefs with our actions, I fear we are much further off than I have imagined. I fear the situation is becoming increasingly more important especially as new educators enter and leave the profession at an ever-increasing rate.

Let us sit down and actually make a list of what we believe to be the most important and critical pieces to grading and assessment. Let us then make a list of the things we actually do in our classes when it comes to grading and assessment.

Then it might be quite appropriate to get out the proverbial 'red pen' and get to work...

Friday, April 11, 2014

8 ways to spruce up that classroom activity

1). Make sure the activity has relevance and purpose beyond 'it's on the test.' We live in a world full of problems that could use improvement and solving, give learning a purpose beyond your classroom and beyond your influence.

2). Give students voice in the activity. Part of empowering students is giving them a voice in the learning process. We should be shifting our focus away from doing education to our students and double-down on doing education with our students.
3). Ensure students have an authentic and preferably a global audience in which to share their learning journey. We the educators are important, but we want our students to showcase and demonstrate their genius with the world. The world is hungry to hear from our students and if our students aren't doing work worthy of sharing with the world, then we need to change what we are doing.

4). Encourage and provide students the opportunity to work collaboratively. The world is going to require and ask our students to work collaboratively and work in teams. Our students not only need these experiences for life, but also when brains are combined the levels of learning are limitless.

5). Don't inadvertently put 'limiters' on student learning, discovery, and exploration by making the activity too specific and too detailed. It's easy to have rubrics and expectations that end up restricting possibility and limiting creativity. Be sure you have some structure and guidance for those who need it, but make sure it's not so limiting to those who need less structure.

6). Get your kids up and moving! The research is quite clear on the effects of activity on the brain and cognitive processes. Instead of confining students to their desks because that will help maintain order in a low level engagement environment, encourage movement and action for a high level engagement environment.

7). Don't hog the stage by doing all the talking and allow your kids to do the talking. The person who does all the talking is the person who will do all the learning. As educators we naturally love to talk, but step aside and allow our kids to lead the action and their learning will go up significantly based on their level of involvement in the learning process.

8). End the activity with a survey getting feedback and input from your students. Students will appreciate the opportunity to provide honest feedback and they will appreciate that you care what they think and what they have to say. The feedback you get will also help in making future activities even better.

What would you add to this list to 'spruce' up that classroom activity?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The balance between new ideas & the 'rut'

So, I honestly don't think there is a shortage of great ideas. To be frank, I think there are so many great ideas that we struggle to focus in on just a few that we can actually manage at any given time.
Having said that, it's also pretty easy to get stuck in a rut. Not because the rut is the best thing since sliced bread, but because the rut is comfortable. The rut is predictable and we know exactly how the next leg of the rut is going to turn out.

We become complacent and content with the preparation required to travel the rut and the overall outcome as a result of the rut never comes as a surprise.

This rut and level of comfort can become quite dangerous if we allow them...

So, my recommendation and advice are simple:

When trying a new idea, continue doing the idea if the results are positive or up until you can comfortably say the new idea isn't working and isn't yielding the desired results.

I know some changes require time to fully develop, but I think if the idea is worthy and good, you will see immediate results, albeit small, but positive results nevertheless.

If it's been a while since you've tried something new that you've learned from a conference, conversation, tweet, article, or any other medium, then what the heck are you waiting for!

The perfect time to try something new is right now because right now can't be returned and can't be recovered.

You won't regret the new idea you tried that failed, but you will regret the idea you never tried and the opportunity you missed...