Sunday, October 19, 2014

Are we focusing on the right problems in school?

Here's what we know...

We know that safe drinking water is still out of reach for millions. We also know the contamination of fresh and saltwater bodies around the globe is adversely affecting usable water supply.

We know that certain economies around the world have become increasingly fragile and susceptible to negative changes that affect millions of people.

We know that species around the world are becoming extinct at a faster rate than ever before in the history of the world. Some of these same species are heavily relied upon for human food consumption as well.

We know that the main sources of energy in the world are becoming more limited and scarce. The continued reliance on these sources of energy is and hasn't been sustainable for quite some time.

Lastly, we know that climate change is real and it's happening as you read this very sentence. The effects of climate change aren't yet fully known, but they most certainly won't be good.

So, with knowing all of this, which I honestly don't believe is doubted, debated, or unknown to the masses, how have we adjusted and modified what we are doing in schools to address these known issues?

The reality is that some of these issues impacting the world are already having significant implications for everyday people and their everyday lives. Additionally, if these issues aren't having a negative impact yet, according to the experts they most certainly will in the next 25-50 years.

Here's the rub... we want to provide our students with a well-rounded and broad set of educational experiences. We want our students to learn about the many great things that have occurred in the history of the world. We want our students to be prepared for the real-world which may include college or some type of career.

But, what if all of that didn't matter because the world as we know it ceased to exist?

What if we continue spending our time on what 'was' and ignore what 'is' and what 'will be?'

For the sake of our youngest students and for the sake of their potential children... are we focusing on the right problems to ensure a good and sustainable quality of life for those in the future?

Or, are we preparing our kids for a world that doesn't and won't exist in the future?

If we know the problems, shouldn't we be using this awesome opportunity called school to come up with some solutions?

Just a marble that's been rolling around in my head lately...

Friday, October 17, 2014

What if this was your district's grading policy?

The primary purpose of grading in the __________ School District is to communicate learning progress to students, educators, and parents. A secondary purpose of grading is to provide feedback to students for self-assessment and encouraging students to monitor their own learning.


Here is what we believe about grading:

1. We believe students should be allowed multiple opportunities in various ways to demonstrate their understanding of classroom learning standards. Therefore, redos and retakes will be encouraged and will be allowed after the relearn process for full credit in all content areas K-12 up until the last week of the quarter.

2. We believe a student’s grade should reflect what he/she actually knows and can demonstrate on a classroom assignment or assessment tied to specific learning standard(s). Therefore, extra credit will not be used.

3. We believe that each student learns at a different pace and we believe that ‘when’ a kid learns isn’t nearly as important as ‘if’ a kid learns. Therefore, after working with their teacher, students will not be academically penalized for turning in work on an alternate date.

 4. We believe each student must acquire certain skills to be a successful citizen, however we also believe that a grade must reflect what a student knows and can demonstrate when it comes to specific academic learning standards. Therefore, non-academic indicators such as; simple classroom participation, behavior, work completion, attendance & other non-academic indicators, will not be included in a student’s academic grade.


What if...?

Monday, October 13, 2014

10 things I'd like to see in every classroom

So, we often say we want to see increased student engagement in our classrooms. We say we want to see kids owning the learning process. We say we want to see students cognitively engaged and not just simply compliant.

Here's the problem... these things we all want to see are pretty subjective at best and are pretty difficult to see in a quick 5-10 minute classroom observation without speaking with students and possibly even speaking with the teacher.

I'm fortunate in my position to have the opportunity to visit classrooms at all levels in my district K-12, and with all these visits I've come up with a more tangible list of 10 things I'd like to see in every classroom:

1). Students working collaboratively and working together in small teams/groups. Society definitely values those who can work independently, but it values even more the ability to work well with others in a productive and efficient manner.

2). Frequent and specific feedback to students as they work toward learning mastery. It doesn't matter if this feedback is coming from the teacher, coming from other students, or coming from the individual student, learning is most improved and increased when students are getting descriptive feedback on their learning.

3). Kids working on different things... it's far more common than not, but when we have kids working on the same things at the same times, it's impossible for us to say we are differentiating or customizing the learning experience. Unless information is being presented for the first time, there should very rarely be an entire class of students working on the same thing at the same time. Differentiating means kids working at their level at their pace and unless you're really lucky, that can't be happening too often.

4). Physical movement by both the students and the educator in the classroom. We know physical movement has positive effects on cognitive development and process, so we need to see more movement and physical activity in our classrooms.

5). Students actively engaging in conversation with the teacher and other students. Far too often we see students working quietly as something that we should aim for (there is a time and place), but kids need to have their voices heard and they need to be participating in an environment where they are asked to present a thought and then converse with others while justifying and evidencing/reinforcing their thought.

6). Learning targets and learning objectives clearly posted in the classroom visible to all students. Here's the catch though... these targets and objectives must be more than just posted. The kids and teacher need to frequently refer back to them and monitor mastery levels toward those learning targets and objectives, otherwise they are useless.

7). The usage of the most appropriate tool to accomplish the task at hand. Too often we see technology being used when it's not the most efficient or appropriate tool... sometimes good old fashioned pencil and paper are the best. Other times, we miss out on great opportunities by not using technology. Let's find and use the best tools to accomplish the task at hand.

8). Class time being used appropriately and efficiently with limited time lost during transitions. We've only got so much time and how we use that time is absolutely critical. Ensure that we are planning and organizing our time appropriately to ensure we aren't wasting any time in our classes.

9). Kids creating more than they are consuming... the creation to consumption ratio must be at a minimum a 50/50 split. Sure, our kids need to know things to do things, but let's focus on having them create just as much as they consume... it's like being intellectually friendly to the world of knowledge.

10). Great questions being asked and a focus more on questions than answers. A classroom where kids are asking specific and detailed questions is a class where students are cognitively engaged and interested in the topic at hand. It's also the type of class where kids feel empowered to take ownership of their learning while pushing the learning and conversation forward by engaging in thoughtful questioning rather than simply seeking out answers.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

20 thoughts on student learning

I recently had the opportunity to see Rick Wormeli speak. Aside from being a dynamic and engaging speaker, many of his thoughts and ideas align with some pretty powerful trends occurring in education. Check out 20 of his powerful thoughts and ideas below:




















5 things we all need to agree on to move #edu forward...

Something that is difficult vs. something that is rigorous...

Asking students to write down and spell all 50 states on a blank map is going to be difficult for most students. Though difficult, this task is not rigorous.

A rigorous assignment would be... collaboratively design and create a presentation focusing on one of the major events in America's history that has affected and/or played a significant role in our current 50 state structure. Be prepared to present this to your classmates and be able to justify/explain why this particular event was so significant in America's history.

Rigor is about complexity and depth. Rigor is about skills that are transferable to other content areas and beyond. Rigor allows for multiple correct answers and rigor is NOT about doing more of something, it's about appropriate level of challenge for each student.


What is differentiated instruction really?


  1. Differentiated instruction is a teaching theory based on the premise that instructional approaches should vary and be adapted in relation to individual and diverse students in classrooms (Tomlinson, 2001).
  2. Think of differentiated instruction as making the learning experience personalized and customized for each student every single day during every single activity.
How important is class time over the course of a school year?

You teach at least 6 classes or 6 hours a day (this accounts for both elementary and secondary teachers). Imagine 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 60 minutes out of every 360 minutes are not spent learning.
Over the course of a typical 5 day week there will be 300 minutes not spent learning out of a total 1,800 potential learning minutes.

Over the course of a typical school year of 174 school days there will be 10,440 minutes not utilized for learning. 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 5,220 minutes of time not spent learning.

5,220 total underutilized minutes divided by a typical 360 minute school day = 14.5 days (or almost 3 weeks) per school year we are letting slip through our fingers. 

The value of an assessment lies only in what is done with the feedback/data as a result of the assessment...

If we aren't doing anything with the feedback/input we are getting from the assessments our students are doing, then we are wasting our time and their time. If we aren't allowing our students to do anything with the feedback/input they are getting from their assessments, then we are missing out on a huge opportunity for student empowerment as part of the learning process.

Frequent, timely, specific & constant feedback is the most important factor in improving student learning and educator effectiveness...

Hattie's research is quite clear on the positive effects of feedback in the educational setting. This goes for not just students, but also educators. It's also worth noting that for feedback to be effective, students and educators both need to see it as formative in nature and not summative. Read more here about the powerful effects of feedback: http://goo.gl/z8NxU9