Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 10 blog posts of 2013

2013 has been a great year for blogging and has been wonderful for my self-reflection. Hopefully something I've written has caused you or someone else to reflect. :)

Take a look at which blog posts garnered the most attention in 2013:

15,141 pageviews: 10 things I want all new teachers to know

12,115 pageviews: The truth about homework in schools

10,874 pageviews: 8 things we can't accept in education

10,075 pageviews: 10 reasons we need social media in education

10,013 pageviews: 5 ways to make your classroom more student-centered

8,525 pageviews: The 21st century classroom

7,989 pageviews: 7 proven strategies that will help you engage your students

7,778 pageviews: 10 reasons it's a great time to be in education

6,139 pageviews: 8 principal leadership tips for the new year

5,813 pageviews: 10 things we need to remove from education

Happy reading!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Let's make formative assessing a top priority

In our undergraduate courses we all learned about summative and formative assessing. We've also all been to conferences or events that have emphasized the importance of many small assessments to drive our instruction rather than waiting until the end when it may be too late.

Though I think this has all been with good intention, we may have been missing the most important part of formative assessing and feedback.

See, when we focus on this more timely and frequent feedback to change and adjust our instruction, we are focusing on the teacher side of things.

The true beauty and value of more frequent and timely assessments is not just to help guide and drive our instruction, it's to provide frequent and timely feedback for our students so they can take more ownership and control over their learning.

As Marzano so simply stated, "The most powerful single innovation that enhances achievement is feedback."

Flip the scenario... why would any teacher want to use frequent formative assessments?

They are looking for feedback and input to help guide and drive their instruction to hopefully improve student learning.

Now, while we are on the topic of formative assessments, I want to make a few things clear about what formative assessing really is:

Formative assessments are fluid and flow seamlessly in the learning process because they are a part of the learning process. Most situations involving formative assessing are not and shouldn't be for a grade. Formative assessing is similar to what happens in real-life, thus students and their learning won't even skip a beat.

Formative assessing would be like going to the doctor for a preventative check-up and finding out you have high blood pressure. At this check-up you would get feedback and input on how to lower your blood pressure. Formative assessments keep you off the autopsy table when it's too late to fix or prevent the damage.

Formative assessing is about goal-setting and the ownership of the learning process for students via feedback and input both from the teacher and from the students themselves.

Lastly, formative assessing DOES NOT need to be a traditional type of assessment. It can be something as simple as a thumbs up or down activity or a quick scan of the classroom to check student body language and demeanor. DO NOT think you need to have a quantifiable number spreadsheet to do a formative assessment.

Do yourself a favor and most importantly, do your students a favor by utilizing more formative assessments.

Check out these links with several examples of formative assessments:

54 examples for formative assessments via David Wees

Formative assessment techniques to check understanding

Formative assessment strategies

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Are you cooler online than you are in-person...?

Have you ever thought how cool it would be to meet one of your online 'idols?'

We spend time online interacting with folks from all around the world and at times we have pretty in-depth and complex conversations. 

We begin to think we really know these people because these online conversations lead to Google Hangouts which then may even lead to a face-to-face meeting at a conference or even a family vacation where paths may cross.

Naturally, we've developed a preconceived notion of who we think this person is and how they will act in-person.

Then, finally, that face-to-face interaction is planned and you have the opportunity to meet this person.

And then, that person you thought you knew is completely different in-person and isn't quite what you expected.

Maybe this person isn't the 'bigger than life' and outgoing person you thought they would be.

Maybe you left the interaction somewhat let down because the person didn't live up to all the hype you created for them.

Here's the thing... who we are online and who we are in-person may not be the same. The fact that we are online says something about us...

Are you that person who enjoys a Friday evening catching up on reading blogs and following your streams on Tweetdeck?

Are you that person who finds small-talk to be difficult and taxing?

Are you that person who is more comfortable planning things in advance and being mentally prepared for whatever comes your way?

Are you that person at a party who talks with people you already know rather than trying to talk with and meet new people?

As Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) would say, does this make any sense?

Oh, also, I'm 'that person' by the way...

Is it time to stop doing 'common' assessments...?

Most have been using common assessments for quite some time now. The idea in theory is good because teachers can collaboratively develop an assessment that assesses the most important skills that students need to demonstrate in that particular course or grade level.

Once the assessment is complete teachers can then sit down and collaboratively go through the data to determine where a majority of the kids are finding success or perhaps even struggling. This will allow teachers to discuss which activities and instructional strategies they are using that yield the best results in terms of student learning.

Now, like I said, this is all good in theory and common assessments have shown to be effective to some degree.

Most have seen this image before. Most chuckle and give a little laugh when looking at it. Most nod their heads in agreement and question why we force kids to all take the same types of standardized assessments when we know it's not appropriate and an accurate measure.

So, I go back to the title of this blog post... is it time to stop doing common assessments?

If we all agree that this image is not fair and is not an appropriate measure for assessing students, then we have to question the practice of common assessments.

What if as Rick Wormeli believes we started using 'common evidence' as our new assessment practice?

What if teachers worked collaboratively to determine the most important skills and knowledge that should be acquired by students but they gave each other the freedom to determine how best to evidence that learning?

What if teachers had the autonomy to develop their own assessments that are personalized, customized, and differentiated to best meet the needs of their students?

What if students were given the option of choosing an assessment that is most appropriate to demonstrate their mastery of the content?

What if...

Friday, December 27, 2013

Maybe we just need to get out of their way...

Imagine this scenario...

In science class students are getting ready to learn how to use a microscope. The teacher starts by showing a short video about microscopes. The teacher then has each student share one thing they learned about microscopes from the video to the class. Next, the students are given a worksheet to label and correctly identify all the parts of the microscope. Students are then asked to switch their papers so the worksheet can be graded. Finally, students are assigned for homework to read a short story from their textbook on the use and effective operation of a microscope due the next day.

The next day the students are given a verbal quiz on the information that was covered in the reading. Following the quiz, students are paired up and each group of two students is given a microscope. Each group is now responsible for following a very prescriptive set of directions on how to use the microscope. After completing the microscope activity, students are then asked to write a reflective piece on the proper use of a microscope.

I may be wrong (and hopefully I am), but the majority of classrooms probably do something similar to the above scenario as a way to 'introduce' new information and content.

In this scenario, the students get a whole lot of information about microscopes. But, in reality, they most likely won't remember much of what they covered and they definitely wouldn't be able to teach someone else about how to use a microscope.

The information that was covered here was done in isolation and really falls short when it comes to context.

Now, imagine if we took the same scenario but instead flipped everything around and did everything in the complete opposite order.

Imagine if the students were asked to write a reflective piece first and then got the opportunity to explore and navigate a microscope with a partner with a very limited set of directions and guidelines.

Imagine if the students had their interest peaked before ever getting to the nitty gritty type of information and the official terminology and use of a microscope.

Imagine if students had context and meaning to their learning and the learning was not in isolation with no real connection to anything else.

Remember, students don't need every little detail and every little piece of information before they can start learning.

Students are naturally 'primed' and ready to learn... we simply just need to get out of their way.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Is being connected actually disconnecting us?

More and more we hear of the advantages and the ever-growing comforts of being 'connected.'

At times I even struggle to imagine what life would be like without all of this connectedness.

But, in spite of all the wonderful positive advantages of being connected, I worry we may be slowly losing something far greater and far more important.

We've all missed an event that's happening right before our eyes because we were buried in a phone.

We've all told someone to wait while we just finished that last text message, Facebook post or tweet.

We've all spent hours reading about and researching something that we could probably go experience in person.

We've all sent a quick email over the just as simple quick phone call or walk down the hall and face-to-face interaction.

We've all thought that by being more connected we were building better, longer-lasting, and more sustainable relationships.

There's no doubt that being connected is a part of being human, however the means and the tools we use to be connected  must be carefully evaluated and monitored to ensure they are actually helping us achieve our goal.

Take 3 minutes to watch this extremely moving and extremely powerful video by David Bowden on if or whether we are moving toward a hyper connected or disconnected world.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

25 (more) thoughts on teaching and learning...

1). The relationships among the adults in your school have a significant impact on student learning & student achievement.

2). Educators are responsible for their own professional development. You can't & shouldn't rely on someone else for YOUR growth.

3). The simple idea that somebody encourages and believes in you can be hugely empowering. Be that somebody today.

4). A teacher not being attentive to the emotional status of the students in class is approaching educational malpractice.

5). Use your professional educator language with your students; in time, they will too...be a vocal & visible advocate for teaching.

6). When the butt goes numb the brain goes dumb... get your students up and moving in your class!

7). We need to stop giving our new and less experienced educators our most at-risk & challenging students; these kids need our veterans.

8). You need to have intentionality with everything you do; plan with purpose & act with confidence. Avoid reacting out of necessity.

9). The purpose of education is so that younger generations surpass us rather than match us.

10). Our future depends on the individuals who break from the conventional practices.

11). During your plan period, take a few moments to visit other classes where your students are; see them learn in a different setting.

12). When did it become unacceptable to say 'I don't know' and 'I'm not sure.' If we want to prepare kids for life, these statements are normal.

13). If you have to yell & be obnoxiously loud in your class to keep your students awake, maybe you should change the things you are saying first.

14). Every kid needs that one adult in the building who connects with them... are you that one adult for at least one kid?

15). When we refuse to accept an assignment late and give a zero instead, we undermine our content and say it has no value.

16). Your classroom walls are merely a suggestion, not a limitation on learning.

17). Whoever does the editing does the learning... stop giving students the answers and let them own the learning process.

18). In class, make students use the names of other students & do lots of peer critiquing; good things happen when kids know each other.

19). When teachers only teach how they learn best, they are forgetting about how their students learn best.

20). Schools should not be a constant reminder of student deficits; we need to allow students to taste & experience success.

21). If a kid never does any of the work you assign but does wonderfully well on your assessments, then it's time to evaluate the work you assign.

22). Just because something is mathematically easy to calculate doesn't mean it's pedagogically correct.

23). Grades are communication... not compensation.

24). As educators we need to let students go beyond our level of comfort... just because we don't know, doesn't mean students can't.

25). Homework is practice of what has already been learned, not for learning content for the very first time.

Also, feel free to check out the first 20 thoughts on teaching and learning via Rick Wormeli.

I want to give credit to Rick Wormeli (@rickwormeli) for these thoughts and comments above. I was fortunate to attend a recent event in which he engaged the entire audience and shared many thought-provoking comments. If you ever get the opportunity to see Rick Wormeli, I highly recommend doing so.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

20 thoughts on teaching and learning...

1). If you allow re-do's & retakes for full credit, extra credit becomes obsolete & irrelevant...

2). An 'F' at the top of the paper means the kid is off the hook; an 'NTY' on the top means 'not there yet.'

3). How did you learn to teach & be an educator? You probably had some re-do's & retakes... why can't we allow this for kids in school?

4). A kid who says 'school sucks and just give me an F' should not be in charge of his/her educational decisions.

5). A D is a coward's F. The student failed, but you didn't have enough guts to tell him.

6). If you trust the validity of your test/assessment, you shouldn't have any problem with re-do's for full credit.

7). We have got to stop using grades & assessments as a 'so-called' motivator; we are destroying any true love of learning.

8). Kids can learn without grades... but they can't learn without descriptive feedback.

9). Sometimes being 'kind' is more important than being 'right.' When a kid needs 'kind,' give them kind... not right.

10). Next time a kid says the wrong answer, ask them to 'tell you more about it.' They will work through their error & not get defensive.

11). Knowing what you are learning is important; knowing where you are in relation to what you are learning is more important.

12). How quickly do you throw a life preserver when a student struggles? Don't let your impatience get in the way of allowing kids to struggle.

13). If we only give students 'pre-filtered' websites, then how in the world will they ever learn how to navigate the web?

14). Watching other teachers teach is hugely valuable. When observing, you think about your classroom, which causes self-reflection.

15). We need to focus on better ways of 'priming' students' brains before asking questions before any learning experience.

16). Please, let's stop taking kids out of P.E. and fine arts classes so they can double up on math or reading remediation classes.

17). Adjust the master schedule to support best practices; don't sacrifice best practices to support the master schedule.

18). Stop asking teachers to turn in their lesson plans to show their 'expertise.' Expertise can't be found in a lesson plan.

19). When teachers create 'curiosity' in their classrooms, kids start to wonder... when they wonder, they want to learn.

20). Teaching is not adversarial... it's not about 'getting' them before they 'get' you. It's us and we.

**I want to give credit to Rick Wormeli (@rickwormeli) for these thoughts and comments above. I was fortunate to attend a recent event in which he engaged the entire audience and shared many thought-provoking comments. If you ever get the opportunity to see Rick Wormeli, I highly recommend doing so.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Finish strong... start stronger!

The year is coming to a close.

You've had many successes so far this year and you've noticed huge gains in several areas.

You've also had many setback and stumbles and you've identified several areas that need your immediate attention.

There have been days when you couldn't quit smiling and there have been days that seemed they would never end.

You've had times when you felt you couldn't give anymore because you were stretched to the breaking point.

You've also had times when everything seemed to fall into place perfectly.

Recognizing the ups and downs in life is one thing.

Committing yourself to having the right mindset and a positive attitude to make adjustments and changes is an entirely different thing.

Don't let what has happened in the past interfere with what you want for the future.

Don't settle for what has been when working to write your future plans.

Don't close the book just because the first few chapters weren't what you expected.

Finish this year strong, but focus on starting the next year even stronger.

Which starfish are you going to save?

Also, remember that not every student is going home to an amazing holiday. Be sure to make their week as special as you can... via @drclintfreeman

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A tale of two classrooms...

Think about the classrooms you were in as a young student...

Think about the college and graduate classes you were in or are in as a current student....

Think about your current classroom or the classrooms in the school where you work...

I'm sure you can think of the those awesome classrooms and those classrooms that might not fall in the 'awesome' category.

What's the difference?

What makes one classroom more effective than another?

Is it just the teacher in the classroom?

Is it the teacher and the administration together in the building?

Is it the individual students in that particular classroom?

Is it the support of parents of the students in that classroom?

Or is it something else...

Thanks to @venspired for this great image!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Learning facts, or learning to think...

We've all had the conversation before...

Should we focus on teaching facts, or should we focus on teaching kids how to think?

We can all agree that simple facts and information have become increasingly easy to obtain. The world has had a fundamental shift that has resulted in the value of facts and simple information going down drastically.

Now, I think there needs to be a clear distinction that recognizes that facts and information haven't lost their value in the sense that they are no longer necessary or important. We still need facts and simple information to do things. But, they have lost value in the sense that memorizing a ton of facts is no longer necessary.

So, the question is... do we focus on teaching facts or do we focus on teaching kids how to think?

From where I sit, I believe there needs to be a balance.

I don't think we can completely ignore simple facts and simple pieces of information. Now, don't get me wrong, I feel very strongly that classes that focus just on memorizing facts and simple pieces of information are doing a huge injustice for students. But, in the same breath, I think we need some simple facts and pieces of information before we can properly and effectively create, design, innovate, explore, and discover.

When we talk about kids learning how to think, we are reaching far beyond just knowing simple facts. Kids are going to learn to think as part of the process when they create, design, innovate, explore, and discover. However, for these higher levels of thinking to be the best they can be, kids will need to have some basic foundational pieces of information.

I may be wrong with these thoughts, but I don't think we can go all-in 100% one way or the other... there needs to be a balanced mix.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I wish I could tell you how I really feel...

As a kid we all want to get older because we believe that things will become easier and simpler.

As we all so abruptly find out, life doesn't get simpler with age, it gets more and more complicated.

Life doesn't become more black-and-white, it becomes every shade of grey imaginable.

We soon find out that the simplest and most straight-forward issues become layered in complication and difficulty.

Here's the tricky part as we age... we end up having to play 'games' and we end up having to become masters of manipulation, persuasion, and misdirection.

As youths, we are naive and we assume that everyone is honest and telling the truth at all times.

How far from the truth could we be...

Go back to the most recent conversation or interaction you've had with someone. This can be either someone in your personal life or someone in your professional life.

Were you able to tell them exactly how you felt and were you able to tell them exactly why it is that you felt that way? Were you able to be completely honest with this person?

Now, when we are talking about honesty, please know we aren't talking about a straight-up lie and the straight-up truth. The idea of pure honesty and pure deceit aren't as common as we think they are...

Think about the last time you told someone that you were going to be honest and frank with them... were you really completely honest and truthful with this person or were you still only partially honest about your feelings and thoughts?

Rewind for a moment and go back to when you were a kid.

Think about the pureness and open honesty that comes from the mouths of children...

We all laugh and chuckle about their honesty and simplicity in thinking, but why do we always stop at just laughing about it?

Life is complicated and how we approach life is even more complicated.

Let's all take a page from our younger-selves and bring a little pureness back into the picture.

Let's all do more than just laugh at the honesty of young kids...

Let's encourage young kids and help them not to lose their honesty and pureness as they get older...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Maybe we need to ditch the training wheels...

We've all been new at something at some point in time in our lives.

We all know what it feels like to be on the short end of the knowledge stick.

The experience most likely caused varying degrees of stress and discomfort.

Stress and discomfort are handled differently by each of us, and similarly, each organization handles support and assistance to those who are experiencing stress and discomfort differently.

Imagine the new teacher who is struggling with a challenging student or a challenging parent. Can the administrator swoop in and 'take care' of the situation? Absolutely he/she could, but does that prevent the new teacher from learning how to handle challenging students and challenging parents? Does this new teacher learn that he/she should go to the administration every time they have an issue, or do they learn to troubleshoot, get creative, and think outside the box for possible solutions...

Imagine the new administrator who is struggling with a challenging teacher or a challenging parent. Can the superintendent or assistant superintendent step in and resolve the issue? Absolutely he/she could, but will the new administrator ever learn how to deal with challenging teachers and challenging parents? Will the new administrator inadvertently undermine his/herself by always getting external assistance? In the short term, probably not, but in the long term, the effects could be detrimental...  

Imagine the student who is struggling with solving a problem. Can the teacher or parent step in and provide assistance and walk the student through the process? Absolutely he/she could, but does the student learn about perseverance and learn about multiple paths and avenues to solve a problem? Will this student learn how to get through their struggles in an effort to find a solution, probably not, especially if a teacher and parent are always there with a 'life-line.'

Here's the thing, we all at some point in time need help from someone else, but we have got to be careful about providing too much help too quickly that ultimately ends up stymieing one's growth and development.

When we give people the opportunity to find their own way, we will be pleasantly surprised by the results. Sure, some will get lost along the way, but that's why we work as a team so colleagues can help us find our way again. 

Despite those few who get lost, we will have many others who will excel and reach destinations we never would have imagined.

Go ahead, ditch the training wheels and step back... I think you'll like the results.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Are you getting too big for your britches?

Life has a way of figuring things out...

Life also knows just when to bring you back down to earth so to speak...

Sometimes life will even send you a loud and clear message that hits like a ton of bricks...

If you're lucky, a single moment of discomfort and humility will have the power to change you for a lifetime...

Sometimes the most important lesson comes at the height of your confidence...

Sometimes the further the fall, the longer-lasting the lesson...

Walk confidently...

Be courageous...

Push the envelope...

Do what you know to be right...

But remember and recognize that your position is never quite as strong as you think, and it's never quite as weak as you think.

You are one person with value, but nobody's value is so high they are irreplaceable.

Lead with dignity...

Lead with respect...

Lead with compassion...

Live life with humility...