Tuesday, December 30, 2014

10 things students want all educators to know

1). Students want you to actually spend the time to get to know them...

Get to know your students by name as soon as possible. Learn something unique about them and find out what makes them tick. Students know when teachers don't know anything about them, so make getting to know your students a top priority.

2). Students want to have a voice in the learning process and want to share 'their' way of doing things...

Students want learning to be done 'with' them... not 'to' them. Schools are idea factories with a seemingly limitless amount of new and fresh ideas, so it's time we start tapping into that potential. Also, students bring unique perspectives and ways of thinking about life, so let them move up from passenger and let them drive the bus from time to time.

3). Students want to be treated with respect and dignity...

Students don't magically become motivated when they are embarrassed. They also don't appreciate it when you call them out to make a point and use them as an example. If you wouldn't like somebody doing it to you, then don't do it to your students.

4). Students want to be 'appropriately' challenged with meaningful and relevant learning experiences...

Students learn pretty quickly the differences between meaningful and productive work and mindless busy work. Students want you to push and challenge them with learning that provides them the skills to succeed. Additionally, students want and need the necessary supports as they struggle and navigate these more challenging learning experiences.

5). Students want educators to know that they too have bad and off days...

We all have bad days, and students are no different. Also, some students have quite a lot occurring in their lives outside of the education world. With that, education is at times understandably just not a top priority for them. Empathy and understanding go a long way in the classroom.

6). Students want their interests and passions to be infused into the learning that occurs in the classroom...

All students have interests and passions that go beyond the traditional school setting. It's these interests that students want you to integrate and combine with the learning that occurs in your classroom. When students are able to explore and further develop their interests while simultaneously meeting classroom learning objectives, great things are possible.

7). Students want educators to be truthful and honest...

When students feel you are being truthful and being honest, they can start to trust you. When students trust and respect you there are few things they won't do for you. This two-way street takes time to develop, but will yield significant dividends in the long-run.

8). Students want to be partners with you when it comes to the learning process...

Students don't want a 'teachers' vs. 'students' mentality in school. Students are looking to you for partnership and camaraderie in regard to learning and growth. It's this shift in traditional mindsets that really strengthens trust and collaboration between teachers and students.

9). Students want to know the work they are doing and the time they are committing to school will actually make a difference in the world...

Students spend a significant amount of time in school as they grow up, so it's only fair and appropriate that the time they spend and the work they do actually goes toward making the world a better place. The disconnect between doing something that makes a difference in the world and simply just doing something, makes all the difference.

10). At the end of the day, all students want to know their existence matters and that they are important...

Don't we all...?

Monday, December 29, 2014

The phrase 'research states' has become overrated in #education...

Think back to the last conversation you had with your education colleagues. Perhaps it was during your planning time with a member of your department/grade level, perhaps it was during lunch, perhaps it was during a school-wide faculty meeting, or even perhaps with an administrator in passing.

As you discussed whatever you were discussing, everything being shared was really just anecdotal evidence surrounding whatever the topic was. It was based on your recollection and your subjective memory of what happened.

The basis for your reasoning and/or justification was either something you observed personally, or something you heard from someone else who may or may not have personally observed it.

Your thoughts should automatically have been called into question on that basis alone...

But then...

At some point, you start your next statement with the all powerful two words...

'research states.'

Now, like magic, every word you say thereafter is amplified in importance. Every word is now immediately justified and validated. You've become a voice of empirical evidence which no other can counter.

We've all lived through this feeling and experience...

The difficult part is it's hard to not throw out those two magical words. 'Research states' helps us as individuals to self-validate what we are saying and reaffirm our beliefs. It's these two words that make us feel credible and worthy of sharing knowledge with another.

But here's the thing...

There's research that states class size isn't really that important when you have a 'great' teacher. Tell that to an elementary teacher or any other teacher at any grade level in any content area...

There's research that states that some kind of merit pay or monetary based system for educators will lead to increased performance and enhanced collaboration. Tell that to anyone who is a part of a team working in education...

There's research that states that retaining kids when they don't meet the required levels of mastery actually helps get those kids caught up. Tell that to any at-risk or intervention specialist who has seen the limited positive results of such a measure...

There's research that states that ability grouping helps teachers best meet the needs of students based on their 'tracked' levels. Tell that to the students who are deemed 'low' and retain that stigma their entire education careers and eventually just accept their 'low' designation...

But here's the other thing... every piece of research that states one thing there is another that states quite the opposite.

So, ask yourself, when you use the 'research states' line while conversing with your colleagues, what is your intent? Is your intent to persuade toward your viewpoint, validate your contributions and wealth of knowledge, or just to sound 'educated?'

And lastly, just because someone says 'research states,' don't blindly jump in the 'I must agree with everything you say' camp and completely dismiss your own personal thoughts and beliefs.

Sure, empirical evidence tends to stand up stronger in court, but it's the anecdotal beliefs and mindsets and gut feeling soft touch that reach the hearts of kids...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The H&R Block Budget Challenge returns!

A trend has been emerging for several years now and unfortunately this trend is confirming some pretty significant concerns for young soon-to-be adults.

Financial literacy is something that doesn't tend to get people excited and fired-up. There's nothing sexy about or shiny when it comes to talking about budgeting and monetary awareness.

Here's the catch though... we live in a world that's fueled by money and when our students aren't getting the necessary knowledge, experience, and awareness of how to navigate the world of finance, we are putting them in a tough spot as they truly enter the 'adult' world.

USA Today has even written an article titled, 'Millennials Struggle with Financial Literacy' to bring some of these concerns to light.

Enter the H&R Block Budget Challenge...

The H&R Block Budget Challenge is a FREE financial literacy game that simulates many of the real-life scenarios that adults encounter when it comes to money. Things like paying bills, managing expenses, considering tax implications, saving for retirement, and saving for a rainy day, are all situations students will experience in this simulation. This wonderful learning experience is open to all students 14 and older in grades 9-12.

Check out some of these quotes from teachers who've successfully experienced this challenge with their students:

My kids love this challenge. Every day they are engaged and want to learn more about personal finance—and, more importantly, they are becoming more financially literate.

 I must thank you for the wonderful resource this simulation is and how useful I'm sure it is going to be for their future financial success. They are checking on their status in class all the time, even when it isn't our scheduled activity. Those who have downloaded the app have found it incredibly useful and convenient as well.

 My Juniors and Seniors do this for a project grade every Wed. and Fri. We have a good time with this "bonding" experience and there is great laughter as well as dread when they have late fees! I really appreciate the people who put this challenge together. It is wonderful to witness them learning about "real life"! 

 The Personal Finance teachers at our school have incorporated this simulation into our daily class procedures. The students (and teachers) love the real-world components and valuable lessons to be learned. We are very grateful to have this free resource to help students better understand financial responsibility.

 I am so thankful that you guys have put together such a wonderful curriculum for teens.  Every time I am out and someone asks what I do and I tell them I teach financial literacy to teenagers they all say "I wish they had that class when I was growing up." Thank you for everything you do!

Additionally, not only do students and teachers get the opportunity to experience this real-world simulation, there are also several opportunities for teachers to win classroom grants and for students to win scholarships based on their performance in the budget challenge. Up to 3 million dollars is being awarded by H&R Block to help promote financial literacy and awareness for students all across the country.

So, in just a few short weeks, the next rounds of this simulation will start, so please be sure to check out the challenge and get your students registered before it's too late!


Full disclosure, this is a sponsored post and I have received compensation for recommending this product.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Do you have to be a great teacher to be a great administrator?

I saw this tweet by Josh Stumpenhorst and it got me thinking...

The tweet got me thinking about my own personal experiences in education. I was a high school German teacher for 6 years before moving to administration. I was 27 years old when I started my first administrative position. At that time many thought I was still too young and not experienced enough as a teacher to be an administrator.

To be honest, I think some of them were probably right...

But here's the deal, as a teacher I had helped to build a successful German program that was thriving. In a high school with around 1,800 students, we had about 300 of those students taking a German class. I was involved in our professional development team, I was leading a professional book club for teachers, I was leading a push for technology integration, and I really honestly believed I was positively affecting the overall school culture and climate which was leading to increased learning opportunities for students.

So naturally it made sense that if I could have this much of an impact on the building as a teacher, I'm sure I could have even more of an impact as an administrator...

I remember the question during the interview just like it was yesterday...

'So, why do you want to become an administrator?'

Well, as a teacher, I can directly impact just the students in my class, but as an administrator I can indirectly impact an entire school and community.

That's the 'go-to' response for all teachers interviewing for an administrative position when asked 'why do you want to become an administrator?'

I'd like to challenge folks to ask a different question instead...

What if we started asking teachers wanting to move into administration this question:

What specifically have you done as a teacher to help your students maximize their potential and how have you positively influenced the lives of your students?

This question in my opinion forces the candidate to identify what they've done as a teacher to help their students.

The reality is there are administrators who were excellent teachers who did absolutely wonderful things for their students. Some of these same great teachers really aren't that great as administrators.

On the flip side, there are also administrators who really weren't that effective as teachers but now find themselves leading a building and they are doing great. There are also those who weren't very effective as a teacher and similarly are struggling as an administrator.

So, does one have to be a great teacher to be a great administrator...?

If not, what message does that send to the great teachers wanting to move into administration...?

Lastly, if someone struggled as a teacher, can that same individual be an effective instructional leader for a building full of teachers?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The types of leaders we need in education...

What makes a school successful? The principal... the teachers... the students... the parents?

Can one individual (or group of individuals) be the determining factor of success or not?

Can leadership come from the middle or must it originate and live at the top?

None of these questions are easily answered, but in my experience as an educator, it's principal leadership that makes all the difference.

It's this difference that we are so desperately needing in our schools...

We need leaders who see the big picture and are able to give meaning and purpose to what we do. Sometimes it's the simple ability to 'connect' the dots that makes everything possible.

We need leaders who recognize and pay homage to 'what was' in an effort to maximize and capitalize on 'what could be.' Schools are in need of a leader with a vision; a vision that is bigger than any one individual.

We need leaders who won't shy away from asking tough questions and won't yield on having high expectations for all with a belief that all can achieve in their own respective way.

We need leaders who are willing to be visible. We need leaders who are willing to stand up and speak when others choose to remain quietly seated.

We need leaders who are able to adapt and shift based on what's needed of them. There's no such thing as black and white and straight-forward when it comes to education, so being flexible is absolutely critical.

We need leaders who can commit to making a decision even when they know the decision won't be popular. People will eventually come to terms with something they don't agree with; people can't come to terms with uncertainty and confusion.

We need leaders who can effectively and clearly communicate. It all may sound great in our heads, but if nobody else knows what the plan is or what is being done, then the great plan and idea will fall short.

We need leaders who own their weaknesses and shortfalls. It's a great leader who builds a team of folks who complement each other and ensures that all gaps are filled.

We need leaders who stand behind and move forward with their strengths. It would be a crime to sit back and not utilize one's strengths, so we need leaders who not only recognize their strengths, but also act on them.

Make no mistake, leadership in schools is of the utmost importance, and it's the presence of or lack thereof that separates those schools that are able to make positive strides and those that struggle to gain traction...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Our students need 'different,' not more...

We've all been there and we've all done it.

As the teacher, we teach something but the students don't understand it.

In our minds the material and skills are quite simple and straight forward, but for some reason the students just aren't grasping the information.

Our natural instincts take over and we do what makes sense to us...

Maybe if I talk louder and more slowly and repeat myself 4 times the students will understand it.

Maybe if I give more homework problems for practice the students will eventually work themselves into understanding the material.

Maybe if I explain it a few more times the information will begin to sink in.

And then... with all these maybes, we still don't see results.

So, then we do once again what makes sense to us...

Let's repeat all those maybes because something's bound to stick if we do it all again.

It's like a bad recurring dream and we've ALL been there and we've ALL done it.

As educators we tend to believe that kids need 'more' of whatever we are doing if it's ever going to make sense to them.

So we give them more... and more... and more... more right up until the kids are disgusted and we the educators have forgotten why we are even doing what we are doing.

The more we give the further our students get from actually understanding or mastering the skills.

Let's ditch the 'more' and start focusing on ways we can get the same information or skills across 'differently.'

Our kids don't need more of something they don't understand... they need what they don't understand presented differently.

Oh, and while we are at it, let's commit ourselves to allowing our students to have a voice in determining what different might look like.

You never know, their version of different just might make all the difference...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Has 'finals week' become antiquated & redundant?

I recently posed a couple thoughts to the Twitterverse in regard to finals:

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 of my thoughts...

Finals are summative assessments with no opportunity for revision; no opportunity for feedback/input; no opportunity for correction... so what's the point other than filling the gradebook?

We spend all semester and all school year working with students... do we really need a final to tell us what our students know or don't know? If so, that's a problem...

If we are doing finals just because the next level of schooling does finals, that's a pretty poor excuse to rob 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...?'

The typical final uses low-level questions and focuses on quantity over quality in an effort to cover as much as possible. Finals are 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?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

10 signs you have a grading problem in your class

1). You create and design assignments and assessments based purely on the number of grades you currently have in your gradebook.

2). When talking about the next assignment or learning event, the first question the students ask is, 'is this for points?'

3). When talking about the next assignment or learning event, the second question the students ask is, 'how many?'

4). When many of your students who have the strongest grasp on the material and/or skills have some of the lowest grades due to 'not doing their work.'

5). When talking with parents at parent teacher conferences (which honestly need a complete overhaul by the way) you find yourself telling multiple parents that their child would be doing much better grade-wise if they would just do the homework.

6). When at the end of the quarter or semester, students and parents start asking you for additional work and/or extra credit opportunities to pull up a grade in the 11th hour.

7). When you have to attach a grade to anything and everything because if you don't, students won't do it.

8). When you do group work, you give every single group member the same exact grade based on the work output of the entire group.

9). When you want and expect there to be a balanced number of students at each grade achievement level.

10). When you believe that grades should be used as compensation for work done and when you believe that a grade will motivate students to do their best work.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It can be pretty lonely on that island...

You know when someone is new, everything seems to be perfect.

The 'honeymoon' period they call it... everyone loves the new person and the new person can do no wrong.

The new person is viewed as refreshing and thought-provoking even when someone else within the organization has been saying the same thing all along. The same words coming from a different mouth just have a different effect on people.

The new person doesn't intentionally or maliciously encroach upon anyone's turf, but in the end it becomes a passive takeover that leaves many scrambling and wondering about who does what and who's responsible for which duties.

New blood within a system can be healthy and vital to long-term sustainability, but then again, there are times when the body rejects that new blood as it just doesn't match up.

Then perhaps, after time has passed and the dust has settled, the new person is no longer new.

The new person has (as previously mentioned) unintentionally stepped on the toes of others and has crossed lines that can't be uncrossed.

By the simple fact of doing one's job, the once lines drawn in the sand have been kicked over and reassembled until they are almost unrecognizable.

The new person is no longer considered new.

This individual is now considered an expendable asset that bounces around from task to task with very little direction and guidance.

So, now this individual, who once could do no wrong, feels alone on an island that drifts deeper and deeper into the sea.

As the island continues its path into the unknown, the individual's short existence seems to fade and the individual quickly becomes a distant memory. 

How and when this shift actually happened really is a mystery as the transition from new to 'used goods' can happen in the blink of an eye.

The lonely island provides lots of time to reflect and think about what exactly has happened. This thinking can either continue to push the island further away, or the thinking can help change the direction of the current and shift the course entirely.

Being on the island isn't easy and it can be pretty lonely.

For all those island misfits, I salute you...

Monday, December 8, 2014

My 10 dreams for my son's education

Something pretty special happened recently for my wife and I. We are now officially the parents of @emorytarte.

So, now I can call myself an educator AND a parent, and the statement, 'you're not a parent, so you don't understand,' no longer applies.

Having said that, I've worked in education for almost 10 years and I've seen the system from the classroom to building administration to district administration, which gives me a rather unique perspective on how education is done.

Now, in a little more than 5 years, my son will be entering the education system, so here are 10 dreams I have that will hopefully be realized by the time he is ready to begin his formal education.

1). I dream of an education system that will never sacrifice play for more instructional time. Play is said to be the best form of research, and I want my son to do plenty of research.

2). I dream of an education system that really stands behind their statements of differentiation and personalized learning. My son is unique just like every other child out there, so I want him treated as such. Too often we treat these strategies as 'events' rather than the way we conduct business.

3). I dream of an education system that boldly recruits and goes after the most innovative and creative thinking folks in society. I want my son to learn with educators who think big and dream of what could be. I want my son's teachers to build their lessons around the question, 'what if?'

4). I dream of an education system that physically looks completely different from the current education system. The architectural layout of most schools just isn't conducive to the types of learning experiences kids need, so it's time schools revisit and retool as needed to account for new approaches.

5). I dream of an education system that commits to creating and designing authentic learning experiences that go far beyond the walls of the actual school and community. The world is getting smaller and global connectedness is the future. My son deserves the opportunity to see beyond his own community.

6). I dream of an education system that solves problems that will make our world a better place. There's no shortage of serious problems facing society, so why not tap into all the knowledge and brain power we have entering our schools every single day. I want my son working on these problems that will ultimately affect him as he gets older.

7). I dream of an education system that views my son's learning as holistic in nature and not compartmentalized into tiny different learning units. Education is a fluid process and isn't and can't be contained and most certainly shouldn't be siloed.

8). I dream of an education system that doesn't get in the way of itself. Far too often we know what we need to do and we know what is right, but yet we fail to do anything because the system we've built prevents us. My son can't wait for the red tape to be cleared.

9). I dream of an education system that focuses more on creation than consumption. Sure, my son will need some basic knowledge, but in the end he will need and will be expected to create something with that basic knowledge. I don't want my son limited to just eating... I want him to be able to cook too.

10). I dream of an education system that is flexible and adaptable enough to meet the ever-changing needs of my son. What he needs to know now vs. what he will need to know later aren't the same, and I expect his education system to recognize that.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The crippling effects of homework in schools

- More times than not homework adds little value when it comes to student learning...

- There is pressure from society to continue giving homework because that is the way it has always been done...

- Students rarely find relevance or purpose with homework, thus homework isn't completed and completion rates are negatively affected...

- When a student receives a zero for not completing homework, he/she is NOT learning about responsibility and "the real world."

- Grading homework on completion typically inflates grades and ultimately distorts the overall accuracy of a grade...

- Homework can be a valuable tool in schools, but too often homework is misused and ultimately detracts from the learning environment and causes resentment toward schooling.

- Homework should be an extension of the learning environment that provides students the opportunity to explore and discover...

- More homework does NOT equal more learning...

- Students should not spend all night every night doing homework as this time should be for pursuing student interests and passions outside of school.

- The natural love and curiosity of learning are destroyed by too much irrelevant and unproductive homework...

- Homework also naturally reinforces the gap between the kids who have parents/guardians available to help and those who don't...

- A school without homework and grades would be a school where student learning and success increased...

- Not enough Educators are having this difficult conversation about the role of homework in schools...

What are your thoughts...? Let's keep this conversation going in an effort to move the homework discussion forward.

Friday, November 28, 2014

What if all classrooms were 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 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

5 alternatives to traditional homework

Many of us in education, both educators and students, look forward to breaks. Whether it's Spring Break, summer vacation, Thanksgiving and/or Christmas/Winter Break, both educators and students always get excited about a little time off and the chance to recharge.

I don't know about you, but during these breaks I find it to be beneficial and actually quite healthy to let go of and remove myself from work. I think these breaks should be focused on spending time with family, exploring personal interests, and at times, just simply sitting back and kicking our feet up.

Likewise, I'd like to see our students have the same opportunities to use these breaks as actual 'breaks.' It honestly hurts me when I hear of students who are buried in homework and buried in tasks that we educators have assigned for them during these breaks.

So, if you feel that you absolutely must assign some kind of homework or assignment during these upcoming breaks, I urge you to consider these non-traditional alternatives:

Watch a TV channel (age appropriate) you've never watched before: Have you flipped through the available channels recently? There are so many interesting and new TV options nowadays and when it comes to education, shouldn't we be focused on expansion of ideas and exploration of concepts? Imagine a student coming back from break all excited about something he/she didn't even know existed before. Sure, there's lot of trash TV, but there's also quite a lot of wonderful and educational TV that can really broaden our students' minds.

When you are out and about (with an adult), say 'hello' and ask every person you encounter or interact with 'how they are doing': Talk about a neat social experiment! Imagine that when standing in line, or browsing in a store, or simply walking in the parking lot to and from the car... how much can we learn from interacting with others and simply observing and experiencing the ups and downs of basic human and social interactions. Also, think about how this social experiment could go both ways... by being nice to strangers we possibly brighten their day while also being reminded of our influence on the attitudes of others.

Read about something you know nothing about: It doesn't matter if it's a magazine in the doctor's office or an article from the newspaper or something online. Go find something you know nothing about and read about it and learn something new. Simple and easy.

Either alone (if you are able) or with someone else, try and cook something you either never cooked before, or something you've never eaten before: The world is full of wonderful dishes and cooking is becoming a lost art for many young adults in our fast-paced society. Take some time during this break to explore the world of food and get a little experience navigating the kitchen. BONUS... if you can find a family member or relative to assist, the learning experience easily doubles!

Go outside (dress warm and appropriately) and explore a part of your neighborhood or town you've never explored before: Far too often we simply go to and from work and school, and that's it. We end up missing and never seeing the many great places right around where we live. Encourage our students to take time to get outside and get some fresh air and explore what's right beneath their noses.

What other non-traditional homework alternatives would you suggest if assigning homework was a 'must?'

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Are we giving standardized tests a bad wrap?

When it comes to assessments, there are a couple words that typically come to mind when determining their overall value.

The first word is reliability. Assessment reliability is defined as the degree to which an assessment or assessment tool produces stable and consistent results.

The second word is validity. Assessment validity is defined as the accuracy of the assessment when it comes to actually measuring what it's supposed to measure.

So, if we can agree upon these two definitions, then let's talk about the types of assessments our students do:

Type 1: Standardized state and federal-level mandated assessments

Type 2: Assessments that are a part of a purchased or canned program

Type 3: Assessments that are designed by the district and used consistently across grade levels and/or departments (common assessments)

Type 4: Assessments that are designed by individual teachers and used just for their individual classes and/or students

So, here is the million dollar question... when it comes to the four types of assessments that are most typically used in schools, and based on the agreed upon definitions, which of the four types do you believe are the most reliable and most valid?

Which assessments produce the most stable and consistent results?

Which assessments can we confidently say measure what they are actually intended to measure?

Which assessments have went through a vetting process to limit bias and ensure standard alignment?

Which assessments have had multiple sets of reviewers and multiple versions before being pushed into circulation?

Which assessments have been designed and created by folks who create and design assessments for a living?

Which assessments allow for apples to apples comparison and consistency across communities?

Are we giving standardized tests a bad wrap or should we consider some of the positives and strengths that naturally emerge as part of the standardized testing process?

Just a few marbles rolling around in my head right now...

Friday, November 14, 2014

I've been doing this for the last 13 years...

I've been visiting classrooms this school year at a much higher rate than in years past. Additionally, I've really tried to speak with a student or two during each of my visits to see what's going on and to simply stay in touch with students and what's happening in regard to their learning.

On one of my most recent visits, I visited one of our HS math classrooms.

The teacher in this classroom is an experienced and well-respected teacher among the teaching ranks at the HS.

This teacher has also been around long enough to have experienced first-hand the many pendulum swings in education.

Most importantly, this teacher has been a pioneer and early-adapter of moving forward with technology integration as well as some pretty progressive and innovative teaching practices.

This teacher has been doing the flipped classroom model for about a year now.

This teacher has also been embracing BYOD and technology integration in a HS math course, which most would consider pretty difficult.

This teacher has created a blog which is used to drive the activities for the day and the week and archives resources and information on what the students are learning and how they can empower themselves to take ownership in the learning process.

This teacher has made significant shifts in grading and redo/retake structures and has committed to ensuring a grade represents what a kid actually knows... and not just how well a kid plays the game of school.

So, today, I was speaking with a group of students in this HS math class. Many of the students, if not all, were seniors as this was an upper level math course.

I asked a few questions about the structure of the course and inquired about some of the changes that have been occurring recently with this teacher and the overall structure of the class.

And then, like a punch to the gut and slap to the face, I heard it...

'I've been doing this (school) for the last 13 years, and now the teacher is changing everything on me my senior year. Can't we just do things the way we've been doing them before?'

Wow... who would have thought these words would have come out of a student's mouth.

So, the next time we think about how the adults might be affected and impacted by significant change, let's make sure we don't forget how it might affect those kids who've found success in the old ways of doing things...

Monday, November 10, 2014

Accountability: Do we mean the same thing?

So, the word accountability is thrown around a lot in education, but the more I hear the word, the more I think we are really saying different things...

For example, teacher A wants to teach students accountability by holding firm to strict deadlines. Teacher A also does not allow redos and retakes because he/she thinks this is preparing kids for the harshness and reality of the real-world since redos and retakes aren't allowed. Teacher A believes firmly in designing assessments and activities that are hard (not necessarily rigorous) and thinks there should be some students who get high grades and other students who get low grades. Teacher A makes accountability a teacher vs. student enterprise and expects that students will naturally want to learn anything and everything just because he/she said so.

This is what teacher A believes is accountability...

Teacher B, on the other hand, wants to teach students accountability by holding them accountable to their own learning. Teacher B allows redos and retakes because he/she thinks learning is a process and sometimes there are ups and downs in this process. Teacher B acknowledges that redos and retakes are allowed in the real-world, and that for students, their everyday life is their 'real-world.' Teacher B also believes in designing and engineering highly challenging and rigorous learning experiences with appropriate levels of support. Teacher B holds his/her kids accountable by not allowing them to do anything but their best work and by not accepting anything less than their best. Teacher B put kids in charge of their progress and empowers them to own their learning.

This is what teacher B believes is accountability...

So, which teacher are you?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Preparing our students for a brave new world

Nearly 50% of occupations today will no longer exist in 2025. New jobs will require creative intelligence, social and emotional intelligence and ability to leverage artificial intelligence.

Workspaces with rows of desks will become completely redundant, not because they are not fit for purpose, but simply because that purpose no longer exists. Read the entire article here: http://goo.gl/1kO6sF

1,000 U.S. hiring managers revealed that eight in 10 view creativity as important to success yet they find that the majority of students are unprepared for the workplace of tomorrow. Read the entire article here: http://goo.gl/qSCn1I

Tier 1 skills needed to succeed:

Tier 2 skills needed to succeed:

Tier 3 skills needed to succeed:

Read the entire article here: 

Google determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... "We found that they don’t predict anything." Read the entire article here: http://goo.gl/wfDuvT

So, where does your school district fit in this brave new world?

Where do the students who will graduate from your district fit in this brave new world?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What happens when we ask the students?

In my district we've been seeking input and feedback from all of our stakeholders as we revisit and update our strategic plan.

The more we talked about who our true stakeholders were, the more we realized we needed to involve our students in the process. So, since we are a GAFE district, we emailed every student grades 4 - 12 (all of whom have a district Gmail account) asking for their input and feedback.

The question was simple: what are the 4 words or phrases you would use to describe the perfect school district?

The Wordle (which pulls out the most frequently used words) is below:

I wonder if that big word right in the middle of this Wordle has anything to do with the loss of enthusiasm toward school as kids get older and spend more time in the system...

I just wonder...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

10 ways to transform the way we do education

1). Let's take what the most innovative and progressive companies are doing and try and replicate it within our schools... Far too often education is behind and lacking when it comes to what is happening in everyday society. Education is constantly in a state of reaction and is very rarely setting the tone for what happens in the lives of most. Education should be learning from the trend-setting companies and organizations that are leading the way rather than constantly responding to the trends being set by others.

2). Let's require and build time into the schedule for teachers to go observe other teachers... There's no argument that teachers observing other teachers is one of the best forms of professional growth, yet we don't require it or build time into the everyday schedule for teachers to do it. Let's hire a few more teachers so we can free up some time and then let's get teachers learning from other teachers. A more effective teaching staff for a few extra dollars sounds like a good investment to me.

3). Let's revamp, revisit, and retarget our hiring procedures and practices... The hiring practice and general education system tend to reward and attract very conservative, very 'safe', and very predictable educators. Most in education played the game of school very well and thrived in the traditional school setting. Maybe it's time we hired a few folks who didn't fit the mold and those who maybe bucked the system from time-to-time... maybe we need some folks who didn't thrive in the traditional system to help us see how we can improve it for everyone...

4). Let's eliminate the ridiculous practice of having bells and having each and every second a student is at school consumed with 'tasking...' We jam pack every single day at school for students and most (including educators) barely have any time to eat lunch or go to the restroom. We believe that any time not structured is lost time and wasted time, but in reality we are turning school into a job for many of our students. The most innovative companies know ideas and learning need time to simmer and take time to cook... we need to ensure we build this kind of time into the typical school day and we can't just focus on time utilization, but rather on time maximization.

5). Let's start using the 'wasted' spaces in our buildings for learning... Enough said.

6). Let's commit to having students create as much as they consume... When we simply have our students consume information, they are merely taking and giving nothing back. Of course, our kids need to know some stuff before they can do too much, but when our kids consume it should be with the goal of creating something even better in return.

7). Let's require administrators to teach a general education class as part of their administrative duties... If administrators are the instructional leaders in their buildings, then they need to be in the 'trenches' with teachers demonstrating and showcasing their skills. This practice is used in countries around the world, and if we truly value the expertise of our building leaders, then they need opportunities to keep the saw sharp by working with students in a classroom setting.

8). Let's make a commitment to providing more unstructured time for exploration and discovery... The makerspace movement is gaining moment for a reason, and it's because kids are encouraged to explore and discover by creating, tinkering, taking apart, and building. We need more learning spaces in our schools and in our classrooms for kids to do unstructured learning and untethered exploration. Sure, things won't work and lots of stuff will fail, but it's in failure that true learning becomes possible.

9). Let's make opportunities and access to resources a higher priority than just salary... So, don't get me wrong, money matters and money is important. But, what if instead of giving folks more money for simply being a year older, we focused on providing those who demonstrate a willingness, commitment to, and learner-centered mindset, opportunities and resources that not everyone gets? What if our rockstars got the best and newest technologies before others? What if our innovators and risk-takers got opportunities to attend the best and biggest learning conferences? It's not about being fair and equitable, it's about recognizing and rewarding those who are doing what's best for kids.

10). Lastly and most importantly... let's stop holding onto and wishing what was will return and replace that mindset with taking full advantage of what could be and will be... We can't let our simple and closed adult minds get in the way of the mind of a child which sees no limits and barriers. Our top priority as educators should be to ensure kids leave the same way as they found us in regard to their free-flowing and open-minded approach to life.

So, let's start transforming... the world needs you.

Monday, October 27, 2014

10 things all educators should commit to...

Will you commit to creating experiences kids will remember forever?

Will you commit to focusing on the now & not some unknown distant world?

Will you commit to helping kids own their learning?

Will you commit to using grades as a tool toward learning & not as punishment & motivation?

Will you commit to not standardizing how a kid demonstrates his/her mastery of learning?

Will you commit to valuing & appreciating the time kids spend outside of school?

Will you commit to focusing on solutions rather than problems & things you can't control?

Will you commit to a partnership with your students & not a dictatorship?

Will you commit to being there for your students & supporting them when they struggle?

Will you commit to taking risks & even failing and then trying again?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Making that redo/retake policy actually work!

Well, first of all, we need to agree on this:

We also need to believe that each student has a right to a grade that accurately and correctly depicts what a kid knows...

We must also agree that a kid doing redos and retakes on the SAME EXACT assignment/assessment WITHOUT participating in some kind of a 'relearn' process is a waste of time.

What about a request to retest document...

You might even like this 'relearn' document: http://goo.gl/P3ce3R

What does my student need to do in order to be reassessed?

After completing an assessment in a standards-based class, the student can ask for a reassessment using the process described below. 

1. The student gets a copy of the reassessment agreement from the teacher and completes the “Standards to Reassess” section to choose what standards the student wants to be reassessed on and at what levels.

2. The student completes the “Preparation Information” by picking a few activities that would help with relearning the material. The student then arranges a meeting with the teacher to discuss the agreement. The teacher may require specific activities to prepare for the reassessment, such as completing missing assignments. Any activities selected by the student or teacher must have evidence that it has been completed.

3. Together, the student and teacher will decide when, where, and how the student will be reassessed in the “Reassessment Information” section.

4. Once all of the relearning activities have been completed, the student will show the necessary evidence to the teacher, and both the teacher and student will sign the “Reassessment Approval” section of the agreement. 

5. The student is now ready to be reassessed as described in the “Reassessment Information” section. The reassessment agreement supports your student’s learning by:
- Ensuring that relearning takes place before reassessment. 
- Identifying the specific steps the student must complete to be reassessed.
- Clarifying the reassessment process for both the student and the teacher.
- Identifying exactly how the student will be reassessed so there are no surprises.

You could also take a moment to read what @rickwormeli2 thinks about 'redos and retakes done right.'

@rggillespie has some great thoughts on this topic as well: http://goo.gl/CcfZwH

And, if you need more of Rick Wormeli, check out these two videos: