Thursday, December 31, 2015

Is it time we stop 'averaging' grades?

What message are we sending to students when we average grades over a quarter or a semester?

This is definitely a hot topic question for those who are involved in work around grading and assessment.

What about the statement below?

'When we average grades over time, we are basically saying that our teaching doesn't have any impact on student learning.' via @leeannjung

That's a pretty powerful and bold statement!

Also, consider this image of seven students and their performance over a period of time:

Do we really feel each student is at the same place in regard to their learning?

Do we really feel each student is receiving a grade that most accurately reflects their current level of mastery?

image via @tguskey

Next, consider the football team in preparation for the game on Friday night (thanks for this great example @mctownsley...)

Team A: Works extremely hard all week at practice and has done everything possible to prepare for the game on Friday night.

Team B: Takes it easy at practice all week and really didn't put forth a lot of commitment to prepare for the game on Friday night.

The reality is that both teams will start the game on Friday night with zero points. The team that worked hard doesn't get an advantage from the start and the team that didn't work hard doesn't start off with a disadvantage. Grades are about what kids know at that given point in time... same thing as on the football field.

Last thought... do we really want the initial learning students do in the beginning (when the skills and/or content are brand new) to affect a student's grade later on down the road? Should students be able to escape the mistakes and roadblocks they faced in the beginning or should these mistakes haunt them the entire grading period?

So, is it time to stop averaging grades?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Top 15 #education tweets of 2015:

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

5 ways to boost creativity in your classroom

1). Find opportunities in your class that allow your students to be the lead learners.

Our kids come to school with a unique and different skill-set and far too often these wonderful abilities are suppressed under the weight of objectives and learning targets. What would happen if students were able to take their skills and build on the required objectives and learning targets? Better yet, what if students helped to come up with those objectives and learning targets? What if we allowed and encouraged our students to share their genius with others and join the ranks of teachers as facilitators and activators of learning...?

via the Huffington Post
2). Do whatever you can to change up the learning space and get students to do things outside of the traditional classroom space. 

The learning spaces and environments that kids experience have huge implications on how they respond and what they are able to imagine. In a traditional four-walled classroom, students' creativity is limited and contained just like the classroom itself. Open up student minds by getting them outside and by getting them in different spaces. A cheap way to boost creativity is simply to keep the learning space fresh and unique.

3). Don't use rubrics for everything and don't tell students what the final objective is.

This might sound counter-intuitive and against all typical teacher training programs, but far too often rubrics crush any level of creativity and when the final objective is outlined in the beginning there's no room for flexibility or variation. Let go and don't allow yourself to be consumed with how you are going to assess, grade, and how you are going to hold students accountable.

4). Encourage risk-taking and embrace failure.

When we tell kids it's not Ok to fail, we are telling them to never take risks and we are encouraging them to focus on playing it safe. Ironically enough, the biggest risk our students and even us educators can take is not taking any risks at all. Playing it safe is actually the most unsafe thing one can do, and it's in classrooms across the globe that we need to encourage kids to take risks. Naturally, these risks will result in failures, but it's in this process of risk-taking and failure that kids are able to take 'what is' and creatively think about 'what could be.'

5). Praise great questions over great answers.

The type of environment that breeds creativity is an environment where kids are free and encouraged to ask deep and thoughtful questions. Students are pushed to ask questions that have multiple answers and very rarely do these questions have a correct answer. When great questions are asked great opportunities for creativity quickly become possible. When students think they have an answer to a question, change things up by asking them 'what if...' and change a variable. Students in time will start to anticipate what questions will be asked which will open up their minds to a world of possibility.

Good luck in creating an oasis of creativity!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The H&R Block Budget Challenge is back! #FinEdChat

So often we hear about teaching the whole child. Today, more than ever, personal finance knowledge and awareness are a critical part of what it means to teach the whole child.

What's been made increasingly clear over the last few years is the ever-changing world of finance. Specifically, that the world of finance isn't going to become simpler, but rather more complex. Check out some surprising results about where and to whom kids turn when it comes to getting more information about finance in this survey and infographic.

Enter the H&R Block Budget Challenge!

This challenge probably isn't like other challenges you may be familiar with... this challenge is awarding up to $3 million dollars in classroom grants and student scholarships. Not too bad for just another day at school!

Beside the monetary incentive for teachers and students, there's a lot of learning potential with this FREE, fun, real-world challenge. Students get to experience online simulations that require them to go through the decision making process with the types of financial scenarios we adults face on a daily basis.

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.

I recall the personal finance class I took while in high school, and I wish the H&R Block Challenge would have been around as I would have thoroughly enjoyed going through these realistic scenarios.

This challenge is open to all accredited public and private schools, as well as all home schooled students. Students must be 14 years of age or older and must be enrolled in grades 9-12 to be eligible. Did I mention this is FREE?!

For all you educators out there trying to figure out how this might fit in your curriculum or how this won't be a huge additional workload, check out some of these budget challenge lesson plans and student activities. No need to recreate the wheel with this challenge! You should also check out the educational games H&R Block has created to help teach and raise awareness of personal finance.

And, don't worry, you still have time to sign up! The next simulation challenge starts on 1/14/16 (Teachers must register their classes one week prior to the simulation start date, and for this round the deadline to create your class is January 7th) with two additional sessions starting after that on 1/28/16 and 2/11/16.

Click here to learn more and sign up for this exciting opportunity for your students!

Perhaps something I love most about this challenge is the statement H&R Block makes right on their main webpage for this challenge...

We think personal finance education is so important, we're paying people to learn.

In closing, this opportunity comes at no cost to you and your students other than simply giving it a try. If you want your students to be prepared for the quickly changing world of personal finance, this is the perfect tool to have in your toolbelt. Not only is this tool free, it comes with an instructional manual on exactly how to best use it. Not to mention the many opportunities to earn some cash for your classroom and students!

What are you waiting for... get after it and get your personal finance savvy on.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of We Are Teachers and H&R Block. I received compensation for this post, however all opinions stated are my own.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Finals: Have they outlived their usefulness?

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

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

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

So, here are some thoughts and questions...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it time to eliminate finals?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 2, 2015

10 questions every educator should be asking...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 25, 2015

Change: Choose the crockpot over the microwave...

Change isn't easy.

Leaders live and die by the sword of change.

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

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

Change isn't easy.

Change takes time and change takes careful preparation and planning.

Change requires one to be patient.

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

Change has good days and change has bad days.

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

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

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

Choose the crockpot over the microwave...

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

Should all classrooms be like kindergarten classrooms?

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

To be frank, they are really amazing places.

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

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

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

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

Kindergarten classrooms are indeed a magical place.

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

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

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

So, what if all classrooms were like Kindergarten classrooms?

Ideas and several lines in this blog post came from this article titled, 'Lifelong Kindergarten:' 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

10 signs there's a grading problem in your classroom

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.

Now, I've pointed out quite a few problems above and you might be wondering, so... what's next? What's the solution to these problems?

I would recommend following @kenoc7, @rickwormeli2, @tguskey, @mssackstein@kenmattingly@mctownsley, @myrondueck and @markbarnes19 on Twitter, as well as the #sblchat hashtag as there are a great many minds using that hashtag to share awesome thoughts on grading and assessment.

I would also recommend reading @kenoc7's 'Repair Kit for Grading,' and @rickwormeli2's 'Fair isn't always Equal.' Also, check out the Facebook group: Teachers Throwing out Grades.

In closing, this whole grading and assessment conversation definitely isn't easy... but continually ask yourself... 'what's the point and purpose of grades in your classroom?' Your answer to this question should help guide you in this process.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Move over Kid President, how about Kid Superintendent!

Check out this awesome idea started by @rock_supt in the Rockwood School District... sorry Kid President, perhaps it's time for you to move over! :)

"I want to find someone who can help me with an important mission," says Dr. Knost. "We need a voice – a Rockwood Kid Superintendent – to be the ambassador for the 21,500 students in Rockwood."

Read the entire post on Rockwood's website about how a student can be the student representative for the Rockwood School District: 

What an awesome idea! Hopefully by sharing this, other districts will start their search for their first Kid Superintendent.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Is this really what we want in our schools?

I walk down the halls of an elementary school and catch sight of a group of students walking single file.

The teacher walks at the front of the line as each student follows the one in front of them like a line of baby ducklings following their mother.

All the students are looking straight ahead with their hands crossed neatly behind their backs.

Perhaps most noticeably, all the students have their cheeks puffed out full of air making what teachers and students know as 'bubbles.'

Read more here about these 'bubbles:'

Another teacher walks by and praises the students for creating such a wonderful line while having some of the biggest and best bubbles she has ever seen.

The students aren't making any noise and are marching almost militantly down the hall toward their next destination.

Full disclosure... I've never been an elementary teacher nor have I ever worked in an elementary school. So, it's quite possible that I'm missing the boat here and don't fully understand the justification of this practice.

I do, however, understand the importance of walking the halls without disrupting others and I understand keeping one's hands to themselves. I also understand that some of our early elementary students have never had any type of structure in their lives, so their ability to act around others can be challenging.

Having said all that, I just wonder if there is another way we can accomplish what we are trying to accomplish without this rigidity... I wonder if this is how I'm going to want my son, Emory, to be treated...

Check out some of the responses I got on Twitter when I tweeted this question: image:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

10 unique and creative classroom designs:

@bball_tracyj's 5 grade classroom at Clark Vitt Elementary

Library video production room at @umswildcats

@jkelley7222's classroom at Beaufort Elementary

Kim Bruno's 4th grade classroom at Clark Vitt Elementary

@erobbins2ndgrade's classroom at Central Elementary

The reading tree in @misshinsonin3rd's classroom at Central Elementary

Continued from above...

@megangerling's kindergarten 'think table' at Beaufort Elementary

@jhalltech's video production room at Union High School

'Readbox' Image via @crestviewmiddle

Each student has their own mobile space for materials in @bobblehead99's 5th grade classroom

Continued from above...

@bobblehead99's 5th grade classroom at Beaufort Elementary

Saturday, August 22, 2015

10 reasons it's a great time to be in #education

As many of us start up or get ready to start up another school year, we have much to look forward to and much to be excited about. Here are 10 reasons why I believe it's a great time to be in education:

1) - Global competition is increasing and the pool for career opportunities is becoming more fierce. As the world seems to get smaller, students are being forced to compete with an even larger pool of applicants for colleges, for jobs, and for life in general. It's my belief that through this increase in competition, both schools and students will rise to the occasion to ensure all kids are prepared to be successful regardless of what path they choose in life.

2) - Everyone thinks they know what is best for education. Now, some would argue this is a bad thing, but the reality is, everyone and their mom (I love you mom) seem to think they are an expert in education. On the positive side, this has brought education to the forefront as of the most important and pressing issues facing society. The fact that everyone has a past education experience means education will always remain a top priority.

3) - Technology is changing the way the world does business. Technology is enabling things to happen that were never before possible. This has huge implications for education as a whole. Education systems are no longer limited to what they can or can't do; they are limited to their creativity and their ability to think innovatively.

4) - Students are bringing more and more knowledge and experience into the educational setting than ever before. When in history have students been able to teach the teachers and be an instrumental part to the educational process as much as they are now? This shift has continued to push the mindset that educators are no longer simply dispensers of knowledge; but rather are facilitators and instigators of self-directed learning by students. In this environment, educators can learn just as much from their students as the students can learn from them.

5) - College education programs are getting better and better. Now, I'm not saying we can't continue to improve here, but I believe college education programs are doing a better job of preparing young teachers to be successful in an education career. This includes moving education programs away from just theory and approach to actual hands-on learning alongside mentor teachers. More college education programs are getting future teachers into classrooms earlier on and pairing them with more experienced mentors. Not perfect yet, but definitely getting better.

6) - More and more districts are collaborating with local businesses. This is a very exciting aspect of education now. Local businesses and the overall business industry have a vested interest in seeing kids who are prepared and are ready for the work force. The more partnerships that are formed between school districts and the business industry, the better prepared our kids will be upon entering the job market.

7) - We are learning that money is not the single determining factor for student success. It's easy to believe and often misleading when people say that money is the most important factor when determining overall student success. First off, we need to discuss what 'student success' means, but secondly, there are countless examples of schools and districts that are finding success who would not be characterized as 'wealthy' schools or districts. Of course, money does help, but don't assume if you don't have money you can't find success. Success may not be easy to find, but I assure you it comes in more forms than just the green type.

8) - Schools are once again becoming the center and hub of the community. Too often there is a disconnect between the schools and the community in which they serve. This is slowly but surely changing. Our schools in our districts are becoming centralized hubs of not only student learning, but also learning for parents and people within the community. If schools aren't there to serve the community, then how could we ever say we are truly serving our students?

9) - Innovation and creativity are all around us. Keep your eyes and ears open because there are a lot of great things happening in education. As schools and districts continue to do a better job of telling their stories, the positives of education are becoming more and more prevalent. What once was a story dominated by all the negatives, is slowly shifting toward a story that emphasizes the positives and the opportunities around us.

10) - Every single day educators get to impact, influence, encourage, support, guide and help students become the best they can be. If this doesn't make you feel that it's a great time to be in education, then perhaps it's best you make room for someone who does...

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The importance of student-teacher relationships: From the mind of a 6th grader...

At our all staff district kick-off event, our superintendent asked a 6th grade student from one of our elementary schools to speak on the critically important topic of student-teacher relationships.

Imagine how nervous this student was to speak in front of 400+ adults on what it means to have positive relationships between students and teachers.

Though scared and nervous... I think he nailed it!

Here are Tanner's top tips for good relationships between students and teachers:

1). Good relationships with students increase their focus because if you like your teacher, you're going to pay attention to her/him.

2). Relationships decide what type of attitude your classroom has. If you have good relationships with your students, you will probably have less 'I don't want to learn attitudes.'

3). Relationships decide a student's attitude toward school and affect their self-esteem. A good relationship between a teacher and a student helps their self-esteem because the student knows you care about them and they want to think good about themselves.

4). Your relationship with your students mostly decides how much respect you get.

What a powerful message from a 6th grade student! Thank you for sharing this important message with our staff Tanner!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

10 questions to help start the grading conversation at your school:

1). Do you include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc...) in student grades?

2). Do you believe in grade reduction for work turned in late?

3). Do you believe extra credit and bonus points should be a part of a student's grade?

4). Should academic dishonesty result in a reduced grade?

5). Should group work be graded on a group basis or on an individual basis?

6). Do you include pop quizzes and timed assessments in your overall assessment structure?

7). Do you believe every activity or assignment that is completed should be graded and recorded in the gradebook?

8). Do you average all of a student's scores throughout the course of the semester?

9). Do you believe all students should be doing the same assessments for it to be fair?

10). Do you believe there is a place for zeros in grade reporting?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

10 questions to ask yourself before giving an assessment:

1). What's the point and purpose of the assessment?
2). Is this a preventative check-up (formative) type assessment or an autopsy (summative) type assessment?
3). Did your students have any voice and input into the assessment design and/or assessment process?
4). Are you able to assess more than one learning objective/goal with this assessment or is the assessment isolated to one specific learning objective/goal?
5). Is the assessment aligned to what you are currently teaching in a format similar to the way you've been conducting your instruction?
6). Will you provide multiple assessment formats for students to demonstrate their mastery/skills in a way of their choosing or will there be just one format? 

7). Does the assessment have a learning component to it that supplements the current learning objectives and goals?
8). Does the assessment allow for students to self-assess and track their overall understanding of the content/skills?
9). Are there a wide-range of questions at varying degrees of difficulty? What is the ratio of level 1 basic recall questions to level 4 higher order thinking questions?
10). Will you allow redos of this assessment? If not, please refer back to your answers in questions 1 and 2. Does this affect your decision not to allow redos?
BONUS: How authentic and realistic is the assessment format when compared to something a kid would experience when not in the traditional school setting?

Friday, August 7, 2015

10 myths undermining #education...

Myth 1 - Students will abuse and take advantage of a situation if we treat another student 'differently.' We all believe in differentiating, personalizing, and customizing the educational experience for our students as much as possible. Having said that, many believe that if you do something perceived to be 'easier' for one student or you 'cut them slack,' then other students will exploit and use this situation to their advantage. Here's the deal, what's fair isn't always equal, and what's equal isn't always fair, and a majority of students aren't going to take advantage of a situation just because you treated another student 'differently.'
Myth 2 - Students learn from 'zeros.' When a student receives a zero for not completing an assignment (this could be for numerous different reasons), there's a myth that the student will learn from the zero and learn not to repeat this behavior. For the record, I'm still waiting to find the kid who gets a zero and says 'I have now seen the light and I will no longer commit myself to such atrocities and hence forth all of my future assignments will be turned in completed and on time with a little pretty bow on top...' Zeros teach kids compliance and make grades a weapon rather an instrument for learning.

Myth 3 - Teachers need lots of 'summative' type assessments and excel spreadsheets to determine if a kid has actually mastered the content/skills. Teachers work with their kids on a daily basis and they know their kids really well, both academically and personally. For some kids, they see their teachers more than they do their own parents. It's unprofessional and degrading to educators to think they have to give their students a formalized 'test' just so they can prove what they already know. Save the time, save the aggravation, and focus on continuing to learn...

Myth 4 - More rigor is a good thing. We don't need more rigor in schools... if you've ever seen the definition, then you would probably agree that more rigor is NOT a good thing. How about appropriately challenging our students... that makes more sense to me:

Myth 5 - If a student has an 'A' they've obviously mastered all the content/skills for that particular course. Far too often we get lost in what grades really mean, and unfortunately, we are finding more and more that a grade really isn't very aligned with actual content/skill mastery. Pressure from students, parents, and society, make it difficult to transition away from grades, but the closer and closer we look at grades the further and further away we get from actual definitive proof of learning.

Myth 6 - We have to toughen kids up for the next grade level and/or life experience. How often do we hear a teacher say 'well, in _____ grade this is how they do it.' Or, even better, 'in the real-world you'll have to do _____.' When we say these phrases to kids we are basically saying that their current life and existence pale in comparison to what they will experience next year or later in life. We are also saying that to prepare you for a certain level of misery later in life you need to experience misery now. We don't prepare kids for what's next by making them endure misery now... we teach them and hold them accountable to learning so the next level of misery isn't so miserable.

Myth 7 - When we offer rewards and incentives to get kids to perform at higher levels we are going to get a sustainable and long-lasting positive difference in their effort and overall performance. We live in a society where saying 'what do I get' is far too commonplace. Kids and adults always want to know what's in it for them. This strategy and mindset of using extrinsic motivators and rewards to get better and higher performance is short-term at best. Perhaps you get a boost in performance for a couple weeks, but eventually that 'reward' is going to wear off and the current reward will no longer be enough to warrant that level of performance. True reward is born out of intrinsic motivation and a self-driven interest in doing whatever the task may be. Rewards and incentives are a dangerous game to play and I fear the game has been spinning out of control for a while now...

Myth 8 - Kids need schools to learn. Kids can and are learning all the time. It's time for education to stop assuming that learning can't occur unless it's in a classroom with four walls and a teacher in a school. In fact, we should be embracing and encouraging students to take advantage of the learning that's always around them. The sooner we educators can break down the 'mindset' barrier of when and where learning can occur, the more relevant and applicable formal education will become for our students.

Myth 9 - To be a good and 'tough' teacher, you need to give out tons of homework and do lots of pop quizzes. Parents hate to see their kids at home without any homework because without any homework they assume the students aren't learning anything, thus the teacher must not be teaching anything. This couldn't be further from the truth. Aside from the negative effects of homework and the fact that many students are missing out on what really matters as a young kid growing up, homework is becoming a 'love of learning' killer.

Far too often homework is used to replace a lack of class time and kids are expected to teach themselves and learn on their own. Many kids then struggle and end up doing the work incorrectly anyway. If the kids can already do the work, then homework becomes a simple task of compliance. Lastly, pop quizzes should be avoided. If you trust the validity of your assessments, you shouldn't fear the kid knowing your expectations and knowing the exact time and place of the assessment. Pop quizzes shift the focus away from the content and skills, and put the focus on kids being stressed and pressured... neither of which are good for academic performance.

Myth 10 - School is preparing kids for the real-world. Kids are experiencing the real-world each and every day and believe it or not, school is a part of that real-world. Let's stop treating school and outside of school as two separate entities and acknowledge that the more they become one, the better off our students will be.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Don't give up on sharing that idea...

You know that idea you shared with your colleagues...

You were so excited to share the idea and you spent plenty of time trying to figure out the best way to get this information out to your colleagues. You tried to put yourself in their shoes so you could make this idea relevant and applicable to what they were doing. You even found a couple additional resources to complement the idea you were enthusiastic about sharing. You envisioned their response and knew they would be greatly appreciative of your time and effort to share an idea you think would benefit their practice, and most importantly, their students.

Unfortunately, the way it played out in your head isn't exactly the way it played out in real life...

If you are new in your position or new in your district, or if you are just trying some new things and new approaches, you most likely know what it feels like to share something with such passion and enthusiasm only to feel as if your words were falling on the proverbial deaf ears.

It's not a good feeling, and after getting that feeling several times, it's easy to see how some educators decide to work in isolation and simply focus on doing "their thing" rather than the collaborative and open-communication approach we would all benefit from.

It may be tough not to, but the easy thing to do is to give up on sharing new ideas. New ideas cause people to feel uncomfortable because it is the unknown, and it's human nature to fear what we don't understand. Additionally, it's easy for the person who is sharing these new ideas to be ostracized and cast aside as someone who is "pushing" their own agenda.

What you might not realize is that even though it appears these new ideas are going unnoticed and that people are ignoring anything and everything you say, I can almost guarantee that a few people are taking notice. Even more so, I would be willing to bet they are secretly having conversations about these ideas and possibly even trying them out in their classrooms. 

This won't be evident (at first), but after a while a few pockets of "initiators" will begin to form. People who didn't hear the idea first hand will begin talking about this new approach because they are hearing it second hand from others. You might even get a nice email thanking you for taking the time to share. You might... 

You might also never hear anything. You might never know how this idea or how the time you spent talking about it affected those around you. Even though you might not ever know, is not an excuse to stop doing what you do...

Don't give up on sharing that next idea.

We can't afford for you to give up. Our kids can't afford for you to give up...

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

8 things every student deserves...

One of the things I miss most about my job is the connection and relationship with students. For me to speak and work with students, I really have to go out of my way and to make it happen. Unfortunately this doesn't happen nearly as often as I would like, but my recognition of that is incentive enough to make it a priority; a renewed priority this school year...

What's clear to me is that our students deserve and need a lot from us:

1). Every student deserves to have someone who won't give up on them; someone who will encourage them, support them, and reassure them that there are those who believe in them. #youmatter

2). Every student deserves to have the appropriate tools and resources available to them that will allow them to find success. We are rightfully obligated to provide the necessary tools for our students, and this must be a part of the bigger picture when it comes to available resources and personnel.

3). Every student deserves to have similar and equal opportunities that others may have; the opportunity gap we have in education is broadening the gap between the 'educated' and the 'non-educated.' We can't continue to allow this to happen when we are talking about access to learning.

4). Every student deserves the benefit of the doubt. Far too often we assume students are doing something wrong and not doing what they are supposed to be doing. When we assume, we tend to be incorrect.

5). Every student deserves a teacher who believes that what's been done in the past is NOT the only factor when determining what to do in the present and what to do in the future. The choices we make affect our students... we can't hold them back because we are scared to do something we aren't comfortable with.

6). Every student deserves the opportunity to design, create, and explore. We must create a safe environment for our students to feel comfortable with doing things they have never done before. This level of comfort and trust makes everything else possible.

7). Every student deserves to have the best teacher. Far too often we put our newest and least experienced teachers with our most challenging and most at-risk students. Shouldn't we have the best teachers and most experienced teachers working with our students who can most benefit from their skills?

8). Every student deserves a teacher who is willing to take a risk and take a chance. Sometimes it's appropriate to play it safe, while other times it's necessary to take a chance and step outside the box. Students all need someone who is willing to be different and someone who is willing to travel this journey with them...

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Still not sure about redos/retakes... then read this:

There are still lots of questions in regard to redos/retakes in the educational setting. Many of the questions raise legitimate concerns. It's my hope to address many of those concerns below. I'd like to recognize Rick Wormeli for all his work on this topic as he's been influential in helping move our district forward with our grading and assessment practices.

What about all the time it will take to allow students to do redos/retakes... the schedule is already jam-packed, so where will we find time for this?

This is a valid question and is one of importance. If schools believe 'if' a kid learns is more important than 'when' a kid learns, then redos/retakes should have a place within the school day. Also, we can't expect kids to come in early or stay after to participate in the redo/retake process as not all kids have that opportunity. Redos/retakes are about ensuring kids learn what's needed to be learned... if learning is a priority, then finding time shouldn't be a problem.

What about the kids who take an assessment and then five minutes later say, 'I want to do a redo/retake now.' How is this teaching the student to prepare for an assessment?

For a student to be able to redo/retake an assessment, they should first have to go through a 'relearn' process. Having a redo/retake policy is an opportunity we provide students because we believe learning is a priority. Having said that, a student must first demonstrate through a 'relearn' process that they are indeed ready for a redo/retake. Simply having a kid redo/retake an assessment the next day hasn't allowed that student time to learn the material, so the results of the assessment won't be any different. Whether it means a student doing some additional practice or completing missed work or simply having a short conversation with the teacher, the student must first demonstrate that he/she is ready for a redo/retake before being granted that opportunity.

What about colleges... they don't allow redos/retakes, so shouldn't we be preparing kids for what they will experience in college?

If or whether colleges are allowing redos/retakes frankly shouldn't be a concern of PreK-12 education. At the end of the day our job is to prepare kids to be successful in life. We prepare kids to be successful in life (and college) by ensuring they learn. And to ensure ALL kids learn we need to embrace the practice of redos/retakes. Just because colleges use outdated pedagogical practices doesn't mean we should subject our PreK-12 students to these same practices...

What about the students who don't need the redos/retakes... won't they think this isn't fair?

This is a partial myth... students who demonstrate mastery the first time really don't care if it takes another student three or four times to demonstrate mastery. However, the parents of the students who mastered it the first time are the ones who care because they want to believe their child deserves something more for learning the material faster. Learning isn't a competition, and when we allow it to be, we are creating a hostile environment for all of our students. Also, the students who demonstrate mastery the first time around don't have the same uphill battle as the students who require redos/retakes. The students participating in the redos/retakes are also having to keep up with the current classroom learning so in reality they are doing double the work.

What about cheating since the student will have already seen the assessment... won't they just remember the assessment and then look up the answers?

Sure, this could be a concern if the redo/retake assessment is always exactly the same. The trick here is not always using the same assessment when doing redos/retakes. Allow students the opportunity to demonstrate mastery in a different way to eliminate the concern of cheating and/or memorizing the assessment. Remember, the key of allowing redos/retakes is to aid in the learning process, so if a student is able to demonstrate mastery in a different format, then that should be perfectly acceptable. Also, don't ask students to re-demonstrate mastery once they've already showed you they can do it. Only ask kids to redo/retake the parts of an assessment that weren't done at mastery level to save time and keep the focus on enhancing learning.

What about the grades for all the redos/retakes... since it might take a student multiple attempts to demonstrate mastery, shouldn't all the grades be added together and then averaged?

If we take an average of student grades as they are going through the learning process, then we are reinforcing an environment where students aren't going to want to fail and aren't going to want to take risks. Learning requires failure and requires risk taking, so we shouldn't allow the grades a student receives when first learning the material to negatively impact a student's grade in the end. Practice is practice, and the way a football team practices all week long in preparation for the big game doesn't mean they start with more or less points on Friday night... they still start with zero. Focus on most recent evidence when it comes to mastery and grading. Lastly, when we average grades we distort the overall accuracy of our grades.

What about in the real-world... the real-world doesn't allow redos/retakes so aren't we sending the wrong message to our students?