A common theme of my writing this year is about simplification.
Because sometimes we make things so much harder than they need to be.
In my humble opinion, education is the HUB of acronyms and buzzwords. "Use NWEA or a DRA for AYP to meet NCLB in an IEP." "Differentiate using best-practices and research-based strategies with a mindset of data-driven decision making and customizable learning environments that use valid and reliable formative assessments." Where both of those statements are actionable and actual statements that can be heard in any school system across the country, we continually add more to the mix... to the point of over-saturation. The "educational eye-roll", I call it. When a policy-wonk or a head-in-the-clouds, idealistic and out-of-the-box thinking curriculum coordinator (hey... sounding too familiar here...) starts using this language, many teachers and educators have become accustomed to rolling their eyes back and letting the edu-babble wash over them. It's not conscious... it's due to over-saturation. Too much; too often; little actual applicability.
The latest: Student Learning Objectives (SLOs).
To honor my belief that time is precious and a gift, I'll spare you the time here of "defining" an SLO. Why? You can Google that yourself. The object of this post is not to define an SLO, but rather, to SIMPLIFY it. (Check out the end of this post for some of my top resources for SLO information, design, etc.).
To simplify SLOs, it's important to break it down into simple understandable language. That means few words, and those few words need to be limited in complexity and difficulty.
So if I could summarize and simplify SLO, it would be: good teaching.
Huh? I thought an SLO was an assessment?
It is, but all assessment is predicated in teaching. All assessment is based on learning goals/standards, and the instruction that leads to that learning goal. Assessment is the bridge between what is intended to be learned, and what was actually learned (ain't nuttin but a validity thang). An SLO is indeed an assessment that is based on good teaching practices. Wait... I think I just defined an SLO... didn't I say I wouldn't do that? OOPS.
Anyway, an SLO looks like this:
Last time I checked, those 5 stages are the basic definitions and principles of good teaching. It doesn't have to be complicated. Keep it simple; keep it focused on learning and effective instruction. That's my $0.02.
Or did I miss something?
As promised, here are my favorite resources for SLOs:
Thank you, Steve Knight.
Steve is a long time Chemistry teacher at Winthrop High School in Winthrop, ME. I worked for Winthrop High School from 2004-2009, and in that time I grew as an educator tremendously. One afternoon in 2006 (I think), Steve and I, who were collaborating as co-chairs of the NEASC accreditation process, were discussing our plans for the accreditation process, when Steve asked me, "Do you watch TED?"
"Ted who... Danson?" (I don't remember if I actually said this, but given my snarky nature and SUPERB wit (can't you tell?), I can totally see me actually saying this)
"No," said Steve, "TED.com. Every day during lunch, I need to get my TED fix. You should check it out."
TED.com changed my world. For the better. And I eternally owe it to Steve for showing me that door.
I'm not saying anything new, here. TED.com has been around for a long time, and has been referenced millions of times by educators. I know this. But everyone gets inspired. And everyone has their "go-to's" for inspiration.
I am in the middle of leading some massive paradigm changes in our school district (AOS #94):
... to name a few.
Many of the changes are slow to take hold. All of them come with a fight. The fights come from all sides, depending on the situation: students, parents, teachers, administrators, board members. These fights, though, are worth fighting, because the systems we are changing are in desperate need of updating and alignment. I am continually optimistic and idealistic that these changes will happen, given focus, drive, and consistent leadership.
So, what keeps me idealistic? What drives that optimism?
Coffee and comedy help. But so does TED.com.
When I get to the point that I feel like I'm losing hope in these changes actually happening (and this happens to me regularly), I purposefully go to get my dose of TED.com... a source of inspiration that Steve Knight gave me.
And then, I'm back. The optimist. The idealist. The optimistic-idealist that gets back to work to make these necessary changes actually take hold and work. Meaningfully. Systemically. For a long time.
Since I love lists, here's my top TED talks.
1) Ken Robinson
**OK... I admit to cheating here, giving two videos. But I couldn't pick which one I liked more, so... I chose both. It's my blog, and I can do what I want!
These videos both shocked and inspired me in terms of the need for creativity, depth, and innovation in our schools... and what are some of the potential root causes (unintentional and intentional) for why our students, teachers, and schools are falling behind in these areas.
2) Dan Pink
3) Angela Lee Duckworth
4) Carol Dweck
** Do TEDx talks count? Yup! Again: my blog, my rules!
5) Todd Rose
6) Craig Messerman
7) Rita Pierson
This. Just: this.
All day, and everyday. This.
There's my list. What's in yours?
Because Reggie Watts.
I'm pretty new to the world of design thinking. I get most of my inspiration, learning, and support from the #dtk12chat crew on Twitter. They are my CONNECTION to the world of design thinking, and I encourage any/all educators out there interested in design thinking (from the nubiest of nubes to the Bob Vila's of the DT world) to connect, collaborate, and engage with this community, Don't thank me later... just thank yourself for taking the leap.
This year I'm diving in deep. Everything I do in terms of curriculum design, professional development, systems organization, instructional strategies, etc. are focused on the principles of design thinking. There are many ways of doing design thinking... it's one of the best parts of it. There's no right or wrong way... there's just "way" (if you say that last line as Wayne and Garth, it'll be worth it). In keeping with my theme of keeping things SIMPLE this year, I have found that Mary Cantwell's DEEP design thinking framework works really well for me. I like it's simple, yet explicit construction and use. It's broken into four simple stages:
I use this framework all of the time now, because, for me, it just makes sense. Plus, it's easy to follow: not just for me (still nube-ish), but for those I work with.
Recently, something happened in my weird brain that makes connections that aren't always there, obvious, or intentional. And it blew my mind.
For a long time now, I've been deep (ha!) into assessment. In particular, assessment for learning. Learning and achievement are different things (achievement = product; learning = process). My work as a curriculum-instruction-assessment coordinator for AOS #94 has had me consumed with standards-based learning models, proficiency-based diplomas, effective and healthy grading practices, and (in particular) authentic assessment and measurement for learning. Our district has adopted the Marzano framework for instruction, and I have been working on connecting and aligning our instruction, curriculum, and assessment systems to the Marzano Taxonomy for going on three-years now. There are six-stages to the Marzano taxonomy (you can see it above in the beginning of this post), but for our K-12 purposes, we primarily focus on the first four-stages:
Sometimes, things get hidden in such plain sight. And then when you finally see them you think to yourself, "HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS BEFORE?????"
The RETRIEVAL stage of the Marzano taxonomy of cognitive complexity is all about Identifying, Recalling, Recognizing, and Executing in terms of specific information and execution of steps. Is this not the aligned level of complexity required for the DISCOVER stage in DEEP design thinking? According to the DEEPdt Playbook, DISCOVER begins with "opening your eyes," identifying where "the cracks in your environment," and lots and lots of "preflection." In terms of cognitive complexity: these two (DISCOVER - RETRIEVAL) line up directly and explicitly.
Well, what about the rest?
COMPREHENSION is all about integrating, symbolizing, and describing. You can't fully integrate, symbolize, or describe an issue without the second stage in DEEPdt: EMPATHIZE. It's the whole, "put yourself in someone else's shoes" activity, but this alignment of complexity to process seems pretty blatant.
In the EXPERIMENT phase of DEEPdt, you'd be designing questions around "how might we" (HMW), "what if," etc. This aligns with ANALYSIS, where you'd be comparing & contrasting, evaluating, critiquing, generalizing, deducing. and developing arguments. No product yet... just hypothesis generation. Trying things out. Seeing what might work; what might not.
PRODUCE is KNOWLEDGE UTILIZATION. The ability to take the skills and content of what was learned, and design, create, and make something to address the issue at hand.
So, how might we use this connection in classrooms, schools, and districts?
Scaffolding curriculum based on complexity will support students in achieving deep understanding about the concepts and skills. Using the DEEPdt process in intentionally designing curriculum based on the levels of complexity will make the scaffolding that much more explicit, direct, and aligned to what matters most: learning.
Sometimes, we make things so much harder than they need to be.
My goals this year for my work with educators is based on two simple principles: SIMPLIFY and CONNECT.
This post is intended to SIMPLIFY. That doesn't mean it'll be easy. In fact, it'll be difficult at times. Any task can be broken into four separate quadrants (adopting this from Steven Covey):
In my work to simplify everything we do, I have come to a realization that part of the reason there is a huge disconnect in understanding the principles and applying a standards-based learning model, is caught up in the word: alignment. Educators have been working on alignment for decades; vertical alignment, horizontal alignment, interdisciplinary alignment, standards alignment, etc. It's not a new concept to educators. In fact, many hear the word alignment and think, "here we go again." Or, "didn't we do this already?" Or, "why bother? What we align to now will change in 5 years? What's the point?"
Schools and education systems seem to be continually aligning, which, by default and logic, means that they are constantly, in part, misaligned. It's natural; as systems grow and evolve, things change and courses need to be slightly corrected. It happens with planes, trains, and automobiles... everywhere, And if the targets keep changing, it's easy to understand the frustration and anxiety alignment can bring to educators. We're busy enough, and the last thing we need is more busy-work that we believe will have no impact on my classroom.
Maybe the issue, then, isn't alignment itself, but how and what we are aligning. All educators I talk to agree that vertical, horizontal, interdisciplinary, and standards alignment is necessary, but the frustration in doing redundant work impedes true progress. This is were I say: perhaps it's because we haven't been really been aligning to what's most important: complexity.
Educators have always aligned to content. In mathematics, the alignment of content is concrete. Number Sense, leads to Addition and Subtraction, which leads to Multiplication and Division, which leads to Fractions and Decimals, etc. In English/Language Arts, it's about phonemic awareness to word recognition to sentences to paragraphs to tone and point of view to grammar and finally to at all costs avoiding run-on sentences because the reader needs to take a break which is why commas, ellipses, semicolons, etc., were invented so get on with it already! If you track most curriculum from K-12, you will find that the alignment is (and has mostly) been based on content. My contention is that this is the WRONG way to align. I know I shouldn't say WRONG because it's judgmental and opinionated and strong, but it's how I feel. And not just how I feel, but there's evidence backing it up too.
We should be basing our curriculum, instruction, and assessment systems on COMPLEXITY over content. Content is the frosting on the cake; it's yummy and sweet, and oh-so-delicious, but if you want cake and just get a plate of frosting... something's going to be missing, and you're going to feel cheated. COMPLEXITY is the cake; content is the frosting. Here's what I mean:
Take the equation for measuring Newton's second law of motion (F = ma). A student can IDENTIFY or USE the equation. In terms of the Marzano Taxonomy, that's very low level cognitive thinking. It's clear that the student has a basic/foundational grasp of the content by meeting this level of complexity. The alignment question should be: is that complexity level high enough? If the standard is written at a Retrieval level on the Marzano Taxonomy, then our curriculum-instruction-assessment is aligned. But what if the standard is written at an Analysis level on the Marzano Taxonomy? And what if our instruction and assessment only asks students to perform at a Retrieval level? Has the student "Met the Standard"? Is the student "Applying the Standard"?
From the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS): "PS2-1: Analyze data that supports Newton's Second Law with Force, mass, and acceleration."
Part of the reason our students aren't retaining information lesson-to-lesson, unit-to-unit, or year-to-year, isn't because our curriculum-instruction-assessment is misaligned in terms of content. In fact, I believe we throw TOO MUCH content at them.
In a word: SIMPLIFY.
Align to complexity. Base the curriculum-instruction-assessment systems off of complexity. Here's what you need in order to do this:
That's it. Simplify. The content can be measured at a low level of complexity, and a high level of complexity. If we only align to content, then one grade level (or multiple classrooms within that grade level) might be measuring at a higher/lower levels of complexity, meaning the depth of understanding and application of the content varies year to year, student to student. Start here. End here.
Alignment isn't challenging. It shouldn't be frustrating. Base everything off of COMPLEXITY.
Image from paul4innovating.com
For far too long, my school district (AOS #94) has looked at professional development (PD) in very uncoordinated terms. This is not uncommon, either. PD is often looked at as workshop days or early releases, professional learning community (PLC) times, or conferences. However, PD happens all the time. Common planning time; faculty meetings; Twitter chats, and more. There are hundreds of PD opportunities and options available to educators all of the time, but it is imperative that a district have and adopt a PD plan. This DOES NOT mean simply planning themes for the workshop days, but rather have explicit and meaningful goals for all educators to demonstrate proficiency of at the end of the school year. This is the obvious intention of any evaluation system that is focused on educator development, but PD should be explicit and have measurable outcomes. If PD is designed to improve instructional effectiveness and affect student achievement, then our PD system's design and expectations should mirror that of an effective and affective classroom. Check out this information from the Marzano Center at Learning Sciences:
Notice the two areas that show the highest percentage in student achievement: Tracking Student Progress and Using Scoring Scales and Setting Goals/Objectives. PD should be designed using these same principles. If your district PD is hodgepodge (to put it delicately), then bring this up to leadership. What are the goals/objectives? How will we track progress? Further, how does our PD EXPLICITY align to implementing and measuring these strategies in the classroom?
Here's how we are doing this in AOS #94:
We have established three major goals for PD for 2015-2016: RIGOR, PROFICIENCY SCALES, and FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT. Every/Any PD that our educational staff (Administrators, Teachers, Ed Techs, etc.) need to EXPLICITLY align to these goals. This is a non-negotiable. Further, at the end of the year, all educators should be able to demonstrate proficiency in the nine expectations that are aligned to the three goals. This system of proficiency is the exact same that we are placing on our students. It's a "what's good for the gander" situation.
Here's our set plan for workshop days and early releases:
Further, our other teams and work that may not be directly related to PD should also align to these goals. For example, here's our plan for our school-based and district-wide data teams:
Alignment of PD doesn't have to be difficult. It just needs to be explicit and coordinated. It needs to bleed into everything we do, because everything we do in education is, in one way or the other, improving us as educators. Setting goals/objectives and tracking progress of those explicit goals can only suffice in increase achievement of those goals.
Open the attached .pdf (below) to download the full aligned plan & use for your own district. Sharing is caring!
How is your district's PD organization and effectiveness? Leave me a comment and let's talk about it!