During this week's #EdChatME, I brought up a "What if:"
This is not just an idea, though. It gets to the entire point of a personalized learning environment. Real world learning is rarely isolated or "siloed" (as we like to say in education). Real-world learning is often a jumble of everything together, and the trick is knowing how and when to use which content and skills. Isn't that the point of education? To get our kids ready for "real life," however that is defined? And since we cannot define it beyond an individualized scope, maybe we shouldn't try. Maybe, instead, we focus on the environments. We focus on the spaces between the silos as the real magic to where real learning and achievement occurs.
So, how might we (HMW) design curriculum and instruction in a way that is relevant, but still meeting state & local expectations?
Historically, we've focused on ELA/Math, because of the impact and "importance" of standardized testing. A personalized learning and proficiency-based learning environment, though, doesn't care about testing as much; it cares about learning. And the systems we use should be built around principles of effective learning, and the individualized needs of our core users (students). Since ELA/Math are easily embedded and connected with every other content area, #whatif we focused our core requirements on the areas of Social Studies, Science, Art, Engineering, Health, and Physical Education? #Whatif we made ELA/Math more authentically integrated to those other content areas? What kind of learning and achievement impact would we have?
I am thrilled to be working on this with a dedicated team of amazing educators at AOS #94. We started off looking at the standards and learning targets for Science and Social Studies, and made connections between the two, developing driving challenges to focus our students on inquiry (versus content). Some examples of the challenges our students will be facing:
Each of these challenges are deeply and explicitly connected to the Next Generation Science Standards and the Maine Social Studies standards, as well as the Common Core standards for Mathematics and English/Language Arts. We have allotted approximately 8-10 weeks per challenge, and have scaffolded our assessments and instruction based on the levels of cognitive complexity/demand embedded in the standards and learning targets.
Oh, and we've also designed similar plans for second and third grade as well.
Have I mentioned that the educators at AOS #94 are truly #awesomesauce? I can't say it enough.
How are you intentionally and explicitly integrating and connecting the content to make more authentic and relevant learning experiences? Share your story with us on #edchatme!
I was recently interviewed by Maine Public Broadcasting on my work with AOS #94 and proficiency-based diplomas. I believe they did their best job in explaining our highly complex, ground-breaking, and innovative approach to communicating learning and achievement of all students, but some core components were lost in translation, and some areas were highlighted inaccurately. I am not using this post to respond to each of the errors, misconceptions, or problems throughout the story as I feel that is counterproductive. However, here is what everyone/anyone should know about the certification and learning system we are developing:
“Professional Practice” is a term that’s being thrown around a lot in many educational circles these days. It goes along with “Educator Effectiveness,” “Teacher Evaluation,” etc. I consider myself a professional. I’ve been working in public education since 2001, and have been working with and teaching kids since 1994. It’s my life’s profession, so, as such, I’m a professional.
I mean, I’m certified as an educator. I have degrees and certificates from accredited and acclaimed Universities acknowledging my competencies and abilities. I continually have my contract renewed, perform (reasonably) well in my job, and continue to love, promote, and grow as an educator. That makes me a professional.
Standards-based learning, as a system of learning for students, has completely flipped the edu-paradigm. It’s making us (educators) look more closely at the learning targets themselves, not at an overall aggregate that blends in whether or not Susie stayed in from recess to earn bonus points by cleaning the chalk board. But it’s more than just a system for students. It’s more than just an edu-paradigm shift for them. It’s changing the entire paradigm, and that means us as educators, and with that change, comes a redefinition and/or restructuring of what “professional” actually means.
My district (AOS #94; www.aos94.org; @AOS94ME) has adopted the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model, which brings into the fold four domains of professional practice for teachers:
So you’re a Marzano guy… yup… going corporate. Lame.
Hang on. Not corporate. Research. Good research highly vetted, and the research out of Learning Sciences, International is top notch. It’s not opinion, belief, or hope. It’s all based on evidence. Objective evidence that has been tested, and tested, and retested. Repeat. Ignoring scientifically-based research based on “what I’ve always done” is exactly the same as ignoring scientific fact based on personal beliefs (not getting religious/political here). If the scientific research tells us that providing clear and rigorous learning goals and expectations has a major effect on improving student achievement, that’s a warning we should heed. That’s information we should use. If a doctor is presented with research that a certain medication will cure a specific disease, then it is the responsibility of that doctor to use that medication when a patient has that disease (I know it’s more complicated than that and I’m oversimplifying this… but go with the point, not the specifics). Doctors, lawyers, engineers, plumbers, electricians, and just about all professions have standards of professional practice. Education is no different, and we’ve had them for years. Standards keep us grounded, on task, and pointed. They can be high concept, or incredibly granular. Either way, they give us a performance-based roadmap. There are a few different models out there, but there’s one constant across each: research.
Standards are our roadmap of professional practice. Standards-based learning isn’t just about student achievement and learning; it’s also about improving “Professional Practice.”
Our systems for teacher evaluation, educator effectiveness, and professional practice need to mirror the systems of standards-based learning for students. The focus should be on development/growth/learning; not an aggregate grade. It should be holistic in it’s approach; customizable and personalized at the individual level, and be consistently applied for all. Monitoring growth is crucial, and the data from that monitoring should be used to develop instructional/professional practice plans, not as a means of judgment.
In our edu-paradigm shift, it’s impossible to change one system while maintaining the other. Both systems of learning for teachers AND students are inter-dependent and related. The core principles should be the same: research-based practices that lead to a focus on growth and development.
So what does it mean to be a professional?
In our system, it’s how educators provide evidence as they relate to the standards of “Professional Practice.” The answers are in the standards, and it’s up to us to prove it. Not to the admin. Not to the state.
But to ourselves, and each other.
And most importantly, our students.
That’s what it means to be a professional.
This work is really hard. Really, really hard. It requires skill, focus, drive, grit, tenacity, empathy, knowledge, and above all else, patience. If this were the private sector, we could just shut down for a few months; retool; and then reopen. But this is education. Public education. And we don't have that luxury.
Here's what we have (and why it's more challenging than you may think):
"Just do the work then! You've got all that time to build the system without the kids... do it then." True. We have that time. And by we, I mean the administrators, because during those months we are also without the most important change agents in our system: the teachers. Can't change teaching without the teachers. Systems changes happen with collaboration, and a hierarchical "Just Do It" approach works for short-term compliance, but not for deep systemic changes in practice.
Professional Development time!
"With all the inservice, early release/late start, and other release time for professional development, just get it done then. And teachers: well, they have common planning time, right? USE IT!"
Sure. This time is available. So, how might we use this chunk of time to address the following:
I feel very lucky to be a part of a district that is thinking about these many challenges in creative and innovative ways. I am thankful that I get to lead, design, build, and implement some systemic changes in our professional learning opportunities and explicitly simplifying and connecting the tasks at hand. The result:
There's a lot to this Padlet, but it represents a lot of the innovative and forward thinking work we (AOS #94) are exploring and implementing in terms of improving and changing our education systems. If you are engaging in this work too: kudos to you. You have an empathetic ear in me, and I hope you connect so we can share, gripe, yell, laugh, and solve problems. Together.
I've been practicing sketchnoting for a few months now.
Really loving how I am developing a style, a voice, and confidence in my drawing and note taking.
Another benefit that I am finding of sketchnoting: I am becoming a much better listener. I find myself being more careful with what I write and sketch, and as a result am more aware of what is happening. The old note taker would be able to only focus on one thing at a time, but as a result of sketching, I am becoming a more active and in-tuned listener.
This has HUGE classroom and instructional implications, by the way.
Here's my first collection of my adventures in sketchnoting:
You can also find this post on WickedDecentLearning.com
My seven-year old is now a Girl Scout, and is loving it. From selling cookies, to archery, to helping the community, she’s is all over every aspect of being a Girl Scout. I recently asked her what she loves the most about it, and her answer surprised me: “The badges,” she said. The badges. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have used merit and achievement badges for decades, and they are a proven method for honoring success, achievement, and growth. Much of our district’s transition to a proficiency-based learning model is based on this same model. Here’s a quick breakdown of the basics of our transition to a proficiency-based learning model:
Grades are different than badges.
A traditional grade is an average of a whole lot of different factors. Badges are narrower in focus, but deeper in learning. Our proficiency-based learning transition is focusing on going deeper with our content and, more importantly, what our students can do with that content. In the era of Google, simply providing information isn’t enough; we have to teach our kids what to do with it.
Badges tell a story.
Proficiency-based learning is about communicating what the students have actually learned. It’s about honoring the learning of all students. It’s about reporting accurately what students can do as a result of the teaching. Badges in the Girl and Boy Scouts tell a clear, open, and transparent story, not only of what a student has learned, but what a student can do. Our transition to a proficiency-based learning model is focused on the same core principles.
There’s more than one way to sell a box of cookies.
Some Girl Scouts go door to door. Some Scouts give their parents the form to bring to work. Some Scouts create an online presence and sell them globally. Some Scouts sell to the Hollywood elite during the Academy Awards. What’s the goal: to sell the cookies the same way, or to learn how to sell cookies? Proficiency-based learning is about finding many ways to achieve the same goal. There’s not one way to learn anything; there are a million ways to learn everything. Traditional schools focus on one pathway; proficiency-based learning focuses on multiple.
Badges are hard work, but fun.
Learning shouldn’t be easy. School shouldn’t be easy. It should be difficult and challenging. But more importantly, schools should be environments that promote productive struggle. The best learning opportunities are never linear; they require mistakes, failures, “oops” moments, reflections, and imperfections. Proficiency-based learning models are based in the principles of learning, meaning that imperfection and error is expected. “If at first you don’t succeed: try, try again.”
So I just spent the last week in Disney. And I spent. And I'm spent. Spent sums me up at the moment. But something truly hit me our last evening there: the absolute power of dreams.
Walt Disney World is a land where dreams, imagination, and creativity come to life. Literally. We met Mickey Mouse. (Several times, actually). We took a mission to Mars, flew along side of the Millenium Falcon, dined in the Beast's castle, traveled up Mt. Everest, rode the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, went Under the Sea, found Nemo, experienced the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, survived the Haunted Mansion, learned Bollywood Dancing, ate at a Luau, went to Infinity (and Beyond), and reminded ourselves that it is, indeed, a small world after all. It's the truth, it's actual. Life is Satisfactual.
So as I was watching the "Celebration of Magic" and fireworks on our last night in the Magic Kingdom, the theme centered all around the power of dreams. Around the power of the mind and imagination. And how anything is possible; it just takes courage to step out and try.
It's one thing to dream an idea; it's an entirely different realm to realize that dream. Add into it the millions of nuance life can throw at you when bringing that dream to reality. It's hard work. It's scary work. It's frustrating work. It can be so tiresome, annoying, and painful that it becomes easy to ask, "is this dream even worth all of this?" That's where another line from the "Celebration of Magic" hit me:
"Let your conscience be your guide."
Dream realization takes courage. It also takes patience. It takes stubbornness. But, more than anything, it takes belief. It takes a conscience to push ourselves through the muck and over the brick walls. It takes idealism. Idealism to see through the muck and brick walls and believe (truly believe) that what we're doing matters. Taking that idealism and making it into a reality can seem daunting, if not impossible.
But the Magic Kingdom reminded me: nothing is impossible. You only have to dream it.
What are your dreams for your classroom/school/district?
Adventures in Sketchnoting (Part 1 of ... ?)
Over the last few months I've taken a deep dive into practicing Sketchnoting as a way to change my thinking process. Why? To push myself. To get myself over humps. So that when I am faced with a challenge, I will have several methods at my disposal to help me overcome that challenge. Logic models? Yup. Data analysis? Sure. Qualitative research methods? Done. Design thinking? Love it. Visual representations? That's where I'm at.
This post is a summary/gallery of a few of the Sketchnotes I've done over the last month or two. I'm still learning, but I'm finding that it is helping me be a better listener; more intentional with plans and design; and is helping focus and clarify my meaning.
At least, I think so.
As always, feedback is welcome.
Deeper Learning & Throwing Out Grades
Learning is a process. Learning has no end point. Learning is a continuum.
These are principles of “learning” that must not only be understood, but applied effectively if we are going to have a meaningful and authentic discussion about “deep learning.” For fans of the movie Shrek, learning is like an onion. When you learn about something, a layer is removed. The point of learning something is to get to its core; its center. In the learning continuum, layers are continuously peeled off to get closer and closer to the center. So, what happens when you get to the center of the bulb? Break out the microscope, folks… there’s always more to go.
That is the core component of learning. There’s always more to learn. And this should be a core value and belief in our educational system. The key word in that last sentence is: should.
Our current educational system does not reflect this core value and belief, and the evidence of this has been under our very noses and hiding in plain sight for over one hundred years. All teachers have experienced the student who has done “well” in the unit, and then bombed the test. Or who has done well in the class, only to have forgotten everything the next day. Or who has met or exceed every expectation that we have thrown at them, only to struggle when we ask them to learn independently or autonomously. In fact, many teachers may have been some of those very students when they were in school. It’s been an “accepted truth” in our educational system. Look no further than the summer brain drain. It’s an accepted fact that students will not fully retain the learning and information from June to August.
Why is this accepted? Why do schools continue to shrug their shoulders and simply accept that this happens? Teachers regularly have to intentionally and explicitly plan remediation for the first month or two of school. This poses the question, “to what extent did the students deeply learn what was taught the prior year?” The automatic response would be: “look at their grades and find out.”
And there is the core problem of our educational system that is, unintentionally yet directly, preventing deeper learning in our students: grades.
Going back to the initial premise: Learning is a process. Learning has no end point. Learning is a continuum. Grades are end points… and our students use them that way. Students who get “Cs” are often not intrinsically motivated to independently improve that grade. Granted some do, but remember that every generalization is false in the specific. If a student earns a “passing grade,” that student moves on, even if that student has not deeply learned the core material and/or proficiently proven the skills. Grades stop learning. They were intended to be an efficient system of feedback for students and parents, yet over the years have morphed into something based more on assumption than fact. That efficient system worked, but like all systems, there comes a time when that system needs either tuning, repair, or redesign. Grades are not a more efficient communication tool than email, social media, or texting. Grades come with symbols and interpretive skills that vary based on the individual student, parent, teacher, school, district, community, state, and nation. Grades were meant to be an easy way to communicate progress of learning, but ask any teacher, student, or parent what a “B-” or “C+” means regarding specifics of learning and ability, and the answers will vary from “meh” to “ok” to “I guess I did well enough to pass.” The real problem here is that no one is actually communicating what was learned. It’s way too vague, and in an era of globalized economies, instantaneous connectivity, and greater competition than ever before in the history of humanity, specificity, detail, and clear and effective communication have become some of the most important components of success and growth. Education is not outside of these rules and realities; in fact, we need to drive them.
It’s time to throw out grades for a better system of feedback; one based on language, purpose, and meaningful conversation between teacher, student, and parent about the learning process. This won't be easy; but it's necessary.
Check out AOS #94’s pilot/draft of a new proficiency-based scale: