October 2010


What a great issue!  Nearly every piece offers values to educators seeking to provide 21st century learning, and learning by doing meaningful work, by addressing and solving authentic, real-world problems, and to do collaboratively, digitally, and on-line.

An appreciative round-up:

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Solving Problems that Count.  The title is a great expression of how to organize learning, and this unapologetic Dan Pink fan is delighted to see author Dana Maloney apply the ideas of his Drive to student learning.

When offered degrees of autonomy, mastery, and purpose, students will engage more fully with their learning. Yet let’s be truthful: All too frequently, we ask students to learn without autonomy, without opportunity for mastery, and without purpose. So how can we use these forces to create more meaningful learning experiences for our students?

Maloney is an AP English teacher, and I like that she seeks to take traditional advance English assignments, such as novel comparisons, and take them toward addressing real world problems that students are engaged with and inquiring about.

teams of students speak on the topic of “being the change they wish to see in the world.” All my students are determined to enact change, and they all believe they are capable of doing so, both now and in the future.

Students want to make choices, be directed by purpose, and master content—and schools can offer students meaningful learning experiences by having them play a role in solving the world’s problems. In doing so, we release the potential in our students, make effective use of 21st century literacy tools, and create learning experiences that are deeply meaningful for both our students and our world.

Call me romantic, but I love this message.

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Carol Dweck, one of my favorites, tells us Even Geniuses Work Hard, and that students will strengthen their growth mindset when they are challenged to do “meaningful learning tasks.”

Meaningful learning tasks give students a clear sense of progress leading to mastery…

Homework assignments should not feel like mindless, repetitive exercises; rather, they should present novel problems for students to solve, require them to apply what they’ve learned in new ways, or ask them to stretch to the next level. (more…)

Our 2nd HSSSE (High School Survey of Student Engagement) report has arrived, and we are delighted about our results.   We are one of only three AZ schools which administers the HSSSE because we are serious about our students’ engagement in learning.  Our students continue to outpace the national norms in every category of engagement in learning.  Our students report double the national HSSSE population, for instance, in often writing papers of greater than five pages, in often receiving helpful feedback on assignments, and in the school’s emphasizing analyzing ideas in depth.

Two notes on the slides above:  1. The graphs are not easy to read; to view more clearly, click on menu in the lower left hand corner, then “view full screen.”  2. Because the all-school results changed very little from 2009-2010, we kept the graphs simpler and less cluttered by using the 2009 all-HSSSE  school results as the baseline.

However, in several of the data points we track, our school-wide results declined from 2009 to 2010.  After careful review and scrutiny, we believe this is primarily due to the school’s population having reconfigured quite significantly from 2009 to 2010:  the population surveyed went from only 19% freshmen in 2009 to 33% in 2010, and so in  areas where 9th graders are less likely to respond positively (as an example, 9th graders are likely to experience less opportunity to have a  “voice in the classroom” because our 9th grade classes are more content-driven and more lecture-0riented), our overall numbers declined.  Another example is that 9th graders are not asked as often to write papers of more than five pages in length, so our results in that area declined.  This is not to say we will not give ongoing attention to these areas, or that we will not give continued attention to improving them.  We will.

A very positive result for us is in the kind of discussions we are facilitating.   A year ago we gave particular attention to this question:  How Often Have you Discussed questions in class that have no clear answers? (Slides 5 and 6) While other school’s students reported they did so often or sometimes 72% of the time, our students in 2009 reported that to be the case 82% of the time.    In reviewing it last year, we discussed the importance of having students do so; this also came up repeatedly in our discussions as a faculty last fall in reviewing our 2009 summer reading, Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap.   The new results are in, and students answering often or sometimes soared to 92%.  (Those answering “often” remained even at 45%, so there is still room for improvement there). (more…)

To learn. Like many others, I read books and articles, attend conferences, workshops and trainings, and visit other schools in order to learn more about best practices and innovative new approaches.    But I know about myself that I will retain much more, and be much better able to draw upon and use that information in the future, if I write while I am learning, if I record the main ideas I am learning in writing, and if I reflect upon them.   So I write to learn, and if I am writing about these ideas anyway, I figure, why not share these writings.

To model learning. I think that educational leaders should publicly demonstrate that we too are learning and we too love learning: chiefs of learnings need to be chief learners.   Blogging is a great way to display the ways in which I too, like our students, am trying regularly to learn.

To share. Like all principals and school heads, I often speak (separately) to students, teachers, and parents, and sometimes it seems that what I say might be of interest to other constituencies or those who could not attend.   My blog is a great way of making these remarks available for everyone.

To showcase my school. There are so many things about my school I am proud of and which I want others to know more about so they will more strongly appreciate and admire my school (and perhaps choose to attend it).  My blog is a way to share great things happening here at school.  I can re-post the syllabus for a cool new class, write up what is said by teachers about their courses at Curriculum Night, or publish fine student work. (more…)

Michael Horn, Clayton Christensen, and Curtis Johnson return with a new edition of Disrupting Class, and a new whitepaper on a topic of concern to all of us, Student Motivation.   I reviewed favorably and discussed Disrupting Class about two years; it is an incredibly important book to thinking about where K-12 learning is headed, even if it is perhaps overblown and inflated in spots.

That book really influenced me in my embrace of “reverse instruction” and Khan Academy: if students increasingly can get the content knowledge delivery online, we have to think harder about how to use our classrooms in a way which offer more value than the lectures they can now get elsewhere.

This new white paper takes us further in asking us to address this same question: in an age of powerfully stimulating and engaging electronic networks, and online learning, what does school do for for kids? Instead of asking the question the normal way–  what do we provide students which we think offers them value– this paper argues we need to turn it around and ask of our students: what are they hiring us for? “Teachers and parents ‘offer education’ but many students are not buying what is being offered.” (more…)

CWRA and CLA ought not be only tools for assessing educational effectiveness; they must also be tools for informing improved learning of what they assess, and ultimately, we need to close the gap and link them back to effective teaching for effective learning of higher order thinking skills.

It is an empty exercise to assess student learning without providing a means to adjust teaching in response to deficiencies revealed through the information gleaned from that assessments.

So argues Marc Chun, director of education for the CWRA and CLA host, Council for Aid to Education (CAE), in an article published in Change magazine: Taking Teaching to Performance Task: Linking Pedagogical and Assessment Practices.  (Unfortunately, the article is behind a pay-wall, but someone posted it here).  Marc runs a program called CLA in the Classroom, and offers workshops around the country.

The critical thing for Marc and his team is to encourage institutions using the Collegiate Learning Assessment not just to measure overall performance, but to connected with teaching.

Assessment should align with student learning objectives so that what faculty are teaching maps directly into what is being assessed.  However, a way to achieve even closer alignment is to seek convergence between pedagogical practice and assessment tools: in other words, for an institution to teach and assess in the same way.  Teaching and assessment– so often seen at odds- instead become coterminous.

To make the learning even more powerful, this can also be done so that both the teaching and assessment mimic how the skills or knowledge will eventually be used. (more…)

21 presentations, 2 minutes each: the Wings Smackdown this morning at St. Gregory, with teachers sharing tools and resources and techniques being used in their classrooms or at school regularly.

A partial list:

Sr. Rabinowitz:  Students in 6th and 7th grade Spanish maintain a blog (via wordpress) where they respond to assigned questions by speaking their answers, en espanol, into their webcam, recording them onto either youtube or nimbb.com, and posting to their wordpress blog for the teacher to review.

Ms. Heald:  Students in middle school drama prepare a “this I believe” statement by listening to those of others on this site, and submitting their own for inclusion (this is one of our students’ published essays.

Ms. Mulloy:   Student work is posted to web-pages which Ms. Mulloy organizes using delicious bookmarking; she also finds useful the bookmarks provided on delicious by the author of our summer reading book on Reinventing PBL.

Ms. Berry:  Students are using glogster edu to prepare digital posterboards to share and reflect upon their learning.

Ms. Kuluski: Students are completing their homework, and submitting it, online using webassign.net

Ms. Bancroft: Students in sixth grade English are working in groups to create a wiki of their favorite recommended reading, edit each others work, and comment on these reviews, learning digital citizenship and collaborative editing techniques even as they write book reviews and articulate their ideas about literature, in groups.  They are also studying other online book review sites for modeling and inspiration.

Ms. Clashman: Students are learning French geography, culture, and vocabulary by househunting in France, selecting a dream home, and then furnishing it from French Ikea.

Mr. Herzog: Students are completing warmups as his class begins by completing answers on google forms, and he is able to monitor the results as they are posted and immediately identify the gaps.

Mr. Connor: Students are using a social network style, facebook-like, Ning site for their class communications and conversations.

Ms. Bodden: Students are using google docs in a myriad of ways in her class.

Dr. Morris:  Students can access podcasts of Chemistry lectures he has prepared to review or to cover topics they might have missed.

Ms. Faircloth:  Students love the virtual heart transplant surgeries they do on this site. (more…)

Advice to New Independent School Teachers (and all Teachers!)

Key resources from this talk:

Independent Schools—Reflecting on the difference

My own story, switching from a fine public school to an excellent independent school from 7th to 8th grade.

Qualities of the Independent School Environment:

  • Small Classes,
  • High Expectations,
  • Academic Rigor,
  • Relationships & Community,
  • Intellectual Curiosity and Engagement,
  • the Whole Child

Faculty members are absolutely at the heart of this—and your role is obviously and entirely essential to this. (more…)

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