September 2009

When we talk about 21st century learning, sometimes we are talking about what students need to learn, and sometimes about how they need to learn.   Richard Hersh’s piece in the new Ed. Leadership is really excellent in, succinctly (!) speaking with great effectiveness to both these topics.

Hersh is a guru, for those who are paying attention, in the field of assessing what matters most, of assessing beyond the bubble, of  asessing thinking and communication skills in a significant, serious way. His little bio at the end of the Ed. Leadership article doesn’t do him justice; this is the architect of the CLA and CWRA we are talking about, and regular readers of this blog know that CLA/CWRA is cutting edge in the field.

About content, I have found myself lately in fairly frequent dialogue (both virtually and actually) debating the question of skills vs. content in 21st century education.   While it is true that 21st century learning advocates fiercely focus on teaching skills, it is not true that we are throwing babies out with bathwater– we are instead responding to the problem that too much of school, and too much of assessment, has been in recent years narrowly limited to teaching for content.

But let’s hear Hersh’s argument: educating for a flat world “is not a question of content vs. skills– it’s about creating challenging, profoundly engaging, and authentic educational experiences that produce life-long learners…. The issue of either skills or content is a false dichotomy, one that we need to transcend if we are going to make signficant progress.” (more…)

One love
One life
With each other
One life
But we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other

Good Morning:

Today is September 11, a Day that is deemed a day of remembrance and service.   Can we please have a moment of silence?

There are many different and competing ways of understanding why what happened on September 11, 2001 happened; this terribly national and global tragedy was the result of many strands, and it is hard to know which strands are most important.    But I know one interpretation, that one of those strands,  is the 9/11 murders represented, in a really terrible, terrible way, a failure (by terrible people, I need to add) of empathy, a failure of what I would call global empathy. (more…)

This week the National Journal Education Expert Blog addresses the progress and success of the P-21 movement, (of the Partnership for 21st century skills. ) The Partnership is headquartered right here in Tucson, and I had this afternoon the great pleasure of being treated to lunch by its President, Ken Kay.   Joining us for lunch, (and also treating me!) was Bob Pearlman, a key figure in the development of the excellent New Technology High School movement.   Bob’s site, btw, has a wealth of resources on contemporary best practices in project based learning and technology in our schools.

Back to the NJ piece.    As can be expected, the criticism comes from several corners: that these are not new skills at all, that they should not replace core or basic skills, that they are hard to standardize and test, and that, in a repeat of what we read in Ed. Leadership this month, that they are too hard to teach and measure.    All of these are important contributors to the dialogue,  some more important than others I would say.  I have already responded to Rotherham on the question of whether P-21 is just too hard to do.

But I want to respond to others.  Diane Ravitch, whom I admire greatly, is, I think, mistaken to say that the P-21 movement will result in less knowledge learning.  It is creating a straw man to say that P-21 supporters want to away with content, but that indeed, we think that classrooms can better accomplish learning content by doing so in a mode that engages students, activates their minds, and demands that they work with that content, toward mastery, with a set of skills that will greatly advantage them in their future.   Learning this content just by listening and memorizing is the worst way to master the content knowlewdge, brain research and practical wisdom (going to Aristotle) has taught us.   The P-21 movement is, I think, especially important when we recognize that it is not just promoting a better way to learn skills, it is ensuring we have a better way for students to learn (really learn, learn to remember, learn to apply, not just learn to reguritate and forget) knowledge.

Phil Quon speaks to this very point brilliantly: (more…)

Illustration of a Web pointer arrow in a cage.

I think it is so important to listen to student voices when we consider 21st century education.  This was one of my key premises in my “good high school project” last fall- listening to students, and experiencing the student perspective, as I visited 21 21st century high schools, shadowing a student at each, and liveblogging my observations.    But at some schools, my ability to use the internet, and upload to my blog, was deeply compromised by the internet filtering at that school site.   I think that is the wrong way to go.

A recent edutopia column authored by a high school student Jon-Michael Poff is entitled “stop blocking online content.”   In it, he wages a passionate and compelling argument that we cannot teach and empower our students with 21st century digital tools if we block them from those very tools:

Not only is this blockade frustrating, it’s also hindering our prospects as college- and work-ready students. In a multimedia world, it is essential that students leave high school with a deep knowledge of digital tools. Blogs are not only a cool way to publish your opinions, they are also the future of social and business networking.

I am please to report that at St. Gregory we do not black access to any sites for students. (more…)

Learning by Doing is one of my mantras this year: I spoke about it in my opening meeting to students, and will repeat it regularly.    Aristotle and contemporary brain research agree: students learn best and remember most when they do the hands-on work of learning.  But it is not easy, I know it is not, to stage-manage this kind of learning.   Anthony Cody at Teacher Magazine offers some tips on a recent blog posting.

He begins with the counsel to not wait to implement hands-on activities, but to begin your year with a bang.  Then to the heart of his advice.

What’s the Big Idea? Make sure you start your activity by emphasizing a major question that yours results will answer. Post this on the wall. Connect it to the standards. Make sure the students know that they will be responsible for answering the question with evidence.

I think this is essential:  make sure students know and understand what it is they are trying to learn and do when they engage in hands on activities.   (more…)

I didn’t get to see this morning the speech, but I did read the transcript, which left me feeling conflicted about our decision not to broadcast it.  The majority of the speech  confirmed  me in my belief that its intended audience was not our students.  It was a bit hokey in its stating the self-evident and the old-hat: that to be successful, you need to stay in school and work hard.  I think our students know that, and they don’t need the President to remind them.

But, the speech had its strong moments (leaving me conflicted we missed it).   Perseverence is essential, and his stories to this effect were meaningful.  I appreciated his recognition that all of our students have their own unique passions, and our schooling needs to not limit itself to teaching them to fill in their gaps but to build upon their strengths: (more…)

College Advice, From People Who Have Been There AwhileWonderful piece today on the back page of the Week in Review: nine renowned and veteran college professors offer advice to new college students, and it is avuncular, compassionate, and wise.  This is a All-Star team of academics, nearly all of whom I have read in widely since I was in college myself.

Nearly all of this advice is also highly appropriate to college bound high school students.   Stanley Fish, Garry Wills, and James McGregor Burns all make the point that college students should do everything they can to learn to write effectively.  Simple yes, but essential.  Harold Bloom suggests students get lost in books, and I love another of Wills recommendations:  “Seek out the most intellectually adventurous of your fellow students.”  Martha Nussbaum writes with moral passion that “Courses in the humanities… often seem impractical, but they are vital, because they stretch your imagination and challenge your mind to become more responsive, more critical, bigger.”

But my favorite advice comes from someone who is a longtime favorite of mine, Gerald Graff.  He argues here for argument, and our students, collegiate and secondary, would do well to consider the importance of learning what it is to recognize and enter into argument.  (more…)

On Tuesday, President Obama will speak to American students, following upon the precedents set by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Reagan when they too spoke to American students.  At St. Gregory, we have made no plans to air these remarks, not because we are opposed to doing so,  but because we just have many other things going on and because we don’t see a great educational value in his intended topics.

But I can easily imagine we might have decided to show it, and had we done so, we would have gone ahead proudly, knowing that we were doing this for President Obama in exactly the way we would have done for a President McCain.  Although I was not here last winter, St. Gregory students did gather in the theater to view the inauguration ceremony for several hours last January.

Below is a letter sent to his constituents by a Florida Head of School, Mark Heller.  His comments have been passed along to member schools of the National Association of Independent Schools, with the implicit endorsement of our association President, Pat Bassett.   I think they speak very well to the issue at hand, and I think they represent very effectively what I believe to be the views of many educational leaders, independent school educators, and many of us in the academic leadership at St. Gregory.

Dear Academy Families:

A small number of our families this week inquired about whether we intend to show our students President Obama’s upcoming speech to our nation’s school children.   (more…)

Some of the core concepts I am working on in articulating the great value of a St. Gregory education include the following:  that we engage students so effectively that they become greatly immersed in and rewarded by the learning they are doing; that we teach the Seven Survival Skills that Wager advocates, one of them being Initiative; and that we educate especially well for innovation– that our students learn to be creative, independent-minded,  and inventive.

But I am always seeking, like the physicists, a Grand Unified Theory for all this.  So it was fun for me this morning to read in Seth Godin‘s book Tribes the following:

Look around.  You’ll see that the marketplace rewards innovation: things that are fresh, stylish, remarkable and new…The fastest-growing churches are the newest ones.  The best-selling books are always the surprise hits that come out of nowhere [not sure this example is accurate]… Products and services like these require initiative to produce.  You can’t manage your way to initiative. Interesting side effect: creating products and services that are remarkable is fun.  Doing work that’s fun is engaging.  So not surprisingly,  making things that are successful is a great way to spend your time.  There you go: initiative=happiness.

This blogger is on record as being an enthusiast for digital tools; I think they empower our students to be better investigators, better collaborators, better problem-solvers, and better communicators.  But being an enthusiast does not mean I am an extremist– there are limits, and there is a balance to seek.

The current issue of Ed. Leadership strives for this balance too, in a fine short article by Marilee Sprenger: Focusing the Digital Brain.  She shares her worries:

By adolescence, today’s young people have become experts at skimming and scanning. The average person spends two seconds on each Web site when searching for information (Small & Vorgan, 2008). Two seconds! Is this style of information gathering affecting our students’ attention spans? Absolutely.

More importantly, she shares her very useful recommendations to “guide your students toward a healthy balance between always being connected and connecting with real people.”  (emphasis added)

Provide Reflection Time: “One high school teacher whose school switched to a block schedule considered how to use so much time productively. (more…)

This morning our faculty spent a terrific hour discussing in small groups their reactions to the first chapter of Tony Wagner’s book The Global Achievement Gap.   We used a professional learning community protocol (from the Critical Friends network) to guide us, identifying and discussing what in the text we wanted to argue with, what we agreed with, what we aspired to from the inspiration he gave us, and what the impact will be on student learning.  View the show to see what we discussed, what we learned, and some of our ideas for implementing Wagner’s ideas:

The new issue of Ed. Leadership celebrates 21st century learning, and I am excited to dive deeply into it, and plan to share in the days and weeks ahead my reaction to many of the issue’s pieces.   But, right now I am confronting the issue’s appropriately sobering piece on the challenges ahead.  “We seek to call attention to the magnitude of the challenge and to sound a note of caution amidst the sirens calling our political leaders once again to the rocky shoals of past education reform failures.”   Co-authors Rotherham and Willingham call our bluffs, as it were– they stand up and say this might be just a fad, or it might be doomed to be just a fad, if we don’t recognize the very real difficulties underlying its somewhat romanticized idealism– an idealism I will confess to sharing.

Myself, as I sit with this article, I find myself with conflicting reactions: grateful, a bit, for the realism they bring to the discussion and for their articulation of just how very hard it will be to bring about these much needed changes.   Grateful yes, but also combative: these authors are too skeptical, too unwilling to recognize the success stories already happening.  I think they unfairly build up 21st century straw men to knock down, and I fear that perhaps they are just too cynical to see there is a great opportunity here for all of us to leverage this new fledgling but inspiration movement into a flywheel that might really spin us toward true educational excellence. (more…)

Blogging is a powerful medium, and I am a devotee (obviously).   For me,  a daily blogging discipline does many things: forces me to look around my school and the wider world of education for blog-worthy news; forces me to reflect on how my practice as an educational leader aligns with what I am reading about best practices, and allows me to part of a wider conversation about contemporary education.

We are also bringing blogging to our students; my sixth grade son here at St. Gregory blogs regularly as part of his Spanish homework.

The video above, featuring innovative  management gurus Seth Godin and Tom Peters, reinforce this.   Godin’s message is that it is a powerful tool for leaders and all organizational participants to develop their thinking and sharpen their articulation.

“This has become a micro-publishing platform that forces yourself to become part of the conversation, and that posture change has been enormous,” says Seth Godin.

“No single thing since 2004 has been more important to my life than blogging,” Tom Peters says, “it has changed my life, my perspective, my intellectual outlook, and my emotional outlook… It is great. “

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