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:


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.


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…)

RSA Animate offers us a visually compelling view of an important talk by Robinson, who continues to emerge as an incredibly valuable global voice for new forms of education.   The video speaks for itself, in many places; the history is familiar, but still informative.   The 75 second digression upon ADD/ADHD I find less well informed, and less illuminating, than other parts of the video.  Robinson’s questioning of age-level groupings in school also leaves me conflicted; of course he has a point that it is is odd and problematic to group kids by age rather than ability, but he doesn’t acknowledge either the incredible social value of age groupings, nor the dramatic downsides to ability grouping.

But there are many essential points.    One is that as the world becomes more stimulating and fascinating, (and distracting), and as there are more and more “channels” by which students can acquire and process information and learning, school is going to become duller if it stays the same.   It mustn’t stay the same.

Robinson’s discussion of divergent thinking is intriguing and disturbing.   It adds to many other voices in making the point that young children are indeed already fine scientists and thinkers, and that schooling must advance, not retard, those strong young minds in a way that is not now often enough the case.   Standards and testing which compel children to search for the one right answer may well diminish the power of divergent thinking, and we need more (many more) tests and assessments that ask students for many right answers, and analysis of each, rather than one right answer.

I like his discussion of the centrality of collaboration in growth and learning: “most great learning happens in groups.”   School cultures which view collaboration as cheating, or don’t actively act to advance student collaboration, are setting us backward.

Finally, a big appreciation here for his argument that separating out the intellectual from the practical is a myth.   We need to embrace more practical learning in our classrooms where students can apply and reinforce their academic learning.   I love it all: I love to see students discuss symbolism and imagery in Shakespeare, and I love to see them building robots in Tech Design class.   (more…)

As the internet revolution continues to build and increasingly influence everything under the sun, so too it is going to have a massive impact on teaching and learning in K-12 schools.  Educators who don’t anticipate this change and work to ride the wave will be subsumed by it, I fear.

One of my new passions on this blog is my exploration and sharing of the concept of what is increasingly being called “reverse instruction.”  I hope to serve as an ardent advocate for it (but I want to make clear I am not in any way a developer of the concept.)  I think I first heard it described at length at the NAIS Annual Conference last winter, when, if I recall correctly, a co-author of Disrupting Class, the excellent innovative educator Michael B. Horn, spoke about it.   If kids can get the lectures, can get the content delivery and skill modeling as well (or often better) by computer lecture than in person, why do we have use precious class-time for this purpose?  Why do we replicate in person what is easily available elsewhere, the content delivery/skill modeling, and then have kids apply their learning to difficult problems at home, without us there to help?

Increasingly, dramatically increasingly, education’s value-add is and will be in the coaching and troubleshooting when students are applying their learning, and in challenging students to apply their thinking to hands-on learning by doing and teaming:  so let’s have them do these things in class, not sit and listen.   We know that collaboration is a critical skill set which can’t be developed easily either on-line or at home alone– let’s have students learn it with us in our classrooms.   Let every classroom be a collaborative problem solving laboratory or studio.

Dan Pink, one my great influences ever since his A Whole New Mind, has now weighed in on this, with an article in the Daily Telegraph: Flip Thinking.    Pink is writing about the exciting innovation in this teaching style by the excellent ed/tech blogger, Karl Fisch. (more…)

St. Gregory is now in its second year of its Critical Friends Group (CFG) group project.   Each teacher and administrator is assigned to a group of about 8 or 9 colleagues, diversely representative of department, division, and domain.   The groups are continuing from last year, strengthening internally in their sense of connection, collegiality, and trust: they met last year once a month, and this year twice a month.   Each group is wholly facilitated by a faculty member, not an administrator.

Before each of our “regular” sessions, a member carefully prepares with the group facilitator a problem or topic to present, and then at the meeting presents it in a carefully formatted and managed protocol process.   A teacher might discuss a change of assessment she is trying, or a classroom management tactic, or a project-based learning initiative, or any number of other possibilities.  After the presentation, a healthy hour long conversation ensues, with much feedback provided.   The conversations in which I participate are lively, reflective, and inspiring;  nearly everyone leaves with ideas  to apply, or questions to consider, for their own teaching.

We’ve expanded this year our use of CFG time; we now hold sessions twice a month.   The second session is devoted to peer observation, a culture of which has not existed widely at our school (as is the case at many schools), but which we are gradually escalating.   In the most recent session, we processed two different observations. (more…)

[Posted to the Blog, originally published in 2006 in my previous school’s (Saklan Valley School) monthly newsletter]

Small is Beautiful. The size of our environment has a great impact on the way we feel in that space—we all want to feel comfortable, to be recognized as a particular and distinct and even special person, and our children want that even more. One teacher often finds herself explaining the difference between teaching in a larger public school and a small independent school:

A small class enables a classroom teacher to have personal contact with each student every day.  A touch on the shoulder shows each student that their teacher believes in them, respects them, and is there to guide them on the path to academic and social success.

Just as there is a growing amount of research touting the value of small classes, and the value of K-8 schools (in contrast to K-5 and 6-8), so is there a fast growing movement to recognize and to promote the enormous benefits for students of attending a small school.

To quote Pat Bassett, the NAIS President: “The most compelling research in the education marketplace in general and by NAIS indicates that it is small schools (i.e., intimate places where all students are known) and great teachers that are the two factors that produce high achievement in students.”  In a similar vein, the Gates Foundation has made fostering and funding small schools a major priority for their investments in improving US education.

For me, the greatest significance of a small school is its ability to provide a genuine sense of connection among us all. There are no strangers here, and that sense of security is not just a “nice” feeling; it allows our brains to open widely and learn effectively.  Our frontal lobes can really open up—rather than being stuck in our limbic zone, where our anxieties generate a defensive fight or flight modality.  Allowing us to use all of our brain, the best parts of our brain, allows us to learn so much more. (more…)

I’m not (yet) much of a video-maker myself, but I have very much come to appreciate the power of video in communicating; our students most certainly need to learn to write masterfully, but they will also be best engaged in their learning today, and prepared for their challenges tomorrow, if they are multi-media creators and communicators.   For instance, I have written here often about the value of the CWRA test, but I am sure that my greatest impact has been not in my writing but in the video we published of our students discussing the test experience.

In Jeff Clashman’s 7th and 8th grade Latin classes, students are using video (above and below) to learn history and language.  Using playmobil toys, they are recreating and filming historical events; they are also crafting sentences demonstrating Latin sentence structures, and then using imovie to create short films which showcase these concepts.

Last week the Arizona Daily Star published an article about a new curricular program for our ninth graders, in English 1 with Dr. Kate Oubre.  After consideration of their summer reading (Halaby’s West of the Jordan), our students were asked to write their own coming of age short story.   They then were also challenged and supported to draw an accompanying illustration, and film a short-story “teaser”  or trailer to promote their narrative.

The full pbworks site for the project was linked from the newspaper article, and is available here: you can read their fine stories, and see the student videos, several of which are also posted below. (more…)

This is a fun video promoting the upcoming NEIT conference in New York in November, for which I am delighted to be keynoting.   Looking forward to it; hope my visitors will consider attending!

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