August 2012


Performance Task Assessment, sometimes referred to simply as Performance Assessment, is coming soon in a substantial and significant way to K-12 schooling;  21st century principals and other educational leaders would do well to familiarize themselves with this method and began to make plans for successful integration of this new, alternative format of assessments.

[the following 10 or so paragraphs lay out some background for my “10 Things;” scroll down to the section heading if you want to skip over the background discussion]

President Obama and Secretary Duncan have been assuring us for several years that they will take standardized testing “beyond the bubble,” and both PARCC and Smarter Balanced are working hard at developing new common core assessment using the format of perfomance task assessment.

As PARCC explains,

PARCC is… contracting with [other organizations] to develop models of innovative, online-delivered items and rich performance tasks proposed for use in the PARCC assessments. These prototypes will include both assessment and classroom-based tasks.

Smarter Balanced, meanwhile, states that by 2014-15,

Smarter Balanced assessments will go beyond multiple-choice questions to include performance tasks that allow students to demonstrate critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

Performance tasks challenge students to apply their knowledge and skills to respond to complex real-world problems. They can best be described as collections of questions and activities that are coherently connected to a single theme or scenario.

These activities are meant to measure capacities such as depth of understanding, writing and research skills, and complex analysis, which cannot be adequately assessed with traditional assessment questions.

Samples of the performance tasks being developed for grades K-8 are available here.   (more…)

Like most of my friends and colleagues in the 21st century learning arena, I hold high regard for Yong Zhao.   It is an enormous asset for our movement to have his global perspective and all that he brings from his expertise in Chinese education as a comparison and a warning for developments in US education, and beyond his tremendous knowledge base, it is just wonderful how enthusiatic and passionate he is about unleashing students and celebrating their diverse and creative spirits.

I’ve written about Zhao here before, praising his previous book Catching Up or Leading the Way, and I was grateful to have him join my pages on one occasion, as he added commentary to a sharp debate I was having in several posts and comment sections with Bob Compton regarding his film, Two Million Minutes, the 21st century solution.  (Scroll down to comment number 9.)

This new book carries forward many of the themes of the previous, and indeed, in one section, about the curious pattern of US and Chinese education each seeking to emulate the other,  it feels particularly repetitive.   That said, it is an incredibly important discussion about which Zhao has deep insight, and he has brought it up to date with many new supporting details.

One of those new details regards the bizarre laws the Chinese national government is putting into place sharply limiting, to the point of fines, the number of days and hours students can be in school, in an effort to circumscribe the obsessed workaholic-ism that overcomes so many Chinese students and ultimately, the argument goes, curtails their creativity, happiness, and self-confidence.   In an effort to evade these strict prohibitions, one school, the story is told, bussed its students to a different city to live in dorms and undertake an extra two weeks of study.

What stands out in the new book are three important messages.  First, the Common Core is deeply flawed and detrimental to what ought to be our society’s primary objective for education, to develop creative, innovative, entrepreneurial citizens.   Second, entrepreneurship is, in of itself, the single best descriptor for that objective, and Zhao takes care to define it and imbue it with his enthusiasm.

Third, and most fully, we can describe the ideal educations for developing this most important objective, and it is a combination of the What: student autonomy and voice; the How, Product-Oriented Learning; and the Where: Globally, in every way we can.

Throughout my reading of World Class Learners, I find myself more conflicted than I expected.    From Zhao’s perspective, and it is a sound one, the US is deeply at risk of having already gone too far, and now accelerating toward, making the deep, fundamental mistake of Chinese education, centralizing it around a narrow set of high, content-oriented, academic standards which are tested in extremely high stakes assessments.   Because of that, he seeks to push back, push back hard against the entire agenda, and he is right to do so.

But at times, this reader fears he takes a bit of a step too far.  We want to free our students from such centralized high pressure testing and we do want to celebrate, honor and affirm our students extraordinary diversity of talents and ambitions, but we also want them to learn deeply, richly, masterfully, an array of essential skills and we believe they will do best in content rich subjects.   I am not suggesting Zhao, whom I’d like to count as a friend, speaks against academic excellence, but whether by design or inadvertently, his book allows too frequently the inference that he is not as concerned as I am about strong academic accomplishment. (more…)

Week four of a new weekly post, Quotes of the Week.  (For more about QoTW, click here.)

As I noted in the first post, I highly recommend principals, school-heads, and other educational leaders provide their own version of suggested readings/links in a weekly email newsletter.   Curate them: don’t give them too much, but choose the best three, four, or five (max).

The Mission:

To create and bring mindful change and innovation to Poughkeepsie Day School in order to improve learning and teaching.

As I see it, the idea is for these teams to delve into aspects of the topic while remaining connected with the other teams so that connections and cross fertilization become even more of the norm than they already are.

The basic idea is for affinity groups – not groupthink tanks – but interconnected, cross-divisional teams interested in some of the same big ideas. And for those teams to make change within the school by identifying what matters, what we can do about it and then getting started.

It’s an opportunity to work with others to shape something that has clarity, direction and results. And the accountability is built into the mission.

What Do You Want to Do?  Josie Holford

People who do not use Twitter and Social Media often state that “real relationships” cannot be formed through these avenues.  This summer was a clear example of how friendships CAN result from relationships formed through social media.

From Followers to Friendship, Chris Wejr

4) Exhibit Enthusiasm and Encouragement – A spirited mentor exudes a passion for education and a commitment to honing one’s craft.  Mentors are often pioneers as they test out new methods and materials and are willing to take risks.  They revel in the joy of discovery and this spirit is infectious.

7 Traits of an Invaluable Faculty Mentor, Christine Hein
(more…)

I’m recently returned from a quick trip to beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia.    Thursday I presented a five hour workshop on 21st century learning for the faculty of Tandem Friends School, and was pleased that nearly a third of the faculty volunteered to stay on for an additional 75 minutes for the material I hadn’t completed in the regular time.

Friday I spent the afternoon with Pam Moran, Superintendent of Schools in Albemarle County school district, a district of about 30 schools.   Regular readers here know that I am both friends with and a great admirer of Pam’s; last winter I wrote a piece about my belief that she exemplifies my model of Eight steps for leading in 21st century learning.

In my visit, we toured two of her district’s schools, and met many of her hard-working teachers.   Several themes emerged.

1. Open-ness and transparency.

“I think we have one of the most unfiltered internet service of any school district in the nation,” Pam told me, and this seemed to exemplify a larger spirit to open the world into her schools and  to bring her students out to the wider world, in every way possible.     When visiting a middle school, she explained to me that this was the most rural school in her district, and that that was why it was chosen as a pioneer school for a 1-1 laptop program: because these were the students who have otherwise the least access to the wider world of information.  This district is also proudly BYOD across all its high schools– students are all, always, welcome and encouraged to bring and use their own mobile devices and the educators there are striving to help students use them productively and wisely.

Pam herself is wide open, personally.   As we toured she never hesitated to go up to anyone in her path and introduce herself–sticking out her left arm for a shake and then reaching over with her right to be even warmer in a semi-embrace–  and then to ask them about their roles, their work, and to enthuse about it.    We went right into classrooms and engaged students and teachers,  gushing over what was happening.    Pam was simultaneously on her iphone, texting and tweeting as we went, determined to broadcast more widely the exciting things which were happening and to stay in touch with her network, both internal to her district and out in the wider world.

Learning spaces we observed, such as the libraries at both the middle and high school and in new cluster classroom areas of the big high school, similarly displayed this philosophy of transparency.  Regularly could be seen windows replacing walls, making spaces where everything happening became more visible to all school community members.   Lockers were being removed from the high school, Pam explained, (“most students don’t use them”) so as to create more open, central, common spaces, which soon will be furnished with comfortable furnishings and tables to create stronger spaces of civil society for the students.

I find this fascinating metaphorically, the replacement of private lockers, which take up valuable real estate so that students can store their individual stuff, by communal open spaces.  As more and more, student textbooks and notebooks are replaced by mobile technologies, which are nearly always carried on our persons, surely lockers will be ever less important for school-goers, and it is great to see the opportunities this change provides for more open space, more connection and community.

(more…)

Week three of a new weekly post, Quotes of the Week.  (For more about QoTW, click here.)   Click them, share them, spread the wealth!

As I noted in the first post, I highly recommend principals, school-heads, and other educational leaders provide their own version of suggested readings/links in a weekly email newsletter.   Curate them; that is to say, don’t give them too much, but choose the best three, four, or five (max).

But teaching is so much more than quizzes, lectures and data collection. And the promise of technology isn’t that can automate the rote tasks of teaching – in the end that’s low hanging fruit. The promise of technology is rather the way that it can allow teachers and students to work together to do more, create more, research more broadly, share more widely, learn more deeply.

The Seductive Allure of Edu-Tech Reform, Chris Lehmann

If, after surfing and consuming and participating and producing and cutting and pasting and photographing and editing and uploading and downloading and boondoggling, you continuallyreturn to a certain activity, a certain blog, a certain focus, a certain app . . . that thing, that action, defines you.  It’s what you’re about.  It’s a statement of priority, which, in the attentional quicksand stirred up by new media and technology, is kind of a big deal. You are what you return to . . . I am what I return to . . .We are what we return to . . .

You are What You Return To, Stephen Valentine

Personally, I find blogging to be like a release valve of my creative thinking. If only you could see my piles of journals filled over many years. I have always wanted to write, I have written, but nobody else had read my thoughts until I discovered blogging. (more…)

[Originally published 8.17.12 in the Santa Fe Leaderership Center  newsletter]

The new school year is launching, and it is a busy time for establishing our academic routines, but don’t let this year be another year of business as usual.  Take the opportunity our annually cyclical enterprise provides us to reconsider which of our routines are ready to be reversed.

It is remarkable how quickly the concept of flipping the classroom surged, spread, and has taken root across a great breadth of schools.   Though it is by no means universal, or universally favored, what a buzz flipping has created.  Some may dismiss the buzz around flip teaching as faddish and short-lived, but I think the buzz is happening because flipping is un-dismissible.

The speed with which it has spread, however, is not entirely  surprising when we factor the significance of networked learning and social media today.  As Chris Anderson, who is the “curator” of the Ted Talks and a remarkable thinker in his own right, explains in what is one of my very favorite TED Talks, Crowd Accelerated Innovation: “New global communities [are] granting their members both the means and the motivation to step up their skills and broaden their imaginations. It is unleashing [and accelerating] an unprecedented wave of innovation in thousands of different disciplines.”

This post isn’t about flipping the classroom; it is about extending  the spirit of the flip throughout the work of our schools.  (For more about flipping instruction, seeFlip Your Classroom,  the fine new ASCD book from a pair of high school chemistry teachers who pioneered the practice at their rural Colorado high school, or my recent review of the book. )

Dan Pink was the among the first to write on a large platform about flipping instruction (Daily Telegraph, September 2010), and last year he extended the spirit of flipping in a book available free online, the Flip Manifesto, which is entirely worth your perusal.   As he describes it, “The manifesto you have here offers 16 pieces of advice that run counter to-indeed, that often directly contradict-what you might have heard elsewhere.”

Borrowing from Pink’s example and drawing from the spirit of the recent Olympics and the vitality, charm, and smiling magnanimity of the magnificent Gabby Douglas cartwheeling across the floor exercise, let’s flip our way across and throughout our school cultures.

Flip Meetings.  This is the first and most obvious extension of flipping the classroom; apply the same principle to faculty, board, and other types of meetings.  Instead of taking the precious time of people coming together for the presentations which precede conversations, shift the presentations to video delivered in advance.   Bill Ferriter has written very helpfully about flipping faculty meetings;  Lee Burns at Presbyterian Day School (TN) is flipping his board meetings and reports positively about his success.

Flip Mission.   We are conditioned after decades of repetition to perceive mission as the ultimate core of our organization, and only occasionally do we see purpose paired with mission, either as a separate statement following mission, or as commitment made within the mission, usually toward the end.   Invert it.   What is most important about our organization isn’t what we do but why we do it and the difference we are seeking to make in the world.

Purpose, Dan Pink has explained so thoroughly in Drive, is what drives people; it is among the primary motivations we know of, along with autonomy and mastery (and let’s face it, so much more significant than autonomy and mastery).   Put purpose first, and shift mission in the subordinate role. (more…)

With great pleasure I offer the following thoughts as my contribution to Scott McLeod’s annual Leadership Day blog challenge.  This is my third contribution; my previous posts are here and here

What do I most want to prepare students for?

  • Robust, responsible, citizenship, defined broadly as full-blooded participation and contribution to the commonweal.
  • Life-long learning, the attitude and the aptitude to never stop developing themselves into who they wish to become.

Yet neither are possible, I believe, or at minimum both are greatly diminished, in the 21st century without a strong set of technological skills and savvy.

Accordingly, our schools need to become places where the development of such skills and savvy is a significant and express priority and commitment.

Accordingly, educators need to be role models of both robust, responsible citizenship and life-long learning, digitally skilled and savvy and willing and able to teach the same.

I want to challenge conventional wisdom here, my own and that of others, and suggest a reframing of the role of technology in our learning goals for students, taking the digital dimension from subordinate to superior.

This conventional wisdom takes that position that technology integration comes second, subordinate to our students’ learning goals (or our goals for them) and subordinate to our best pedagogical practices.   Tech is a (only) tool which serves those priorities.

We bristle when we are accused of advocating technology for technology’s sake–the horror!  Of course we are not, we indignantly respond.

A related piece of the conventional wisdom is the idea that schools can develop 21st century skills and prepare for 21st century success without using technology.   In the recent book A Leader’s Guide to 21st century education, Ken Kay and Val Greenhill argue that “4Cs instructional strategies do not require technology.”

There is value in both these positions, and I’ve expressed both in the past, but I’ve come to decide they are both half-wrong.

Mindset matters: if we adopt these general principles too strongly into our educational leadership world view, much of the decision-making we have to do will be strongly influenced, both consciously and unconsciously, by them.   It is important than to focus on these general conceptual understandings, surface them and engage them in order to shift our leadership as necessary. (more…)

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