August 2012

First of a series.

As a school-leader, I always have sent out an email “Monday Memo,” with important news of the week, thanks and acknowledgement, agendas for upcoming meetings, suggestions for advisory meeting topics, mini-surveys, and much more.   It is a very important part of my leadership routine.

The most important part of these weekly memos has for several years been the QoTWs: the Quotes of the Week.

I usually put in somewhere between two and four short quotes from the most interesting articles and blog-posts of the week, with links to the full pieces.  Quite often these quotes planted seeds, advanced my educational leadership agenda, and prompted collegial conversations that would last all week.  In some cases they sparked significant changes or enhancements of individual teaching practices and even school-wide curricular reform.

Usually, 90-95% of the time, quotes I’d select would represent and reinforce my point of view, my educational philosophy.   Sometimes, though, I do share especially compelling or well-written pieces which make cases opposing my views, and the conversations which follow can be especially rich.

Other educator/bloggers I know do a great job of sharing on their blogs their own weekly reading suggestions, including George Couros’s excellent “You Should Reads” and Bo Adams’ new #MustRead Shares.

My goal is to continue my Monday ritual by sharing my Quotes of the Week (QoTW) each week here on my blog. For the sake of my readers, I’ll strive to  cap them at just five (no matter how tempting it often is to go beyond that).

Note: this weekly post will be somewhat redundant to those readers who follow me closely on Twitter.

QoTW, August 6:

[Have students] comment on blogs and publications. Help students find out who’s writing about what they care about. When they do, support them in joining the conversation by commenting on those topics and even proposing a guest post or article.

5 Ways to Develop a Connected Student by Lisa Nielsen. (more…)

Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two rural Colorado public school secondary chemistry teachers, have launched something over the past five or six years that is truly significant and lasting, I believe, and this fine, short, accessible book is a great vehicle for their program.  I commend the authors, and recommend the book highly.

Bergmann and Sams utilize a fine tone in the book.  Throughout, they maintain their passion about serving students, of putting kids at the front of every decision and ensuring the technology choices follow the learning goals.    They are open-minded, experimental, and truly innovative in all the right ways.  They iterate, they experiment, they make mistakes and learn from them.     They take care to offer clarity of direction, to be nuanced and open-minded, allowing for nuance and for variety.    I appreciate their repeated expression to the effect that there is no “the flipped classroom,” only many flipped classrooms.

They also write with humility, acknowledging their limits and their errors.   I wished at times they would tell us more– not just that they realized they had made a mistake but telling us more in detail about the difficulties they encountered.     I appreciated their inclusion of the voices of other teachers and some students, but it felt a little disappointing that it was a fairly small circle of voices– the same three or four teachers, again and again.

There is a way in which this is two books in one, or two separate techniques bundled into one package.   They recognize this– I am not pointing out anything they don’t acknowledge.  But it makes the book just a tiny bit clumsy, with some redundancies in the second part as they explain their second technique.

The first technique is what Bergman and Sams call, to their amusement and mine, the “traditional flip.”  Traditional, that is, in that it maintains the same course curriculum and syllabus, with the class moving through that syllabus altogether, but with lectures captured on video and assigned for homework, and the classroom then the time and place for study problems, labs and PBL, and teacher individual support.

The second part of the book offers two chapters on the second and current iteration of Sams and Bergmann, which they advocate as the superior of the two techniques, Flip Mastery.   Here, students progress by mastery, if and when they are ready and have demonstrated that they are.   Mastery as a course program has its own pros and cons separate from flipping, but surely they are correct that if you are committed to a mastery approach, flipping offers a great deal of value.   I’m taking a bit of a pass here on evaluating the mastery element, and keeping my focus instead on the “traditional flip.”   You can’t help but wonder whether our fine authors wouldn’t have done better to save the Flip Mastery technique for a second book.


1.  The “Why You Should Flip chapter” is great: compelling and exuberant: it really covers the range, and shares some great thinking about what we can accomplish with this technique.   (Also helpful are the reasons why not to flip, including  “because some guys who got a book published told you to.”)

15 (!) reasons, in total, are shared.   My favorites include:

“Flipping increases student-teacher interaction.”  

This is the promise of “blended instruction,” which is my preference also.   I don’t want to lose the power of the teacher and student, in person and inter-personally, advancing learning upon the platform of relationships and genuine connections.   Lecturing during the precious time teachers and students are together seems such a loss when the lecturing can be outsourced to digital video and the classroom can become laboratory, seminar room, studio and tutorial. (more…)

The title of this book speaks to me, of course: although teaching and assessing 21st century skills is by no means the only thing we should be doing in our schools, regular readers here recognize the importance I place on helping our schools do a better job of helping students have the critical higher order thinking skills and practical communication and collaboration skills to be highly effective problem-solvers.

This Solution-Tree publication, part of a “classroom strategies series,”  isn’t a narrative by any means, not a summer reading recommendation qualifier,  but rather a bit of a stodgy, text-book like overview of the topic at hand.   It is probably primarily intended for students, which can be seen in the comprehension questions at the end of each chapter, and so it may influence future generations of teachers in its framework.

Two takeaways loom largest: one positive, one negative.   After discussing each, I’ll run through some smaller points.

The strongest element offered in the book lies  in its enriched and broadened definition of 21st century skills.   Rather than accepting a simpler list of skills such the 4 C’s (Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity), Marzano/Heflebower set out a set of both cognitive and what they call conative skills, and put them on an equal plane.   More than that, they round out conative skills to include a wide range of what I sometimes think of as character skills–character broadly defined.

What is conative?  My spell check here doesn’t recognize it– it appears throughout my draft with an ugly squiggly red line beneath.   The Free dictionary defines conation as: The aspect of mental processes or behavior directed toward action or change and including impulse, desire, volition, and striving.  Nice; I like it, and may add it to my vocabulary.

The authors explain:

Conative skills refer to one’s ability to analyze situations in light of what one knows and feels and select appropriate actions…. where personality and intelligence overlap to facilitate decision making.   A simplified way of thinking about conation is that it is the process of combining what one knows (cognition) with what one feels (affection) and deciding what action to take in light of both.

Previously to this, I have usually set “conative” skills to the side– not as undesirable, but as existing in a different category from “21st century skills.”  The work we did at St. Gregory to broaden student reporting of learning to include a skill set of what we called “essential goals” for our students, I often explained, included a mixture of 21st century and character, moral and performance character, goals and skills– but it closely matched this Marzano set of 21st century skills defined widely.

Their list:

Cognitive and Conative Skills for the 21st century

Cognitive Skills

  • Analyzing and utilizing information
  • Addressing complex problems and issues
  • Creating patterns and mental models

Conative Skills

  • Understanding and controlling oneself
  • Understanding and Interacting with Others.

The cognitive skills provided are mostly familiar, although it is useful to expand thinking skills to include mental models and visualization, which I sometimes overlook or underplay.   The conative set includes the “working with others” piece which is so important, and I love the way they rope in things which I also believe to be SO important– the growth mindset, resilience, and optimism– and which sometimes I and others leave outside, as softer, “psychological” stuff which are less critical.     Dweck and Seligman have influenced my world view, and my own internal, mental attitudes, enormously in the past decade, and it is terrific to see them get this prominent play here.

The big weakness: The book fails, and fails deeply I think, in offering far too little thinking about structuring curriculum and learning experiences broadly, richly, and holistically so as to “teach and assess 21st century skills.”    Though there are many fine slices and slivers of lessons, some of them just mere moments, by which teachers can advance the book’s purpose, they are sadly discrete, isolated, individual islands.

The assessment chapter is almost heartbreaking.   (more…)

Enjoy the short video above- it is very much worth the six minutes.

It is the time of year when many are looking ahead to opening of the school year faculty and departmental meetings, so it is a good time to start sharing valuable short videos which can be used for inspiration and illumination at these meetings.   This six minute video is a great candidate (and I intend to share a list soon); it is a very current (ISTE 2012) talk in which author and provocateur Will Richardson lays out his challenge to us: Bold Ideas for Change in Education.   (Another alternative would be Will’s TEDx talk.)

Consider the opportunities: ask educators in groups to identify their bold ideas first, and compare; ask them to watch and discuss which bold ideas make sense and how might they apply them, which don’t and why not, and what original ideas do they have.

From Lisa Nielsen’s blog I’ve copied at bottom of this post the list of 19 bold ideas for easy reference.

A few comments:

1.  Of course, I am delighted to see Will’s very first “bold idea;”  I think it is so important to put a focal point on assessment as a huge lever to influence, via backwards design, everything else that happens, and at St. Gregory we worked hard to develop and advance methods for ‘open network assessments.’   (more…)

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