There are two axes on which we can map and evaluate the excellence of a standardized test, or in other words,  external measurement of learning outcomes.   The first axis is does it measure what matters: does the work it requires students to do, the learning it requires students demonstrate, matter to successful citizenship and professional accomplishment?   Does it assess not content measurement but application of knowledge to original, complex problems; does it assess students’s ability to do that most important of things, TRANSFER?

The second axis is what is done with the results of the test?  Are the results used to punish schools, teachers, kids?  Are the results published in ways which rank kids, or rank teachers– even in the newspaper?  In a neutral position on this axis is the null effect: are the results provided to educators, without repercussions or rewards, but also without great guidance, insights, analysis, comparisons, examples?    Or, at the high end of this axis,  are the results used as and for compelling and creative information, illumination, and inspiration to improve learning for ALL students?

Map your favorite– or least favorite– tests on these axes– and then watch Andreas Schleicher in the TED talk above discuss the PISA test and map PISA.

(Full disclosure, I’m no longer, as of about a month ago, a neutral or objective commentator on this topic, having taken on an engagement for a PISA related project.   But, I was thrilled to seek and accept the engagement because of my passion for the power of PISA.)

Tony Wagner  was one of my influences here, particularly as he argued for the value of PISA, particularly what it measures, in a postscript to his film, the Finland Phenomenon.

“The PISA tests measure different things from TIMMS, which measures factual recall of memorized content knowledge.   This is a test asking you to apply knowledge to a new question or problem you’ve never seen before.”

Wagner interviews Roger Bybee, Ph.D., who explains that

“TIMMS and NAEP are similar in that they both are curriculum based, seeing what the standard curriculum contains and designing an assessment to see how well students have attained what is in curriculum.  PISA is an assessment that takes a literacy approach– not just the content one learns from the curriculum but how well you can apply that content in life situations in everyday use of the knowledge and the abilities one has.

About measuring what matters, Schleicher has a funny line:

So with PISA, we try to change this by measuring the knowledge and skills of people directly. And we took a very special angle to this. We were less interested in whether students can simply reproduce what they have learned in school, but we wanted to test whether they can extrapolate from what they know and apply their knowledge in novel situations. 

Now, some people have criticized us for this. They say, you know, such a way of measuring outcomes is terribly unfair to people, because we test students with problems they haven’t seen before

But if you take that logic, you know, you should consider life unfair, because the test of truth in life is not whether we can remember what we learned in school, but whether we are prepared for change, whether we are prepared for jobs that haven’t been created, to use technologies that haven’t been invented, to solve problems we just can’t anticipate today.

The bulk of the talk is dedicated to what I described above as the second axis: what do we do with these results?  OECD and PISA have dedicated 15 years to making sense of international testing results and comparisons– and it is a treasure trove. (more…)

I greatly enjoyed a lovely morning here in Santa Barbara today presenting to the Cate school faculty on a topic of their choosing, touring the 21st century learning landscape with an emphasis on the skills, competencies, habits and attitudes which are most being emphasized in learning today.Cate_School_Logo

After an entertaining launch to our morning with the Marshmallow Challenge, we discussed the importance of collaboration and iteration in the 21st century learning, with a suggestion that PBL is the best way to support these elements.   Keying off of the TED talk about the Marshmallow Challenge, we also asked the question how we help our students act more like Kindergartners– prototyping and iterating– than MBA students, searching for the one perfect solution.

We then transitioned to a review of the the 21st century skills landscape, and drew heavily on the excellent National Research Council Report, Education for Life and Work.    (I’ve embedded this magnificent free, 200 page resource at the bottom of this post.   It is not an easy or quick read, but it is a very worthwhile study.)

That work features a tripartite construct, comprehensively communicating what we need to support the learning and development of the cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal qualities in each student.  Below is the graphic with the key two or three elements the report emphasizes for each of the three major categories.

NRC report bubbles

Onto the tripartite structure I mapped the Cate’s 5 Educational Principles– Knowledge, Communication, Curiosity, Determination and Compassion– and my “top ten” list of key 21st century skills and habits of mind and character: the 4 Cs; play, iteration, and experimentation; 2 essential intrapersonal elements, grit and the growth mindset; and the four critical components of the internet era: connected learning, attention and self-regulation, information literacy, and positive digital citizenship.   You can see this all mapped out in the overly crowded slide (!) below, with Cate’s 5 elements in red, my set in black, set atop the NRC tripartite bubbles.

21st century learning landscape

Each of these areas we explored in varying depth, taking an extended pause in which participants were provided and actually asked to undertake/solve and discuss four pertinent self-assessment and test questions:  Duckworth’s grit survey, a Growth mindset survey; a sample CWRA question; and sample PISA questions.

Below are the videos we used in the program.  My thanks go to everyone at Cate, including my main contact Jay Dorion, Assistant Headmaster, and Ben Williams IV, Headmaster of Cate.


Love this video from John Seely Brown about embracing change and the secrets to 21st c. learning.    It is very worthwhile, and could be very valuable for sharing with educators and inspiring conversation about its implications.

Two main messages predominate, the same two featured in his wonderful book, A New Culture of Learning.

1.  Developing mastery is an iterative process, of playing, messing around, experimenting, assessing progress and adjusting all along the way.  Brown shares this in his case study of surfers– experimenting, observing, reflecting, improving.

“Tinkering brings thought and action together in some very magical and powerful ways.” 

2.  The network is alive with the ability to support learning.   Any passion a kid has can be supported by joining a network, a community of practice,  of those who share your passion.  Most learning happens when we indwell in a community and network of shared passion.   “Maybe the learning has to do with learning how to join. Learning is something you do consciously but something you absorb, after joining the community of practice.”

Now through digital media is enhancing the ability of surfers to share their innovations and, within 48 hours, surfers around the world are aware these developments and then building on them in turn.   But not just surfers– you can find this in every field of human endeavor.

This part of Brown’s discussion is very much aligned with one of my very favorite TED talks in the past few years, Chris Anderson’s talk on Crowd Accelerated Innovation. 

Fast-changing times demand we keep learning all the time, and by our ability and willingness to tinker and the power of networks, we can do so better and better.

oecd pisaThe country reports made the point that, in many Asian countries, classes are much larger than in the United States and teachers typically use whole-group instruction through the entire class period. They also pointed out that, in these countries, one sees little lecturing by the teacher.

Instead, the teacher gives real-world problems to the whole class and, having observed the students attempting to solve those problems, asks several to come to the blackboard to talk about their approaches to the problem, knowing that some of those students have made errors in the strategy they have selected for solving the problem.

As described in the country reports for Japan and Shanghai-China, the teacher uses these differences in strategy to develop a class discussion that focuses on the underlying concepts involved in problem-solving, and thereby promotes a deep understanding of the topic under discussion among both the quickest and the slowest students in the class. Nothing could so vividly demonstrate the point that instructional practice matters.

lessons-from-pisa-for-the-united-states_9789264096660-enAsian teachers often complain about class sizes getting too small to find a useful range of student solutions to a problem in order to conduct a good class, instead of complaining that the class is too large to teach effectively, as in the United States.

[Strong Perfomers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States, p 241]

PISA has been a fascination of mine for the past few years; like many other educations committed to educational innovation and learning from best practices, I was intrigued by the success of Finland in the 2009 PISA administration, and the value of PISA testing was affirmed for me by my friend and mentor Tony Wagner in his video about the Finland Phenomenon.  (I most recently wrote about PISA testing in April: PISA-OECD Test: Using Results to Improve Learning in Fairfax County)

OECD, which manages the PISA test, generates a terrific stream of quality monographs about what can be inferred from PISA testing; the quote at top is just one such example of many– and I intend to share more in the months to come.   I’m deeply committed, as regular readers may know, to the idea that problems should come first and that “inverting” the familiar/traditional dynamic of teaching content first, presenting problems second, is the truly compelling”FLIP” teaching.   This concept is well explained in Ted McCain’s Teaching for Tomorrow:

we need to invert the conventional classroom dynamic: instead of teaching information and content first, and then asking students to answer questions about it second, we should put the question/ problem first, and then facilitate students with information and guidance as they seek the answer and hold them accountable for the excellence of their solutions and of their presentation of their results”

As we can learn from PISA, this methodology is widely deployed in those (particular) Asian educational programs which demonstrate strong success at the PISA testing– and for the many of us who tend to favor smaller classes, isn’t it fascinating to see the logic employed by Asian teachers to prefer larger classes?

edleader21Learning from PISA will be one of my major projects for the next six months or so: I’m delighted to share here news that I recently signed on with my friends at EdLeader21 for a contract engagement with them to write this fall and winter, in conjunction with Edleader21’s Chief Learning Officer Valerie Greenhill, a guide with the working title  OECD TEST FOR SCHOOLS (BASED ON PISA): An IMPLEMENTATION TOOLKIT.   (EdLeader21 is headed up by Ken Kay, founder and former long-time President of the Partnership for 21st century Skills).

This project, which has funding support from the Hewlett Foundation Deeper Learning program, will include articulating the alignment of the PISA/OECD test for schools with 21st century skills and learning outcomes, sharing case studies of how districts and schools are using the OECD test for schools based on PISA results to improve learning for their students, and capturing a set of best practice strategies for implementing the testing program and applying its reports effectively.

As Valerie Greenhill has written about the EdLeader21 work with PISA/OECD test for schools,

EdLeader21 has played a unique role throughout the establishment of the OECD Test for Schools. As members of the advisory board, we have represented the voices of district and school leaders around issues of implementation. We have continually stressed the need for resources and energy to be applied to what we see as the most important part of this project: What happens AFTER school leaders receive their results.

The OECD Test for Schools result report is lengthy and quite complex. For the results to translate into meaningful changes that improve student outcomes, school and district leaders will need targeted advice for implementation. The Implementation Toolkit will contain such practical guidance for education leaders who have received their results

Wish me luck in this in this initiative, and please offer me your thoughts on valuable PISA testing resources and on best using PISA and other test results for improving student learning and 21st century college, career, and life preparation.


Enjoyed enormously participating Thursday at the second annual Education in a Changing World conference at Montevista Christian School in Watsonville, CA, near Santa Cruz.  Sir  Ken Robinson and Alan November headlined, and I was glad to join new friend Aaron Sams (co-author of Flip Your Classroom) and others as featured presenters.  My thanks go to Headmaster Stephen Sharp for the invitation and warm welcome.

I did two sessions on PBL: Why, What and How, and one on Digital Citizenship: Fighting Fire with Fire.

This first set of slides on PBL draws in part on great resources from, High Tech High,  and www,pbl-online,org,  It lays out my case for PBL for a wide array of reasons, most of all because there is no better strategy we have to support our students in developing the skills and mindsets for becoming life-long learners.

We also took a short section to discuss the difficult tension within this PBL model between teacher directed and standards (or defined knowledge outcomes) PBL and student-directed, individual passion pursuing PBL: a tension every teacher should recognize, own, and confront in his or her curricular development.

Regarding Digital Citizenship, my argument was a fight fire with fire argument.   There is no better way to overcome and fight back against nasty and problematic digital citizenship than with positive and pro-active digital citizenship,  In this presentation I share multiple examples of inspirational digital citizenship by youth, make my argument with examples, such as the exemplary Dan Savage program “It Gets Better” and with a reference to the excellent Harvard Berkman Center report by danah boyd and John Palfrey, “What you must know about to combat youth bullying. 

I then, , offered four strategies to develop positive digital citizenship in our schools: renewing and revising our RUPs to become Bills of Rights and Reponsibilities for digital participation,  Modeling it by Educators, Establishing the Norms and Expectations with curricula, including an awesome PBL DIgCit curriculum from Greenwhich, CT, and finally, practicing good habits in our classrooms with recommendations around specific key literacies drawing on Rheingold’s Net Smart.

The new NMC report is out, and it is, as always, a fascinating, useful, and thought-provoking document.   Above is the promotional video capturing most of the highlights, below, at bottom,  is the full report.

My post on the 2012 report is here.

A few comments and observations:

1. The set of “six emerging technologies most likely to influence their sectors” evokes a mixed reaction.   Cloud computing, mobile technologies, Open Content, and 3D printing are developments of enormous value and significance to student learning: they make for greater connectivity to information and networks, greater affordability and flexibility, tremendous creative opportunities, and improved personalization of learning and customization of course design.

Learning Analytics is something I’m all for, when done well and for good and with nuance and care, but we all know there is much to be concerned here about the potential for loss of privacy and the mechanized automation of learning.     These concerns are, to my eyes, underappreciated and underemphasized in the discussion inside the report.

Remote and virtual laboratories wouldn’t have made my list.

Remote laboratories enable users to conduct experiments and participate in activities via the Internet using remotely controlled but real laboratory equipment.

Virtual laboratories are interactive online environments for performing experiments with simulated equipment. Both, however, offer the promise of authentic laboratory experiences regardless of the locale of the user.

I don’t mean to dismiss their value or significance altogether, but they are hard to get too excited about.   In an era of maker spaces and in a time when we need again, or as always, tremendous bursts of innovation in our student laboratories, it is hard not to fear that virtual and remote labs are as much a step back or step away as a step forward.  Sure, bring them, but don’t prioritize funding or time for them over real labs.

2.  The timeline seems a bit off to my eyes, also.   I’d have put 3D printing in the mid-time range, 2-3 years, and I think Learning Analytics is going to be slower in development and implementation by most regular users– it belongs in the further out time range, 4-5 years.

3.  For a reason not explained, (or did I overlook it?), this year’s report halves the number of emerging trends when compared to the 2012 report, only six rather than twelve.

Some of the exemplary elements in last year’s report are missing: collaborative environments, personalized learning environments, semantic applications (an abstract term, but best exemplified in tools such as Wolfram Alpha and one my very favorite iphone/ipad apps, TripIt), and Tools for assessing 21st century skills.   I’m sad to see them missing, and I would have placed any one of them over virtual/remote labs.

4. The two pages summarizing key trends, as differentiated from emerging technologies, is also useful (and entirely absent from the video).     I’m especially taken with these three, which deserve careful consideration and effective implementation in every school journeying toward becoming a school of the future: (more…)

I continue to be impressed and informed by the fine work happening at SETDA, the State Educational Technology Directors Association, and the above is a useful report on a topic which nearly all of us in K-12 are working hard to get our arms around: making the leap from print to digital texts.

It is a report written more for state level educational administrators and to some extent district officials than for individual school leaders, but the latter can still plenty of useful information.

Highlights and observations: 

1.  SETA lays out the key benefits for going digital, and provides elaboration and examples for each:

SETDA sees four primary interrelated advantages to increasing the use of digital content in today’sschools. Over time and with good implementation, a shift to digital content will:

  • • Increase student learning and engagement
  • • Accommodate the special learning needs ofstudents
  • • Facilitate the search and discovery of unbundled resources
  • • Support educators in personalizing learning

These all make sense to me, and I especially appreciate the open-ended nature of the third,

“unbundled resources: The ability of educators to locate just the right resource, lesson, or chapter as they need it is an important consideration with digital content. There may be hundreds of potential resources to use for any given lesson when the teacher has the entire World Wide Web to choose from.”

There are many I, and I am sure readers here, would add quickly to this list, including supporting the development of connected learners, improving the opportunity for teachers as curators and authors, and the potential of significant cost savings.

What’s missing in this discussion is any exploration of the question of what might be lost in digital reading.   They make a nice point, that students are actually relatively more able to “mark up” a digital text than they are a school-owned, “permanent” textbook, which does facilitate reading for understanding.

But I think there might be value in acknowledging we are all still groping our way toward understanding the advantages and disadvantages of digital device situated reading, and if it is SETDA’s confident opinion that digital texts are equal to print as educational resources, to state that and defend that position.


On the one hand, as TIME magazine reported in a 2012 article entitled Do E-Books Make It Harder to Remember What You Just Read?    “different media have different strengths — and it may be that physical books are best when you want to study complex ideas and concepts that you wish to integrate deeply into your memory.”   Frankly, as much as a enthusiast as I am for digital tools, I fear this is my own experience.

However, the Atlantic has reported this month (June 2013) in a piece entitled “Study: Reading in Print, Versus on a Computer or Kindle, Doesn’t Change Comprehension” that researchers at one New York university found “Readers scored the same on comprehension tests regardless of the medium.”   Hardly conclusive, this research: to my mind the jury is still out.

2.  The  state case studies provided by SETDA are illuminating, especially, I found, the Utah example. (more…)

Courtesy of my good friend and Tucson neighbor, Bob Pearlman, (whose website is a must-visit resource for everyone in 21st century learning), it is great to share with you the above video featuring President Obama’s visit to New Tech Manor in Texas.

As regular readers may recognize, I’ve been a fan and advocate for the quality of the New Tech program for five years: it is great to see it get this recognition and admiration from the President.

This video does a great job interweaving Obama’s speech to the students and his visit to their classrooms.   This is authentic learning, hands on, engaged, challenging, rigorous, collaborative, meaningful.


“But what about collaboration?   There certainly aren’t any assessments available to evaluate our students’ proficiency in that critical 21st century skill.”

A common question and remark in my presentations about assessment, it hits on an important issue.  If we prize connected learning and collaboration as not only key 21st century workforce skills, (it is almost always among the various listings of skill sets prized in hiring) but also as key to lifelong learning and indeed, to the larger work of creativity and innovation– then shouldn’t we take steps to ensure our students are learning this key skill?

(I’m tempted here to make the case for the critical power of collaboration, and its fast-rising significance in the discovery and development of new ideas and new tools, but I think it is well enough understood that it can be stipulated here.)

An ongoing thesis of this blog is that we should all, as K-12 educators, be more clear with ourselves and our students about our specific and key intended learning outcomes, and if we are going to test or assess their learning at all, we should align that testing and assessing with those ILO’s, and we should use the information we collect to improve their learning.

Accordingly, we need more and better tools and resources for better assessing collaboration— something many of the best assessment minds have been working on in really exciting ways.

Clearly, authentic assessment of collaboration is key to this work– and many teachers are using PBL learning programs to provide more opportunities for student collaboration, and are building comprehensive rubrics to assess such collaboration.  Buck Institute for Education has a freely available such rubric available here.

I’ve written and presented with some regularity about open internet testing as a way to improve the teaching and learning of information literacy, web research, critical thinking, and applied problem-solving, and Will Richardson has built on my open internet posts to argue for the importance and value of “open network” testing, in which it is not just web-sites which are accessible in testing but other  persons, collected into a learning network, whom can be interviewed or surveyed to collect information for use in problem-solving.

But as regular readers know, I’m always interested in how we can mix and match both internal, such as the two examples above, and external measurements of what we think matter.  In Connecticut, I’ve heard from a source there, they are developing a new section for their secondary science standardized test for collaborative problem-solving.

As the video at top displays, there is exciting work in this direction coming from some super-smart Australians at the University of Melbourne and its ATC21S: Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills.  To the best of my understanding, the kind of Collaborative problem-solving assessment tool featured in the video is not yet available, but still in development.

PISA, from OECD, is perhaps the broadest and most significant player in the new field of assessing collaboration and, more specifically, collaborative problem solving.  As is being increasingly reported, its 2015 test administration will include for the first time this key element.

As an example, creativity expert Keith Sawyer wrote about this development (and the work of ATC21S) on his blog recently. 

This new assessment will be included in the international PISA assessments to be implemented in 2015. Look for news stories describing which countries are “better at collaboration” based on these skills! The need for standardized tests is unfortunate in many ways, but I believe that having politicians and parents focused on collaboration will lead our teachers, students, and schools to emphasize collaboration more.

The PISA definition (version A):

Collaborative problem solving competency is the capacity of an individual to effectively engage in a process whereby two or more agents attempt to solve a problem by sharing the understanding and effort required to come to a solution.

These slides from PISA lay out a bit more information.

As the slides explain, PISA has been on a journey of many steps in improving its assessment of problem solving– which is, after all, quite well situated as the ultimate expression of what we want students to be able to do.

The article embedded below quotes Karl Popper to the effect that “All life is problem solving.”


The full post is available over at the Carney Sandoe blog, The Puzzle.

1.  Why are you assessing  learning outcomes?

In any endeavor, it’s important to begin with the end in mind.  No plan to improve your school’s Learning Outcomes Assessment (LOA) can be successful without first establishing strong clarity of purpose in assessing your school’s learning.

We do so to be accountable to our boards, parents, and accrediting associations; we do so in order share data with prospective parents in our marketing and admissions materials and for our prospective donors in our campaign communications and grant applications.learning outcome assessment

Most of all, we do so because we are committed to improving learning for our students, a purpose all the more important as the information revolution sweeps over us.   As Paul Arcario, the Dean of LaGuardia Community College, states,

whether or not we’re comfortable with it, assessment is about revolution

Through assessment we challenge ourselves to rethink our ways of teaching, structuring the curriculum, working together, even knowing itself.  It provides a mean for self-correction action and for the continual expansion of our thinking about the idea and purpose of education.”

2. How well does your community understand the meaning and purpose of LOA?

It is not enough for the leadership to know why it is conducting outcomes assessment; strengthening the culture of assessment in our schools demands that everyone understands the meaning and purpose of LOA.


I get asked this question often every spring, so I’d thought I’d offer a few thoughts here on the blog.

This list sticks to the (relatively) current, the books I’ve read or encountered since last May– obviously there are scores of fine books from years past every educator should consider for summer reading, but this is not that kind of list.

(If you are interested, here is my 2012 Summer Reading List. )

Asterisk by names are for “full disclosure;” they are friends and colleagues, so please recognize the potential of bias.

47a4034799f5351cb17ed9d767db9afc*Ken Kay, founder of Partnership for 21st century skills and edleader21, joined by his close associate *Val Greenhill, published this book last summer and it is, I think, a highly valuable guide for educational leaders.  Kay and Greenhill recognize the extent to which leading learning in fast-changing times is a traveling on a journey which will never arrive finally at the destination, a journey that requires not only a vision and a strategy but a process of inclusion and an obligation for communication and collaboration.  See my full review here.

richardsonHighly accessible, succinct, and compelling, this book identifies great questions we should all be asking about education in the future (and the present), and offers a set of valuable steps we could all begin taking now to realign.    Why would you not take the 80 minutes and $3 to read this book this summer?

november who owns Using farming as metaphor for 21st century learning is funny to me, but November makes it work, and helps us to see what is new is old: that we’ve always learned best by doing things, taking care, working together, tackling real problems, generating meaningful solutions, producing and sharing.    And now, with the information, resources and tools available online, this practice is more available and more meaningful than ever before.   Great practical suggestions along with good inspiration.   I quibble with some details: November twice offers the idea we shouldn’t try to measure creativity because it will only dampen it, and cites only Dan Pink as support: I think there is more to say about the matter than dismissing it out of hand, but this minor matter doesn’t detract from the value of November’s book as a whole.

net smartRheingold: I’ve been raving about this book for a year, since I read in on vacation last July: I think it was certainly THE book of 2012, the one book every educator– including, by the way, everyone who is educating themselves, which ought to be, in the fast-changing 21st century, everyone– needs to read to understand the opportunities and the obligations to be a responsible, effective, digital citizen, collaborator, and contributor.  It’s a bit of a heavier lift than many of the other books on this list, but it is entirely worth the effort.   See full post/review here. (more…)

“There are so many variables in what Duckworth calls the Non-Cognitive mosh-pit: how do you organize them into a comprehensible and clear framework?”

“I see the value of assessing non-cognitive qualities, and grit/perseverance in particular, but the real important thing is to teach and cultivate it: how is the best way to do that?”

In the past few months, because of my work with the SSATB Think Tank on the Future of Admissions Assessment, both of the above questions have arisen multiple times during my presenting, discussing, and consulting about NonCognitive assessment.

For both, I’ve been working on developing better answers, and– wow– the University of Chicago CCSR report embedded atop is a tremendous asset and resource for answering and addressing both questions.

images (4)


The report came to my attention by being discussed, and indeed, celebrated at not one but two conferences I attended back to back in April, the Deeper Learning Network Conference at High Tech High in San Diego and the National Partnership for Educational Access in Boston.

But as much as I had heard it praised, it nevertheless exceeded my expectations.  This is a masterful overview and analysis of what matters among non-cogs in the service of supporting our students success to, through, and beyond secondary schooling.

Back to to the two top framing questions.  First, how can we best organize logically and coherently the array of attributes and activities that are aswim in this conversation?  In conversation recently with Angela Duckworth, she guided me toward what is a useful simplification, though really almost too much of an oversimplification, which is the same one used by the National Research Council in its highly valuable 2012 report, Education for Life and Work.

education for life and work key graphic

As stated, it is very simplified, but still useful: there are three domains, and we need to think about how we are recognizing, understanding, teaching and assessing each of them: Cognitive, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal.

But, the Chicago Consortium on School Research report takes it a next level of complexity while retaining reasonable clarity and coherence.    As the graphic below (labeled 2.1) from the report shows, and it is a graphic worth studying closely,  five non-cog elements play together and converge to generate improved academic performance:

  1. academic behaviors (like attending class and doing homework);
  2. academic mindsets such as optimism, locus of control, and the Deck growth mindset;
  3. Academic Perseverance, which is roughly equal to Duckworth’s grit, though the Chicago authors see it as a subset or specific manifestation of a broader grit personality trait;
  4. Learning Strategies; and
  5. Social Skills.

Chicago noncognitive report graphic

Onto the second question: what do we know about the malleability of these factors, and what is the best approach to teaching the one most currently being talked about, grit or perseverance.   The answer is in the graphic above, and I could just leave it at that, but at least for my own sake, let me spell it out.    (more…)

Sharing today 3 recent TEDx talks by three of my fellow travelers in the 21st century and deeper learning movement: Grant Lichtmann, Julie Wilson, and Marc Chun.

Grant Lichtmann is probably most familiar  to readers here:  formerly of Francis Parker School in San Diego, and just now a Senior Fellow of the Memphis based Martin Institute, he attracted, rightfully so, a great deal of attention for his “edu-journey” last fall  exploring and examining innovative practices at 60 schools.

In his talk below, he shares the news that schools are “bad at innovation,” but he won’t accept that change is hard– homesteading the prairie was hard, but change is uncomfortable.     The work is about teaching into the unknown, and because we know the future less well than we ever have known it before, most important is that we become, and we help our students become, self-evolving learners.

I love what Grant says about the new “sphere,” building on previous ec0-spheres such as the atmosphere and the biosphere, we have a new sphere only about 10 years old: the Cognitosphere.   Yes.   He doesn’t make these same references, but his term captures so much of what I am so excited about in my reading of John Seely Brown’s New Culture of Learning, Stephen Johnson’s Future Perfect, Wellman and Rainie’s Networked, and Rheingold’s Net Smart.

Julie Wilson is launching a new organization, the Institute for the Future of Learning, coming out of her graduate studies at Harvard with, among others, Tony Wagner.     In this talk, she speaks of the importance of making learning meaningful today, and doing so by being serious about student engagement, real world connections, essential questions, and authentic audiences.   She shares concrete and vivid examples of schools, some of them associated with the Deeper Learning and 21st century learning movement such as New Tech Network and High Tech High, doing this right, and she asks us to work together to bring this kind of authentic student work to all students.

Marc Chun, formerly of CLA/CWRA and the highly regarded Performance Task Academy, and now at Hewlett Foundation’s important Deeper Learning Initiative, offers an important talk about Transfer: What is it, What does it require, how do we support it?  Transfer may be among the, or the singular, most important goal of all teaching: can students take what they learn in one context and moment, in our classroom say, and apply it, later, to a new challenge, effectively.

There’s good stuff here: standout is Marc’s metaphorical examples of 007 and MacGyver.   Sometimes we want students to take what the tools we provide them, say an exploding pen, and apply it to the situations which they encounter– directly.   Relatively routine, something we can practice again and again: this is important to develop confidence and the skill of applied problem-solving.

But, it is also very limiting.  As Marc points out, most of our students will end up working in jobs which haven’t been invented yet.  In the case of MacGyver, problems emerge for which he hasn’t been trained exactly.   These novel situations demand novel solutions, which he must craft from the materials available to him, drawing from an array of prior knowledge, blending it and synthesizing it.   For these skills, students need the skills of collaboration, of critical thinking, of learning how to learn: of deeper learning.

Students do need experience with both 007 and MacGyver learning challenges– but in our schools today, we need to work harder to provide a lot more MacGyver.