brookhart book“We still really don’t know how to assess problem-solving,” I heard a university professor of engineering say last week, and it resonated because it is so clear to me that while we all want to do more to educate our students in the work of solving complex problems and creative thinking, and we know the importance of assessment in driving this instruction, we nevertheless stumble in our clarity about what and how we ought to assess these things.

Most often the books I write about here are what might be viewed as the superstructure books– the writing about the future of learning and the most innovative practices for reinventing what and how we should be teaching.

Examples of this would be my reviews of Net Smart by Rheingold, Networked by Wellman and Rainey, Future Perfect by Johnson, and Zhao’s World Class Leaners. 

But sometimes it is useful to return to the foundations, and firm up our terms and concepts at more basic, but critical, levels— indeed, if we don’t do so, the superstructures will be that much more unwieldy.

This 2010 title, from ASCD, is exactly that, and I hope readers will forgive the “primer” nature of this post.   It would seem to me that schools which simply do the work to try to unify and make more consistent our language and practice around higher order thinking skills assessment will be well poised to then experiment, iterate, and innovate in this essential realm.

Brookhart begins by defining the core elements of what we mean by higher order thinking:

  • Transfer: relating learning to other elements beyond those they were taught to associate with it.
  • Critical thinking (judgment): reasonable, reflective thinking focused on what to believe or do, applying wise judgment and producing an informed critique.
  • Problem solving, including creative thinking: the non-automatic strategizing required for solving an open-ended problem, involving identifying problems, creating something new as a solution.

establishing three core components of what exactly effective assessment entails:

  1. Specify clearly and exactly what it is you want to assess.
  2. Design tasks or test items that require students to demonstrate this knowledge or skill.
  3. Decide what you will take as evidence of the degree to which students have shown this knowledge or skill.

and elaborating with three more principles of higher order thinking assessment:

  • Presenting something for students to think about, usually in the form of text, visuals, scenarios, resource material, problems.
  • Using novel material–material new to students, not covered in class and not subject to recall.
  • Distinguishing between level of difficult, easy versus hard, and level of thinking, lower order thinking/recall versus higher order thinking) and control for each separately. (more…)

One of my main projects this year is serving as a member and consultant/writer for the Secondary School Admissions Testing Board (SSATB) Think Tank on the Future of Admissions Assessment.   More information on the Think Tank is here;  it’s charge is here. As part of my work I am posting a monthly column for the Think Tank; below is a “teaser” that post.  Click the link here or at bottom to read it in full. 

“Creativity,” Dr. Sternberg replied, when asked what addition to admissions assessment he would recommend if he had to limit himself to just one. Coming from the SSATB 2012 Annual Meeting’s keynote speaker, the former President of American Psychological Association, and arguably the world’s foremost scholar of – and experimental practitioner in – expanded admissions assessment, this is compelling counsel for our Think Tank’s work.

Using Sternberg as a framer and guide for the work of the Think Tank on the Future of Admissions Assessment is a no-brainer, and our time with him in Chicago was enormously valuable. In this post, we’ll take a deeper dive into assessing creativity; in future posts we’ll look at other Sternberg recommendations and many other aspects of expanded assessment for admissions.

Sternberg’s recommendation to prioritize creativity is both narrowly pragmatic and broadly idealistic.  Read on….

From the book:
“None of these technologies are isolated, or isolating, systems.   People are not hooked on gadgets– they are hooked on each other
.

The new media is the new neighborhood. 

This is the era of free agents and the spirit of personal agency. But it is not the World According to Me– it not a world autonomous and increasingly isolated individualists.  Rather, it is the World According to the Connected Me. 

The more people use the internet, the more friends they have, the more they see their friends, and the more socially diverse their networks.  

People’s lives offline and online are now integrated– it no longer makes sense to make a distinction.”

This new book, Networked: The New Social Operating System by Lee Rainie (of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project) and Barry Wellman (of the University of Toronto’s NetLab),  to which I was directed by Howard Rheingold’s terrific Net Smart, is a refreshingly no-holds-barred,  full-throated advocacy for the power of the network to improve lives, learning, and society.

The book, sadly, is not a complete success;  at times its narrative flattens into research-report data drudgery, and sometimes its voice  speaks about contemporary digital lives to its readers as if we lived on Mars or in the 19th century:  much of what is explained requires little explanation.   And the two “interludes”- intended as richly described “days in the life” of a networked, wired young person– simply fail, I believe, to illuminate, inform or influence minds (more about this at bottom).

But, if you are caught up in the current intellectual debate about the value of online networking– if you are looking for helpful argumentation versus the Turkles and Carrs— this is a valuable book, collecting and sharing research based evidence and an idealistic vision for where we are headed as a society of increasingly networked individuals.  And if you are looking for guidance on how to be a more effective online citizen, or netizen, this book offers good guidance.

The title is Networked, but the argument is something a bit different: many of us are living now not in a networked society but lives of “networked individualism.”  Because it is as individuals we are networked– at the very same time that we are more connected, we are less group-defined, less tied to tight networks such as churches and small town communities.

This new world of networked individualism is oriented around looser, more fragmented networks that provide succor.

Small densely knit groups like families, villages, and small organizations have receded in recent generations.  A different social order has emerged around social networks that are more diverse and less overlapping than those previous groups.

The networked operating system offers new ways to solve problems and meet needs. It offers more freedom to individuals than people experienced in the past because now they have more room to manuevre and more capacity to act on their own. (more…)

“There’s a seventh C too, you know” my neighboring seat-mate, the excellent educator Larry Kahn,  leaned over to whisper to me.   “Really,” I said, “what?”  “Connectivism.”

I wasn’t sure whether I was painfully behind the times, not already knowing about this seventh C, or alternatively that I’d been let into a secret club, the club of connectivism, but I was hooked.

Pat Bassett, the NAIS President, was presenting, and he shared with us his vision of the 6 C’s, be they 21st century skills or the essential capacities for success today: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity (the big 4 emphasized by P-21, edleader21, and Ken Kay), Character and Cosmopolitanism (Cross-Cultural Communication and Collaboration).

The elusive 7th C, though, I’m increasingly becoming convinced, is key: essential, exciting, empowering, elevating.   It captures something about learning today and tomorrow, and the way I understand it, it taps into, draws upon, and expresses (with its helpful first letter C), the power of networks and all that they can do to advance each of us individually and as groups.

This 7th C is just as important, I’m coming to believe, for ourselves to learn and develop and for us to faciliate our student learning, as any of other 6 C’s, even if, conceptually, it is still relatively more elusive than the first six.

Connectivism is defined on Wikipedia this way:

Connectivism was introduced as a theory of learning based on the premise that knowledge exists in the world rather than in the head of an individual. Connectivism proposes a perspective similar to the Activity theory of Vygotsky as it regards knowledge to exist within systems which are accessed through people participating in activities. (more…)

In the spirit of the NMC Horizon reports, a group of scholars at the Open University has prepared a thorough and thoughtful analysis of what is coming in pedagogy.     The 36 report is available here, and though its attention is focused upon post-secondary teaching and learning, there is much here that is highly applicable to those of us seeking to be more informed about coming trends in K-12 pedagogy.

The authors pay deference to the NMC Horizon reports, but explain they have a slightly different goal:

We acknowledge inspiration from the NMC Horizon Reports as well as other future-gazing reports on education. Those explore how innovations in technology might influence education; we examine how innovations in pedagogy might be enacted in an age of personal and networked technology.

In a short commentary on the report, an educational blogger who identifies himself only as “Derek” orders this reports coming innovations by immediacy:

  1. Personal inquiry learning  – Learning through collaborative inquiry and active investigation
  2. Seamless learning  – Connecting learning across settings, technologies and activities
  3. MOOCs – Massive open online courses
  4. Assessment for learning  – Assessment that supports the learning process through diagnostic feedback
  5. New pedagogy for e-books – Innovative ways of teaching and learning with next-generation e-books
  6. Publisher-led short courses – Publishers producing commercial short courses for leisure and professional development
  7. Badges to accredit learning  – Open framework for gaining recognition of skills and achievements
  8. Rebirth of academic publishing  – New forms of open scholarly publishing
  9. Learning analytics – Data-driven analysis of learning activities and environments
  10. Rhizomatic learning – Knowledge constructed by self-aware communities adapting to environmental conditions

Setting aside numbers six and eight from the list atop, which simply don’t interest me very much, and deferring four and nine to a separate discussion at bottom, focus upon the remaining six (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10), which lead me to draw out what I think is the single most important unifying theme and takeaway from this report:

the future of learning lies in a student-centered, web 2.0 empowered, networked connectivism.   This is the New Culture of Learningand we owe it to our own life-long learning and to our students to study this mode closely and exploit every opportunity to advance it. 

Note that in nearly all of these six, technology is essential, particularly the power of the internet.   Personal inquiry learning and badges, of course, are ancient, but are both accelerated dramatically by learning online.

Below let me share some key quotes from the document, with comments, to draw out this unifying theme: (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…)

It is easy to say that we want our schools to adopt a 21st century learning program; it is only a little bit harder to describe what that program looks like.    The real work, we all know, is in the execution.   Ken Kay and Val Greenhill, the team who led (Ken was Founding President) the Partnership for 21st century skills (P21) recognized this a couple years ago, and shifted the focus of their important work from calling for this transformation and from describing a program to, instead, supporting the leaders who are executing it in their districts and schools, in a new organization called EdLeader21.

In doing so, they are working with, supporting and learning from, an assemblage of some of the very most interesting and exciting school superintendents in the country, including Pam Moran, Jared Cotton, Jim Merrill, and, right here in Tucson, Mary Kamerzall.    With the benefit of this experience, they have now written a very valuable, very informative book, about which the only significant criticism is that it leaves the reader with an angst for more– more such information, more detail, specifics and examples: when is the sequel coming?   I’ll throw in a few notes here about the areas I most hope to hear more about.

Full disclosure time:  I enjoyed greatly my one year experience with edleader21, and have been an advocate for that organization.   I know Ken and Val personally, and am delighted to be neighbors of a sort with them here in Tucson (in fact, I am writing this in a central Tucson Starbucks, and I keep looking over my shoulder in case one or the other of them walks up behind me).   The complimentary copy of the book I am reviewing was sent to me as a kind courtesy on their part, with a warm and generous inscription.

Ken and I co-presented at NAIS in February, 2011, in a session entitled 21st century learning at NAIS Schools: Leading and Networking for Progress.  (My own remarks for that session were a slightly condensed version of a post I published also in February, 2011, 7 Steps for Leading in 21st century Learning.)

This new book expands upon a series Ken published last summer (2011) on Edutopia, a 7 part series on becoming a 21st century school district.

Ken and Val’s first step is, of course, the essential and universal first step:Adopt your vision” (just as my version of the seven steps commences with “Develop your vision (and Keep developing it.”)   The discussion here is rich and invigorating; it will energize readers.

There is no single version for 21st century student success that is the same in every school or district.   Lasting success always comes down to leaders like you.   For the vision to make an actual difference in students’ lives, it must come from and be embraced by the leaders of the school and district.  A vision that is born of genuine, authentic, passionate leadership is never simple, never cookie-cutter, and never easy.  But it is necessary.

Especially resonant for me is this quote from Virginia Beach Superintendent Jim Merrill:

I have finally found the thing in education that truly motivates me and it’s this 21st century education initiative.   This is why I am supposed to be a leader in this field.

The overview of the 8 key “perspectives” which are bringing so many to this appreciation for the importance of a shift in teaching and learning is excellent; I learned a great deal.   There is a powerful graph showing the change in workforce categories coming into our century, and good stats from a 2010 report that more than half of companies surveyed do measure the 4Cs in their performance review.

John Bransford, the renowned learning expert: is helpfully quoted:

in the US today we tell our kids the same thing 100 times and on the 101st time, we ask them if they can remember what we told them the first hundred times when in the 21st century the coin of the realm is if they can look at material they have never seen before and know what to do with it.

This first step/chapter, by itself, would be highly worthwhile reading for boards, education students, and others.   (more…)