It was a dynamite four days in Philly last week at the NAIS annual conference: although I was unsure how it would feel to be attending in a different capacity, not as a Head but in my new role of writer/consultant/presenter, it ended up very fun and engaging.   As always, the best parts are outside the formal conference in the camaraderie and fellowship found there with so many pursuing with parallel passion the meaningful and rewarding work of remaking learning for our fast-changing times.

The slides above come from a most fascinating session sharing what I’d argue is genuinely breakthrough work from the folks at the Index group on what they call their new Mission Skills Assessment, MSA, for Middle School Students.

(It was a big team presenting, including Lisa Pullman from Index, Tim Bazemore from New Canaan Country School (CT), Jennifer Phillips from Far Hills Country Day (NJ), and Rich Roberts from ETS; see the last slide for all their names and contact info)

As they explained, and as I often try my best to pursue here at 21k12, we have long as educators believed and proclaimed that character development, defined broadly, is of importance equal to that of intellectual and academic development, and yet truly, outside of the not-always-deeply successful advisory programming and a few assemblies here and there, how far do we usually go with this character education?

And, when students know that grades are the coin of the realm and that nearly all of the grades they earn and the feedback they get is on the academic-intellectual side, how well are we signaling to them the importance we place or guiding them with the feedback which is so important on the non-cognitive side of the equation?

Here with the MSA, the group has identified, after review of both the research of what makes for success out there, and of what our schools state in our missions we do in here, six key traits, and I love this list:

Teamwork, Creativity, Ethics, Resilience, Curiosity, Time Management. 

As the slides demonstrate, this has been an investigation carried out in the most serious of ways, spread out over five years and drawing upon the expert resources of and collaboration with ETS.  Their ETS partner, Rich Roberts, explained that as surprising as it might seem, ETS has been working on Noncog for over a decade, and indeed, the pursuit of noncog assessment which can match the quality of cognitive assessment goes back more than 60 years.

Roberts argued that the consensus view after decades of study is that noncog is not, no it is NOT, twice as important as cognitive skills and attributes for success in life– but it is EQUAL.

But assessing it has never been easy– this is the rub.  But, the research here conducted finds strong validity and reliability for a tripartite approach, as described in the image below, of student self-report, teacher evaluation, and a third tool for “triangulation.” NAIS and the Mission Skills Assessment from the Index Group   21k12

These third tools are discussed in slides 36-38, and include Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs), which were similarly touted at the Boalt Hall Law School study I described here, biographical studies, and Creativity Performance Tests.

For those that are skeptical that even with this triangulation we get to an effective measurement, check out the discussion of reliability and validity on slides 48-55, where reliability is found to be just a tad less than on the SAT and validity in prediction better than standardized test scores and GPA for student quality ratings and student well being and just a little less well than standardized test scores for GPA.

As for the inevitable question– whether and when this tool will become more broadly available, beyond the membership of the Index group, it appears as I view it that these questions have yet to be answered.   As soon as they are, I’ll do my best to report that news here.

But, there is no reason for schools outside of Index to not use these ideas and resources to advance their own work in assessing student development of these essential qualities.

Mike Gwaltney and I enjoyed greatly facilitating this conversation on digital citizenship, rights, principles and responsibilities.     We ended up just focusing on the digital bill of rights, which will be posted here soon, but we wanted to make available the rest of these slides for those who might be interested.

In “conversation” yesterday at educon about the CWRA and the data it generates, Pam Moran and I spoke about how important it is we all develop our skills in interpreting data– and even more than that, and I have to say, this has previously been a bridge just beyond my full focus– using data to conduct our own research as teachers and administrators.

Pam emphasized this is a critical project: we need to support teachers, offering education, resources, and time, to undertake their own action research projects and generate their own findings.

I began, belatedly, this conversation as a Head of School last year, and it is a big project, to be sure, to help busy, often over-loaded, teachers to get to this place.

And so it is with great respect and admiration I share with readers here this very interesting report, generated by teachers and administrators, on their research and findings.    The folks at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School (MD), particularly Glenn Whitman, were kind enough to send me their recent publication, Think Deeply and Differently:  The Transformational Classroom:How Research in Educational Neuroscience Enhances Teaching and Learning at St. Andrew’s.

Too often, I fear, and certainly I’ve been very much guilty of this, professional learning in schools lacks focus, coherence, continuity and a sense of accomplishment and completion, and part of the reason it lacks focus is because it doesn’t have a finish line and any type of finished product around which its efforts can be centered.

But, it would see here in this example from St. Andrew’s, they’ve tackled exactly this problem by organizing themselves, their professional learning, and their action research toward the end of a publication that speaks from and to their organizational mission and their pedagogical initiatives and next steps.   That is great.

To quote the preface,

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and its Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning is a sterling example of how educators are informing the teaching and learning process through research-based practices.

These practices encompass every aspect of the educational experience including how we approach the learning environment, how we plan instruction to promote mastery of skills and concepts, how we assure that students are engaged in higher-order thinking and creative problem-solving, and how we use the arts and technol-ogy to maximize each child’s learning potential.

St. Andrew’s is on the forefront of not only practicing but also advancing this knowledge by engaging in research and discovery that has the potential to inform their own teaching practice as well as the entire field of education.  (more…)

SSATBThink Tank


The New York Times Notable Books of 2012 list was published this week, and it was good to see its recognition of Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Surely many blog readers who have not yet gotten to this new book will recall Tough’s widely circulated article featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine in October 2011: “What is the Secret of Success is Failure?”

That article, which sits at the center of the new book, describes the work being conducted at two New York City schools that serve very different populations: Riverdale Country School (a SSATB Member) and KIPP mid
dle school. School leaders at both schools, however, have teamed to develop new tools and techniques to both cultivate and assess a set of character—particularly so-called “performance character”—skills and attributes, believing them to be equally important or, if we look to the Darwin quote above, superior to traditionally defined intelligence in making for future success.

As is fairly well known within our association, Choate Rosemary Hall has undertaken such an experiment over the past decade in an extraordinarily impressive way, as part of a collaboration with Dr. Robert Sternberg, a former Choate parent, and at the time head of the PACE (Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise) Center. Choate Admission Director Ray Diffley’s leadership of this project, and the lessons he has learned from it, have brought him to the leadership of our Think Tank.

Choate’s work expanding its range of admission assessments has had several iterations. In its earlier, expansive version, which included a wide array of student assessments and tasks, it found “three consistent variables among students best predicted a student’s ability to thrive at Choate….

Read the full post by clicking here.

It being Thanksgiving week, I thought it might be appropriate to share “from the archives” these remarks I made at a middle school graduation in 2005.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Graduation Dinner Address, 2005

Tonight I wanted to speak for a few minutes about privilege and anxiety.  I was struck this spring upon recognizing that the two books in my reading experience that best capture the sights and sounds, the environment—the culture—the world of excellent independent schools and universities—that both books contain in their title the same word:  Privilege.

The first, Art Powell’s 1996 academic analysis of the great value independent schools have offered their students for a very long time, is entitled Lessons from Privilege: The American Prep School Tradition.   The second, brand new this spring and leading me to this epiphany, is a young man’s memoir of his undergraduate education: its title is Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class.

These books portray the culture of schools where teachers are passionate about ideas and intensely committed to their students, where students love learning and are restlessly striving to advance in the American meritocracy.  There is competition and there is community; these schools are places of self examination, critical thinking, independent minds, ambitious yearnings, and amazing growth.

It is striking that that both books contain the word Privilege in their titles— and probably not a coincidence.  It is truly indeed a great privilege to attend such schools, and I think our graduates tonight realize it.

It has been a privilege for them to enjoy classrooms of so few students.  It is a privilege to investigate Washington D.C. with the powerfully sharp-minded Mr. Prestianni, or to hike the volcanoes of Hawaii ’s Kona with the adventurous Mr. LaBonte and Madame Amy, or to learn Algebra from the incomparable mathophile Mrs. Ellis, or to be sensitively counseled from the compassionate Ms. LaDuc, or be coached in basketball by “T”.  Some of them even had the privilege to learn to research their family heritage from Mrs. Schofield.

And it is a privilege indeed for these graduates to have had the support of families who have provided them such an education.

Privilege is complicated—having had such opportunities forces us to wonder and to worry whether we deserve what we have and others don’t, and whether we will achieve all for which we are being prepared.  To be human is to be anxious, and ironically, sometimes the more privileged we are, and the more opportunities we have, the more we worry about what is to come.

Last fall, a British philosopher wrote a book called Status Anxiety:

Every adult life could be said to be defined by two great love stories. The first – the story of our quest for romantic love – is well known and well-charted.

The second – the story of our quest for love from the world – is a more secret and shameful tale. And yet this second love story is no less intense than the first.’  (more…)

As a followup to yesterday’s post on Angela Duckworth and her research/advocacy for the importance, perhaps equal or greater to that of traditionally defined intelligence, of cultivating self-control and grit/perseverance in our students, it seemed useful to share this fine short lecture from Paul Kim, of Stanford.

I’ve been participating with some moderate profit in Professor Kim’s Stanford MOOC, Designing Learning Environments.  (any other readers out there participating?  I still need to build my team).   Kim’s most recent lecture was on a topic that I’ve increasingly recognized must be woven into every aspect of technology integration: the importance of and more importantly, the techniques of attention, concentration, and self-control.

Even better, Kim’s lecture synthesizes the argument for self-control with the technology of student self-monitoring and self-tracking, an element of learning analytics I’m especially interested in.  (All quotes are from the video above.)

Basically, I would like to ask you to consider designing a learning environment that can trigger and help your students learn to better manage their own learning. I can never overemphasize the importance of this need for a learning environment design.

Kim offers the useful observation that while online learning, relative to traditional school-based learning, offers enormous advantages of convenience, it poses far greater challenges of self-control for students.   Simply put, if students have to or are very strongly expected to attend school every day, and go to scheduled classes for an hour or two at a time, they have much fewer decisions to make about their learning program, and they have, at least much of the time, a peer/social group there with them and supportive encouraging adults personally steering them forward.   But in an asynchronous online learning, none of this is the case– and so self-discipline for making your work progress is much more important. (more…)

The Ted talk above is from Angela Duckworth, a Professor at U.Penn who is fast emerging, it seems to me, as an important thought leader and inspirational figure for those of us in the field of educating adolescents (and others).

Having just finished Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed, I believe Duckworth stands out significantly in that book (she’s the star); she offers a series of perceptive insights and the research evidence which underpin the book, as captured in its subtitle, Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. 

I love the quote Duckworth shares in the talk above from Darwin, which conveys much of her working thesis:

I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ that much in intelligence, only in zeal and hard work, and I still think this is an eminently important difference.

In the Tough book, Duckworth is quoted on her alternative from the norm view of school reform:

the problem, I think is not only the schools but the students themselves.  Here’s why: Learning is hard.  True, learning is fun, exhilarating, and gratifying, but it is also often daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging.

 To help low performing students, educators and parents must first realize that character is at least as important as intellect.

I worry too that we forget how hard learning is, for many much of the time.   Yet at the same time, this quote only partially represents her broader argument, because when you dig deeper, she is equally worried about, or at least her research reveals that we should be equally worried, about learning that is too easy for our students, learning that is about listening to the lecture, reading the book, and “cranking out” the paper, year after year, for at least 8 of them, and then coming out of college and realizing how much more is required of success.

There is also, and I want to return to this in a subsequent post, a fascinating discussion of “under-matching,” in education: sometimes some students attend colleges which aren’t challenging enough to them, local state or community colleges overwhelmed by numbers and by needed remediation for many, but not all of their students, and those that are more prepared for the challenge are under, not over, whelmed, and, bored and disengaged, drop away.  But undermatching can occur in other dimensions too, when students perfectly competent at cranking it out and “doing school,” as Pope calls it, get by but don’t transcend.

In my own observations of highly intellectually talented students at top California prep schools, I saw far too often a stultifying dullness in what was being provided for them, resulting in an apathy about genuine learning that was heartbreaking and  which is ultimately dis-serving.  In my own recollection of college, it was only a six months or so before I dropped out, not literally at all, but in effect, transferring the largest part of my time and energy to campus activism in various forms and not doing enough for my own learning.

From her collaboration with the legendary positive psychology guru Marty Seligman, whose work has long been highly important to me,  Duckworth, as Tough explains, has derived a list of 7 key traits of character in this context, and note the way this is understood as performance character, not moral character:

Grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.

In my study of 21st century learning, I’m familiar with the emphasis placed on curiosity, (see Wagner), and social intelligence and all its significance for collaboration.  I’ve also seen optimism listed  and highlighted in the recent Marzano work on Teaching and Assessing 21st century skills, and gratitude is at the heart of much of positive psychology and the broader happiness movement, which I write about and praise regularly.

But for Duckworth, the twin towers on this list are self-control and grit, and the discussion of their importance in Tough should be required reading. (more…)