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.

  • Design, Engineer, Build
  • Personalize, Choose, Create
  • Access, Integrate, Engage
  • Curiosity, Interest, Passion, Joy

As regular readers may recall, I’ve written several times before about the extraordinary educational leadership of Dr. Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County: first from a distance, and then from a close up and in person view.

Now readers have the opportunity to view her themselves by viewing this new TEDx talk from Dr. Moran, in which she shares her many ideas and concepts for educational transformation, as can be seen above, the titles of her slides.

In this talk, she calls upon all us to take learning from what NASA deems the limitations of low orbit travel exemplified by the space shuttle to deep space exploration of Moon, Mars, and beyond missions.    Standardized testing and test prep keep us in low orbits, but we need to take learning beyond to deeper understanding, greater mastery, creativity and production as opposed to consumption and regurgitation.

I especially appreciate her passion and commitment for not just STEM, but STEAM, because integrating arts and artistic/design sensibilities into STEM learning is so critical to creating tomorrow’s innovators.    She shares very engaging examples of students participating in Coderdojos and various Design/engineer/build and Makerspace labs.

CoderDojo-102033

Note: I am delighted to be co-presenting with Dr. Moran next month at Educon at Science Leadership Academy Philadelphia, on the topic of Performance Task Assessment & the CWRA: Better Goal Posts.

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…)

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…)

(At the risk of seeming overly flattering and favoring a friend, for which I offer full disclosure and my apologies, I share the following post about an outstanding educational leader.)

Last week in Virginia, speaking to the Commonwealth’s fine independent school heads, I suggested they had a great model of educational leadership in their home state,   Albemarle County Superintendent Pam Moran.   I was asked, entirely reasonably, why I described her this way, and, caught off guard, I stuttered a bit in my answer, and disappointed myself in not providing a fuller explanation.

Curiously, that very same day, only a few hours later, I turned to chapter 7 of the book I was reading on my airplane home, a chapter devoted to the leadership qualities of the none other than Pam Moran.  In his book, Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works, author and former school principal Bill Sterrett writes “Moran and other tech savvy leaders believe it vital to help our students and staffs use technology effectively– not for technology’s sake but for learning’s sake.”

Drawing upon that book and other sources, including a recent issue of the New Yorker, I now aim to better answer the question: what makes Pam Moran such a fine educational leader?  She offers, I think, excellent exemplification of what in my presentation last week I explained are the 8 Steps of Leading Learning Forward.

  1. Developing Ourselves as Leading Learners
  2. Articulating the Vision and Modeling Digital Citizenship
  3. Collaboratively determining our intended learning outcomes
  4. Measuring what matters most, using technology.
  5. Strengthening our faculty professional learning cultures
  6. Promoting Aligned Teaching & Learning
  7. Putting in place the necessary tools
  8. Documenting & Sharing.

Step One: Developing Ourselves as Leading Learners

Sterrett’s chapter on Moran opens with an epigraph from her, which by its placement and its emphasis conveys that she too believes that leading learning begins always with a focus upon our own learning.

I’m convinced that we administrative leaders have an obligation to initiate new learning [and] become skillful in the use of tools that accelerate and advance our learning work.

Sterrett goes on to write that

She believes the onus is on the educational leader…to be aware of new technologies.  “I know that if I can’t stay current than I will not be able to get my colleagues to do the same.”

Social media is also, for Moran, a vehicle for reflection and intellectual growth.

Moran finds that contributing to blogs is a good way to reflect on her practice.  By articulating her thoughts in posts that draw on her experiences and refer to her vision, she is able to model the importance of reflection and meaningful conversation for the greater professional community…. “The ‘hurried child’ has become the ‘hurried adult’– I fear– to the detriment of deep learning.

Step Two Articulating the Vision and Modeling Digital Citizenship.   Leadership always contains as a key element strong communication with all constituencies, and sharing a vision of the future toward which one is leading.   Pam does so in many ways, including using powerful social media tools such as youtube, blogging and twitter.

One example can be seen in this compelling, snazzy, and effective video, articulating her district’s “continuing  journey toward quality learning:”

(more…)


I rarely feature guest posts from those outside my own school, but when I read my  NAIS & edleader21 colleague Chris Thinnes’ piece about Race to Nowhere and the vexing issue of homework, which I have written about here before, I offered to post it.  Chris articulates very particularly and effectively my similar thoughts about this topic, and I am pleased to be able to share it here. 

Race to Nowhere Has Some Homework to Do

Chris Thinnes is a parent and an educator who lives in Los Angeles. He is the Head of the Upper Elementary School & Academic Dean atCurtis School, a member of the Advisory Group of EdLeader21, and the director of the Center for the Future of Elementary Education at Curtis School (CFEE), which recently brought together educators from 103 schools and districts for “Transforming Elementary Education: An Evening with Sir Ken Robinson.”

In its latest emailed, tweeted, and web-based blitz encouraging schools to ban weekend and holiday homework, an impassioned group of self-styled activists has once again leveraged 21st century tools to provide a 20th century ‘solution’ to a 19th century problem: the overloaded assignment of dull, mechanical, and ineffectively designed homework exercises to millions of our nation’s youth. However, the similarly dull reasoning of their examination, diagnosis, and prescription (a ban, very simply, on weekend and holiday homework) will inevitably provoke irrelevant, unjustified, and blanket contempt for schools’ practices the rest of the year as well.

Race to Nowhere‘s activist arm, EndTheRace.org, swipes any reasonable analysis off the table with its burly forearm, before any of us — educators, parents, and students — have the chance to sit down to talk. In short, this campaign overlooks important dimensions of a complex discussion about the purposes of education and the needs of children, ignores forward-looking strategies about the appropriate design of learning opportunities at school and at home, insinuates a lack of professionalism and responsibility on the part of educators, and threatens further to divide, rather than to unify, educators and parents of children in our nation’s schools.

“The research on homework is clear and unanimous. Most homework does not increase learning, raise scores, or prepare students for the future.” -EndTheRace.org

If this were an accurate assessment of research ‘on homework,’ it would be compelling. However, this statement misrepresents the fact that only research on the overload of homework is ‘clear and unanimous’ in its findings: namely, that homework should be limited to developmentally appropriate workloads of 10 minutes per grade level per day. [http://today.duke.edu/2006/03/homework.html] (more…)

Last month I presented an Ignite session (5 minutes, 20 slides, slides advance automatically every 15 seconds!), at the first annual national meeting of edleader21, the new national professional learning community for 21st century education leaders.

My session was on a favorite (among many favorite) topics, flipping instruction such that we use online video delivery for homework and we use the classtime previously used for lecture for what was previously assigned for homework: application of learning to challenging problems.

I was honored, certainly, to have the opportunity to speak as one of 20 ignite presenters at the conference: everyone was terrific, and it would not be a poor use of your time to watch the entirety of the Ignite presentations, which you can find here.  I have included two of my favorites, focused on others of my favorite topics, creative problemsolving and 21st century assessment.  You can find them after the jump: (more). (more…)