“Taking Context Seriously” to Cultivate Student Ownership

In the video below (recently shared by AJ Juliani in my PLN — thanks, AJ!), Todd Rose shares the following story (starting at 22:07).

In the 1960’s scientists were puzzled why the infant reflex to “walk” disappears after around 2 months, later returning when they are ready to walk at around a year old. Based on a method of averages, they determined it had to do with the fact that our brains mature and therefore suppress that reflex. This belief ended up in pediatrics books, which landed babies getting checked for developmental brain delays and remediation if their reflex didn’t go away by 2 months. Fortunately, Esther Thelen later proved this false; by looking at individuals rather than averages, and by varying the contexts with each of these babies, she discovered that at 2 months of age, infants’ thighs simply get chubbier, rendering their legs too heavy to lift that way.

“So here we have this really complicated story about brain maturation that we’re sending kids off to remediation off of, when it turns out it has nothing to do with that, just by taking context seriously.”

As an educator, the phrase, “taking context seriously” jumps out to me. We know we are in the business of working with people. We know learning is a messy process. We know that we need to see our students as individuals first.

Yet all these truths seem to take a back seat when it comes to testing, GPAs, and report cards.

Why? Because we consistently sweep away that context of the individual in favor of finding and measuring up against that ever-supreme average.

 

Fortunately, research like Todd Rose’s is finally shedding light on just how misleading the average is when we are looking at the individual (he makes the point that it can still be very valuable when looking at large groups, but that when it comes to individuals, average does not exist). Though the longstanding belief has been that we use the “average” because it matches the largest number of people, the truth is that we are so complex that the average actually ends up matching virtually no one.

So in education, it’s when we “take context seriously” that we find out where a learner really is on their journey.

We take into account all the nuances and complexities of the individual to not only analyze just how far they’ve come (ie, taking into account poverty, developmental delays, etc) but to identify their strengths that will help them work toward mastery.

As Rose says later in the talk,

“Empower students with self-knowledge to make choices on their own behalf.”

We have the tools in our 21st century world to help our students understand their own contexts and leverage that knowledge to take ownership over their own learning process. We need to resist the idea that certain skills and knowledge need to be attained by certain, average benchmarks in time because these averages, in fact, apply to so few people.

Our individual contexts are just too unique to be lumped into the average.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Note, at the end of the Google Talk, Rose addressed some excellent audience questions, including how we measure success in the education system in lieu of the average. Rose shares two fascinating possibilities I also wanted to share here:

1. As tech is giving us greater opportunities for individualized learning, we’ll soon see a shift, especially in higher-ed, toward “Micro-credentials and competency based measurements” instead of the traditional semesters/grades system.

2. We need to use clearly defined, competency-based outcomes to measure success. To know how well an individual is doing, we need benchmark them against their own progression in that competency, and you don’t have to look at anyone else’s progress to know that. (“A diploma with a 3.2 vs. “I have these competencies.””)

Weighing the Pressures of Preparing for the “Next Level”

“They have no study skills.”

“They’re so unprepared for college studying, like organizing lecture notes.”

“Those high school teachers are letting my kids retake tests, and it’s making them lazy.”

These were a few sentiments I heard among a few other parents (one of whom was a college professor) while waiting to pick up our kids. That teachers just aren’t sufficiently preparing students for the next level.

This has had me asking myself tough questions ever since. A lot of them.

Like this one: Amid all my soap-box preaching about student ownership, what if, after all we do to teach our children to own their learning, they find that somewhere down the line, ownership is impossible?

When we try to focus more on powerful learning & less on “doing school,” are we doing our students a disservice for later expectations?

Where’s the line between building our kids up for what’s coming, and focusing on all their developmental needs now?

Or even, if I want my 1st grader to someday get into the university of her dreams, shouldn’t I do all I can to help her get “ahead of the curve” starting now? 

But then…

I see articles like this that suggest that kids who wait to start kindergarten for a year have fewer problems with ADHD & hyperactivity. Which makes me think (especially since kindergarten is the new first grade) that all this prep for the next level is perhaps taking its toll already.

And I see posts like Taryn Bond-Clegg’s sharing her dream of a system that supports rather than hinders a culture of student agency. Which makes me think that every action that focuses more on the here-&-now of our student’s needs helps us move closer toward a better system.

And then I see articles like this that remind us all that best practices are always the bottom line for the present:

We do not sacrifice good instruction because those in upper levels are not there yet. Instead, we employ what we know works, and we spend time mentoring those above us in what we do.

 

I still don’t have all the answers. But in the end, maybe college level study-skills can just — wait until college…

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry: How Do People Get Their Food?

An inquiry provocation is meant to help us stretch our thinking beyond what we normally consider. It’s designed to plant the kind of seed that, as it grows, inspires us to continue reconsidering and rethinking the world around us. We learn to ask more thoughtful questions, make connections to existing understandings, and develop consideration and empathy for others.

Thus, this week’s provocation on how people get their food isn’t just about food. It’s about getting us to consider broader concepts (including, but not limited to, PYP units of inquiry such as How the World WorksHow We Organize Ourselves, and Who We Are). I would love to hear if/how you use these resources with your class!

#1 of 3: Atlas of Beauty image

Mihaela Noroc is a Romanian photographer who travels the world with the goal to capture beauty in all countries. Below is a recent photo of a woman doing her grocery shopping in Myanmar.

via Mihaela Noroc’s Atlas of Beauty Facebook page

#2 of 3: What I Eat, Around the World in 80 Diets

Photojournalist Peter Menzel documented what individuals around the world eat each day.  See here for several of his photos along with the fascinating stories of each person.

#3 of 3: Amazon Go Concept

Amazon has developed a smart store that allows shoppers to grab their groceries and go without standing in line for payment. According to Futurism, “The store is powered by sensors, deep learning artificial intelligence (AI), and computer vision, which allows it to detect which items a customer has selected and even when products are returned to shelves.”

Provocation Questions:

  • How do people eat differently?
  • Why do people eat differently?
  • What do people’s eating habits tell us about their lives?
  • How is the way people get their food changing over time? Why?
  • Why is it important for us to consider how people eat differently around the world?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Provocation Into Recycling, Sustainability, & Making a Difference through Creativity

These two videos have really caught my eye lately. The first is entitled, “Washed Ashore, Art to Save the Sea:”

The second is one I used in an inquiry into inquiry with some teachers last month, in which artist Phil Hansen shares his experience when he developed a tremor in his hands:

Provocation Questions:

  • How does using (or reusing) what we already have impact our lives?
  • How can our limitations or problems provide opportunities?
  • What role does creativity play in solving problems?
  • How is recycling connected to creativity?
  • What is our responsibility to use our creative talents to improve the world?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What We’re Still Not Getting About How Teaching & Learning Has Changed

Last month, I followed Pernille Ripp’s 7th grade English class’ progress through a project on refugees. I even pointed to it in a recent post as an example of Twitter’s potential for learning. And on Tuesday, Microsoft shared a beautiful Youtube video of their experience:

After witnessing how all this learning and growing has unfolded, I was saddened to encounter the following comment on the Youtube video:

pernille-ripp-youtube-comment

It’s not the first time we’ve heard this kind of rhetoric, nor will it be the last. The “reading, writing, ‘rithmatic” camp is still alive and well.

However, what those who are of this mindset still don’t understand is that this is English in today’s world.

A world in which we’re flooded with false, misleading, and clickbait-y “news.”

A world in which current events no longer sit quietly in the morning paper, and instead are loudly debated at all times from the devices in our pockets.

A world in which the negative is amplified and distorted truths go viral.

So when the standards instruct us to “engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.7.1), is it beyond English instruction to tackle an issue that is very much a part of their lives?

Or when we’re to teach students to “Delineate a speaker’s argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.7.3), is it beyond English instruction to seek out civility and compassion to help bring clarity to current events fraught with misinformation?

The truth is, we can’t just direct our students to the encyclopedia anymore. The volume and quality of the information our students receive every day from the Internet is staggering, and we simply cannot pretend that it does not shape their learning process. Especially since with greater global access comes greater global citizenship. Thus, dramatic is the difference between asking a student from 1990 vs. 2016 to “Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.8).

In the complexity of teaching and learning today, 21st century educators know that we are tasked to teach our students how to think, not what to think.

Or, as Pernille put it so well herself at the onset of this project,

“My job is not to make you think a certain way, my job is to make you think.  So whatever your opinion may be, all I ask of you is to have one based on fact, rather than what others believe.  Keep your ears open and ask a lot of questions.  That is the least you can do as the future of this country.”

Keep up the great work, Pernille, and all other teachers dedicated to helping their students make sense of this dynamic and exponentially shifting world!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

Idioms that Don’t Translate & More for A Language Provocation

So embedded are our own culture’s idiosyncrasies that we generally take them for granted. This is particularly true when it comes to our idioms. That’s why, when I came across this list of 40 idioms that don’t translate on TED-Ed, I just knew it would make an intriguing provocation.

idioms
via TED-Ed

Other resources for students inquiring into language might include this animated map of “how Indo-European languages may have evolved:”

Or this video, also from TED-Ed on how our languages evolve (might be a little complex for younger students, but you never know…):

Provocation Questions:

  • Why do humans use figurative language?
  • How do you think idioms from certain countries are related to the way of life in that country?
  • How does language diversity affect our world?
  • How are human beings connected through language even when we speak different words?
  • How does becoming more fluent (readers and writers) in our own language help us? How does studying other languages help us?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“Mistakes Are For Learning” #TeacherMom

On Monday, my first grader came home from school and announced, “Mistakes are for learning.” Throughout the rest of the day, she repeated the mantra in various contexts–including sharing it with a restaurant manager helping us out when we found wax paper in a burger.

Pleased though I am that she seems to finally be grasping this essential element of the growth mindset, I can’t help but marvel at how long it took for this concept to sink in.  After all, having studied Carol Dweck’s growth mindset, I’ve made it a point over the years to try to help her celebrate failures and recognize opportunities for growth.

But it wasn’t until a first grade teacher shared it in such simple terms as “Mistakes are for learning” that things clicked. And I couldn’t be more grateful for the timing. First grade is packed with pivotal moments for learning, failing, and growing. With a fresh school year, she’s still dazzled by every aspect: practicing spelling lists, listening to audiobooks, participating in a computer math program that advances users as they demonstrate mastery.

But I know that it won’t be long before the novelty will wear off. The tasks will become more challenging. The routine will become less enchanting. Mistakes will always be for learning, but that will not make them frustration-proof.

The key will be to help her maintain her understanding of the positive outcomes even amid the discomfort. To recall previous moments of victory as a result of repeated effort and failure. (Like when she recently wrote a book title, and when she asked me to read it, and I read aloud phonetically, “The Kumfee Kav,” she dashed off saying, “OH! I forgot ‘cave’s’ silent ‘e’ to make the ‘a’ say its own name! I can fix that!”). To remember that though progress may be slow, as Khan Academy’s video below emphasizes, “[She] can learn anything.” Most of all, to celebrate the journey along the way.

So to all the teachers currently in the classroom, thank you. Thank you for stepping in, shedding light, and reaching our kids in ways we parents can’t always do.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Come back next Wednesday for another “#TeacherMom” post. Read here for the rest of my weekly blogging topic schedule/background.