Sitting On The Same Side of The Table: On Student Accountability

We’ve seen the signs.

stop-parent-sign

We’ve said to ourselves, “Been there!”


And we’ve typed out responses like, “Preach!”

Because student accountability is tough. But it’s also one of the slipperiest slopes in education.

On the one hand, we have a desire for/belief in students’ ability to grow, and expectations for responsibility.

An example of the reasoning in this camp includes when author Jessica Lahey says with regards to the above parent stop sign, “Childhood is a continual, long-term process of learning how to make our way in the world, and parents who short-circuit that education by rescuing their kids are not doing them any favors.”

On the other hand, we have a desire to both exemplify and show compassion, patience, and developmental understanding.

Outspoken advocates in this camp include Alfie Kohn when he states, “A pair of studies by researchers at the University of Texas and New York University confirmed that parents who “attribute greater competence and responsibility to misbehaving children” are more likely to get upset with them, to condemn and punish them. Such parents become frustrated by what they see as inappropriate behavior, and they respond, in effect, by cracking down on little kids for being little kids — something that can be heartbreaking to watch. By contrast, parents who understand children’s developmental limitations tend to prefer “calm explanation and reasoning” in response to the same actions.” http://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/high-low/

Amid the missing papers, messy desks, and forgotten lunch ID numbers, it’s easy in our exasperation to want to point across the table at that little human’s deficiencies. To implement stricter consequences. To put up more posters on students taking responsibility.  In other words, it’s easy to put it all on the children in front of us, sitting across from them instead of “sitting next to” them (see Engaged Feedback Checklist below) to look at the issues together.

I don’t necessarily believe there’s never a place for the sentiment or action displayed in the above photos in specific contexts. BUT at the same time, I wonder how the culture in our classrooms would be impacted if these kinds of posters plastered our schools instead.

Like Brene Brown’s Feedback Checklist (this one had a significant impact on my attitudes and practices the year I decided to display it in my classroom):

brene-brown-feedback-checklist

Or this profound reminder to us all:

made-them-feel

Or even just:

good-day

Yes, student accountability is messy. But I think we do a better job navigating it if, instead of trying to create one-size-fits-all zero-tolerance policies, we choose to simply accept the messiness and focus on the relationships.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Come back next Friday for another “Learning Through Reflecting” post. Read here for the rest of my weekly blogging topic schedule/background.

The Urgency of Teaching (& Practicing) Curation

Your professors might have given you a list of amazing mentor texts, but did they teach you how to discover them for yourself?

They might have trained you to master certain tech platforms or skills. But did they teach you how to seek out new ones as the old ones evolve and/or die out?

They might have shared a phenomenal video that inspired you to your core, but did they share the source and their own process for accessing such resources?

“Teaching a man to fish” has always been serious business in the education world, but the art of curation is a distinct skill, and is becoming increasingly essential amid limitless access. When I graduated from college in 2009, I had yet to recognize the nuance between teaching valuable skills that allow students to gain self-sufficiency, and teaching students to discover the very sources that shape those skills.

This difference is best illustrated by the evolution of my language arts instruction. During my first year, I had been teaching conventions, word choice, voice, etc., with every hope that as my students practiced, they would further build upon their abilities and open more doors for themselves in the future. And they did exactly what I directed them to do. They corrected sentences. They wrote stories. They found impressive synonyms for weak words. But I sensed something was missing.

During my second year, I was introduced to reading workshop units alongside complementary writing workshop units. What I found most striking was the approach of immersing students in relevant, high-quality material at the beginning and throughout each unit.

Suddenly, my students didn’t just correct sentences; they noticed the reasons authors choose different sentence punctuation and lengths to achieve varied effects. The didn’t just write stories; they identified patterns across genres and chose their own story elements with purpose. They didn’t just replace weak words; they explored the power of all words and became more deliberate in their usage.

They had started to search out books and passages that elicited personal meaning, and kept track of them to inform their writing choices. In short, they were becoming curators.

What’s more, I noticed that this shift was causing me to become a better curator, too. I started to always be on the hunt for high-quality pieces to share with my students. And as we more openly sought and shared examples of work that moved, interested, or persuaded us, we all grew as readers and writers. Curation was the common denominator that allowed us to enter a world of authentic co-construction.

Overall, I learned that curation is not just about learning to navigate the massive amount of information. It’s about making sense of the world, while also making it personal.

What are your favorite ways to help students (and yourself) become better at curating? Please share in the comments.

For a great read on curation, check out:

http://www.spencerauthor.com/2016/09/getting-started-with-content-curation-in-the-classroom.html/

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

Inspiring Inquiry: Popping the Monday-Friday Bubble

A Monday-Friday workweek is so commonplace that it has created a culture of its own. #TGIF, Hump Day, Garfield’s animosity toward Mondays–the list goes on. But what about people for whom it’s not the reality?

As members of my PLN stretch around the globe, I’ve become more familiar with people posting back-to-school Tweets in January, or starting school each week on Sundays. But recently, these differences have intrigued me enough to do some research.

For example, did you know that almost a third of countries listed on Wikipedia do not use the Monday-Friday workweek?

workweek-breakdown

Stats calculated from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workweek_and_weekend

I had a great time pondering the questions this simple concept elicited for me–I can only imagine where this would take students.

Provocation questions for students:

  • Why do some people start school on Saturdays or Sundays instead of Mondays?
  • Why do some countries have 6 day work weeks, while others have 5 day work weeks?
  • What is the history of the workweek and weekend? How have these concepts changed over time?
  • Why does Brunei Darussalam have the unique workweek of Monday-Thursday and Saturday?
  • What patterns do you see among countries with the same workweek?

Come back next Monday for another “Inspiring Inquiry” post. Read here for the rest of my weekly blogging topic schedule/background. 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

An Epiphany: Blog Posting Topic Schedule

You know when you get those moments of clarity that make you giddy with excitement? I’m currently in the thralls of one of those right here!

I’ve been reflecting lately about my blogging habits that I know are holding me back. Like the fact that my brainstorming process reminds me of chicken feed scattered thin across a yard (I have several dozen Google Documents of ideas I start and then abandon to jump to something else). Or the time I waste second-guessing myself before I hit publish. Or the mental energy I squander with worry that since I’m not currently in a classroom, my ideas are less valuable.

But today, I’ve had a stroke of inspiration that I hope will help me better organize, focus, and refresh my thoughts and time. I’ve decided to try joining those bloggers who create weekly topic schedules for their posts:

Mondays: Inspiring Inquiry

Wednesdays: #TeacherMom

Friday: Learning Through Reflecting

Some background on each topic:

Mondays: Inspiring Inquiry

I feel like I’m constantly stumbling across beautiful and thought-provoking images, articles, or videos that I think would make incredible Provocations or conversation-starters for students (for those not familiar with International Baccalaureate or the PYP–Primary Years Program–a Provocation is a component of an inquiry unit that provokes students’ questions and thinking, hopefully orienting them toward that unit). Sometimes I’ll tweet them and sometimes I’ll bookmark them. But I’m generally left with a nagging, back-of-mind worry that I’ll want to find that one resource again for my future students, only to be thwarted by my hopeless lack of organization.

So I’m setting aside Mondays as “Inspiring Inquiry” as a personal goal to not only better organize provocation-worthy material, but to share with my fellow teachers. In addition to publishing my favorite resource of the week, I’ll also plan on listing open-ended questions you can have students consider.

Wednesdays: #TeacherMom

I’m particularly excited about this one. I’ve often heard the advice for bloggers to “write what you know.” As a teacher writing for an educational blog, I never anticipated this being an issue (after all, despite being on year two of my extended parental leave, I still can’t seem to turn off “teacher mode”).  But the longer I’m away from my classroom, the more difficult it’s becoming to reach back to write about my experiences in the classroom. And if I’m not reflecting about personal teaching experiences, I worry about originality–I don’t want to just recycle other people’s ideas.

What’s more, child-rearing has taken center stage on the “what I know” front while I’m home with our three little ones. And I don’t often turn to this all-encompassing aspect of my life for writing inspiration because it’s not the classroom.  

But I recently realized how very silly this has been. Though my students are much smaller, they still offer rich learning opportunities every day. And not only run-of-the-mill parenthood learning (ie, don’t lay down on your picnic blanket during a crowded library storytime, or the toddler behind you might try to pick your nose), but learning that very much uses and extends my professional development as a teacher. So it’s time for those #TeacherMom stories to come to light. Buckle up!

Friday: Learning Through Reflecting

I’m setting this aside to reflect on lightbulb moments on my previous teaching practices. These “aha” moments usually come as I connect with and learn from my PLN–their tweets, blogs, and photos. They also come through keeping up with educational journals and news. 


I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about making this kind of commitment. I know there will be days or even weeks where it just doesn’t happen. But since I want to continue to model important learner qualities to my students (current small ones and future bigger ones), I refuse to let fear of failure keep me from taking a chance that might help me grow and improve.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever tried a blogging topic schedule? What worked for you and what did not? What are your thoughts on the topics I’ve chosen? And I’d also love to hear your feedback on these themed posts as they start rolling out next week!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Examining Learning vs. Education: Introducing the 2017 HGU Scholarship

Ownership over learning. My favorite element of 21st century education. It stands for much of what has often been missing in the history of formal schooling: encouragement to pursue personal meaning, challenges to take risks, empowerment to share a voice.  As I carefully selected this phrase in one of last year’s prompts, I hoped to witness some of these moments of authentic student ownership through our scholarship’s five creative mediums.

Though the efforts of last year’s applicants were inspiring, authentic, and reflective, it quickly became clear to me that this notion of true ownership over learning is still a mirage for too many of our students. Too many have been trained to believe that ownership is simply working hard enough for the grade, or otherwise looking outward for the measure of success.

But with companies like Google completely abandoning typical hiring standards like GPAs since they have found no correlation to successful employees, and other companies looking for digital portfolios instead of resumes, the traditional model of schooling is quickly becoming less relevant. As Josh Bersin, Founder of Bersin by Deloitte stated:

“Companies want someone who thrives on challenge [and is] willing to learn something new.  [They want] a seeker of information, willing to adapt. If you’re the type of person that wants to be told what to do, you might be a straight A student. In fact you might even be a better student than the other type of person.”

And of course, it’s really much less about what 21st century companies want, and much more about cultivating personal authenticity. It’s just that fortunately, it seems the world is starting to recognize the convergence of the two.

So instead, for this year’s scholarship, we’re asking students to examine the issue themselves. The 2017 prompt is as follows: Represent your views about the concepts of education vs. learning.

It is my hope that it will encourage greater reflection and dialogue on what matters most during the many years we invest in formal schooling.

For additional information on our 2017 creative multimedia scholarship, see the overview here (note the graphic at the top–for someone with a longstanding awkward relationship with creativity, I’m grateful for opportunities for growth like these as I try to lead out in pushing my comfort zone), and detailed FAQ’s for each medium here. It is available to high school seniors and college students with at least one year left of school, and has a deadline of April 16, 2017.

Finally, my reflections from last year’s participation have prompted me to also share a list of some do’s and don’t’s. These are meant to help promote the creativity, rather than to impede it (not to mention, to make sure that we will actually be able to review your submission)!

DO:

  • Do have a great time expressing yourself through your medium! The joy always shines through!
  • Do double/triple-check the sharing settings so we can view your file. There were quite a few that we could not evaluate last year because of this.
  • Do choose a creative title to help your piece stand out and to do it justice!

DON’T:

  • Don’t try to force a medium for your piece that isn’t a natural fit (ie, submitting a video that is really just you speaking would be better suited as a written piece).
  • Don’t submit a random assignment from a class. The lack of meaning and connection to the prompt is always apparent.
  • Don’t submit a formal ESSAY! This is a creative, multimedia scholarship. The creative writing medium is for creative pieces, including short fiction stories, poetry, screenplay/scripts, monologues, etc.

If Teacher PD Looked Like Popular Pinterest Pins

In “An Open Letter: To Pinterest, From a Teacher,” I reflected upon why certain pins so heavily circulate around the education community despite their lack of learning value. Since then, I’ve continued to wonder on the matter, especially as debates have ensued over the subject of compliance. A recent post by PYP educator Taryn Bond Clegg further pushed my thinking, particularly when she writes:

“…there were some things that surprised me about adult learners – the very same things that used to frustrate me as a classroom teacher. I have started to wonder if these similarities might have more to do with being a human, than being a child.”

This perspective has placed a new lens on my reflections. Namely, what if those pins were applied to teachers themselves?

Drawing from some of the most popular pins I’ve seen time and again, I created 6 images to further drive the discussion.

1

As Taryn says in a comment on her post, “I wonder how I would react if the facilitator took my device away, shut my screen, flipped my device over, called me out publicly or “moved my clip” down the colour chart…”

2

Some of the items on this list might be legitimately appealing, but that’s not the point. The true pride in and intrinsic motivation for our work is degraded when it is turned into such a carrot-and-stick exercise. As Alfie Kohn recently wrote,

“When we deal with people who have less power than we do, we’re often tempted to offer them rewards for acting the way we want because we figure this will increase their level of motivation to do so.”

 

3

The playfully spirited teacher may think, what a low-key and silly way to get students’ attention when they are off-task! But when we truly consider the function of establishing true mutual respect with students, it becomes clear that such communication can only erode it. After all, no matter how playful the intent, it still reinforces your ultimate authority and their ultimate subordination.

 

4

Hand signals may seem benign, and indeed there may be specific instances where they are useful (ie, quick whole-class comprehension check, etc). However, when we outline an entire arsenal of codes for students to silently convey basic needs like going to the bathroom or grabbing a new pencil, we single-handedly undermine their ability to solve their own problems appropriately, along with our trust in their ability to do so.

 

5

At first glance, this one may not seem to be about classroom management. However, experience has taught me that these kinds of worksheets are more about control than learning; they are usually utilized in hopes to keep everyone else “busy” during guided reading or other small group times. But of course, such a sheet will no more make teachers tech-savvy than cylinder sheets will make students adept mathematicians. But if it were replaced with actually using Twitter itself…

 

6

It might not be so bad when all the other teachers start out on the low end of the spectrum, too. But as time passes, how would you feel to see the numbers moving further and further away from yours–because even without names attached, you know exactly where your scores stand? One might argue, “But it’s a great way to motivate,” but is it really? Is demoralizing someone by reminding them of everyone else’s superior performances the best way to elevate effort? As a study cited in this Washington Post article found, “many well-intentioned teachers…appeared to be using data with students in ways that theoretically may have diminished the motivation they initially sought to enhance.”

What about you? Have you seen Pins that could hinder more than help the teacher/student relationship? What are your views on the ones I’ve shared? I’d love to learn with you!

featured image: Highways England

Current Events, a Controversial Read Aloud, & Changes I Can Make to Better Promote Peace

Nearly five years ago, I selected One Crazy Summer for my fifth graders’ end-of-day read aloud. In it, three young sisters are sent to spend a summer with their mother in Oakland, California in 1968, amidst intense developments in the civil rights movement. While the themes of the book are many, race is a prominent issue, mostly presented through the girls’ involvement with a Black Panthers day camp.

As I taught in a mostly middle-class white suburban area, I viewed the book as a great opportunity to discuss civil rights. Still in the naivety of second-year teaching, I was surprised when one student started to be picked up about 15 minutes early every day–to avoid read aloud time. When I asked about it, my student explained the family’s viewpoint that “Lil Bobby” Hutton (whose death the girls were to protest in a march with their day camp) was “a thug” that provoked the police.

At first I was shocked. Then disappointed. After all, didn’t the parents trust that we were having open-ended and lively discussions with every issue raised? Didn’t they see the benefit of considering multiple opinions? Didn’t they know that I would never try to indoctrinate my students with my personal opinions on sensitive issues?

Over time, those emotions faded into the swirl of the years, but I never quite forgot the incident. But in light of the tragic recent events in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, Dallas, and more, this memory has resurfaced, and with it, reflections turning inward. How could I have handled the read aloud differently to help this family feel more comfortable with difficult subjects? How can I better use my role as a teacher to promote peace in the future? 3 ideas have come to mind:

  1. I can avoid assumptions. Everyone has a story, and I can’t even begin to understand the intricacies of every family’s background experience in shaping their current perspectives. But it is unacceptable for me to assume a reason for their sensitivity to or withdrawal from something we do in the classroom.

My job is not to help students to “see the light” in favor of my opinions. Rather, it is to encourage them to ask their own questions and to analyze information as independent and confident learners. Some families may misunderstand even this simple motive if their child appears to start coming home questioning their opinions or family values. Which is why the next two steps are so important.

  1. I can preface potentially controversial topics with reassurances. No matter how much I’ve worked to build mutual trust with parents throughout the year, at no point am I “done” in that endeavor–especially when we are about to ford hazardous waters. No parent is ever going to respond well to what is even perceived as a “teacher knows best” mindset, even more so when the issue might be emotionally charged.

In the future, I will be sure to dedicate a post on our class blog with not just background on the book or activity, but more importantly, with information on differing perspectives and the respect with which we will be treating that diversity.

  1. I can share student conversations. Once we get going, I can continue to promote transparency by documenting and sharing the discourse. A SoundCloud snippet, a YouTube video, photos of visible thinking routines–the options are abundant for giving parents a window to see for themselves the impact of open dialogue.

Of course, some of those discussions might be more spontaneous; if that’s the case, this sharing would be even more essential for parents to gain insight on the quality of the dialogue happening in our classroom. (In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think it would be worthwhile to replace my inspirational quote of the day component with a student dialogue of the day section…).

I know this is just a start to changes I can make. But any step toward promoting greater mutual understanding, trust, and compassion for students and their families to engage in a safe environment is one step closer to a more peaceful future.

I would love to learn from your experiences or recommendations. Please share in the comments below!

Featured image: Lisa Ouellette