Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Are Standards an Outdated Approach?

The standrd movement and the Common Core that emerged from it have been with us for so long that we only ask what standards and not whether we should have content standards at all. I am ambivalent about standards. In theory I understand the intent but in practice it often gets diminished to a set of alessons and assessents. The main problem is that a series of standards takes a few years to develop perhaps with the rapid development of new content area, new technologies, and new insights the kind of standards we have now are simply outdated by the time they find the way into classrooms.

I suggest that we need a much more flexible framework of standards perhaps more like the new science standards a framework of principles instead of atomized skills. Yes it'll be harder to show that students reach standards but then again all learning that is worth it is hard to measure. 

Many voices call for mastery learning. I want to challenge that as well. Mastery is not enough, with many skills fluency is the next step. The point is that fluid performance "in the zone" or Flow is the key for expertise. Our goal should be not just for students that can do it, but for ones that can do it efficiently. It is a complex demand especially when discussing 21st century skills that can be demonstrated in so many alternative ways.

I am not calling for abolishing standards but I am calling for continuing to challenge our assumptions and consider our alternatives.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Almost There- Reading Rainbow and Beyond

A few weeks back I had a chance to hear Dr. Twila Liggett discuss her work in the development of Reading Rainbow. In a wonderful walk down memory lane she described some of the more significant moments in the shows history. She recalled shows about incarcerated parents and a post 9/11 show with students from PS 234 (video below). These are great examples of public television and what it can do to help kids and parents understand the world around them and open up to new ideas, concepts, and events.

Reading Rainbow has since shifted to the iPad in a great App but I would argue that Reading Rainbow and other shows like it (few I admit) are not the format going forward. In this age of interactive cheap media we no longer have to wait for someone else to make shows for us. Any child, teacher, classroom, and school can create their own video, show, or review without needing big budget or complicated equipment. In fact most of us have everything we need in our pocket (smart phone) or at hand (iPad, laptop with webcam).

Liggett remembered these emotional moments and how wonderful it was to be within the doing. All of us can be producing not just consuming. All students can feel the emotional well being of creating together, having an audience, and performing to a potential global audience.

Sir Ken Robinson talked about the incredible feeling of being in the orchestra. The modern tools allow every child to be the star of their local Reading Rainbow like show. In fact maybe the future of such shows is like the present for TED talks with local TEDx. Yes we have the main event, but each school or locality can create their own show in the image of the original.

Dr. Liggett  did not draw that conclusion. To be fair it wasn't that kind of an event, she was asked to talk about the past and that she did. It is up to us to seize these lessons from those who have led ed media in the past and make sense of them for our times.

Reading RainbowX challenge anyone?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Measuring Long-Term Impact of 21st Century Learning

I was traveling with my kids this weekend across two states and the majestic views of the plains and the west. If measured correctly at the end of the drive, or even the end of the year, I am sure that there is no measurable impact on their standardized test achievement. Does that means they should stay home? Or conversly that we shouldn't teach 21st century skills.

The same question can be asked about any field trip, shadowing, or performance students are exposed to. Does that mean we should not do them? If the answer is no, we should continue doing these things as a part of a whole child education What then is our verdict about the quality of most of our educational research?

If we focus on short-term simple effects right after an intervention of any kind, we may well be missing two things: the long-term impact (or lack thereof- what Calfee called the poop-out effect), and exploring the impact of hard to measure meaningful activities.

How would we measure the impact of Day of Code, Read Across America, or Project based Learning?

I would argue that we need new paradigms, new instruments, and a vivid imagination exploring what outcomes of note can be. The relationship between researchers, teachers, students, and community members should change. The goal of research should change and become a cooperative endeavor that requires different structures than we have now. For example, a school can have a resident researcher who teaches and conducts a design experiment that serves school goals, as well as increasing our research knowledge. This is especially true of digital and other 21st century skills one's we know very little about. Still thinking about it...

Monday, March 2, 2015

Five ways to help students find the Sweet Read

Today is Read across America day. This morning I watched my son Oren (11) read right after he got up. He is rereading for the ??th time the Percy Jackson series. It made me think about a book or a series of books that becomes a second home to readers- a Sweet Read. It is about the power of returning to a favorite book where the charaters are like old friends that you have known for many years.

When I was Oren's age I had Asimov's Foundation series and later Lord of the Rings. For Erez (now 20) it was Harry Potter, Asaf (now 18) had David Edding's Belgariad. Even as adults I find that Sarah and I are returning to favorites and redefining what is our literary home.

This is an experiece I would like all students to have- a sweet read- that is yours. Here are a few completely unoriginal ideas to help students find the Sweet Read:

1. Read outloud to them. Reading outloud connects readers and listeners to the books in a way that helps new and struggling readers reimagine what the reading experience should be.
2. Provide choice. I learned the hard way that what you love and find a home in does not necessarily mean that others will as well. We all must figure it out for ourselves.
3. Do not judge. The Box Car Children can as much of a literary home as Boewolf. It is after all about comfort and joy.
4. Share you experiences. Share your passion for books, not so they can read the same books, but so they can feel the emotion and excitement in your voice.
5. Library often. (shouldn't library be a verb?)

Full disclosure: In the last five years or so my Sweet Reads are A Hundred Years of Solitude and Bitchfest.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What should Classrooms look like?

Last week I had the chance to speak at the E N Thompson Forum as a warm up act for the inspiring Milton Chen. I decided to talk about what creativity looks like and can look like in Elementary classrooms. To start off I asked my audience to draw what classrooms should look like. The results (I am attaching examples of work in progress) were very interesting.

What was very clear from the work is that most of the people showing up thought classrooms should look very different than they do now.

The question that occured to me was: if there is a growing concensus that classrooms should be more open and integrated why aren't we trying to do something about it? The example of Pegasus Bay in New Zealand sticks in my mind as an option for new schools but I believe that there is much we can do inside older buildings as well.
I believe that with a bit of ingenuity we can do a lot. It is NOT a replacement for excellent teaching but it provides an environment that encourages teacher and students to learn and teach creatively.