Is On-Demand Thinking Changing Our Kids?

My middle school starts every morning with a short, character-themed announcement generated by a company called Project Wisdom

Sometimes the announcements encourage kids to show kindness to others or respect their elders.  Other times, they encourage kids to think about the role that forgiveness or frustration are playing in their lives.  All are designed to start conversations about what “being a kid of character” looks like in action.

(Photo by on Unsplash)

Today’s message was about punctuality. 

The gist was a simple one:  Showing up on time is a simple way to respect the people who are counting on you or learning alongside you or trying to coach you or teach you.

But the message still has me thinking.

“How would you feel if you showed up to a department store and it didn’t open on time?” it read.  “Or if the movie that you were trying to watch didn’t start on time?  Or if your favorite television show didn’t start on time?  You’d be frustrated, wouldn’t you — and those businesses would lose you as a customer.”

Can you see what’s sticking in my intellectual craw?

We DON’T go to department stores anymore.  Instead, we shop online and have our packages delivered to our doorsteps.  We DON’T wait for movies or television shows to start.  Instead, we stay home and stream them or record them on our DVRs.  We skip through commercials. We watch on multiple devices and from multiple places.  We pause them when we want and restart them when we want.

We call the grocery store or the Target or the Walmart and have a friendly associate pick out our shopping list and bring it to our car in the parking lot.  Honk for service, right?  Heck — we don’t even wait in lines to see Santa or Mickey Mouse.  We “fast-pass” our way to the front of them.

That HAS to be having an impact on kids growing up in today’s world, doesn’t it?  

Isn’t it possible that their notions about the importance of being punctual are shaped by living life in a world where we can almost always get what we want whenever we want it?

I know that I see that kind of “on-demand” thinking in my students.

Here’s an example:  Today, I was reading The Hunger Games aloud during our school’s enrichment period.  I was at the most poignant part of the story — the moment when Rue is wounded and Katniss sings to her as she lay dying.  I was crying while reading — It’s the Hufflepuff in me, y’all — and the students listening were hooked.  You could hear the proverbial pin drop in my room.

Right at that moment, a boy from another class came into my room, walked up to sniffling, blubbering ol’ me and asked for a paper that he had missed because he was absent.


And he was confused when I fussed at him for interrupting.  “I’m just trying to get my work,” he said.  “Isn’t that what you want me to do?”


Spend some time in front of a middle school classroom and you will quickly discover that “on-demand” thinking happens a thousand times a day:  Students will stand up in the middle of a lesson and hand you a paper that is four days late or ask to go and get a drink of water.  Hands will raise right after you ask a pivotal question during a lesson.  You’ll call on a student and get, “When is our field trip again?” or “Is Friday an early release day?”

I used to think that those kinds of moments were evidence of immaturity or selfishness.  I do teach middle schoolers, after all.  They still aren’t great at seeing beyond themselves.

But now I’m wondering if those moments are just a reflection of the world that we live in.  Maybe today’s kids don’t see a need to wait — to get a drink, to get their question answered, to go to their lockers, to turn in papers — because in so many of the spaces where they spend their time, waiting just isn’t a thing.

Whaddya’ think?  

(And more importantly, what do we do about it?!)


Related Radical Reads:

Is it Time for A La Carte Education?


The Price of Student 2.0?








Why This? Why Now? Why Bother? The PLC Edition.

Blogger’s note:  I’m going to start a new series here on the Radical called “Why This?  Why Now?  Why Bother?”  The purpose of the series is to give some rationale for major projects, ideas, or initiatives in education that I really believe in.  Hope you dig ’em.


Why This? Why Now? Why Bother?  The PLC Edition.

One of the questions that I am often asked by classroom teachers is, “Why should we care about PLCs, Bill?”

And as the self-proclaimed “why guy” on my faculty – the curmudgeon constantly asking, “Why this?”, “Why now?”, and, “Why bother?” any time administrators introduce initiatives to our school – I totally understand where they are coming from.  Veteran teachers have learned that the professional development planned and delivered in schools rarely makes a significant impact on student learning because it rarely stays around long enough to become a part of a school’s culture or driving philosophy.

The result:  We are almost always skeptical when our bosses bring something new back to our building and try to convince us that it is worth investing in.

So why should classroom teachers care about PLCs? 

Because when they are done right, they answer my three why questions better than anything I’ve seen in over 25 years of full-time teaching:

Why This:  Teachers should care about PLCs because they inherently value the knowledge and expertise of practitioners instead of the knowledge and expertise of presenters or heavily scripted programs developed by outsiders who know next to nothing about our kids or our classrooms.

When a school or a district commits to restructuring as a professional learning community, what they are REALLY saying to their classroom teachers is, “We believe in YOU.  We believe that the answer to improving learning in our community rests in the hearts and the minds of the people sitting in THIS room.  It’s YOUR knowledge and skill that we are willing to invest in.  We want to empower YOU to find solutions to the challenges that are keeping our kids from becoming their best academic, social and emotional selves.”

That kind of confidence in the ability of teachers is just plain refreshing in a world where our credibility is questioned at almost every turn.  If we can prove that working together, we can develop strategies and solutions that have a positive impact on kids, we can also reinforce our argument that teaching is professional work that deserves professional compensation and respect.

That’s a challenge we should embrace.

Why Now:  Teachers should also care about PLCs because today’s classrooms have become incredibly diverse places, filled with students who have a wide range of academic, social and emotional needs.  As a result, it is almost impossible for any one person to have the “know-how” to move every student forward.

Heck, if we are being honest, each of us could easily name the type of students that we struggle to serve well.  For me, it is students with learning disabilities.  Scaffolding my lessons to meet their individual needs is something that I’ve never been very good at.  And I know it.  It’s a gap in my professional skillset – and it’s preventing some of the students in my room from succeeding.

But here’s the thing: I work on a learning team with a colleague who has spent countless hours polishing her practices in this area.  She knows a TON about how to effectively differentiate her lessons for students with unique learning needs.  If I’m willing to open myself up to her – something that happens naturally when teachers work together on professional learning teams – my bet is that my practice will improve.  And I’d also bet that there are gaps in her professional skillset that I can help fill.

Knowing that we don’t have to struggle alone is a relief, y’all.  When meaningful collaboration becomes a part of our work patterns, we gain a set of thinking partners that we can rely on to find solutions to our greatest professional challenges.

Why Bother:  The moral answer to this question would be, “PLCs ensure that every child has access to the best instruction regardless of instructor — and every child deserves our best.”

But there’s a selfish answer to this question, too: “PLCs give teachers a chance to relentlessly question their practice together – and relentlessly questioning practice is professionally rewarding!”

That’s the thing we forget sometimes.  PLCs aren’t just about the learning of students.  They are also about creating a stimulating learning space for the adults in a schoolhouse.  So, if you lean in to your collaborative team, identifying important questions to study together and then working through continuous cycles of collective inquiry in service of student learning, YOU will be more motivated by the work that you are doing each day.

The people drawn to teaching are deeply creative and reflective by nature.  The work of high-functioning teams feeds those traits and will leave you professionally jazzed in a way that teaching alone could never do.

Now don’t get me wrong: Learning communities aren’t all sunshine and daffodils. 

Early on, you are likely to experience frustration.  That’s what happens when folks who have spent most of their careers working in complete isolation come together to collaborate for the first time.  Until your team develops the skills and processes necessary for working together effectively, there’s going to be some “storming” in your weekly meetings with one another.

But I’ve never been more energized or more effective in my entire teaching career either.

I look forward to meeting with my colleagues because I know that I’m going to get to explore my practice with people who are just as capable and passionate as I am about improving. Together, we learn more about instruction that works, and we polish the things that we do best.  We have a commitment to one another and to our students — and that commitment brings us back year after year to work together again.

THAT’s why you should care about PLCs.



Interested in learning more about establishing Professional Learning Communities?  Then check out my first book – Building a Professional Learning Community at Work:  A Guide to the First Year.  I promise you won’t hate it!  ; ) 


Related Radical Reads:

I Finally Drank the Kool-Aid!



Using Tangible Products to Reinforce #atplc Processes.


Five Resources for School Leaders Starting PLCs from Scratch



Using Tangible Products to Reinforce #atplc Processes.

Recently, I had a long conversation with a client who is working to support several professional learning teams in a middle school.  One of the questions that she asked was, “What’s the best way for me to know how to move each of the teams that I work with forward?”

My answer was a simple phrase that I heard my mentor and friend Rick DuFour use over and over again when coaching the leaders of learning communities:  You can use tangible products to reinforce core processes that you believe in.  

Here’s what Rick meant:  Teams that are engaged in collective inquiry around practice with one another should always be working together to answer four critical questions of learning:

(1). What is it that we want our students to learn?

(2). How will we know that they have learned it?

(3). How will we respond when students don’t learn?

(4). What will we extend learning for students who are highly proficient?

(DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many & Mattos, 2016)

To encourage teams to answer each of those questions, school leaders can require teams to produce tangible products.  Here are some samples:

Teams that are answering critical question one might create overview sheets for every unit in their curriculum listing small handfuls of outcomes that are essential for every student to learn.  Here’s a sample.

Teams that are answering critical question two might use a tool like this one to create a common formative assessment.  They might also use a data reflection template like this one or this one in order to identify both students in need of remediation and extension OR gaps in their instructional competence that need to be addressed.

Teams that are answering critical questions three and four might create tiered lesson plans that detail specific strategies for addressing the needs of students who are approaching, meeting and exceeding expectations.   They might also keep lists of students organized by need that can be used to plan next actions.

Requiring teams to create tangible products that are tied to core PLC processes accomplishes two goals.  

First, it focuses the work of your collaborative teams.

Saying, “I want you to engage in collective cycles of action inquiry around your practice” might leave your teams confused about exactly what it is that you want them to do together.  But saying, “I want you to make a list of three to five objectives that are essential for every student to master for your upcoming unit” is super easy to understand and complete.

Better yet, it gives teams a tool that they can use when it has been created — which makes time spent collaborating feel more productive.

Second, it gives everyone who supports teams — administrators, instructional coaches, specialists and special education teachers — a transparent “look” into the work of the learning team.

Unit overview sheets can help those folks to figure out which teams have a clear sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the students that they serve.  Common assessments can help those folks to figure out which teams have a clear sense of how to develop assessments that are accurate indicators of student learning.  And data analyses documents can help those folks to figure out which teams need help with which instructional skills.

Do you see how valuable products can be?

They give teams a direction and make it possible for everyone working around a team to find entry points for providing differentiated support and guidance.

That’s a #winwin, right?


Interested in other steps that you can take to support collaboration within your building?  Then check out Bill’s two PLC books:  Building a Professional Learning Community at Work and Making Teamwork Meaningful.  


Related Radical Reads:

Using Unit Overview Sheets to Help EVERY Student See Progress.


Five Resources for School Leaders Starting PLCs from Scratch


I Finally Drank the Kool-Aid!


Helping Primary Students to Track their Own Progress Towards Mastery.

A few weeks back, I wrote a bit on the Radical talking about Unit Overview Sheets — a strategy that I use in my classroom to help students assess their own progress towards mastering important outcomes.

My core argument is simple — AND researched based:  Regular opportunities to assess their own progress towards mastering important outcomes builds confidence in learners — particularly those who have traditionally struggled in schools.  In the words of Rick Stiggins and Jan Chappuis, teachers can use student self-assessment to rebuild hope in the hearts and minds of struggling learners.


Several primary teachers stopped by in the comment section and asked me for samples of what student self-assessment might look like in the primary grades.  

Well, Mason Crest Elementary in Northern Virginia has the BEST sample I’ve ever seen.

Check it out here:

The idea is super cool:  Students have rings full of “learning cards” that they use to track their progress on essential outcomes.  Each card details one essential outcome in student friendly language and includes several different tiers of performance.

As a student demonstrates mastery — maybe through an activity in a center or through some kind of task completed with a teacher — they use a star-shaped hole punch to mark their new achievement.  Over time, students end up with a set of cards showing different levels of mastery for different objectives — creating opportunities for both reflection and celebration.

Can’t you just see a kindergartner sitting with their parents during a student-led conference and  using their learning cards to talk their way through their current levels of performance?  THAT would be an awesome example of student self-assessment in action.

Does this all sound good to you? 

If so, here’s a template that I whipped up based on Mason Crest’s work that you can use to make your own learning cards right now.

And no pressure, primary teachers, but we are counting on you!  If self-assessment is ever going to become a regular part of the work that we do in schools, it HAS to start when kids are young.  By middle and high school, kids have already learned the rhythm of schools:  Kids turn in work.  Teachers grade it.

More importantly, by middle and high school, many kids have given up on the notion that they can be capable and competent learners.

That has to change.


Interested in more ideas about how to incorporate student self-assessment into your classroom practices?  Then check out Creating a Culture of Feedback — the book I wrote a few years back with my buddy Paul Cancellieri.  It’s a short read full of practical ideas.  


Related Radical Reads:

Using Unit Overview Sheets to Help EVERY Student See Progress.


Developing Learning Cards for Primary Students


The Best Feedback is GATHERED, not GIVEN



Speaking of Walls.

Blogger’s Note:  I know that I’ve drifted from posts about teaching and technology in the last few weeks (see here and here) on the Radical.  I also know that might bug some of all y’all.  Maybe they make you uncomfortable.  Maybe they seem like a waste of time.  Maybe they feel too personal or maybe they feel too slanted in one direction or another. 

If that’s what you are thinking, many apologies. 

It’s just that this space is mine.  It’s where I sometimes think about the things sitting deep in my mind — and how those things effect who I am as a person and as a teacher.  Sometimes, those things drift away from how to best structure professional learning communities or how to best incorporate student self-assessment into middle school lessons.

Hope you find value in those thoughts, too.  

Speaking of Walls.

I’m struggling today, y’all.

I’m thinking a TON about a girl that I had in my class a few years back who was in the country “illegally”.   Her family had come here from Central America to escape complete turmoil in her home country.  She was a happy kid who contributed in our classroom day after day and who was learning a ton along the way.

In fact, I had no idea that her family had crossed the border illegally until she came to me one day and said, “I’m really scared, Mr. Ferriter.”  

When I asked her why, she told me that the word was out in her neighborhood that ICE was going to come door-to-door looking for “illegals.”

It was big news at the time — partly because the order had been given by the Obama administration and partly because Donald Trump was running for President and insinuating that anyone with brown skin from south of the border was a gang member, a rapist or a general criminal that needed to be deported.

But it was her next words that still sit in the back of my mind and break my heart.  

She said, “My mom won’t even leave the house.  And she didn’t want me to come to school because she was afraid she’d get arrested while I was here and then I wouldn’t know what to do.  But I wanted to be here because I feel safe here.”

Can you see all that is worth seeing in that statement?  

Perhaps most importantly, it’s worth remembering that some of the kids in our classrooms are wrestling with challenges that are a helluva’ lot more important that the homework we are assigning.  Dig a little deeper when an unprepared student riles you up.  You might just find out that schoolwork is the last thing on their minds.

But it’s just as important to note that my student felt safe at school — and safe enough about the space that I’ve created that she could come and tell me something that was weighing on her.

That’s what we should be shooting for, y’all. 

Until ALL of our students — including those from family structures or countries or cultures that are maligned by “the majority” — feel welcomed and appreciated and safe and valued and seen in our classrooms, we have work to do.

And in a divided world where animosity pointed at entire groups of people seems to be everywhere — in every headline, on every newscast, all over our social spaces — our role in creating safe and open spaces for students from groups that have been marginalized is even more important.

Sure — my primary job is to teach academic content to kids.  But it’s just as important that I model acceptance of everyone — especially when the broader world doesn’t.  Academic content means nothing to kids who don’t feel like they belong.

Figured that was worth mentioning, given that our country is about to be consumed (again) by arguments over border walls and illegal immigration this week.  



Related Radical Reads:

Are YOU Standing Up for Tolerance?


Are Our Schools Safe Places for Kids who are Different?


Implicit Bias is Real (and Sneaky). Here’s Proof.