Author Archives: Bill Ferriter

Transferring Facts v. Building the Future Together.

Over the last five years, I’ve really been wrestling to understand the changes that are needed to create the schools that our students deserve.  

For me, that wrestling started when I realized that it was becoming harder and harder to truly engage my students in the lessons that I was teaching.  Instead of being active participants in class — something that I’d never struggled with before — my kids were increasingly passive and disconnected from the work that we were doing.

Sure, they were still playing the “grade game” — turning in tasks that showed mastery of the standards.  But there was little to no real inspiration in their efforts.  It was clear that they saw school as something to be endured instead of enjoyed.

So I started thinking about the differences between ENGAGING and EMPOWERING learners.

The way I saw it, traditional schools stripped learners of any real agency — and learners without agency are uninspired.  What’s more, I want kids to leave school convinced that they can change the world around them for the better — to see themselves as people with both the capacity and responsibility to be a positive influence their communities.

That’s when I started tinkering with purpose-driven learning — the notion that kids are most motivated when they are wrestling with causes or issues or problems that are meaningful and purposeful beyond the classroom walls.  If I could use problems as an invitation to learn the required curriculum — an idea that Garfield Gini-Newman calls “problemitizing the curriculum” -I could meet the expectations outlined in the required curricula while simultaneously creating learning experiences that my kids really WOULD care about.

But I’ve always struggled to explain in clear and simple terms what this change in education should look like — and that’s kept my thinking from spreading widely beyond my own room.

It’s easy to SAY that empowerment trumps engagement and that purpose should stand at the center of the classroom learning experience, but what exactly does that MEAN?  How would learning experiences be restructured if that shift stood at the center of the work we did with kids.

That’s why I was jazzed to stumble across this Erik P.M. Vermeulen bit describing the expectations of millennial learners on Hackernoon in my stream this morning.

In it, Vermeulen writes:

“The world has really changed. Education has become less about the transfer of “fact”-based information/knowledge and much more about exploring and building the future together with the students.”

That’s SUCH a powerful statement, y’all.  Read it again.

And then ask yourself a simple question:  Are the bulk of your learning experiences about transferring facts or about exploring and building a better future together with your students?

Chances are that if you work in a traditional school, you’re still transferring facts.  And if so, chances are your kids are bored.

How do you fix that?

Constantly remember that transferring facts is a heck of a lot easier and more inspiring when it happens as a part of an attempt to explore and build a better future together.

Kids need purpose, too — and all too often, that purpose is missing from the work we do in schools.

#trudatchat

If you want to learn more about using causes as levers for learning, consider checking out Creating Purpose-Driven Learning Experiences — my latest book for Solution Tree Press.

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Related Radical Reads:

Should We Be Engaging or Empowering Learners?

How Engaged are YOUR Students?

Why Can’t THIS Be School?

 

 

How Would YOU Answer these Questions on Grading?

I’ve been doing a ton of thinking about grading and feedback and assessment over the last few weeks.  It’s not a new conversation, right?  Teachers have been wrestling with grading for decades.

If I’m being honest, I hate grades.  I think they are ruining learners.  I see that in my own classroom AND with my own daughter.

While I won’t pretend to have all of the answers to the great grading debate, I do have a ton of questions that are worth considering. 

Here’s just a few:

Do your students care more about their grades than the learning those grades are supposed to represent? 

Figuring out the answer to this question is easy.  Think about what kids say to you when they earn a score they aren’t proud of.

If grades are more important than learning in your building, you hear, “How can I raise my grade?” about a thousand times a year — particularly in the last week of a marking period.

If learning matters most, your kids are asking, “I’m struggling with this content.  Can you help me figure out what I still need to know?” all quarter long.

Are the grades given in your building an accurate representation of what students know?

The simple truth is that grades are oftentimes really poor reflections of what a kid actually knows.

Need some examples?

Think of the student who loses points because work was turned in late.  Or of the student who corrects every mistake on a unit test perfectly but is only given a 70 in the grade book because of a school’s rework policy.

In both cases, grades are NOT accurate reflections of what a kid knows and is able to do.  Are we OK with that?  Are we OK with sharing inaccurate information with parents and students and other teachers about a student’s ability in a particular subject area?

Are grades in your building a better indicator of student COMPLIANCE than they are of student PERFORMANCE?

I’m raising an awesome, amazing, wonderfully intelligent third grader named Reece.  What I love the most about her is that she’s stubborn times ten.  That determination to live her own life regardless of what others think and feel is going to pay off as she grows older.

But as an eight year old, that same determination is having an impact on her grades.

Here’s how:  When she’s given a task to complete, she immediately decides whether or not she’s interested in it.  If the answer is no, she does just enough to squeak by.  The result is a task that isn’t a great indicator of what she’s really capable of.

In other words, teachers rarely see what my kid CAN do.  Instead, they see what she’s WILLING to do.

The result:  Her grades are rarely an accurate reflection of her ability.

My favorite example:  As a kindergartner, she ended up in the lowest reading group in her class because she hadn’t demonstrated mastery of her letter sounds.  That surprised me because I was pretty sure she had letter sounds down pat.

When I asked her teacher about the placement, I found out that on a screening test, Reece had refused to participate.  The teacher would point to a letter or a blend and Reece would say, “Nope!” over and over again.

“Do you know what the A says, Reece?”

“Nope!”

“How about the B?”

“Nope!”

“We’ve been working on the CK sound lately.  Do you remember that one?”

“Nope!”

(She’s DEFINITELY my kid, y’all!)

Would I have loved it if Reece had just cooperated and shown what she knew?

Absolutely.

But that story also reminds me to dig deeper with the stubborn kids in my own class.  I need to work hard to make sure that my scores are a representation of ability and performance, not simply compliance.

Do grades REALLY motivate learners?

Before you answer this question, spend a minute thinking beyond the high performing students in your class who thrive on making As on every assignment and making the honor roll every quarter.

Instead, think about the average student.  Are they working harder because they know that their performance will be graded?  Or think about the struggling student.  Does knowing that a grade is coming change their overall investment in a task?

I’d argue that the answer in both of those circumstances is a resounding “nope.”

Need proof?

Think about the kids who are asking for extra credit or completing reworks in order to raise their grades.  Most of the time, aren’t those students ALREADY making good scores?

And then think about the students who struggle in your classes.  If all you did was offer a rework or extra credit to raise scores — instead of requiring that a student to participate in an intervention — would struggling students take you up on your offer?

If grades motivated kids, wouldn’t every student jump at the chance to raise their scores on every assignment?

Hope these questions make you think.

And if you want to learn more about steps you can take to move from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback in your school, check out my newest book:  Creating a Culture of Feedback.  

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Related Radical Reads:

Are Grades Destroying My Six Year Old Kid?

Grades AREN’T Motivating.

Session Materials – Annual Conference on Assessment and Grading

Session Materials: Annual Conference on Assessment and Grading

Over the next two days, I’ll be working with a group of incredibly motivated teachers and school leaders at Solution Tree’s Annual Conference on Assessment and Grading in Phoenix, Arizona.  Together, we’ll be wrestling with what good assessment looks like and the role that both feedback and grading can play in informing practice and developing learners.  My unique contribution to the conference will be primarily centered around student-involved assessment practices.

Here are my session descriptions and materials:

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Creating a Culture of Feedback

Slides | Complete Handouts

In spring 2012, educational change expert Dean Shareski issued a simple challenge on his blog: “I’m wondering if you’re ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reins over to them?” This session introduces participants to the tangible steps William M. Ferriter has taken in his sixth-grade classroom to move from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback as a result of Shareski’s challenge.

Bill discusses the differences between grading and feedback. He helps participants explore simple self-assessment behaviors that can be integrated into any classroom. Teachers learn more about the common challenges of moving from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback in a classroom.

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Digital Tools Can Make Differentiation Doable

Slides | Complete Handouts

If schools are working to ensure success for every student, learning experiences should be customized and aligned to student interests, needs, and unique learning styles. The challenge, however, rests in making differentiation manageable. While few teachers doubt the importance of differentiating, many struggle to make customized learning spaces a reality. William Ferriter introduces participants to a range of digital tools that can be used to 1) track progress by student and standard, 2) provide structure for differentiated classrooms, and 3) facilitate initial attempts at remediation and enrichment.

Bill shows how digital tools can provide quick checks for understanding and tracking progress by student and standard. Digital tools can deliver content and free class time for individualized instruction. Tools can help teachers use classroom observations to show student progress.

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Assessing Learning in a Purpose Driven Classroom

Slides | Complete Handouts

Technology expert Will Richardson maintains that today’s classrooms are failing students. In Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (2012), Richardson says, “We focus on the easiest parts of the learning interaction, …accomplishments that can be easily identified and scored. Learning is relegated to the quantifiable.”

To create highly engaged learning spaces, classrooms must be reimagined as places where students work together to do work that matters. These arguments aren’t new; project-based learning has been promoted for the better part of a decade. How do we assess learning in classrooms where complex projects — rather than accomplishments that can be easily identified and scored — stand at the center of the curriculum?

Participants discuss why project-based learning should play a role in the modern classroom. They examine a planning template that illustrates project-based learning experiences focused on essential outcomes in a curriculum. William M. Ferriter explores simple steps for teachers to evaluate student mastery of essential outcomes.

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How Do We Turn Failure Into Learning Opportunities?

Slides | Complete Handouts

Over the past five years, the notion of learning from failure has become widely embraced. Businesses tout the importance of failing fast and failing often to succeed sooner. Educators argue that failure helps students learn to be resilient and determined, and failure is the first step towards building a growth mindset.

No matter how well-intentioned we are, failure in schools still carries negative connotations and incredibly high stakes—fail a test and your grade suffers; fail too many district benchmarks and you are assigned to remedial classes; fail an end-of-grade exam and you are held back; fail to earn a very high GPA and your college and career choices are limited. The truth is no matter how intimidating failure can be, it can also be turned into a positive learning experience as long as teachers help students analyze their performance and make plans to move forward—a process William M. Ferriter introduces in this session.

Bill reviews four main reasons people fail at important tasks. He examines differences between learners who see failures as dead ends and those who see failure as a starting point for new learning. Carefully structured feedback can play in helping students turn failures into learning opportunities.

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Using Digital Portfolios in Grades 5-12 to Create a Culture of Feedback

Slides | Complete Handouts

Research on characteristics of effective feedback reveals one simple truth time and again—feedback gathered by learners is more powerful than feedback given to learners. Our primary role in promoting learning should be to develop students who constantly reflect on what they know and what they don’t know—behaviors that can be encouraged through the regular use of digital portfolios in the classroom.

William M. Ferriter discuss the role of reflection in developing independent, self-directed learners. He examines how blogs, simple Web 2.0 tools, can play a role in digital portfolio projects. Participants learn how they can launch digital portfolio projects in their own classrooms.

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If this content resonates with you, you might also want to check out my latest book, Creating a Culture of Feedback.  It’s a quick read that will force you to think carefully about the difference between grading and feedback in the modern classroom.

 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working alongside the super motivated educators at Solution Tree’s PLC Institute in San Diego. The goal for most of the participants will be to find ways to polish their collaborative practices in order to help kids learn.  Together, teams from individual schools will study everything from the core beliefs that support learning communities to the nuts and bolts of making collaboration more efficient and effective.

I’ll be delivering three different breakout sessions at the Institutes.  Here are the materials for each session.  Hope you find them useful:

 

Digital Tools Can Make Differentiation Doable

Slides for Session

If schools are truly working to ensure success for every student, learning experiences need to be customized and aligned to student interests, needs, and unique learning styles. The challenge, however, rests in making differentiation manageable. While few teachers doubt the importance of differentiating, many struggle to make customized learning spaces a reality. William M. Ferriter introduces a range of digital tools that can be used to track progress by student and standard, provide structure for differentiated classrooms, and facilitate initial attempts at remediation and enrichment.

 

Small Schools and Singletons: Structuring Meaningful Professional Learning Teams for Every Teacher

Slides for Session | Handouts for Session

The PLC concept resonates with most educators, but making collaborative learning work in small schools or for singleton teachers can be challenging. Participants explore four models for building meaningful professional learning teams for singletons and teachers in small schools: 1) creating vertical teams to study skills that cross content areas, 2) using interdisciplinary teams to address the engagement levels of at-risk students, 3) designing class loads that allow teachers to teach the same subjects, and 4) using electronic tools to pair teachers with peers working in the same subject area.

 

Our Students Can Assess Themselves

Slides for Session | Handouts for Session

In the spring of 2012, Canadian educational change expert Dean Shareski issued a simple challenge on his blog: “I’m wondering if you’re ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reigns over to them?” Shareski’s challenge resonates with William M. Ferriter, who has always been dissatisfied with the grade-driven work in his classroom. He introduces participants to the tangible steps he has taken in response to Shareski’s challenge to integrate opportunities for self-assessment into classrooms.

 

For more information on structuring high functioning Professional Learning Communities, check out Bill’s books — Building a Professional Learning Community at Work – A Guide to the First Year and Making Teamwork Meaningful.

And don’t forget:  You can read all of my PLC related posts on the Radical by clicking on this link.  

Simple Truth: Your Attention Has Been Hijacked.

Here’s an interesting confession from a guy who has been a tech enthusiast for a long while:  I HATE smartphones. 

Like legitimately hate them.

My animosity towards them has been growing and growing over time.  It started when I caught myself laying in bed every night and opening Instagram to see whether anyone had liked the photos of my daughter that I used to share there regularly.

I’d anxiously wait for the number of new notifications to be updated — and often, I’d be upset that I didn’t get as many notifications as I wanted to.  I really felt ignored at times, trying to figure out why some people would have 60 or 70 or 80 likes on pictures of their kids and I’d have four.

Then, I’d start looking at the people in my network who had liked the pictures of OTHER people in my network.  I’d see that people I considered friends were actively liking content shared by each other, but they never seemed to like or favorite content shared by me.  “They are shunning me,” I’d think.

I’d even play games where I’d go in and like and favorite pictures with increasing regularity.  “Look, I’m here and I’m saying I like your content!” I’d think every time I’d drop a like or a comment on pictures of other people’s kids.  And then I’d wait to see if they’d reciprocate — reloading my stream tons of times each night to see if anyone had noticed me.

If they did, I’d go to bed relieved.  If they didn’t, I’d go to bed feeling sad.

How crazy is that?!

Only adding to my animosity towards phones has been the impact that they have had on the people around me. 

I’m a pretty social guy.  I love being with and around others and engaging in deep conversations with them.  But I started to notice that every time I was with other people in a physical location, there were fewer and fewer sustained conversations because people were CONSTANTLY checking their iPhones or their SMART Watches.

Heck — a few years back, I ponied up a bunch of cash and went to ISTE and couldn’t BELIEVE how little attendees actually interacted with the people they were sitting with.  At one point, I was taking a break in a seating area on a really comfortable couch.  There were ten other people in the same area.  None of them looked up from their devices a single time.

I see the same trends in my family life, too.  Our living rooms — places where we used to gather to connect and to laugh and to enjoy — have grown increasingly quiet as people pull out their phones and sift through their streams instead of invest in each other.

That pattern has strained the relationships that I have with people in my life who pull out their phones the most often.  I just don’t enjoy being around them anymore because I know they are going to turn away from me and turn towards their devices every time that we are together.  Seeing their phone out makes me resent them — and, given how frequently they keep doing it, I’m not sure they even care.

Here’s what’s REALLY evil:  The people who are designing social apps are TRYING to “hijack” your attention.

Need proof?  Check out the details in this article on the Guardian.

Did you know that app designers are attending $1,700 seminars on how to “manipulate people into the habitual use of their products”?  Does knowing that the person responsible for the next update of your app has probably studied the role that anticipation and craving and triggers play in the human mind — and are intentionally using that knowledge to develop features that take advantage of those inner needs and impulses.

And can you spot the built in features of the social apps that you use the most frequently that exploit your inner needs and impulses?

Here’s one:  The “drag to refresh” feature on so many of your favorite social services is intentional.  From a purely technical standpoint, you could see your new notifications immediately when you open an app, but by requiring a drag to refresh, app designers are manipulating your need for anticipation.  It’s like the feeling you get when you pull a handle on a slot machine.  You can’t wait to see what comes next — and because that anticipation is so strong, you are likely to KEEP dragging to refresh all day long.

Sometimes, you’ll be disappointed because you won’t have any new notifications.  That will cause angst.  You’ll work harder to create and to share content in those social spaces that people WILL like and share.

Other times, you’ll hit the jackpot.  A post will take off and you’ll see it shared and liked over and over again.  And every time that you drag to refresh, you’ll feel the rush that comes along with seeing dozens of new notifications.

Either way, you’ll keep coming back to your social service.

You’re a digital moth, y’all.  And drag to refresh is the flame.

#sheesh

Should we blame social services for trying to turn you into a habitual user?  

Of course not.  They are creating a product that they need to profit from.  If they didn’t think through how to best capture your attention, they wouldn’t be acting in their own interest.

But we should be aware of the fact that they ARE trying to manipulate your attention — and their goals have nothing to do with helping you to be a more complete person.

So what are the solutions?

Here are mine:

(1). You’ll never see me checking any social apps on my phone while we are together:  That’s a promise I made a few years back to the people in my lives.  I may pull my phone out to check the time or answer a call from my kid — but even then, I’ll tell you what I’m doing so that you know that you are more important to me than any social stream that I may be swimming in.  We owe that to each other.

(2).  I’m uninstalling MOST social apps from my phone:  The challenge with social apps is that we use them most frequently while we are on our phones.  Here’s why that’s a problem:  Our phones are almost always with us.

Hanging out on the couch with your partner and/or your kids at the end of a long day?  You probably have your phone with you, too.  Sitting at Thanksgiving dinner with relatives you haven’t seen in six months?  You probably have your phone with you, too.  Visiting with friends who you value at a local brewery?  You probably have your phone with you, too.

So the times when you should be the MOST present are also the times when you have a device full of services that are trying to pull you away.  And given that it’s difficult to resist the tricks being used to manipulate you into using those services, you are far more likely to allow your attention to be hijacked — and by default, to turn away from the people who you are physically present with.

But if there aren’t any social apps on your phone, that social interruption can’t happen. Better yet, over time you will rethink your relationship with your device.  You won’t see it as a tool that feeds your need for anticipation or craving or triggers. It will be easier to ignore if it isn’t the primary source of reward and anticipation and need and craving in your life anymore.

I’ll always keep Twitter on my phone.  That’s because it is a place where people reach out to me with questions about the professional work that I do.  But I don’t need Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or Untappd on my phone anymore.  Those are purely social services to me — and in order to prioritize the social interactions that I have with the people around me, I’m going to intentionally turn away from having similar interactions with people on my my phone.

Does that mean I won’t use social services at all?

Nope.  It just means that I’ll have to dig my computer out to participate in those spaces — something I’m far less likely to do when I’m on the couch with my kid or at the bar with my friends.  I’ve got Twitter open right now in a tab on my browser — but I’m also sitting alone in the back of a Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery banging away at the keys on my computer.  If my attention is hijacked, it isn’t being stolen from people that I care the most about.

(3). I’m going to nudge the people in my life — my peers, my relatives, my students — to take the same actions.  I’m going to teach them about the manipulative design features in social services that are pulling them away from one another.  I’m going to encourage them to think through the consequences of divided attention — on their own happiness, on their relationships with other people, on their ability to learn.

I’m going to ask them to think about whether or not it is ethical for companies to design products that intentionally leverage human behaviors to steal their time and attention without being explicitly clear about their intentions.

These are conversations that we need to be having.  Otherwise, divided attention and intentional manipulation through app design become the new normal.

And I’m not OK with that.

Does any of this make sense to you?

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Related Radical Reads:

Banning Smartphones in Class May Be the BEST BYOD Policy

Are YOU Teaching Students about Attentional Blink?

I’m Going “Topless” in 2015