Category Archives: Slides

Does This Sound Like YOUR School?

This is the worst time of the school year for me.  

That’s because we are in the middle of the long slog to the End of Grade Exams — a series of high stakes tests that, at least here in North Carolina, are used to rate and evaluate everyone and everything connected with public education.

What’s crazy to me, though, is the VAST majority of the content assessed on our end of grade exams — particularly in social studies and science — is content that can be Googled.

(click here to view image and credits on Flickr)

Slide - Taught In Schools

Need some examples?

My students will need to know the difference between intrusive and extrusive igneous rocks, the difference between longitudinal and transverse waves, and the impact that density has on both light and sound.  They’ll need to be able to name both the male and female parts of plants, explain the difference between atoms and elements, and identify chemical and physical properties of matter.

They’ll be asked about the reasons for the seasons, the reason for eclipses, and the reason for tides.  They’ll have to know the layers of the earth and the characteristics of habitable planets.  They’ll see questions about the focus and epicenter of earthquakes, the compressions and rarefactions in sound waves, and the lens and cornea in your eyes.

Should I keep going?

Now don’t get me wrong:  I understand the importance of having foundational knowledge about essential content.  It’s impossible to make new discoveries when you have no basic understanding of what’s happening in the world around you — and while it’s POSSIBLE to Google darn near everything in our required curriculum, it’s also incredibly inefficient and time consuming.  Fluency with core ideas matters.

But it’s also important to understand that by tying high stakes tests to mastery of basic facts, we are fundamentally changing what happens in the science classroom.

As a teacher, I’m forced into making a decision between spending class time on wondering and investigation and collaboration OR spending class time covering as many basic facts as possible.  Choose the former, and I’ll have students who are better prepared to be the kind of inquisitive scientists who make important discoveries that change the world.  Choose the latter and I’ll have students who are better prepared to pass our state’s standardized exams.

I know what you are thinking, y’all:  Why can’t you do both?  Why can’t you integrate inquiry into classrooms where students ALSO walk away with a solid understanding of basic facts?

The answer is you can — as long as the list of “basic facts” that kids are expected to know is manageable.  And at least now — in North Carolina — that’s not the case.  Our essential curriculum is massive and unmanageable.

That has to change.

#trudatchat


Related Radical Reads:

Making Room for Uncertainty in the Required Curriculum

Walking Moral Tightropes ISN’T a Reform Strategy

How Testing Will Change What I Teach Next Year

 

Kids Need to Run.

One of my favorite things in life is connecting with old friends who have challenged my thinking.  That happened this week when Carly Albee — a fantastic teacher in Western North Carolina and a part of a cohort of teachers that I traveled to Denmark with almost a decade ago — showed up in the comment section of my recent post on fidget spinners.

Carly dug my notion that kids obsessing over fidget spinners can be a valuable source of formative feedback for teachers, but she pushed my thinking even further when she wrote:

(click here to view image and credits on Flickr)

Slide - Fidget Spinners

Carly’s right, isn’t she.  Our kids DO need to run and play and cover their fingers in sand. They need to feel the sun on their faces and breathe fresh air and stumble through the grass.

They need unstructured opportunities to explore and to wonder and to think.  Better yet, they need a chance to build stronger connections with one another by exploring and wondering and thinking together.  And most importantly — particularly in a week when our President repudiated scientific consensus by walking away from the Paris Climate Agreement —  they need to build stronger connections with our Earth.  It’s hard to appreciate our planet when you spend half of your life looking at it from behind a window.

Are those opportunities a regular part of YOUR school’s bell schedule?  

#theyshouldbe


Related Radical Reads:

Good Teaching > Fidget Spinners

Our Dreams are Simple:  We Want to Go Outside

 

Grades AREN’T Motivating.

Check out this tweet that landed in my Twitterstream, y’all:

Brett’s right, isn’t he?  

We SHOULD barf every time someone makes the argument that without grades, students can’t be motivated to tackle meaningful tasks.

More importantly, we should stop using grades to sucker kids into completing assignments in our classrooms:

 

Slide - If It's Not Graded

(click here to view original image on Flickr)

So how SHOULD we motivate learners?  

Easy:  By rethinking the kinds of work that we are asking them to do.  Any task that is worth doing should be relevant and interesting.  Learners should be hooked by our assignments and should be convinced that every task will strengthen their knowledge and skills in important areas.

Any task that is worth doing should also be challenging.  Create assignments that are too easy — or that seem completely impossible — and learners tune out.  But create assignments that require kids to stretch just outside of their comfort zones, and they will invest completely in the work.

Finally, any task that is worth doing should help students to drive meaningful change beyond the walls of their classrooms.  The simple truth is that today’s students want to be influential.  They aren’t satisfied with work that has no clear purpose beyond filling their report cards.  But if you can show your kids that the questions they are asking and lessons that they are learning can improve their families, communities or countries, and they’ll tackle anything.

Now don’t get me wrong:  You CAN use grades to try to influence the kids in your classroom — and most will probably respond.

The vast majority of our students still want to earn passing marks.  And they still feel pressure from their parents and their teachers to score highly on classroom assignments.  After all, they’ve been buried in messages like “you’ll never get into college with those grades” and “for every A that you make, I’ll give you $20 bucks” and “make anything less than a C and you will lose your phone for a whole quarter” for most of their lives.

But don’t mistake those reactions with motivation.  

If anything, what you are seeing when students put effort into assignments simply because they are being graded is compliance.  Motivation begins when our classrooms become places where interesting, relevant, challenging, and powerful tasks become the norm rather than the exception to the rule.

#trudatchat


Related Radical Reads:

Celebrate Your TEACHING Geeks, not your TECH Geeks

Are Kids REALLY Motivated by Technology?

Are YOUR Students Doing Work that Matters?

The REAL Feedback Experts in Your Building

One of my best buds is a brilliant Canadian elementary school teacher named Diana Williams.  She’s this super motivated, talented woman who finds great ideas and then runs with them — challenging both her own practice and the practice of others along the way.

Recently, Diana has been tinkering a bit with the feedback practices that I’ve been pushing here on the Radical — and while chaperoning a school band trip to an out-of-town performance, she had a Eureka moment:

(click here to view image credits and download on Flickr)
Slide - Rehersals as Feedback

Diana’s right, isn’t she?  There ARE places in our schools where high-quality feedback is the norm rather than the exception to the rule.  

In fact, every art teacher, chorus teacher, band director and coach in your building knows just how to turn feedback into detective work for their students.  After all, they’ve spent their lives polishing and perfecting knowledge and skills in performance-based fields.  As Diana — who was a musician before ever becoming a teacher — explains:

In my own training I had this immediate feedback/application cycle and the thinking skills that are inherit in that process/feedback modeled for and with me and practiced until it became unconscious muscle memory.

That’s true for your softball coach too, guys.  And for your carpentry teacher and your auto mechanics instructor, your drama director, your family and consumer science teacher, and your dance instructor.  They are all highly trained experts with first-hand experience with the kind of feedback/application cycle that Diana describes.

That also means every experience that your students have had in classes beyond the core curriculum has probably been FULL of examples of high quality feedback.

They’ve already learned to set goals and measure their progress against examples of excellence.  They’ve already started identifying areas of personal strength and weakness — and they’ve already felt the satisfaction that comes from discovering that forward progress IS possible.

THAT’s why kids dig electives more than any other part of their day.  It’s the ONE place where they can see evidence of their own improvement on a moment by moment basis.  And THAT’s why we need to push against cheap attempts to cut “the specials” from our school days in order to save cash and/or prioritize “academics.”

The simple truth is that learning to receive and react to feedback — a skill that has natural connections to classes outside of the “core” curriculum — may be the most important academic skill that students ever learn.

#truDATchat

__________________

Related Radical Reads:

The Best Feedback is Gathered, Not Given

New Feedback Activity:  Not Yet/You Bet Lists

New Feedback Activity: The Best Feedback is a Work For/Work On Process

The Best Feedback is GATHERED, not GIVEN

All y’all know that I’ve been completely consumed by reimagining the role that feedback should play in the modern classroom, right?  I’ve been reading darn near everything written by experts like Dylan Wiliam, Grant Wiggins, John Hattie, Rick Stiggins, Jan Chappuis, Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey.  More importantly, I’ve been tinkering with the feedback practices in my classroom for the better part of the past four years.

If there’s any single thought that holds together the key findings of all of these folks, it’s that the best feedback is GATHERED, not GIVEN:

(click here to view and download original image on Flickr)

Slide - Gathered By Filled

Here’s why:  When we reverse the traditional roles that teachers and learners play in the classroom feedback cycle, we are helping our students to recognize that the people who are the MOST successful in our world AREN’T those who can take critique from a boss and adjust their actions/behaviors/work products accordingly.

The MOST successful people in our world are constantly critiquing THEMSELVES.  They are identifying meaningful goals worth pursuing, looking for exemplars to measure their own performances against, setting criteria for determining success, measuring their own progress, and constantly adjusting their goals, their decisions, their actions and their direction on the fly.

To borrow a related thought from Mortimer Adler, author of The Paideia Proposal:

All genuine learning is active, not passive.  It involves the use of the mind, not just the memory.  It is a process of discovery, in which the student is the main agent, not the teacher.

So ask yourself this:  How often is the feedback process that you are using with students active and not passive?  How often does it turn your students into the main agents in a process of discovery, using their minds to create meaning and find sense in their own patterns of performance?

#toughquestion

___________________

Related Radical Reads:

New Feedback Activity:  Unit Analysis Forms

New Feedback Activity:  Not Yet/You Bet Lists

New Feedback Activity: The Best Feedback is a Work For/Work On Process