Category Archives: Slides

Meaningful Ain’t Always Measurable.

Lemme share a funny story with you.

Several years ago, a school that I was working in went through a trend where every teacher was required to post a SWBAT objective on the board every single day.  SWBAT stood for, “The student will be able to,” — and each objective was, like a SMART goal, supposed to end with some kind of measure of proficiency.

The system worked pretty flawlessly in linear classes with easy to measure outcomes like mathematics, where you’d see objectives like, “The student will be able to solve multistep equations four out of five times,” or “The student will be able to apply the order of operations with 80 percent accuracy.”

But teachers in subjects with less tangible, direct objectives — read: every subject EXCEPT mathematics — really wrestled with the requirement.  

It wasn’t that we were opposed to the idea of having clear learning targets for students.  We just couldn’t figure out how to turn objectives like, “Students will recognize the impact that living in the developing world has on economic and/or quality of life indicators” or “Students can explain the spinoff benefits of space exploration” into something that was easy to measure.

(Download original image here)

Meaningful > Measurable Slide by Bill Ferriter @plugusin http://blog.williamferriter.com

 

My favorite example of the challenge that teachers in subjects outside of math had at writing measurable objectives came from a former colleague of mine who genuinely TRIED to write good objectives on the board every day.  

One that I saw frequently posted on her board was:

“The student will be able to self-select silent reading material with 80% accuracy.”  

Think about that for a minute.

Have you caught the problem yet?

Does that mean that on two out of every 10 days, kids are mistakenly picking up staplers instead of books during silent reading time?

If so, we’ve got bigger problems than our test scores!

#sheesh

Now I don’t want you to think that I’m trying to call out my former colleague.  She was a great teacher who inspired kids and taught with a passion that was hard to match.  I have no doubt that her students were better off for having had her as a teacher.  They left with the ability to read texts with complexity, to write with articulation, and to interact in the kind of conversations that result in knowledge-building.

I’m trying to call out a system that simultaneously encourages us to pursue lofty goals like teaching students to critically think or to build consensus or to be creative while asking us to fit every goal that we pursue into some kind of measurable format.

The truth is that the things that are the MOST meaningful are also the hardest to measure.  

If you want kids to wrestle with meaningful objectives, you are going to have to back off your demands that everything be measurable in some way, shape or form.  If measurement is what you want, simple outcomes is what you need to settle for.

#trudatchat

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Related Radical Reads:

Is Your Team Identifying Essential Learning Targets Together?

Answering Common Questions on Student Friendly Learning Targets

Understanding Learning Outcomes.

 

What IS the Ultimate Goal of Schools?

I was poking through my Evernote collection today and I rediscovered this great Fast Company bit about the role that design thinking can (and should) play in schools.

In it, author Trung Le said something that resonates times about a thousand with me:

(Click here to view and/or download original image on Flickr.)

Slide - Outrank Other Countries

Trung is right, isn’t he?  

Outranking other countries on assessment tests ISN’T our ultimate goal.  Instead, our ultimate goal should be to leave kids better prepared to tackle the kinds of borderless challenges that our towns, our communities, our states and our nations are forced to wrestle with.  Whether we like it or not, issues like poverty, drought, access to healthy foods, and pollution in all of its forms are in need of solutions.

What if, instead of spending every bit of our professional energy preparing students to pass assessments of all shapes and sizes, we invested that same professional energy into helping our kids to master the skills necessary to solve complex problems with no clear answers?

Fifty years from now, our world ranking on international assessments isn’t going to mean very much, y’all.

But fifty years from now, the kids in your classrooms right now are going to be leading the world.  How can we best use our time today to prepare them to make a real difference tomorrow?

That’s a question worth asking.

#trudatchat

If you are interested in learning more about incorporating global challenges into the work you do in your classroom, check out Bill’s book, Creating Purpose Driven Learning Experiences — which is currently on sale for $5.00.  

 

 

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?