Category: Teachers Demonstrate Leadership

More on Compliance and Motivation in Schools.

Not sure if you’ve had the chance to read it, but I was thinking a lot about compliance and motivation last week.  

It’s a topic that drives my thinking all the time simply because I’ve got a second grade daughter who isn’t terribly good at “being compliant” and I LOVE that about her.  I want her to push the envelope and challenge authority and walk her own path — but I’m not sure that those kinds of behaviors are encouraged or celebrated in traditional schools.

So my fear is that school will crush her independence — and that I will start to push for her to be more compliant regardless of the circumstance simply because I don’t want her to be labeled a “behavior problem.”

If you haven’t had a chance to check out the comment section of that post, you SHOULD.  There have been some TERRIFIC thoughts and reflections shared that are continuing to challenge me.

One of the general themes in many comments is the notion that having kids who are intrinsically motivated is great — but the fact of the matter is that life is full of situations where drudgery is the reality.  In schools, that might look like introducing students to basic skills that are best learned through repetition or pushing kids to complete tasks because learning about meeting deadlines really is an essential skill for becoming a productive contributor.

Stated more simply, you can’t really be “college and career ready” if you think it is OK to pick and choose the work that you are going to complete and the work that you are going to ignore.

There’s truth in that thinking, right?

The fact of the matter is that we ALL complete tasks — both in our personal and our professional lives — that we aren’t inspired by.  We don’t do it because those tasks are intrinsically motivating.  We do it because we want to keep our jobs or to please our spouses or to avoid the consequences that come from ignoring expectations set by other people.

But as Dienne so eloquently describes, schoolkids are BURIED in mindless tasks that do little more than demand compliance.

She writes:

Honestly, as far as the routine stuff that does have to be done, I think we all do see the point and we all do chip in when it comes down to it, albeit sometimes grudgingly.

I think even a kid like Thomas probably likes to wear clean clothes and eat off clean dishes, so he can probably be talked into helping out with those things. Similarly with school work, I think if you can convince Thomas why he needs to know/be able to do something, he’d probably be willing to work hard enough to show you that he knows/can do it.

But repeating the same inane task (such as, for instance, reading truncated excerpts of obscure non-fiction works and answering trick questions just to try to figure out what the test creator is thinking) probably isn’t going to happen. And that’s where we need to ask ourselves, why should it happen?

And THAT’s the key:  Inane tasks are the norm rather than the exception to the rule in the lives of students.

It’s reading truncated excerpts of obscure non-fiction works and answering multiple choice question after multiple choice question.  It’s solving questions 14-33 on page 86 of the textbook and showing your work.  It’s making YET another PowerPoint for YET another class — and then delivering YET another five minute presentation to your peers on some topic that you are going to forget before the end of the month.

Worse yet, inspiring tasks are like white rhinoceroses:  Oddities that are rarely seen, long remembered, and hunted by darn near everyone.

Need proof?  Then try this:  Create a list of every experience from YOUR school career that you were genuinely inspired by.  What are the individual projects or tasks or classes or field trips or learning experiences that you KNOW changed who you are or how you feel or what you know.

Or if you are REALLY brave, get up from your desk RIGHT NOW.  Walk into five classrooms.  Observe the lesson that is being taught and ask yourself, “How many of those lessons will be remembered two weeks (or two days) from now?”

Short lists, right?

That’s heartbreaking, y’all.  Kids spend YEARS and YEARS in classrooms.  Shouldn’t the number of inspiring learning experiences outnumber the number of innane learning experiences by AT LEAST a factor of a thousand?

And if it doesn’t, shouldn’t we be questioning the role that schools are playing in the lives of our kids?  

#goodquestion

#worthasking


Related Radical Reads:

Compliance ≠ Motivation

Are We Too Busy Schooling?

Being Responsible for Teaching the Bored.

Climate Deniers Sending Sketchy Science to EVERY Public School Science Teacher in America

A few weeks ago, I wrote a bit about a book filled with sketchy science titled  Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming that showed up in my school mailbox.

My thinking was that the book had been dropped there by a parent, colleague or community member who was opposed to my argument that teaching science had become a form of political bloodsport.

But the truth is that my book came from a far scarier source: It was sent to me directly by the Heartland Institute — a group heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry that actively questions climate science.

And what’s even scarier is that the Heartland Institute has just started a campaign to send a copy of this book to EVERY science teacher America’s public schools.

The authors of the book and the leaders of the Heartland Institute want teachers to “consider the possibility” that climate science is not settled, which is simply not true.  They also argue that even if human activity is causing climate change, it “would probably not be harmful, because many areas of the world would benefit from or adjust to climate change.”

#sheeshchat

Now I know what you are thinking:  Why are you still writing about this, Bill?  We want you to point us to some really great tech tools or to share a few free lessons with us.  We don’t want political mumbo-jumbo about climate science.

Here’s why I’m still writing about it:  If you are a teacher or a school leader in a public school in America, these books are going to start to roll through your schoolhouse doors en masse over the next few weeks.

Some of your teachers will see right through the title and chuck their copy straight into the trash where it belongs.  But some will fail to fact check the source and fall for the fake science that fills its pages.  Then, they will start pushing the flawed notion that the science around climate change really isn’t settled yet to the kids sitting in your classrooms.

That ought to concern everyone in Radical Nation.  As my buddy Joe Henderson — who has learned a ton on this issue from his colleague Randall Curran — pointed out to me recently:

“1. A sound climate science education is so basic for understanding the world we live in that students are entitled to it.

2. Such an education is also a fundamental aspect of civic education, because it is foundational to the most consequential collective decision humanity has ever faced.”

So what should your next steps be?  

If you are a principal, my argument is that these books should never make it into the mailboxes of your classroom teachers.  Find them and filter them out.  Can you REALLY defend a decision to place a piece of political propaganda from a group funded by the fossil fuel industry in front of the people who are supposed to be educating the kids in your classrooms?

If you are not comfortable with filtering mail sent to your teachers, AT LEAST point your teachers to this PBS article detailing the Heartland Institute’s efforts or to my recent bit teasing out the truth about just who Heartland is.  While teachers should do this leg work on their own whether you provide them with context or not, the truth is that we are flat slammed with tasks to complete in any given day, so falling for pseudo-science that lands in our mailboxes is more common than you might think.

And if you aren’t comfortable getting involved, AT LEAST make sure that the people in your district who are responsible for science instruction and curricular decisions are aware of what’s going on.  My guess is that they will want to send out some kind of “Heads Up” email that reminds teachers of just what your curricula says about teaching climate change and/or start a conversation with department chairs about how to address these new books popping up on campuses across your county.

Whatever you do, do something.  We can’t just ignore a paid political attempt to influence the thinking of thousands of teachers around the most important issue facing our planet.

#trudatchat


Related Radical Reads:

When Did Teaching Science Become Political Bloodsport?

More on Teaching Science and Political Bloodsport.

 

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?

More on Teaching Science and Political Bloodsport.

So something REALLY interesting happened this morning:  I found a brand spanking new copy of Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming in my school mailbox:

That’s a HECK of a coincidence, isn’t it?  

LAST week, I write a post about the lunacy of EPA Director Scott Pruitt — who somehow doesn’t believe that carbon emissions are leading to climate change — and THIS week, someone just so happens to drop a copy of a text designed to eviscerate climate science into my mailbox.

I’m not a big believer in coincidences, though.  

My guess:  SOMEONE — a colleague, a parent, someone from the broader community that just so happens to read my blog — decided that I needed to broaden my views on the science behind climate change.

I have NO idea who sent me the book, but I DO have a few choice words for them.  Here they are:

The Heartland Institute — the group responsible for publishing this book — has taken a TON of money from the fossil fuel industry, including from the Koch Brothers AND Exxon Mobil.  Don’t you think that cheapens the value of ANYTHING inside this book?  Can you REALLY believe that research funded by the fossil fuel industry is going to tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth about climate change?

Need more proof that the Heartland Institute is a heavily biased organization?  Then whaddya’ think about the fact that they have an entire line item in their annual budget — to the tune of $200,000 — to develop a curriculum aimed at public schools that is designed to “cast doubt on mainstream climate science?”

Need MORE proof that the Heartland Institute is a heavily biased organization?  Try this on for size:  This is the SAME group that created a billboard that compared people who believe in climate change to the Unabomber — and who had ANOTHER billboard ready to go that substituted Osama Bin Laden for the Unabomber.

Still not convinced?  Then what would you say if you found out that the “climate experts” who wrote the book that you sent me were on Heartland’s payroll, making anywhere from $5,000 to $11,000 per month?  Are you REALLY going to believe that guys who are being paid THAT much cash are unbiased and impartial observers that are giving us the whole truth and the nothing but the truth?

Heck — I’d say darn near anything if you want to pay me $11 K per MONTH.  That’s more than double my teaching salary.

Want me to keep going?  These are the same yeah-hoos who were defending Big Tobacco back in the 1990s, arguing that the damage done by smoking — both through first and second hand smoke — were completely overblown.

Seriously.  They said smoking wasn’t all that bad.

#sheeshchat

Now, needless to say, I’m peeved.

This “drive-by-booking” was a perfect example of what I was talking about in my previous post.  Folks who are living in the Breitbart Bubble — mainlining Alex Jones for hours every day while they scroll through their hyper-partisan Facebook pages — are actively trying to shape the conversations that our kids are having about science by shouting louder than anyone who sits squarely in the mainstream.

That’s frightening, y’all.  

And the only way that we fix it is by pushing back.  Make sure that the science teachers in your lives know that you stand for objective science built on fact and not bought by people like the Koch Brothers, Exxon and the Heartland Institute.  Be louder than the people who have learned that shouting every time a teacher mentions “evolution” or “natural selection” or “global warming” is the best way to stifle facts and to advance a fringe agenda.

Most importantly, quit pretending that this isn’t a big deal — because it is.

I am a real science teacher working in a real science classroom and I hesitate every time I talk about these topics because I know that I’m likely to take more than a little criticism.  I can’t be the only one, can I?

And let’s quit pretending that our kids don’t need to learn that there are TONS of organizations just like the Heartland Institute that are trying to “muddy the waters” on important scientific issues.  Their motives are shady on a good day.  They represent powerful, wealthy interests that stand to lose a lot if “the truth” comes out.

Every kid in every classroom should be taught to question every piece of science published on controversial issues — and to identify the questionable organizations producing that science.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that the Heartland Institute was biased times ten.  It shouldn’t take kids long to figure that out, either.

#trudatchat

(A final PS to my anonymous, book loving, climate-change denying friendNo matter what the Heartland Institute says, most practicing climate scientists really DO believe that carbon emissions are causing climate change.  There’s no “scientific dispute” about any of this.

And even if you DON’T believe in climate change, can you at LEAST agree that carbon emissions are causing extreme pollution?  

If not, I’ve got a nice condo in Beijing I’d like to sell you.)  


Related Radical Reads:

When Did Teaching Science Become Political Bloodsport

 

 

My Digital Portfolio Project Planning.

Over the last year, I’ve been working on a committee in my school district to think about the role that digital portfolios can play in helping students to document their learning.  I LOVE that our district is committed to the idea of portfolios simply because they promote more reflective learners and help our schools to move from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback.

That’s kinda my jam.

The defining moment in my own thinking about digital portfolios came in December, when I listened to my buddy George Couros explain the difference between Learning Portfolios and Showcase Portfolios at Convergence — a meeting of the professional minds hosted by our district’s Media and Technology team.

According to George, Learning Portfolios are all about giving students chances to collect evidence of their own growth and progress as learners over time.  They aren’t about spotlighting perfection.  They are about promoting reflection.  Showcase Portfolios, on the other hand, are designed to give students spaces to spotlight their very best work.  Both types of portfolios have value to learners — but both serve very different purposes.

George went even further, arguing that blogging tools make for perfect homes for digital portfolios primarily because they allow users to house a Learning Portfolio and a Showcase Portfolio in the same space.  For George, the constantly updated stream of posts that stands at the center of a blog space is the Learning Portfolio.  It should house regular reflections — celebrations of progress made, plans for moving forward, evidence of current levels of mastery, questions for consideration.

Static pages on a blog — which are almost always found listed in a header under the Blog’s title — are perfect for housing Showcase Portfolios.  It is a place where kids can do deeper thinking around what they have actually mastered.  Students can link to their best evidence in their Showcase Portfolios — and can update the content on each page as they demonstrate additional mastery over time.

That’s BRILLIANT thinking, right?  

The truth is that encouraging students to keep a Learning Portfolio and a Showcase Portfolio promotes different kinds of reflective behaviors.  We DO want our kids to get into the habit of regular reflection on what they know in the moment.  And we DO want our kids to get into the habit of organizing their BEST evidence that they’ve mastered important outcomes.  Making those two different practices manageable starts when we use ONE tool that can create separate spaces in the the same digital home.

I’ve finally decided to take George’s advice and start a Digital Portfolio Pilot Project with my students.  Here’s what I’ve done so far:

I spent a ton of time creating a sample of a digital portfolio.

You can check it out here.  Remember:  The posts in the body of the blog are a part of a hypothetical student’s Learning Portfolio.  They show progress in the moment.  The pages listed across the top header underneath the title are a part of the same hypothetical student’s Showcase Portfolio.  The are evidence of mastery of bigger curricular ideas.

This sample portfolio has been SUPER valuable in helping kids to understand just what it is that they are going to be doing as a part of our portfolio project.  The sad truth is that few had any idea what I meant when I said, “Anyone want to create a digital portfolio to document your learning?”  Those are practices that we haven’t prioritized in schools.

I’ve created several resources for the PARENTS of participating students.

Perhaps the two most important resources are my digital portfolio permission slip — which details some basic expectations that participating students have to follow — and my Digital Portfolio Tips for Parents — which outlines ways that parents can get involved in supporting the reflective work that their students are about to begin.

I’ve whipped up a list of every essential question that students are supposed to master in their core classes this year.

Those are listed in documents posted at the top of each Showcase Portfolio page.  Here’s a sample.  My plan is to have students use those questions as starting points for content that they can put on their Showcase Portfolio pages.  I figure that if they can answer those questions AND link to evidence in their Learning Portfolio of places where they were wrestling with those essential questions, they’d have something really impressive to “showcase” for the important adults in their lives.  The questions almost serve as prompts for kids who are working to build out their Showcase pages.

Along with my buddy Pete Caggia, I’ve created several different types of posts that I want students to try writing in their Learning Portfolios.

The hardest part of this work for my kids is going to be understanding what in-the-moment reflection looks like in action.  Again, that’s a function of the fact that reflection has been pushed aside in schools in favor of rushing through required curricula.  To facilitate better reflection, Pete and I whipped up four different kinds of thinking that we’d like to see in student portfolios.  This handout details those different kinds of thinking and includes samples that students can use as models.

I’ve settled on a blogging tool and started to introduce it to the students participating in our project.

The tool that I’m using is Blogger.  That’s not because I’m in love with Blogger.  In fact, I think that Blogger templates are kind of boring.  Wordpress has templates and formats that are WAY more polished.

But Blogger is approved for use by middle school students in our district — a key factor in making ANY tech decision — AND my students are already using Google products (think Docs, Classroom, Drive, Photos, Slides) for darn near everything else.  That makes Blogger the right tool for this project.  Familiarity + District Approval = Winning for Everyone!

I also put backups of my sample blog’s template and content onto jump drives and had every student install both my template and my original content when they were getting started.  Here’s why:  By pushing all kids to install my template and content, I can introduce the different kinds of portfolios by looking at an actual exemplar.  All they will need to do to make their own portfolio “personal” is delete my content and posts whenever they are ready.

Finally, I’ve started to create a bunch of quick tutorials that students can use to learn more about simple processes and practices in Blogger.  They are posted on the Portfolio Tools and Resources page of my sample blog — which also ends up on each STUDENT’s blog after they import my template and content.  My hope is that these tutorials will be enough to get most kids started with their portfolios.  They are pretty smooth operators, after all — unafraid of tinkering to figure out how things work.

So whaddya’ think of all of this?  Does it sound useful to you?  What questions do you have?  Suggestions?  What resources do you like?  What resources can you share?