Category: Teachers Demonstrate Leadership

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?

 

 

Here’s Why Every American Should Oppose Vouchers.

Did all y’all catch Betsy DeVos’s — Donald Trump’s pick as Secretary of Education — confirmation hearings?  

It was a helluva’ show indeed.

Not only did DeVos need Al Franken — a former Saturday Night Live star — to explain the difference between proficiency and growth to her, she had no real idea how IDEA works, she suggested that she supports privatizing public schools, and she used the threat of grizzly bears as reason enough to question federal laws banning guns on school grounds.

Really.  Grizzly bears.  Look it up.

#sheesh

But the thing that should concern us the most about DeVos is her longtime support of vouchers — which allow parents to use public monies to send their children to private and religious schools — as a reform strategy.

The simple truth is that every American should oppose vouchers.  

Here’s why:  Public schools do more than educate our kids.  They provide opportunities for students to share experiences with people who are drastically different from them.  Rich students work side by side with students from poor neighborhoods.  Gay students befriend kids who are straight.  Deeply religious students meet atheists.  Children of immigrants learn with children whose ancestors have lived in America for generations.  And every kid interacts with peers of a thousand different colors and cultures — perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Do you have any idea how important those experiences are?  

One of the fundamental purposes of education has always been to prepare students for effective participation in a democratic society.  “Effectively participating in a democratic society” depends on our willingness to believe in the power of “the common good” — and believing in the power of the common good can only start when we recognize that others see the world differently than we do.

THAT’s what’s missing from the kinds of homogeneous schools that vouchers promote.  The risk of homogeneous schoolhouses is that students will study in intellectual bubbles — attending classes with kids who look and live just like they do, unaware that their core ideas aren’t always embraced by the people they are sharing this planet with.  Sure, homogeneous is easy and safe.  After all, there’s no need for compromise and no source of external challenge when everyone thinks just like you do.  But it’s not reality.

We live in a fractured nation, y’all.  You know that.  

Instead of looking for common ground, we concentrate our energies and our efforts on the ideas that divide us.  We shout one another down in person and online.  We heap scorn on anyone that we see as different.  We use our political power to pass laws that openly discriminate against anyone who doesn’t live like we do — and we elect leaders from the fringes who would sooner shut down the government than compromise with people on the other end of the political spectrum.

Becoming united again can only start when we find value in others — and for kids, finding value in others can be reinforced in the beautiful diversity of our nation’s public schools.

#simpletruth

——————

Related Radical Reads:

Here’s Why Competition Doesn’t Work in Public Education.

Breaking Public Education to Pieces.

In Praise of American Educators

 

Is Goal Setting Pointless?

Lemme ask you a question:  What role does goal setting play in your school’s culture?  

If your building is anything like mine, goal setting is probably a regular part of your daily routine.  There are goals in your school improvement plan, right?  And each learning team has their own SMART goals to pursue.  Teachers write goals for personal development as a part of their evaluation protocols — and goals litter individualized education plans for students with special needs.

That’s why James Clear’s bit titled Forget About Setting Goals caught my eye this morning.

Clear’s argument is worth considering:  Goal setting can be intimidating — and can result in feelings of failure or fear that leave people paralyzed.

Here’s an example from my personal life:  One of my goals is to lose 25 pounds in the next three months.  Frankly, I’ve got a closet full of clothes that I don’t fit into anymore — and I don’t have the cash to buy a “fat guy wardrobe” right now.

But losing 25 pounds right now seems next to impossible.  Mathematically, that’s 87,500 calories I have to lose.  If I burn about 600 calories per workout (which is what the ol’ treadmill keeps telling me), I’ll need 145 workouts to lose 25 pounds — and that’s ONLY if I quit eating like a Buffalonian in the winter-time.

Just reading that paragraph makes me want to quit before my “healthy living” kick even begins — and the minute I miss a workout or down a dozen wings while watching a playoff game, I’m going to feel like I’ve lost.  Those are pretty high stakes, right?  So in order to protect myself, I’m going to either set easier goals or completely ignore the goals that I’ve set to begin with.  That’s human nature.  We are good at self-preservation.

Clear would argue that the solution to my growing waistline ISN’T to set some kind of big, hairy audacious goal for losing weight.  Instead, it’s to concentrate on systems that result in weight loss.  

My attention should be focused on thinking carefully about what I am going to eat for every meal or building time for regular gym visits into my personal schedule.  Doing so concentrates my attention on practical steps that I can take to lose weight — and gives me a thousand opportunities to feel successful.  Each scoop of hummus that I choke down or trip to the gym that I take becomes a victory for me — and victories build momentum that will eventually help me to achieve the goal that I would have set for myself in the first place.

It’s an interesting argument, isn’t it?  

Goals are destinations.  Systems are vehicles that keep you moving forward — and moving forward is essential to winning.   “When you focus on the practice (systems) instead of the performance (goals),” writes Clear,  “You can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.”

Now I’ve got to figure out how to apply Clear’s argument to the work that I am doing in my school.  How can I prioritize practice over performance in order to drive my own professional growth, the growth of my learning team, and the growth of my students?

#thinking

———————-

Related Radical Reads:

Three Tips for Building Teacher Buy-In

Does Your School Have an “Avoid at All Costs” List?

Pockets of Innovation = Lack of Focus