Ravaged. Snarling. Hungry. The beast is on the prowl. Can you feel it approaching? Students sense it. So do teachers. I know what lies ahead. No one can escape. Anxiety levels rising. The end is near. The semester is coming to a close.
A dark cloud of reality disrupts the sunny skies of the fairy tale world in the secure, carefree (gradeless, gamified, personalized, fill-in-the edublank) classroom. All the talk about learning and growth, feedback and revision, fades into the past, like a story from our childhood. Once upon a time there was hope—exciting new worlds to explore, characters to encounter, paths to choose. With challenges and adventures at every turn, lessons were learned, progress made, and artifacts collected.
But now, with one turn of the page, the fable reaches a resolution. The moral of the story speaks truth. There is no more practice. No opportunity to reassess. Time has expired. Despite months of training, the report card reduces an entire body of work to a single letter grade with room for several prefabricated comments. Although learning will continue into the next term, the calendar says it’s time to report a grade. How can one letter grade narrate an entire story? No wonder the end of a mark period is as daunting as the evil figure from a child’s bedtime story.
As an educator, the semester grade haunts me as well, but I refuse to let it become the symbol of evil in this tale. However, in a predictable plot twist, I somehow become the bad guy, holding the fate of each student in my hands and delivering a final judgment. Why is the teacher always perceived as the Big Bad Wolf?
Fortunately for the learner, the final grade is not about how long it took to get to Grandmother’s house, nor how many points were collected on the way. Rather, each student, with my guidance, will do a thorough house inspection to provide an honest, accurate assessment of the structures they’ve built. Then, we will reread the learner’s story to determine a final grade together.
Like many educators, I want to create a learning environment around a mindset that teaches students to be patient, trust the learning process (and the teacher), and celebrate growth. But there is a powerful force that challenges such conditions. We live in a culture that continues to reward, rank, and emphasize grades over learning, points over progress, and recall over creation.
It’s time to reassess our culture of learning. By acknowledging and acting on the following truths, educators live up to their professional title and create learning permanence.
All students can learn.
Always return to this central truth as foremost in education.
Learning is a messy process; consequently, teaching all students to learn is challenging work. Continue reading
Last year at this time, I committed to my one word for 2015: radiate. The time has come to check for accountability to see if I achieved the expectations identified in last year’s post. With humility and gratitude, I reflect on my opportunities for professional development and personal growth in 2015.
Radiate: To move from one’s center requires taking action with direction. It is time to emerge, flow with thoughts, and take action to produce something useful.
In 2015, I resumed my endless quest to promote a culture of learning through innovative engagement strategies, healthy grading practices, and assessment for learning. After years of exploring project-based learning, differentiation, genius hour, feedback strategies, and the paperless classroom, I began working with a personalized learning model in high school communication arts. The process was challenging but the results were rewarding. The efforts of my students and support from colleagues, along with my transparency in documenting the journey, led to a surprising honor. I received the 2015 Herb Kohl Fellowship Award for “the ability to inspire a love of learning in students and motivate others, and for leadership within and outside the classroom.” While the recognition was gratifying, it became a motivator to raise my personal expectations and professional contributions to education. Continue reading
Thanksgiving receives plenty of attention for traditional feasts, shopping, and family time; but for teachers, Thanksgiving week means more than a couple days off of work. It represents the opportunity to reflect and reconnect with former students.
Yesterday, as if posted on the school calendar, a former student stopped by at the end of my prep period. He told me about his current studies and adventures as a college sophomore. We exchanged stories and shared laughs. These reunions are my reward–my holiday bonus.
But conversations with this graduate always go deeper than catching up on life and reminiscing about old times. He wants to know how systems work and asks questions about education that challenge my thinking. He has always been a genuine learner, urged by intellectual curiosity. And he possesses one of the most observant, insightful, brilliant minds I have ever had the pleasure to teach (even when he was a freshman). The limitations of a traditional high school structure were the only obstacles in his education at the time. He exhausted our school’s offerings of Advanced Placement courses and conquered all standardized tests with ease. As anticipated, he needed the independence of college to thrive and be challenged intellectually.
So why do we continue to lack vision of the possibilities and impede the potential of our learners?
Back to School
Stores taunt shoppers with Back-to-School savings in early July. By mid-August, denial transforms into anticipation. Hallways are waxed. New classroom designs are configured. Bulletin boards become thematic works of art. Pencils are sharpened. School is ready for students.
Educators focus their vision on the master plan for student learning. What worked last year? What adjustments need to be made? And why? Always know the WHY to move forward with purpose. After addressing the WHY, it is time to figure out HOW to set the plan into action. Every day, students should ask and be able to answer: What am I learning today? Why am I learning this? and How will I know I have learned it?
We know from the research of experts and from personal experience—in its simplest form—learning must be visible to maximize educational effectiveness. John Hattie reminds us, “Know thy impact.” So, we proceed thoughtfully…
Course curricular units. Planned.
Department standards. Identified.
Visible learning targets. Posted.
Student-friendly language? Yep.
If we can get to this point, we are in great shape; but a new conflict emerges. How do we know students are learning according to expectations? Is there a transparent means of assessing and organizing evidence of learning? This becomes a gap in what well-intended educators want to do versus what takes place in the classroom. Here is a simple plan to align standards, learning targets, and assessment. Continue reading
Am I doing this right?Is this what you’re looking for?What do you think about this?
Learning with a Purpose
As I personalize the learning process in my high school communication arts literature and composition courses, I hear students asking questions about how they can show evidence of their learning. They check in for approval even though we have created an environment of trust, innovation, and risk-taking. I want what we all seek: students creating new outcomes with learning; content they are intrigued by and learning they are invested in; engagement with and exploration of course material; and evidence of innovation.
This year’s theme — Innovation, Iteration, Implementation — reinforces and focuses on the innovation cycle introduced six years ago and the premise of the action network approach — multiple sites trying different approaches to implement the Institute’s Personalized Learning Model, sharing that learning, making adjustments and trying new things, and feeding that back into practice.
Time to get personal
I’m an educator. Teaching is my passion. Student learning is my purpose. I’m always thinking about the next lesson. Planning. How can I make the curriculum relevant and engaging? These are my classes. This is my classroom. These are my students. But this is not my education.
I began teaching at the end of the 20th century. Even then, I recognized that students should own their learning. Early stages of teaching focused on cooperative learning strategies. When the 21st century arrived, the classroom became more student-centered. Many learning opportunities were project based. My Master’s thesis focused on the impact of autonomy on student learning. I have since improved my understanding of the learning process and the value of assessment for learning. Differentiation became–and continues to be–a necessary emphasis of my professional development. Last year, students produced brilliant outcomes when introduced to Genius Hour. So why limit the energy, passion, and curiosity of learning to twenty percent of our time in class?
That brings me to the present year. Now that I am confident (but never satisfied) with my craft, and have a secure understanding of course content, standards, and learning targets, the next logical, but challenging, step is to personalize learning. All of this sounds like educational jargon, but it’s really a cultural philosophy if I truly believe in my educational motto: learn with a purpose. Read on for 10 observations… Continue reading