Monday, December 27, 2010

Forget Value Added Assessment of Teachers - Just Use Snow

I was talking with my wife this morning about, what else, the Blizzard of 2010. (See more snowpocalypse2010 photos). My sister in California mentioned that her youngest daughter, who is five, had never touched snow. OMG! We live in New England; our children were born in snow drifts (or something like that).

My wife then remembered a high school student of hers from a few years ago. The girl was new to New England, and one day it started snowing while she was in math class. Somehow the word got out the girl had never seen or touched real snow. The whole class was amazed. The teacher only said, "Well, go outside now." Right in the middle of class, he sent her outside just to touch snow. Right away, I knew...

"He was a pretty good teacher," my wife added. I knew he was a pretty good teacher. You see being a good high school math teacher surely includes understanding trigonometry and calculus. It definitely includes skilled use of pedagogy and mastery of classroom management. To be a pretty good teacher you need one more ingredient.

The math teacher listened to his students. He cared about them as people, not just numbers. He even took their needs into account. Follow me here: at that moment, gone was the high school teenager; in her place was really just an excited child thinking about playing in snow. The teacher could easily have gotten the class back to math. Instead, he honored what she needed and told her to go see the snow.

So, from that one incident, I know that the math teacher added value to his students' lives. He taught them math, but, more importantly, he treated them with respect and cared about them as people. They learned.

So, instead of a multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubble test, just let it snow and you will know who are the pretty good teachers.

cross posted to Connected Principals
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Librarian and the Rules, Girls and Boys

Last week, I started a Book project at the local elementary school. Due to concerts and conferences, I worked only with Mrs. Smith's class (names changed for privacy). Today, I returned to meet with that group again.

I figured we would complete a set of story maps as a pre-writing activity. First the group brainstormed library subtopics. I explained how to use a story map to organize ideas before writing. As we filled in the group Story Map, it became clear that there would be considerable overlap when the students got down to writing. Ok, overlap it is, then. My next step was to have each student fill in her own story map but focused only on one subtopic.

The final group Story Map with real names redacted.
Once we looked at the Story Map we'de created, I asked each student to pick a first and second choice to write about. All four girls wanted to write about Mrs. Books, the librarian. Both boys wanted to write about the Rules. Hmmm.
Using some number guessing, the assignments worked out like this:
  • Organization of the Library - Sally
  • Books 1 - Mary
  • Books 2 - Susan
  • Coming to the Library - John
  • Librarian - Jane
  • Rules of the library - Danny
  • Fun in the library - Steve, by default

  • Steve was absent.
  • Danny and John acted like good friends. Last week, John only seemed interested in goofing around and impressing Steve.
  • Mary and Susan were nearly inseparable - until I separated them.
  • Jane was totally charged hat she got to write about the librarian. She was like a different girl this week.
  • Danny took on the role of group clown this week by offering the library subtopic of toast and jam repeatedly.
  • Sally seemed surprised that her topic could be so concrete. She began to over think her topic.

Question to Ponder
  • Is there anything to the fact that all the girls wanted to write about Mrs. Books and all the boys wanted to write about rules?
  • Would each student be able to write enough to make the book interesting?

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dogs or the Library: Let 1st Graders Decide! (retitled)

Last week I started a writing project in a first grade class at the local school. Since I am home these days, I am doing this as a volunteer. I had been going 3-4 times each week during writing time to get to know the kids in all three first grade classes, but this was the beginning of the project.

Mrs. Smith picked the seven best writers in her class to be in the first group with me (all names have been changed to protect the innocent). The plan was that the group would follow a basic writer's workshop approach and end with the publication of the book. Although Mrs. Smith and I did not speak of technology (other than typing), I am hoping to find a way to digitize the final product.

Anyway, back to last week's session. The eight of us went to the Rug in the library and sat in a circle. The students were literally bouncing as we began. I asked each student to write a few ideas for topics for a non-fiction* book that we would publish together (in order mentioned). The we shared the ideas:
  • Getting a puppy
  • Rules of 1st Grade (to give to kindergarten students)
  • Books in the library
  • Dogs
  • Snowboarding
  • Whales
  • Dolphins
  • DisneyWorld
  • Plants and animals
  • Time and spacee
  • Snowmen and the person who would be making one
  • A mouse that scared a girl

It was at this point that I focused the discussion and asked the students to narrow down the list. We ended up with four finalists:
  • Rules of 1st Grade (to give to kindergarten students)
  • Books in the library
  • Dogs
  • Snowmen and the person who would be making one

The Library won a vote of four to two with one abstention. Mrs. Books, the librarian, was thrilled!

Some notes about the students in the group (again, all names have been changed).
  • John was barely focused, needed constant redirection.
  • Jane was quiet, sat slightly out of the circle, seemed to give the most thought to her comments.
  • Steve was boisterous and offered suggestions that we completely personal to him (snowboarding and getting a puupy)
  • Mary really disliked one of the topics suggested and could not let it go - even when it was not chosen she continued.
  • Sally began to take charge and got bossy with John for a while.
  • Susan had the most trouble writing down her ideas. Clearly smart, but the weakest skills in the group.
  • Danny sat outside of the circle - a place I think he often sits. Deep ideas (time and space), low skills so far.
My plan for future sessions includes the students completing some pre-writing, drafting, editing, typing, drawing, and compiling. We'll see how it goes.

* Grant Wiggins had not yet written his blog post, Ban Fiction From the Curriculum, about banning fiction. It's just that the teacher and I agreed that non-fiction would be an easier way to keep the students focused.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Can't you just follow your passions on the weekend?

Velvety Passion FlowerVelvety Passion Flower. Image via Wikipedia"Can't you just follow your passions on the weekend?"

I overheard this comment from two women talking about a slacker husband. Really? Does she really want her husband to have passion only two days each week? Doesn't she see that life would be so much better if her husband lived passionately every day? Of course, I am sure there is more to the story (I only heard a little of the conversation, fortunately), but educators have always known that when students are passionate about their activities, there can be no stopping them.

This talk of passion reminds me of an awesome event that illustrates what passion can do for teaching. I was attending a curriculum breakfast to hear the chief data guy from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education speak about the new growth model for looking at student achievement (politics aside for a minute as this post is about Passion, not Ed Reform). With this topic, there was little chance that I would be anything but bored.

Then, the guy started going through the powerpoint slides. He get very excited as he presented. He fidgeted like a little kid who wants us to "watch me, daddy." He even giggled at least once. As I watched and listened, I realized that I was getting sucked in to this man's passion for data. What he lacked in presentation skills, he more than compensated for by letting his passion fly. By the end of his talk, I actually felt excited for the statistical work that the data guy had done to make the growth model something useful. I understood the growth model (at least I was well on my way to understanding it).

Thank goodness the DESE data guy didn't follow his passion on the weekend only.

Now, go make sure you are following your passions every day.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

Rhymes with P and That Stands For...PLN

The Music Man (2003 film)Image via Wikipedia

Shortly after EdCamp NYC, Hadley wrote a great recap of the day on her blog post, Saturdays for Learning. Towards the end of the post, Hadley described the event this way:
Each new session was filled with teachers and administrators who wanted to grow, who wanted to share their best practices and find solutions to their doldrums. These were teachers who willingly gave up their off-duty time to come together. They were often people who considered the others there part of their PLN, their Personal or Professional or Passionate Learning Network. 

In the comments, I wrote:
I love the idea of changing my P in PLN...  Thank you for posting your thoughts about a great day.
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What are You Going to Do?!

I just submitted an application or Encienda EduCon called "What are You Going to Do?!"

Whine and moan. Easy, yes. Useful, no. Ed Reform in the US is way off and needs us to get it back on track. So, stop complaining and do something. Motivation and ideas for affecting Ed Reform that is good for kids.

So, if you are in Philly at the end of January, I expect you to listen to me and be inspired to act (assuming they take me, anyone have influence over Chris Lehmann?)

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Share Your Successes for Better Ed Reform

Andrew Jacksonphoto © 2004 dbking | more info (via: Wylio)
Earlier George Couros wrote a great blog post urging educators to celebrate their successes and not just learn from their failures (the first link in the related articles below).

I could not agree more. In fact, several things that George wrote are applicable to a bigger picture than just the classroom. There is the very strong feeling in the USA that our education system is broken. It is not broken (not working perfectly either, lots to work on). There is much written these days about how to fix the problems, but most of what our government (Barak Obama, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey) thinks is good reform ignores the voices of actual educators (notice how many teachers I included in the last parenthetical list). It is time to listen to the educators.

Only one problem, most educators are not sharing what works often enough or loudly enough. George writes well about the great education that is not being shared:
The way I see it, there are a TON of great things happening in our classrooms right now, that have never failed.  They were awesome from the start.
Those good ideas that you have already implemented in your classroom will only steamroll and help build momentum to effective change for our students.  Share those successes with others to inspire them as well.
Sharing this success may feel like bragging, but if you share it, it will probably work for someone else as well.
Dean Shareski also urges us to share what we do well. Check out his video keynote about the Moral Imperative to Share from the K12 Online Conference. At EdCamps KC & NYC, I led discussions about getting involved. Please see my resources from those events.

If we want to influence the education debate, we have to share.

We have to share what works well in Public Education. We have to share it now. We have to share it loud.

I just said during #edchat:
DO not wait until you KNOW how to make change. Start now. Fail and try again. Do not wait.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

EdCamp NYC, Fliegs' Index*

edcampnycImage by SpecialKRB via Flickr
Yesterday, I attended EdCampNYC with a couple hundred passionate educators mostly from the metropolitan New York area. Since I used to read Harper's Magazine and loved the Index most of all, I thought this would be an awesome (or lazy, you decide) way to fill you all in.

The Fliegs' Index

Miles Driven: ~500
Hours away from home: 34
Members of my PLN I met face to face for the first time: 9 **
Members of my PLN I met face-to-face for the second time: 1 ***
Cool people I met who were not going to EdCamp: 1 ****
New people added to my PLN: at least 15
Hours spent with Dan Callahan: 33 (including time asleep)
Hours sleeping: 4.5
Hours talking education: 27 ʶ
Glasses of wine consumed at the Club602Camp pre-gathering: classified °
Things to think about: 30 hundred ʶʶ
Intriguing ideas added to my file for future reference: 31 hundred
Sessions attended as participant: 2 ⁺
Sessions planned before arriving in NYC: 1 ⁺⁺
Sessions planned during the 20 minutes prior to the session: 1 ⁺⁺⁺
Number of beer runs completed by thenerdyteacher during lunch: 1
Number of people who shared thenerdyteacher's beer: 6
Number of people who shared thenerdyteacher's oxtail: 0

* with apologies to Harper's Magazine
**** Kate
ʶ Really
° Lisa is an amazing host. Thank you.
ʶʶ Number provided by 5-year old daughter
⁺ Standards-Based Grading: A Better System w/ @arosey@fnoschese@21stcenturychem and Things that Suck w/ Dan Callahan 
⁺ Ed Reform: A Call to Action
⁺⁺⁺ Talk Back to Administrators! w/ Lyn Hilt
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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hold a Wake for School Change

The Grieving Parentsphoto © 2008 Nick | more info (via: Wylio)

Earlier today, I tweeted this:
Since change is so tough and often compared to grieving, why not hold a wake for the old program/idea when we take our next step?
OK. So comparing the change process in schools to the grieving process is not my idea. I can't think of where I first heard about it, but a simple google search turned up many hits including scholarly articles and blog posts. Last week, George Couros posted on his blog about change and there was a deep conversation in the comments. In my comment, I said,
So, when we attempt to help teachers internalize the need for change, we must also help them work through some complex emotions. There is much literature about the change process following a pattern similar to that of grieving. Convincing facts and large amounts of data are not enough." 
I got thinking that there must be ways to actually do this.

Since reacting to change is like reacting to grief for some folks, why not use some of the grieving rituals to help with the process. Why not hold a wake; come together to mourn the loss of the old program or the way we used to do things. If we give folks time to grieve with one another we will be further on the way to smoothing the transition.

The "wake" would be relatively simple (and, unlike some traditions, there will be no drinking). Anyone who wants to would write something they will miss once the change happens. Put all of these ideas together in a box (better not make the box too much like a coffin). Then, with a tiny bit of ceremony, bury the box (literally, if that works for you).

Once the old idea/program/practice is buried, move on to welcoming the new idea/program/practice. Be explicit about both steps and be transparent about the "wake" and why you are doing this.

Those who are not looking forward to the change or who are still upset that the old way will be gone, will appreciate that you have at least acknowledged their point of view. And, it ought to be clear that the change is going to happen.

While this idea might seem a bit morbid, making changes in schools without finding a way to bring along the reluctant ones will be downright deadly.

cross posted to Connected Principals