24 March 2012

ASCD 2012: What Are Your Schools Like?

I'm a virtual attendee for this year's annual ASCD conference. Today, I sat in on three sessions...starting at 5 a.m. (PT). On a Saturday morning. Hardcore, I'm telling you. But I appreciate the opportunity all the same. ASCD is my favourite conference. It is the only one I know of that celebrates such a diversity of ideas and people---all around a common goal of making learning happen for kids.

The first session, Creating the Opportunity to Learn: Moving from Research to Practice to Close the Achievement Gap (book) with Wade Boykin and Pedro Noguera, was phenomenal. I can't tell you that the main points were new, but I have rarely heard them presented with such passion and compassion. Some highlights from what they shared:
  • NCLB said--for the first time--that the problem is not the children. 
  • There has been a normalization of failure. We have to change the culture around that belief. If you can't change the culture of a school, nothing will change.
  • We can't ignore social needs, but solving these will not mean that problems in education are automatically resolved.
  • Implementing something (longer school day, new curriculum) makes it easy to say that something concrete has been done; but, we need to make transactional changes between teachers and students.
  • We need high quality preschools. This is the biggest difference between the US and other industrialized countries. Invite preschool providers to all of your PD events. You will eventually have the children they serve in your classrooms.
  • We can find football players anywhere, because we are willing to cultivate that talent. We need to cultivate intellectual talent in the same way. 
  • We are the professionals. The onus is on us to build the relationships with students.
  • The job of the educator is to create the opportunity to learn. The best teachers don’t expect students to learn the way they teach, they teach the way students expect to learn.
  • We punish the children with the greatest needs, often because we aren’t meeting their needs. The role of discipline is not to teach children to avoid punishment, but to do the right thing—even when we aren’t looking.
  • Children who don’t believe they can learn are the hardest to serve. If the children can’t do the work, then we are in the wrong work as educators.
  • We will know we are succeeding when race, SES, culture is no longer a predictor of achievement.
Toward the end of the session, Noguera made an analogy between homes with plastic covered furniture (only removed for special guests) and schools where students are kept from interacting with content and background knowledge. What are your schools like? Are they only for special guests? Or does every child feel like they can be at home there?

If you ever have an opportunity to see these gentlemen present, take it. You will not be disappointed with the way they make you think and reflect...and inspire you to make a difference.

Next up, Robert Slavin from Johns Hopkins and Success for All Foundation with a session on Tech and Talk: Multimedia and Cooperative Learning Team Up.

Not too much to share from this one. Most of the session was devoted to modeling a classroom activity. I have no beef with these sorts of things---it can be very useful to walk through how a situation in the classroom would play out. I do think the format would have been better served to explore it through an adult lens (not ask participants to play the role of students). In my experience, it's far more powerful to either see examples of teachers working (and reflect on those) or allow teachers to apply the information to their own context. Just my $.02.

Here are a few soundbites from the presentation part of the session:
  • Classroom technology doesn't do cooperative learning well. 
  • Cooperative learning works well when there is a group goal and individual accountability.
  • To get the most out of technology, we must partner it with a classroom system that works: instruction, practice, assessment, celebration. Each step can be enhanced using embedded technology.
I selected this session because I'm working with some rural schools on integrating technology with strategies from Classroom Instruction That Works. Our next session is on cooperative learning and productive group work. I'd really hoped for some good things to share from this session...but I think I'll have to keep looking.

Although I'm sad not to be at the actual conference, I have to say it was a beautiful afternoon for PD. My view for the final session of the day:

Tide's out, so you can have a view of the shellfish beds.
The Olympics in the distance.

Okay, so moving on to the final session of the day: Finding Each Student’s Sweet Spot: Optimizing Engagement and Learning with Martha Kaufeldt and Gayle Gregory.

This was another presentation which didn't have a lot of new ideas to offer me, which is not to say that others wouldn't have found some good things here. A few of my notes:
  • Their definition of the Sweet Spot is a "combination of factors resulting in a maximum response with a given amount of effort." The presenters believe that by using brain-friendly strategies to reduce stress and increase engagement in the classroom, each student can find a way to create that maximum response.
  • I really appreciated their example of a visual agenda (as opposed to just text).
  • They also offer their materials in Spanish---the first presenters I've ever seen who have made the effort. Kudos.

My big takeaways from today:
  • Most presenters struggle with a large group. They don't know how to adjust their material for a large audience. Those who do are worth watching...and learning from.
  • I would love to give every slide deck I've seen today an extreme makeover. (Call me!)
  • A lot of people are parroting the ideas developed by others in their presentations, without adding anything to the conversation. Makes me appreciate those presenters who think deeply about what happens (or should happen) in a classroom all the more.
I'll be back tomorrow. For now, it's time to celebrate all of this good learning with a beer and something fun to read. Spring rains will be back tomorrow. Might be my last chance for awhile to enjoy a sunset like this:


Hugh O'Donnell said...

Thank you for the digest, SG. Always good to keep the wheels turning.

Your comment about too many presenters parroting the thoughts and words of others is right on the mark. Raise a brew to "thinking" and possibly a "road less traveled."

Jenny said...

I am so impressed with your virtual attendance. I find that surprisingly hard to do, no matter how much I wish to attend a conference.

As to the slide decks, I have to agree. It's not a widely held skill. In the future I may be sending you mine for feedback (assuming I have them ready far enough in advance :)!

Roger Sweeny said...

We will know we are succeeding when race, SES, culture is no longer a predictor of achievement.

One of the things I hate about this business is the way people say ridiculous things and think it makes them good people.

SES and culture will always be correlated with achievement.
Leave race out and the quote is as ridiculous as, "We will know we are succeeding when height is no longer a predictor of basketball success."