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.
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.
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.