17 October 2013

Comin' Around Again

When I was a newly-minted teacher, I was all of 21 and a half years old. The half counts, just as it does for newborn babes. My career was in its infancy. I was as young and cute as I was ever going to be as an adult and I had the shiny optimism that only a begining teacher has.

I had a lot of ups and downs that year---just like anyone else. My room was outside the main building, across a courtyard from the office. There was one door. Being an early bird, I would often come in and get set up for the day. There weren't that many people around, but Fred---our custodian---was out and about. I didn't think much about his morning visits at first. I'd been told in my certification program to make friends with the secretary and janitor at the school I ended up in---that they were always the most important people. I couldn't have kept Fred out of my room anyway. He had a key for every door in the place. But the conversations always bordered on the creepy, no matter how busy I tried to make myself appear or how boring a topic I picked. Things took a turn for the worse when Fred showed up drunk at my house one Friday night and tried to barge his way in. I had to ask my principal to intervene. I didn't want him to lose his job. I just wanted him to stay away if I was alone in my classroom (and not bother me at home). In an area just post-Anita Hill, but before a greater focus on sexual harassment, Fred kept his job (and his distance) after that. Over the five years I was at that school, we were able to settle in to a professional relationship.

I bring this up only because there's been quite a disturbance in the online science universe of the last few days. And it has me rattled just as much as my experience as a newbie teacher, but for very different reasons.

Unless you follow a lot of science bloggers on Twitter or subscribe to their blogs, you might not know that "the blogfather" of many of these spaces has been accused of (and admitted to) sexual harassment of at least one female blogger..and there are more coming forward. Bora was a part of the early edusphere, hosting a couple of the education carnivals when that was a thing 7 or 8 years ago. I don't know of any other online persona who has done so much to support communication...his larger-than-life appetite for learning always on display. He's a founder of ScienceOnline, a conference I've attended and supported. He's someone I've given money to when his family was in need...someone who shared an interview with me...someone I've cheered on as he's gained attention and responsibility. Discovering that he has tried to take advantage of this feels like the kind of disillusionment you get when you find out Santa Claus isn't real.

It's not my business to understand his personal life...and I'm not here to judge whether he is or isn't a good person. It isn't that simple, anyway. All of us make good and bad choices. All of us have to deal with the consequences. There isn't a bank account of good decisions that can be drawn against. You don't spend years spreading goodwill in order to build credit to excuse missteps. Just doesn't work that way. But the cognitive dissonance is dizzying. How could someone who has done so much to build community (and who I have had nothing but positive conversations and interactions with) make such poor choices that result in him being ostracized from everything he loves? My heart breaks for all involved, especially the women who have carried the burden of his actions. I wish them strength and courage.

As I've gone about my work this week, all of this is in the back of my mind---from my own experiences with sexual dynamics in the workplace to reconciling the person I know with the person people are talking about. I feel sad that the one of the only ways we can build understanding of equity in the workplace is to go through these situations. I keep reading posts from others---about how people knew (but perhaps didn't take big enough steps) and what appropriate consequences should be---think that I will make sense of all the pieces. They're hard life lessons, even for old teachers like me who hope this stuff will stop comin' around again.

30 September 2013

Walking Wounded

I recently heard a conversation that surprised me. The teachers talked about how college was not for their kids (but maybe community college). One spoke of how he threw away his lessons from the middle class district he taught at before moving...because his new kids just couldn't do them. I listened as they described such abject and overwhelming poverty that their kids couldn't plan for tomorrow...that dreams about the future was a luxury they couldn't afford...because they were too focused on just trying to make it through today. There was an overwhelming sense of hopelessness described for the children these teachers had in their rooms.

But this was not an inner-city school. Not the ghetto. It's a school that might be described as ideal in other ways. Classes have no more than 15 students. There are no drug or gang problems. Nearly all of the students are native English speakers. Little classroom time needs to be spent on management---in fact, things like theft are so non-existent that kids don't even bother to close the doors on their lockers.

What would most teachers do, I wonder, if faced with a classroom where nearly all of the barriers we typically worry about were gone---where you could just go in your room, shut the door, and teach your heart out every day?

I won't marginalize the utterly debilitating effects of poverty---and generational poverty, at that. And I don't think a school will "fix" those ails. Instead, we have to look inside and think about what is within our locus of control during the time those children are in our classrooms. And I have such a hard time hearing adults in schools deciding that kids can't/shouldn't. No college for you. You're too poor and will just drop out anyway. No challenging work for you. Good literature is wasted on those who won't appreciate it. No art for you. You won't do it right or follow my directions.

This bothers me greatly. Students whose future has already been determined before they step inside the classroom are one thing. But the teachers who have given up on these kids is also troublesome. It's as if they are becoming as hopeless about the future as their students. "Wake up!" I want to say while shaking them out of their haze.

I don't know how to change the heartbreaking dynamic here. It weighs on my mind quite a bit. Did you ever have to rededicate yourself to the classroom? How did you do it?

03 September 2013

Handle with Care

I work without a net. That is, my job can end at any time (only 24 hours notice required) and my worth to my employer is judged solely on the merits of my work. I know this would cause heartburn for a lot of teachers, and it has meant a rollercoaster for me on occasion; but overall, I really like the basic premise.

There is a lot of turnover, however, from those of us in the rank and file. This doesn't seem to bother anyone, although it should. And when someone passed along this article on Why Talented Creatives Are Leaving Your Shitty Agency, I saw the parallels. I think there's a lot there that corresponds to what happens in schools, too.

Here are the reasons listed at the beginning of the article:
“I want to work on an actual product people want to use”
“I want to build my own thing”
“I want to explore more new technology and ideas not gimmicks”
“We never do any interesting work”
“We only care about hitting targets”
“I don’t feel like I’m learning”
“We never push back and tell the client their ideas are shit”

Hmmm...that does sound familiar. Maybe not so much products and gimmicks in education, but the general gist is in the right frame of things.

The author then goes on to detail six places where employers go wrong:

1. You won't stop taking on shit work.
In other words, we all understand that there are some things we have to do because, hey, it's a job. But if that's all we're given to do, then that sucks the soul right out of your employees. Are you the teacher who always gets stuck with that one group of kids because everyone else says you're good at it? Maybe it would be nice to be asked what you'd like to do now and then, eh?

2. You don't innovate.
How often do I hear that professional development uninspired...not pushing us to heights as a teacher? A lot. Do we play it safe in schools, turning in the same plans year after year, instead of making some changes?

3. You keep hiring shit (and not doing anything about it).
Raise your hand if you've worked with someone who's just phoning it in each day. You know, the teacher with the lesson plans for the year in a binder...the one who reads the newspaper while students mindlessly copy out of a book? Someone hired that person...and someone is being paid to manage them. Maybe if we fix #1 and #2, people won't slide into uninspired work.

4. You don't stop taking on projects that can't be delivered unless we work 12 hour days.
Educators often work 12 hours days, but not for the same reasons as the private sector. So this point might take on a slightly different meaning in education, but I see it as chasing the shiny new thing. We need to stop doing that and just focus on the work we have. It's enough.

5. You don't give staff any credit.
Oy. I've worked for numerous people now who are guilty of this...and I'll bet you have, too. Is there anything more deflating than busting your ass on a project and then never have your name mentioned?

6. You don't buy us decent equipment.
I can't tell you the number of schools that I've been in that are using computers that are many years old and several operating systems behind the current version. Yes, you can teach without computers, projectors, iPads, etc.---but the same level of efficiency should not be expected. You get what you pay for, employers.

I would like to add one more here.

You don't listen to your teachers/employees.
Those at the top surround themselves with a few people to feed them information. But they never hear from those who do the actual work. What a difference it would make if a superintendent made an effort to get to know every employee and find out what they need to make the most of their job.

It's a new school year. Which of these things can be changed this year? What can we do tomorrow to make our work environments more positive...our work more satisfying? And assuming we can't, where should innovative and creative teachers go? They are far too precious for us to lose from the profession. We need to handle them with care.

23 August 2013

Little Children

I spent a couple of days this week with two dozen kindergarten teachers. Kindergarten teachers are a very special breed of teacher---and I mean that as a compliment. I have nothing but admiration for these teachers who have what may be the most important role of all of us in K - 12. I enjoy kindergarten students immensely, but I know that I do not have what it takes to teach them. If you have the chance to hang out with kindergarten teachers, I highly recommend it.

The discussions this week were all about how we transition students and families to K - 12 public education. Some kids make the jump from pre-school...and for others, this fall will be the first time they ever set foot in a space with their peers. Some families will be sending their first child into our care---others know us quite well by now, for better and worse. How do we both welcome our newest students and learn about them? Our state has its own version of an "inventory" to capture information about the whole child, from family hopes and dreams to observing the child at work and play.

Many seasoned veterans of teaching kindergarten spoke about how incoming students today are different from the ones they saw five or ten years ago---how much better prepared (in general) they are for school. Teachers aren't spending as much time with some of the basic routines and procedures---students already understand what it means to line up or come to morning meeting. These preparations are not so much about the content of the learning...after all, five year olds are five year olds. Their brains don't pick up readin', 'ritin', and 'rithematic any easier or faster now than they did in previous years. It's really about norms of behavior.

I don't have a quarrel with that, but it did get me to thinking about how our view of childhood is coming full circle. A century (or more) ago, children were viewed as miniature adults. Childhood was not seen as a developmental time...something separate from life as a grown-up. And then we built understanding about children, about how they learn, about how their brains work and bodies grow. I do think this is being incorporated into how we work with students of different ages. And yet, when I hear how well-heeled 5-year olds are these days to stand in lines and sit at desks, I can't help but picture mini-adults, ready to wait for their order at Starbucks before trotting back to their cubicles.

I understand that part of the role of public schooling is to teach civic norms and kindergarten is the perfect place to begin practicing how we interact with others and our environment. But part of me still has to wonder if we're still holding onto the view of children as small adults. Is there still enough room to let them be little children, too?

14 August 2013

Taking a Gander

Several years ago, I eavesdropped on a conversation between a school principal and a principal-intern. They were discussing how it is no secret which teachers are "bad" in any given school. Parents know which class they don't want their kid in...teachers know which of their colleages are phoning it in. Principals know it, too---so why don't they get rid of those teachers? The seasoned veteran said that education is not in the business of giving up on people. And even though you might know a teacher isn't cutting it in the classroom, you try to give them all the support you can so that they can turn it around---or so you hope.

I was thinking about this again this week while sitting in the PLC institute. The consistent message from them was around kids...around having high expectations for every kid. It's not a new concept. It's not revolutionary. But it did get me wondering about whether we have the same mindset when it comes to teachers.

Are all teachers able to reach expert levels with regard to instruction...classroom management...and other attributes of the profession? Do we believe that everyone can be not just "highly qualified," but an artist and scientist of the classroom? More importantly, do we expect it in the same say that we expect students to reach...and then provide the support for teachers to get there? Do our ganders not deserve the same as our geese?

I can't answer these questions for anyone but myself (and not very well, at that). When I think about the project we're doing to support teachers in "supersmall" districts, I know that we have a few strong teachers...a few weak teachers...and many in-between. It's easy to fall into the line of thinking that says "They can't ___ because of money/geography/school size/your reason here." But my role should be to not only tell them "Yes, you can ___." but also communicate high expectations for all of us with "We will ___."

I don't know what this will look like in terms of the support I provide. Perhaps it is driving out to a remote district and covering a classroom for a day so a teacher can observe a colleague in another district. Maybe it's teaching a model lesson over VC for a few teachers. It could be having a heart to heart with a superintendent/principal about the urgency of the work at hand for their students.

My original Boss Lady used to say that "Kids don't have time to wait." In other words, while we'd like conditions to be perfect---the right program, funding source, expert teacher, etc.---the truth is that the kids will arrive tomorrow, needing us to teach them as best we can. We have to jump in and move forward. Now, I think I will expand her maxim to include that "Teachers don't have time to wait, either." What can I do tomorrow to get this flock where they need to go?

11 August 2013

Back to School: 2013 Edition

It's August---and while many of you are already back in the classroom, things are just gearing up here. For me, this is my 22nd trip through the school year calendar. It looks a little different now than it did for year one, but there is still a certain sense of enthusiasm around getting back together with other teachers and talking about how we plan to make a difference in the lives of our students this year.

Tomorrow, I'm meeting up with educators from some of our smallest schools---districts where there are as few as two teachers. We're all going to the big city to attend a PLC conference together. And while the term "PLC" still makes me a little uneasy, I think there is something to spending some time learning together and thinking about what collaboration looks like when your options are so limited. I have to admit that I'm looking forward to seeing these teachers in an urban setting. Lots of potential for new things to take back to the classroom.

Our pilot project with these small schools will be expanding to a multi-state initiative (through a different educational agency). I am very interested to see how this project progresses. Not because I think there is a "rural school problem" (a term that is replete in the ed research literature), but because equity of access is critical. We need each other to learn, and without addressing the gaps in infrastructure and basic services, we're losing a lot of potentially rich connections.

As for me, I'm making some different connections of my own this year. The state legislature eliminated my job on the last day of their session in June, so it has been a summer of making new plans and picking up new pieces. It's all good. A little pruning now and then helps spur new growth. I won't claim that I am someone who thrives on change, but I am comfortable with it.

Welcome back, my friends. Hope your 2013 - 2014 is the best yet!

24 April 2013

Elysian Fields

I'm out in the boony-toolys this week. I don't mind---I wanted to come out and spend a couple of days with schools out here. (I also spent a few days in a different rural region a couple of weeks ago.) I grew up in the sticks and remember quite well what it is to have a 3-hour drive to the nearest McDonalds (or to use today's terms: Starbucks). But there are teachers and kids here, just as there are in more populous environs. And they have Common Core, online testing, new teacher evaluation models, and a host of other initiatives heading straight at them. I know, everyone does, but not quite like these schools. I don't know of any teachers in "larger" (i.e. more than 200 students) districts that do not have any contractual planning time and who drive the school bus (in addition to teaching in a multi-age, multi-prep environment). Other than these situations, I don't see para-educators who have to double as the lunch lady and cook food for all the kids. I don't meet superintendents who have to also serve as curriculum director, SPED director, assessment coordinator, business manager, and crossing guard. And so far, everyone I've met in these roles does all these things with a smile on their face and cannot imagine having a better job.

Many of the staff---including administrators and teachers---grew up in the area and came back to the school. It is their school. And while most educators may feel that way about their building, it's different in these little districts. There is a heightened level of passion for and pride in a place that you attended as a child, and now teach your classmates' children...knowing you will be there when their grandchildren come through.

One of the buildings I toured this afternoon is one of the oldest continuously operated school buildings in the state. It opened in 1908, and you have to wonder if the community realized at the time just how long the school would last and how many generations would pass through the doors. Not all of the buildings are so old. I would say that the majority of what I've seen in these districts was built between 1955 and 1965---baby boomer years. After the war, it appears that there was quite the emphasis on new schools for the children born of the Greatest Generation. I have to say that these buildings are in marvelous condition for their age---far better than any school in a larger place that is from the same era. Sure, the architecture is a bit dated, but the structures are aging well, mainly because small class sizes cause such little wear and tear.

The social contract between families and community takes on a very 1950's tone out here, too. There is a strong expectation that "kids get to be kids." This is helped along by growing up in a place where cell phones don't work, there's no such thing as cable tv, and home Internet still runs on dial-up. Being 15 years old in a place like this is a lot like when your parents were 15 and growing up here.  Being 5 is focused on playing with your friends outside. The community offers what it can to the school, and as one superintendent said today, it's important to listen to that offer and make it work. If a retiree with a tractor wants to level some ground for a ball field, and the dairy will donate top soil, then you find the rest of the money to make the project happen. If three women want to put a library in your 5-teacher school, find a place for them and give it your blessing. In these towns, children are "our" kids, not just in terms of school, but how everyone sees them.

There is an idyllic, pastoral gestalt that comes with being here...like some sort of ecological habitat for schooling. And here come the developers, ready to pave paradise and put up a CCSS parking lot. I continue to struggle with the idea that these students deserve access to an education that will make them "career and college ready." How does that balance against the backdrop of the culture that they live in (and likely their children, too)? Can any entity claim it knows what's best for these kids, other than the community itself?

I am not here to push CCSS. Or assessment of any flavour. Or teacher evaluation. I am here to help them connect with one another and provide an opportunity for them to have some professional conversation about what happens in their classrooms---whatever is important to them. I am here to listen to whatever they choose to share and learn whatever I can. I wish others would do that, too.

15 April 2013

Don't Be Such a Tool

I am traveling to Hither, Thither, and Yon this month---a lot of time on the road and not enough time to blog as I'd like. But here are a few things that have caught my eye that I'm thinking about.



You might also want to have a look at Dirty Sexy EdTech, while we're at it. I think people are finally starting to wake up when it comes to edtech. I'm liking where this is going. Maybe we can have a discussion about student learning instead of "iPad! iPad! iPad!"

A girl's gotta dream, especially with all the windshield time ahead.

04 April 2013

A Brief History of the Edublogosphere

If you're viewing this post via RSS, you won't know that I've made few changes at my place. I've refreshed the template a bit and added some pages to collect some of the bigger ideas of Ye Olde Blog. I still have a few bits of code to work out, but things are shaping up.

I've been overdue in giving this space a refresh. I was reminded of that recently after reading Tim's post, What's in Your Backlist? For me, that means 1626 posts (including this one). It's not the biggest backlist in the blogosphere, but it's hefty enough for me to manage on my own. One of the things that I didn't realize when I started this whole thing is just what a job basic maintenance and curation of content would be. Let that be a warning to you kids.

Even though it is easy enough to see the template changes here, what you probably won't notice is that within the last week, I went back through all of the posts and did some clean up work. The coding changes Google has made in the background have not been kind to the oldest pieces in the collection. And, I wanted to swap out images for Creative Commons licensed ones, and assign credit (where possible) to others. I know, it's kind of a George Lucas dick move to go back and rewrite the past in that way, but I didn't change the substance of the post. I've just made them compliant with current expectations.

I didn't read all of the posts word-for-word. But as I scanned them, I couldn't help but think about how edublogging has changed over the years. So, in case you're (relatively) new to this arena, here is a brief history of the edusphere---at least as I know it.

When I started blogging in 2004, there was just beginning to be a small critical mass of teachers who were blogging, too. Maybe there was a critical mass forming in other arenas as well---politics and science, for example---because the lines blurred more easily. Starting in early 2005, there was a weekly Education Carnival hosted at a different blog. The "Carnival" was a collection of posts submitted by people. Sometimes, it ended up on blogs with only tenuous links to education, but again, there were some blurry lines as we all figured out what we could do with this space. The Carnival was a good way for us to find one another and build community. But it started dying off as soon as Twitter started gearing up. It's last incarnation was about a year ago over at Bellringers.

Speaking of Twitter, when I look at my backlist, I see what an impact that tool has had on the way I use this space. Before microblogging, everything went here. I was much more likely to share an article, a fun link, or resource than I am now. My archive has many posts that aren't much longer than 140 characters. There are just a few sentences to point readers to something. Those are now the sorts of things I toss into Twitter, while this space has evolved into more sporadic, but intensive, reflection. I don't know that that's true for other "old-timers," but it would be interesting to find out. Many people who had blogs I followed have quit blogging---but they're going strong on Twitter. Nothing is more delightful (for me) than rediscovering them in that space.

Way back when, nearly everyone had a pseudonym. Originally, anonymity was of value because of all the unknowns about how this whole blogging thing would play out. For the most part, the edusphere was comprised of teachers---it was rare to spot an administrator or someone in another stakeholder role. It wasn't until several years later that principals and superintendents started finding their voice online.

Lighter 1 by Alan Klim CC-BY
Now, no one is ever really anonymous on the Internet, but I wish I knew where so many of the early bloggers have gone. Maybe I am following them on Twitter...or have found them elsewhere and just don't know it's the same people. But Graycie, Mr. Lawrence, Ms. Smlph, Athena, and the rest---I haven't forgotten you. I really wish you hadn't deleted your blogs. Your stories are still important. It makes me sad to see so many of my old posts full of conversations with ghosts. Fifteen of us were interviewed by USA Today in the fall of 2006. Four of us are still regularly blogging.

I started noticing the rise of edtech bloggers in 2007. Some of them were no doubt blogging all along, but they were never part of the Carnival or conversations of any of the blogs I engaged with. It's a lot like now---they're still off in their own little self-important world of toys while the rest of us wrestle with the meatier ideas in education. 

The purpose of blogging has changed a bit, too. There are still those teachers who use their space for sharing what happens in their classroom and then engaging in some reflective practice. I have to admit, those are my favourite blogs. In the old days, nearly every teacher blog was like this. I also think that these blogs are the ones with the most stamina. The whiny blogs---the ones used to piss and moan about administrators/kids/colleagues---tend to lose steam in a short time. Meanwhile, I see an increasing number of blogs that are blogs in name only. By that, I mean that the people who write them are "big names" and can say they have a blog, but they post there only a few times a year. Blogging has stretched from a place to put the stuff in your head to a label you can add to your Twitter bio.

In this era of instant gratification, I'm not sure how many people care about the historical aspects of this space---and I can only present my view from here. No doubt other longterm bloggers have a slightly different take on things. I hope they'll post their memories, too. As for me, I just re-upped my domain registration for another nine (!) years. This space may change, and I may end my contribution to it at some point, but I plan to let it live on as long as I can.

If you'd like to see some of the old blogs, you can use the Wayback Machine to see cached copies.
I think I will start a "memorial" page on this blog for extinct and zombie (live, but no longer updated) edublogs. Let me know if you have one (or more) to nominate.

01 April 2013

Proficiency Scales: The End Is Near

In previous posts, we looked at the basic structure of a proficiency scale and a way to communicate it to students. Now, we’ll take a look at how these scales intermingle with assessment and grading.

I am starting to see districts build leveled assessments. This means that the questions are ordered to reflect the proficiency scale. Questions that address the descriptors associated with Approaching Standard are placed first, then those for At Standard, and finally, Above Standard. Sometimes, the step from the proficiency scale is included on the assessment—but I have seen districts that don’t include it. Personally, I like it on there. If we’ve been using the language from the proficiency scale with students and have been making intentional connections about how performance does or does not match the items, then it seems like a logical choice to include it at the end, too.

I mocked up a test to show this. Keep in mind that assessment is much broader than tests and quizzes—there’s no reason why you couldn’t apply the same format to labs, projects, and so forth. Also, I won’t claim that these questions are the best. Just take things at face value here for our model.

Score the assessment and total the points. Ideally, this would be a common assessment, with agreed upon “look fors” for each of the short answer items—as well as where to make the cut between the various levels of performance.

I do know a district where they choose to make the cut using the minimum points necessary for that level. For example, this assessment has 22 points, 9 of which are assigned to the Approaching Standard questions. So, earning 9 points would be the minimum needed to get an overall score for the test at Approaching Standard/Level Two. There are ten more points assigned to At Standard questions, so 19 would be the next cut…and 22 the final cut (to earn an “Above Standard” evaluation). In other words, you have to get a perfect score to get a “4” on the test.

The scale I chose is a bit of a mix on this. I kept the first cut, scaled back the final cut to getting any of the three possible points for the Above Standard item, and then split the rest. I do not have a psychometric reason for any of this…so feel free to set the cuts at whatever makes sense for your own work in the classroom. And if you want to throw some half-points in there, that’s your choice, too.

The nice thing about developing these leveled assessments is that they dovetail with standards-based grading so nicely. Once you’ve determined the score, it slides right into your gradebook. It also makes providing feedback to students very clear. You could even have them track how many items were scored correctly in each category.

You can download my version of the assessment here, if you want to play around with things yourself. (Note: I was too lazy to write the individual guidelines for the short answer items.)

Are you using leveled assessments, proficiency scales, or related ephemera in your classroom? How’s it working for you?

Getting back to a question from the last post—Is there a difference between a proficiency scale and rubric? I still think there is, even though they have several things in common. In fact, Jennifer asked this question of the Marzano Research Labs and got this answer:


In my mind, however, a proficiency scale has a more universal application in the way we structure the information we provide to students, how we score their work, and how we evaluate their overall performance. It is more than just a measurement device...bigger than just evaluating student progress toward a standard. I may be drawing a very thin line in making that distinction, but I think it's enough of a different tool to do so.

28 March 2013

Proficiency Scales: What Lies Beneath

In my last post, I shared a bit about a new frontier with proficiency scales as an evaluation tool. And, okay, I rambled a bit, too. But you have to expect that sort of thing if you're a reader here. It's not for the faint of heart.

Jennifer asked a good question about whether there's a difference between a proficiency scale and a rubric. I don't know that there is one, in terms of the nuts and bolts. The main difference I am seeing is in their overall purpose...as if a proficiency scale is a subspecies of rubric. Maybe if we poke at the idea a bit more, turn it over a few times, we'll be able to better answer her question. So, let's build out this idea of proficiency scales and see what we learn.

One way to start is by translating the big ideas from the standard into something more concrete for students. This is not a new idea. The image below comes from a document I posted here more than five years ago. (Jeez, I feel old...)

It's not terrible. A few of you will no doubt point out that the standard referenced is no longer in place. (Washington adopted new science standards in 2009...and will most certainly jump on the NGSS bandwagon at the earliest opportunity.) But the basic idea is one that is common to many classrooms: "I can..." statements for students.

We can do better, however. Why not place these sorts of statements on a proficiency scale so students can see which ones are for scaffolding, which are for mastery of standards, and which indicate performance above the standard? At the recent ASCD conference, a group from Grayslake Community High School District in Illinois presented something similar to this.

I moved things around, switched up a bit of the language, and made a few additions. The (old) standard is on the left. I used the previous statements and fit them under the "Approaching Standard" and "At Standard" columns. I pulled the "Above Standard" statements out of the NGSS---for now. I understand that this would have to become the "At Standard" expectation in the future. I've left off the Level One (Not at Standard) option. I don't think it's necessary. If you can't even meet the targets for approaching standard, then you aren't on the map yet.

There are a lot more statements we could add here. (It's just a model.) But I like the basic idea. It gives you a place to tie the work you do in class---to be explicit in pointing out the connections to the learning targets. And, it also provides some structure for thinking about where to fall back for remediation...or push ahead for enrichment. It opens some discussion about how to move from one level to another---you can get your ZPD on, if that's your thing.

In the next post, we'll look at how a proficiency scale can worm its way into the assessments we build. For now, if you want to download the models shown above and play with them, be my guest.

25 March 2013

Proficiency Scales: The Next Frontier

Most people who make the shift to standards-based grading have a journey on their hands. Whether it’s a philosophical change, managing communications with stakeholders, reconfiguring grading and reporting tools, or just determining the basic nuts and bolts of a new-to-you program, there can be a lot to sort out. But suppose you have survived the sturm and drang of making this shift and are ready to move out to the bleeding edge again. Why not take a look at proficiency scales?

A proficiency scale breaks down a standard into smaller and more specific skills and abilities. The scale is often 1 – 4, but you can increase or decrease the range to fit your needs. Think of it as a way to determine whether or not a student can meet a specific standard.

Here’s a sample from the Common Core ELA standards for Writing at Grade 5. This is standard #6: With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of two pages in a single sitting.

What are all of the things a student needs to do in order to meet this standard at grade 5?
  • Use technology (including the Internet) to produce and publish writing. 
  • Use technology (including the Internet) to interact and collaborate with others. 
  • Type a minimum of two pages in a single sitting. 
Aside #1:

I’m trying really hard to overlook some of the vagaries here. But this standard is not making it easy.
  • What qualifies as “technology”? Do they mean “digital,” or can a kid still do a science fair project board, take a picture, and post it in order to “produce and publish writing”? Does printing something and pasting it on a poster board equal "publishing"?
  • Can you produce, but not publish, writing? What if you post something and no one reads it—If a science goddess blogs and no one comments, has she still published?
  • Can you collaborate, but not interact? Interact, but not collaborate? I think both of these are possible. Does the Common Core imply they should be simultaneous in order to count here?
  • How on earth does seat time translate to an evaluation of keyboarding skills? I can type two pages of nonsense in a hurry…or sit for a long time while I “hunt and peck” a well-reasoned two pages. What if I take a bathroom break while I’m still logged in—does it still count as a “single sitting”?
I know, some of you will tell me I’m being too literal, but I tend to look at things through the bleary eyes of Assessment. And from a measurement perspective, this standard is too squirrelly for my tastes. I wish I hadn't picked it as a model. Damn.

For those of you who come from the "standards shouldn't be taught in isolation" camp, welcome to my blog. Line forms at the left for your comments. I totally get where you're coming from, but the reality is simply that most schools want to document what each child is able to know and do for each standard along the way. Apologies in advance for pooping on your quixotic parade.

Let’s move on. We’ll pretend that the people writing the Common Core knew what they were doing when they created these bigger-faster-stronger standards. All of our students will be veritable Olympians of mental and technological gymnastics all because we have new standards. Opportunity gap be damned. Full speed ahead!

Sorry. I got distracted again. But I’m really ready to move on now. Scout's honour. We were talking about proficiency scales, weren't we?

With the statements above, we can at least get the basics of an at-standard performance. But what about student work that is above or below standard?

For above-standard work, we are looking for evidence that the student has transferred or applied their knowledge or skills to new territory. Perhaps the student moderates a discussion about their writing. Or, maybe s/he shows fluency by choosing the publishing tool to best fit the content or audience. Take your pick. The bottom line is that we want more complex thinking.

And for below-standard work, we would see evidence of simpler thinking. Maybe the student understands that a word processor can be used to produce writing and is able to do some keyboarding, but isn’t able to save and share documents…or use features that would allow him or her to comment on the work of others.

Work that is well-below standard could represent a student who is unable to use the available technology or has other learning deficits.

Okay, so we have a basic outline…

Ideally, a group of teachers would sit down and develop this together. I won't claim to have finessed this one...just remember that it's only a model.

If you want to go halfsies with the points, I won’t stand in the way of your interpolations. In fact, if you go here and download the proficiency scale for this standard from Marzano Research Laboratory, you’ll see that they do just that.
Aside #2: Aside #1's Shorter, but More Handsome Brother
Did you notice that Marzano is recycling his Making Standards Useful in the Classroom tome? I always did think that book didn't fit how he was trying to sell it. And now, under the guise of creeping Marzano-ism, we have a whole new hole for this peg. An ugly peg with way too many lines, and ohmygodmyeyes, but a peg nonetheless.

We have more reasons to push into this frontier. Now we can build leveled assessments and other tools that will support our new grading aspirations and make monitoring student progress even simpler. We'll have to invest more time, thought, and energy to get there, but I think you might find it scratches some of your remaining itches from the move to standards-based grading. Stay tuned.

18 March 2013

ASCD 2013: Celebrate

I had the honor of meeting representatives from this year's winner of the ASCD’s Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award. This award is given to schools that have done an outstanding job of developing students who are "knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, civically active, artistically engaged, prepared for economic self-sufficiency, and ready for the world beyond formal schooling" (full press release here). In other words, they recognize that we are in not in the business of creating widgets---we work with people. They go above and beyond to walk that talk. This year, the award was won by Milwaukie High School in Milwaukie, Oregon.

Here is a brief summary of the work they've done on behalf of their students.
  • Raised $600K to build a health center for students to access free care for physical, emotional, and dental needs.
  • Both staff and students participate in various service projects throughout the community, including social issues (such as addressing the needs of the homeless) and environmental (restoring wetlands).
  • Increasing cultural competency has been a primary focus of ongoing professional development.
  • A system of support has been put in place for students and families. For example, if a student is not coming to school, there is an effort involving public services, school, and the family to determine the reason and address the barriers.This can include additional tutoring, connection to area non-profits to help solve family problems, or anything else that helps build a healthy student who is ready to learn.
  • Building partnerships with the community. At current count, there are 28 different partners who step in to assist students and families. 
I won't claim that every school can (or needs) to replicate what this school has done. They are truly a superschool---and for me, a very inspirational model showing what can happen when a community comes together around common goals. It makes my little grinch heart grows three sizes.

The group from the school who was comprised of five men. The principal, Mark Pinder, is a well-spoken and kind man. He looked a bit overwhelmed and a bit like Charlie Brown's teacher at the Christmas pageant ("Isn't this the best thing ever?"). It was the most endearing expression I've seen in a long time. The rest of the group was equally delightful and committed. And while I did ask about their group being limited to pale males, I was assured that they are being active in increasing the diversity of staff.

We so rarely take time to celebrate accomplishments in this profession. We are focused on continual improvement---which is not a bad thing, but sometimes you just need to get your happy dance on. So with that spirit in mind, kudos to Milwaukie High School!

There was another teacher-blogger at the table who was was singularly unimpressed with this school...because they don't blog about their work.


When the issue was raised about how they shared their work and whether they used social media, I watched the body language in the principal change. He used the thumbs of his interlaced hands to touch and reassure himself. This was not a conversation he wanted to have. (A little later, I whispered to him, "Are you okay?" He said he was. I told him not to worry...I'd fight for him. He seemed to relax a bit after that.)

I pointed out that this school was sharing. They were here at the conference. They had already talked about opportunities in their state to connect with other educators. They weren't withholding or hiding anything. Just because they don't have a blog or use Twitter doesn't mean that they don't share.

But apparently this wasn't good enough. In fact, they were told that they have a "moral obligation" to share their work. Does the lack of a blog automatically make one immoral...a bad person? But beyond that---whose version of "morality" are we talking about---the white middle-class Christian male one represented by the finger-pointer? Out of all that this school has done to move students forward, the only thing you can think of to say is that they've neglected their moral imperative?

There was further discussion when the teacher from Milwaukie said he didn't have time. The blogger thought that was an "excuse." Maybe it is, but if you're out there making sure your students and families have access to quality care and learning...if you're out raising $600K and building community partnerships...then I think that's a damn good excuse. And frankly, a far more important one than writing a blog post. What would you rather say you did with your time? Published a blog post...or helped a family restore the electrical service to their home?

Hey, if all you want on your tombstone is "He blogged." I'm okay with that. Rock on. What I don't support is a sense of entitlement to impose the same thing on everyone else. If the administration of Milwaukie HS doesn't want to blog, that's fine by me. Blogging is not a one-size-fits-all thing. We are educators. We each share our stories in the ways that make sense for ourselves and our communities.

At the end of the day, I want kids to have a healthy and safe environment, and equitable access to educational opportunities. I want them to learn. And I want them to celebrate every positive step along the way. We, as educators, need to support one another in all of the ways we make that happen---blog or no blog.

So, Milwaukie, go get your party on. I've got your back.

ASCD 2013: A Trip to the Library

I had an opportunity to sit down with several ASCD authors. It was part speed-dating, part squee-like-a-fangirl, and part new book smell. Heavenly.

I am first to admit that I have not read all of the books listed below---a deficit I plan to rectify at the earliest opportunity---but for now, let me comment on the authors and my reaction to their ideas during our conversation.

Author: Robyn Jackson
Title: Never Work Harder than Your Students

Ms. Jackson is a passionate educator and author who continues to share her ideas on Twitter. I have read the book featured at her table and remember being inspired by her dedication. In my mind, she was a bit larger than life. In reality, she is a petite and softspoken tour de force. Her confidence takes the form of quiet resolve. A reflective educator, she shared insight into how she continues to find inspiration (read something other than "teacher books") and renew enthusiasm for her work.

Authors: Bill Parrett and Kathleen Budge
Title: Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools

Mr. Parrett is a friend of my colleague who is attending the conference with me. They worked together in Alaska many years ago and it was very sweet to see him insist that he join the table as his personal guest. The authors are based in Boise, Idaho, but spend a lot of time doing consulting work, including some of the districts in my state. While listening to them discuss their ideas and ongoing work, I really appreciated the depth of understanding and individualized attention they applied to each district. Every district is unique, after all. So, this is another book that I’m interested in diving into. I don’t expect a magic bullet (nor was one offered), but new ideas are always welcome.

Author: Allen Mendler 
Title: When Teaching Gets Tough: Smart Ways to Reclaim Your Game

I read this book earlier in the year and was glad to have a chance to sit down with the author. Mr. Mendler has a background as a social studies teacher and school psychologist. He has written extensively about working with challenging students, but the most recent book focuses on helping you rediscover your passion for the classroom. There are lots of common-sense strategies to get you through those rough patches. You know---the ones where you’re questioning your reason for getting into the work in the first place? Give this book a try.

Author: Mark Barnes
Title: ROLE Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom

I only got to talk with Mr. Barnes for a few minutes, but we discovered we had a lot in common. His book is about his journey over the last few years as he moved away from a traditional classroom to one that is more student-centered. We chatted about the impact of changing grading practices and using more feedback with students. Yes, this one is going on the nightstand, too.

Authors: Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams
Title: Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day

These authors were seated at the same table as Mr. Barnes and only had a few minutes to spare, too. Although they are the leaders of the flipped classroom revolution, the idea is a familiar one by now. Again, it’s not a book I have read (yet), but it was good to chat with them about next steps. How are people starting to groove off of this idea? There are lots of different variations in play as educators adapt the model. Their plan for book two is to showcase these examples. These authors were very friendly, approachable, intelligent, and interested in both listening and sharing ideas. They have an aura of intensity around them, but don’t be shy if you’d like to engage in some conversation with them. I think you’ll find them game.

Authors: R. Thomas Dewing and Matthew Perini (not present: Harvey Silver)
Title: The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core

This was far and away my favourite conversation of the event. I had not heard of their book, let alone read it, but hey, why let details stand in the way of a good time? Mr. Dewing and Mr. Perini have a delightful sense of humor and we laughed quite a bit through our chat. Their book focuses on a few central strategies that support the Common Core. The strategies are not new---they include things like Compare and Contrast, and Write to Learn. But I think the message here is important for a lot of classrooms: help kids learn how to learn and they will be able to meet whatever standards there are for their grade level. I especially like this idea as one to bring back and discuss with our “supersmalls.” A teacher in a school district who might have five different grade levels in a classroom, no contractual prep time, and only one other colleague could use this as a way to organize the transition to the Common Core. Planning is reduced somewhat by focusing on the strategy and then differentiating by grade level.

There were a few authors I didn’t get to talk to, but I greatly enjoyed the buffet of ideas I was able to sample. My suitcase is a little heavier for the trip home. My mind is full of ideas, too, but fortunately there will be no overage fee to carry those on the plane. Once I have time to read and think about these books in more detail, you can expect some more expansive posts here.

17 March 2013

ASCD 2013 Day One: Serendipity

As much as I might plan my way through a conference, I am not one to fight fate when it intervenes. And my first day of experiences was full of opportunities to retire gracefully from my plans. It makes life a bit more of an adventure, and as I am away from home already, why bother with a more regimented approach?

To start the day, I ended up in a session entitled "Grit, Multiple Intelligences, and Student Success." I did not wander into the wrong room, mind you. The presenter was someone with whom I've exchanged numerous emails over the years, yet had never met in person. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to drop in and introduce myself before he got started. But then he needed an errand handled and by the time I got back, it would have been awkward to leave the session.

I'm more or less agnostic about multiple intelligences. I think the theory tends to fall close to the "educational woo" part of the spectrum; but I have to admit that I have not read the research in this area for several years. Regardless, I do think that increasing opportunities to engage with content has a positive impact on student learning. The session gave me a lot of food for thought. Here are some of the questions I captured along the way.
  • Is there a difference between differentiated instruction and multiple intelligence theory? If so, what is it?
  • How do you know that the activities designed to increase different attributes of "intelligence" (e.g. student-led conferences for intrapersonal intelligence) really meet that goal?
  • Can we teach optimism---one of the components of developing "grit"? How would we measure or report this?
  • Is it okay to have "grit" but not be successful (by traditional definitions) in school?
  • The presenter stated that a study done about dropouts from West Point suggested that grit was a better predictor of completing studies there vs. transcripts or other traditional measures. (You can see a grit test here.) Suppose we changed up the admissions process at colleges, etc. to be based on a student's grit score  (and assume we have good tools for this). Would we keep students away from these opportunities because they so smart they had remained unchallenged by school so far? 
I did chat with the presenter afterwards. Most of the questions above were intended to guide my own thinking, but he did provide some ideas about the first two.
  • He believes that multiple intelligence theory leads to a more purposeful implementation of differentiated instruction. Also, differentiated instruction can still lead to too great of a focus on scholastic intelligene. 
  • In his school, students rate their interests in the various intelligences and set goals for the different attributes. There is monitoring in the form of qualitative observations and looking at how ratings of interests change. For these students, their ratings have a greater priority than the proficiency they demonstrate.
I'll be thinking more about my questions over the next few weeks---probably a good time for me to get back into the research and firm up an opinion of some sort.

Back at the press room, I ended up meeting Gregory Patterson, managing editor for Phi Delta Kappan. A Chicago resident, he helped my friend and I learn about the area...and even took us to meet his wife and have a late dinner. A merry time was had by all due to the right handshake at the right time.

The last session of the day was one about data tools. Several people with keen interests showed up, but the presenter did not. However, the interest was so strong, that many of us stuck around and had table discussions about the topic. I really enjoyed the spontaneous and informal conversations about different parts of the data use process in schools---from people who build and maintain the databases their teachers use to the coaches who help guide conversations about classroom data to administrators who need to look at a broad range of information. Even though I was disappointed to not get the original information I came for, I really loved the opportunity to dig into a discussion I would not have otherwise had.

It's Day Two now. I've had breakfast with representatives from the school that won ASCD's Whole Child award...gotten into a discussion about whether educators are "obligated" to share their stories (spoiler alert: I don't think they do.)...and voiced some concerns about equity of representation within the room. It's the peacemaker in me. I want everyone to feel welcome and valued. I'd like to think that Serendipity does, too.

15 March 2013

ASCD 2013: Ticket to Ride

It's that time of year again---time for ASCD's Annual Conference. Last year, I was unable to attend in person, but took part in the virtual conference. This year, I'm back in the saddle again...ready to share my learning from Chicago with you.

Each time I attend one of these events, I can't help but think about the role of conferences in an age of "anytime, anywhere" learning. If I can engage in Pajama PD at home...or make connections via social media...are one-shot conferences still relevant? The short answer is "yes." I won't claim that every educator should attend one or will get more out of it than another form of PD---but for the 10K people here (and those who wish they could be), this is still a viable form of professional learning.

For example, I met an instructional coach from St. Louis this evening. She's here on her own at her very first ASCD conference. She's in a job that she hasn't provided her with access to support and is here to grow her background knowledge.

I also chatted with a college professor from New York who wants to focus on how schools are thinking about Common Core State Standards. He has attended many ASCD conferences over the last 30 years and keeps coming back because of how this event adds to his base of knowledge.

And then there was a couple at a restaurant who noticed us paging through our conference planners and struck up a conversation. They were retired principals mentoring a cohort of new administrators and were attending the conference from Tennessee and excited about the reflective conversations ahead.

As for me, as my role as an educator has changed over the years, so have my learning needs. This time, I am looking for sessions on rural schools and developing collaboration opportunities for teachers. You would probably not be surprised that I'm also interested in sessions on visual literacy and data. And while none of the sessions will equip me with everything I need to know about any or all of these topics, I appreciate that they will prompt thinking and conversation. They will raise awareness about the gaps in my own knowledge and motivate me to move my thinking forward in the next year.

It's a great community to join and we have the whole weekend set aside just for learning. So, come on along for the ride.

05 March 2013

Everybody Wants Some


This...this...a thousand times this.

Perhaps you've seen a different message going around recently---one imploring that every student should learn to code (based on a Steve Jobs quote). You may have even had a look at the slick video in support of a message about "what most schools don't teach." Hey, kid, there are starving kids in India who would be glad to have your code. You want to be a doctor? No way. We have jobs in programming to fill, so get on it.

I have to admit that I'm a little tired of everybody these days. Everybody keeps telling me that if I'm interested in x I must read/watch y. If I don't click the link, I am obviously an uncaring and useless educator. Everybody says that I should join their Facebook page/Twitter chat/G+ Circle/LinkedIn Profile---because that's how (name the guru) said to do social media right. Everybody is a real bully, you know?

Should everyone learn to love learning? Maybe not. But I'll take that approach any day over what everybody says.

18 February 2013

Tug of War

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been spending time chatting with educators in super-small school districts. About 1 in 5 districts in our state has student enrollments of 200 or less. So even though their individual constituencies are small, their collective concerns represent a large number of communities.

One of my personal beliefs about public education is that we should enable every student to be college and career-ready. As adults, we don't get to decide the path they take...that some classes aren't appropriate for "those" kids because they'll never do x. We don't know for them any more than we know for ourselves what the future holds. The best we can do is give them access to a high-quality set of knowledge/tools/learning/whatever-you-want-to-call-it so they can pursue whatever is next for them, based on their choices.

I believe this is true for every child, and at the same time, I'm struggling with whether this viewpoint represents social justice or imperialism.

In many conversations I've had with teachers and principals in small districts, the topic of community and parental values comes up. There is a lot of support within high schools to get kids into college, but the consensus is that almost all of them are back home after a semester. Teachers spend a lot of time helping kids fill out applications for college and scholarships...but there isn't much in the way of parental involvement. Most parents would be quite happy (according to the stories) to have their kids just stay at home after high school. And there can be a real stigma for a kid who successfully navigates the outside world...that they think they're "too good" for their family/community. Is an 18-year old supposed to choose between parental acceptance and a college education or job/apprenticeship)? Taken to its extreme---is it right to produce college/career-ready graduates at the expense of their connection to their families?

I think that a student should get to decide what happens with their post-graduate life, but what if parents do not? What makes my belief system about public education any better than theirs?

This is what keeps me up at night. I'd like to think that as adults, regardless of our role, we want kids to grow and reach their dreams. I don't want there to be a tug of war, even an unspoken one, between us. But I don't know how to let go.

Jason's post on What Gets Left Behind gets at something similar, but for urban students. Go have a look.

12 February 2013

Hanging with the Smalls

When was the last time you (a) could only get dial-up Internet and (b) there was no cell phone signal where you lived? For me, close to 20 years, although that's probably cheating a little. There may well have been a cell phone network available long before I could afford one in 1996. It was probably 10 years ago before I got DSL (and then broadband). A lot has changed on Teh Interwebs since then.

I've spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks meeting with some of the smallest districts (n students less than 200). Many of these districts are "invisible," not just in terms of policy, but also basic services.

Some of these districts have only two teachers...instructional materials may be quite aged (I heard about a district that, until recently, was still using "Dick and Jane" readers from the 50's)...and access to professional learning (or even prep time during the school day) is limited, at best. A few districts have no kitchen access---so no hot meals for kids (or only what can be microwaved from home).

Teachers (and administrators) wear many hats in these districts. If you're teaching, you may have 3 or 4 grade levels of students in a single classroom. You may also be the person who has to get up on the roof and sweep off the snow...or make repairs in the classroom. A teacher I met last week is also the bus driver for the district---so by her attending a meeting that day, kids had to find their own way to school.

I share this to only outline a picture for you, not to elicit sympathy. The fact is, teachers in these communities are incredibly passionate about the work they do (just like teachers everywhere) and embrace their role in their communities. They know their students incredibly well and believe that small schools have an incredible advantage for learning. I find their stories and dedication inspiring.

The digital divide, however, looms greatly in these places due to the lack of connection with the world at large. True, some people move to remote areas to be away from the world, but some of these areas had no say in being left out of technological advancements. A telco will not put a cell phone tower in (or run broadband to) an area with only a couple of hundred customers for the same reason a pharmaceutical company won't develop treatments for exceptionally rare diseases: it's not cost-effective for them. And so the world moves on without these families.

It all makes me a little angry (okay, a lot angry), that in 2013...with all of the expectations we push out to schools...that there hasn't been anyone fighting for these little guys. Teachers in these areas are more than willing to bring Common Core into their classrooms, for example, but when all of the resources are developed for single-grade non-looping classrooms with access to the Internet in all of its glory (or budgets which permit additional materials...or even school libraries), what are they to do? How many teachers in any school district can plan for four grade levels of simultaneous instruction across multiple subject areas...without a prep period, access to release time, instructional support in the form of coaches or curriculum specialists?

So, I'm helping to do what I can. I have a great partner to work with and a little pot of funding. We are bringing these teachers together and starting to build some networks and see what is possible. There is nothing more heartbreaking than hearing them say at the end of the day that they don't feel so alone now...or realizing that all we have at the moment is a lifeboat. There is not enough room to connect all of these teachers. But we'll build a model together and then see about expanding it to others. Small steps, I keep telling myself. One foot in front of the other. Make things happen as we're able.

And fight like hell for those kids.

14 January 2013


Way back in May 2012, the first draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was released. I was unimpressed by that hot mess of a document. It's taken a long time, but the second draft of these standards is available for public comment (but only until January 29). You can view the standards by Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) or by topics. You can view supporting material and access the surveys here.

It appears that 95% of the standards have been altered in some way since the original public draft, including deleting some content. (You can read about the collective wisdom from the survey data and the NGSS response here.) Just as a point of reference, here is a page for Kindergarten from the first draft:

And here is the revised version:

I want to remind you that everything above the colored boxes represents the standard(s). Everything else on this page is supporting material. They didn't do anything design-wise to emphasize the standards, make the document accessible for people with vision problems, or otherwise deal with the cluttered confusing mess presented to teachers. Meanwhile, we're still missing pieces. The connections and articulation pieces are still listed as "will be added in future version."

In other words this is the Same Shit, Different Draft (SSDD).

I do appreciate that Achieve (the group behind developing the NGSS) has responded to criticisms about the standards themselves. I also appreciate their transparency in showing the connections to the Framework for Science Education and the Common Core State Standards. I don't understand why it's important to lose these standards in a sea of gobbledy-gook that would be better served as appendices or supporting documents...nor why this document has to be so ill-designed. I really hope they clean up their act by the time the final draft is available in March. Argh.

11 January 2013

Where Have All the Flowers Gone

I stumbled across a photostory from Life magazine about a "Genius School" in 1948. There are about 20 pictures of (white) children, ages 3 - 11, engaged in some very high level work. Here is one of my favourites, including the caption:

5-year-old Johnny, who taught himself to read, selects The Ring of the Nibelung, which looks interesting to him. Library has wide choice of simpler books like the Bobbsey Twins, but bright children tire of these quickly, abandon them in favor of poetry, biography, science and politics." Photo by Nina Leen (c) TimeLife

They are fascinating to click through. Children collaborating on an engineering project...in dialogue about scientific phenomena...teaching one another to play chess. All within the confines of a laboratory school for Hunter College in NY. "Seven decades ago, the city housed just such a venture at Hunter College — a school filled not with post-adolescent megaminds and college-age uber-geeks, but 450 apparently well-adjusted, engaged kids who just happened to enjoy IQs averaging around 150. (Post-graduate students, by comparison, generally fall in the 120-130 I.Q. range.)"

As I looked through this slice of history, I couldn't help but wonder what happened to these kids. At some point, they left the school---presumably for a traditional high school and whatever the world held for them afterward. Where did they go? What did they do with their adult lives?

Even though I make it a point to avoid "the bottom half of the Internet," I did take a quick look at the comments on this article---and someone had found and posted a study done about these kids. The study was done in the 1ate 1980's, when former students were considered to be "mid-life," and compared them with people who hadn't attended the school. The quotes below provide a quick preview of the results, but I would encourage you to review the whole study. Note that the term "Hunter" represents students from the genius school and "Terman" refers to a study done with people who were not identified as gifted as children.
  • No difference in terms of marital status (same percentage single/married)
  • "Nearly 40% of both the Terman and Hunter men pursued terminal degrees while only 5.9% of the Terman women completed doctoral or professional degrees in law or medicine. In contrast, over two-thirds of the Hunter women were holders of the Ph.D., M.D. or L.L.B. degree. The dramatic proportion of terminal degree candidates among the Hunter women did not however, translate into more prestigious careers or higher income as compared with Hunter men."
  • "It should be noted that although the Hunter women achieved relatively prestigious degrees and careers, the mean income of the Hunter women is $47,391 (median = $40,000, range = $11,000-$180,000) while the mean income of the men is $105,000 (median = $75,000, range = $5000-$505,000). The income discrepancies remain constant even when matched by profession. Higher degrees and comparably high intellect did not assure gifted women of equitable financial rewards for their professional efforts."
  • "On the 9 point scale with '1' counting as extremely radical (left) and '9' extremely conservative, the mean rating for the Hunter group was 4.5938 and the Terman group 5.3676, although the Terman group had been somewhat more liberal in the decade of the 40's (Terman & Oden, 1959). When political philosophy was translated into party affiliation Hunter graduates voted overwhelmingly as Democrats (70.5%) while the Terman group was more evenly split between the two major parties (Democrats = 29.4% and Republicans = 44%)."
  • "A large majority of the Terman and Hunter subjects described their general health at midlife as very good or good, with the Hunter group describing their health more often as very good."
  •  "Both study groups acknowledge the centrality of their work and families to their sources of life satisfaction. Each subgroup however, responded in a unique pattern. More Terman men derived satisfaction from their work (80.6%) than from their families (65%). Hunter men as a group also ranked work first (91.4%) and children second (70%). Marriage and avocational interests tied for third at 58.6%. The Hunter womens' pattern of response also reflected a lower relative position of marriage (64.1%) for Hunter subjects as a source of satisfaction as compared to work and children (75% each). The Terman men and women ranked marriage and children equally relative to other possible areas that provide life satisfaction. Terman women chose children (70.6%) and marriage (70.3%) followed by social contacts (50%), probably reflecting the large representation of housewives in the group (Birnbaum, 1975)."
  • "Both Hunter men and Terman women defined success in much the same terms as they had described the sources of their life satisfaction. When open responses were generated by subjects however, the relative importance of work for Terman men was slightly lower than that of family, income and helping others. Hunter women associated success with vocational satisfaction, peace of mind and friendships more than happy home and family. The lack of congruence between those groups' responses to sources of their life satisfaction is noteworthy. Were their sources of life satisfaction not exactly what they thought they ought to be in order to be successful?"
I don't know that we can draw a lot of conclusions/applications from this...but then, that wasn't really the purpose of the study. The researchers, like me, were interested in what happened to the students who attended Hunter. Did their adult lives turn out with as much passion as the ones they lived in their youth?

The Hunter College Elementary School is still in existence today. While it is not as experimental as it once was, it still retains its focus on gifted students.

07 January 2013

Becoming a Name Brand

Branding Irons by pestpruf CC-BY-NC-ND
Last spring, I wrote about riding for the brand. Some people assume that brand refers to an object in this turn-of-phrase. And this is partially correct. Putting your mark on some cattle (or other product) is one way to create a brand.

But there is more to it...something more important. The brand is also the intangible represented by the mark. It says something about the integrity of the individual(s) it represents. The stamp might help others identify what belongs to you, but your personal brand gives meaning. It says something---good or bad---about who you are.

I am circling back to this idea this year because the word "brand" is being bandied about rather heavily at the moment. And I keep having a very Inigo Montoya moment when I hear it: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Most of the time, the term is being used in reference to stuff---things like documents and slide decks---when, in fact, that has very little to do with actual branding. I ran across this quote from an interview with Edward Tufte...and it made me think about the current discussions of "brand" (emphasis mine):
PowerPoint benefits the bottom 10% of presenters by forcing them to have points, some points ... any points at all. And the best 10% of presenters have such good content, style and self-awareness that PowerPoint does little damage. PowerPoint should be used solely as a projector operating system to show 100% content, without the bullet grunts, logos and the formatting nonsense from the Strategic Communications Department, and the $20 million Pentagram corporate format guidelines. Such formats are about their precious turf-possessed selves and are the enemy of information and often truth. (Source)
Here, he makes a statement about PowerPoint, but you could sub in just about any communication and read the same thing. If you think a brand is about making your documents look alike, then you're not focused on the content they represent. All you've done is build a shiny fa├žade, and pretend you have a brand. But what it represents is pretentious, at best, and damaging to your name, at worst. I have no respect---or patience---for such endeavors.

The real work is in building yourself as a person and as a professional. Make your mark in a way that allows others to create and build, too...rather than fit them to your template. Be known for the quality of your work and the integrity of your words. Be a brand others will want to ride for.