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.

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