Wednesday, February 3, 2016

I Don't Have to Wonder if It's the Right Work

There are times when I wake in the night and find myself wondering about what's best for kids in our schools.  Too much technology or not enough?  Too much assessment or just the wrong kinds?  Too much discussion about standards or not yet enough?

However, when it comes to Deeper Learning, I don't have to wonder if it's the right work.  I know that I know that I know it.  Kids at the center, teachers as facilitators, messiness and creativity and persistence and personalization.  That's everything RIGHT about today's educational innovation.  Take a few minutes to watch the Sioux City kids in this video.  Look at their eyes, notice their interactions with each other and study the learning environments

Oh, and don't worry.  These Middle School exploratory courses have plenty of technology; it's essential to the work that kids are doing.  We do assess; we use rubrics to measure growth in communication, creativity, critical thinking and accountability--all based on the Iowa Core standards for Middle School students.  So, maybe I should spend less time wondering about the right work for schools, and more time celebrating the student-centered innovation happening both in our district and in hundreds of others across the nation.  Deeper Learning.  I know that I know that I know.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Game Based Learning and a Growth Mindset

It's the holiday season.  Time for family, for food and for.....a growth mindset!  When our family gathers, we play games.  We play cards, put together puzzles, roll the monopoly dice and laugh at our competitive spirits.  This year, I am trying to take a step back and think about how a Growth Mindset impacts our inter-generational connections as we play games. 
Do we encourage and value risk-taking and mistake-making?  Do we let the youngest cousins win too easily?  Do we let Grandma bend the rules? I think, generally speaking, we play family games with a Growth Mindset without even realizing it!
Why do we play games at family gatherings?  Because it's fun, interactive, skill-building and better than sitting around watching TV.

The idea of game-based learning is making its way into classrooms around the country as educators discover its power to motivate--the human mind tunes in to the situational challenges that games create for our growing minds.  Game-based learning is NOT playing "hangman" with vocabulary words on a Friday afternoon. 
Game-based learning looks like the classroom in this video from Edutopia, featuring a 6th grade Social Studies lesson.


How does game-based learning fit with Growth Mindset? I think that the two ideas go "hand-in-hand". 

If we set the stage well for our learners, games will provide a safe framework for trying new ideas and stretching our student's skills. Take a look at the Edutopia Blog post HERE. In my opinion, there are close connections between game-based learning principles and the Growth Mindset.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Growth Mindset: Praising the Process

Praise the process, first. 
Last summer, my oldest and my youngest daughter spent a week together, making a stand-up paddle board. They bought a kit and borrowed power tools.  They had very little experience and zero supervision.  But, they did approach the entire project with a Growth Mindset.  My only contribution to the project was to exact from them one promise, "Wear Goggles". 
The project was most certainly not error-free.  What they did discover, however, was that almost all mistakes can be eradicated if given sufficient amounts of time and sandpaper.
 
They mixed epoxy resin, sealed the frame with fiberglass and created a pretty impressive paddleboard.  All along, I doubted their ability to bring the project to completion.  And yet, they did it!  I think that hefty doses of process praise (from their Dad) kept them going when the project may have faltered.  In the end, the process praise resulted in a great final product.
Sometimes, we classroom teachers are so concerned with outcomes that we tend to emphasize the perfect final product more often than we notice (and praise) the effort in the process 
In the end, all of the mistakes come together to make a beautiful, if imperfect, finished product.  Begin with a Growth Mindset, and who knows what might be able to float! 
 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Thinking about Thinking: Growing or Fixed?

Carol Dweck and her book on Growth Mindset are the focus of our district's 10-minutes of think-time during PD each month.  We're blending the book with online PD modules and face-to-face collaborative discussions.


It's important for us to ask ourselves if we teach with a Growth or Fixed mindset.  

I think I have always acknowledged the power of effort, but I also (mistakenly) assumed that some students were simply better at math and chemistry than others.  In essence, I used my fixed mindset to let myself off the hook by thinking that some of my students just wouldn't get it--no matter what we did in the classroom.  It's hard to admit it, but before brain research changed my idea of teaching and learning, I honestly believed that some kids were just destined for the "D".  Ugh. 

I know that I am not alone in coming to terms with this new realization of the importance of high expectations.  Listen to the opening lines of this discussion between Carol Dweck and Sal Kahn.  I like the hashtag #YouCanLearnAnything.  Really.  Even chemistry.


Monday, March 9, 2015

3 Steps to the Next Level for Iowa's TLC

What are the next steps for the Iowa TLC in Sioux City? 
We've marveled at the impact of our teacher-leaders, as they have invested in teacher-initiated, classroom-embedded, professional development.  Recent conversations with coaches have identified three steps which we must take in order to climb to the next level with Iowa's TLC.
Step One: We need to train our coaches to light fires.   
With a partnership-approach, I believe teacher-leaders can go places with constructive feedback that will transcend the typical administrator interactions about classroom management or instruction style.  A coach can light a fire within a teacher, looking for the burning purpose rather than the burning platform.  There is a strong bond of trust among our classroom teachers and our teacher-leaders.  This trust opens the door for professional growth and healthy self-reflection.

Step Two: We need to act on insight rather than instinct.   
In a data-rich school culture, our best teacher-leaders are effectively utilizing real-time achievement data to immediately impact instruction.  We are increasingly seeing teacher-leaders rely on data-based insight rather than gut-level instinct to recommend changes in classroom instruction.  Achievement data is somehow “safer” in the hands of a trusted colleague…it isn’t evaluative, it’s informative.  Teacher-leaders can lean into the data and leverage it for positive change.

Step Three: We need to stop making everyone happy 
Our consulting teachers must develop strategies connected to both consensus building and team leadership in order to empower classroom teachers to raise the bar on curriculum, instruction and assessment.  Teachers don’t teach in isolation anymore—and teacher-leaders need to be able to knock on closed doors and pull up a chair at team meetings.  The district as a whole is experiencing an increase in communication and collaboration as a direct result of this work. Yet, coaching for consensus means that ideas must be examined, compromise must be shaped and practices must be altered.  At the end of the day, not everyone is happy; but we are all better, together.

Our teacher-leaders continue to exceed our performance expectations and anticipated outcomes for Year One of the implementation.  To climb to the next level, we need to ensure that our next steps include lighting fires, acting on insight and building great teams that will not settle for less than excellence.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Authentic Enthusiasm

Each week, I ask our Consulting Teachers to reflect about how their interactions with classroom teachers will impact student achievement.  While our leaders are teacher focused, our intended outcomes are student focused.   Here are a few statements from last week:
From an Elementary literacy coach:
First grade teachers are stating they have students that are excited about writing and are able to write better than before with the structure, plan, and scaffolding we have provided for them to be successful this year. Teachers are really seeing development and growth as we progress through the second semester of the school year. Teachers are excited and thankful, as well, that they have been given a coach to help them make this happen.”
The magic of coaching transforms secondary classrooms as much as elementary.  One of our middle school coaches, writes:
Last week was the first full week that I had collaborated with an 8th grade Math class to use a differentiated math intervention. We focused on the Iowa Core standards to identify individual students that required remedial help and those that were needing to be challenged. Together, the classroom teacher and I are using project based learning and tiered grouping to meet the needs of individual students.”
As I review our teacher-leader reflections, I am looking for our two-fold goals of increased collaboration and increased student achievement.  They are both evident here:
“This has been a great week of collaboration for me! I am so excited! I have four teachers on board for a 15 day challenge! I love going into classrooms daily with the same students to teach, co-teach, and collaborate with teachers! I am learning just as much from them as they are learning from me. The students are loving it too!! THIS IS TRUE learning!! I can't wait to get others on board with this teaching strategy!”

That’s a lot of authentic enthusiasm for January, in my opinion.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

3 Essential Reagents Drive Standards Based Grading in Iowa


Over the past few decades, leading educators have expressed a growing urgency to transform traditional grading and reporting practices.  With student achievement hanging in the balance, today’s educators are working to fix the broken cultural paradigm of school grading which sorts, selects and compares kids based on a conglomeration of points, percentages, zeroes and extra credit.  In place of the oddly lopsided bell curve which serves only a select few, educators today are advocating for a standards-based approach to reporting student progress. 

Put simply, students need to be given clearly articulated learning goals and then empowered to achieve them.   

There are several factors accelerating the transition to Standards-Based Grading (SBG) in Iowa, not the least of which is a growing adherence to the Iowa Core.  With implementation of the Iowa Core expected for all districts, teachers are finding that close monitoring of student progress on the Iowa Core standards is essential to guaranteed learning outcomes.  

Many districts have also found SBG to be a logical outcome of the work of Professional Learning Communities (PLC).  A PLC thrives when teachers participate in rich conversations and professional dialogue about course standards and common assessments as a measure of student achievement.  Teachers naturally want to begin reporting on those same standards for students and parents as well.  A single mark (or grade) to represent all of math or literacy or science seems inadequate in light of the complex curriculum work being done in our highly functioning PLC structures. 

For instance, Sioux City’s well established PLC structures provide the distributed leadership which is an essential factor for SBG.  More than any other variable, teacher leadership provides the momentum needed to deeply embed a robust SBG system of practice.  A healthy, high-functioning PLC platform creates an environment that embraces a cycle of continuous improvement and collective effort toward the common goal of student achievement.  Since teachers are the front-line curriculum implementers, it only makes sense that they should take the lead as the curriculum designers as well. 

Lastly, student information systems (SIS) like Infinite Campus are finally progressing to the point that they can provide teachers with a framework for reporting at the standard level to parents and students. While still inadequate from a progressive ideal, today’s SIS do allow teachers to enter assessments and classroom activities organized by standard (instead of the traditional categories of daily work, quizzes, tests or labs).  Now that assessments can be grouped by learning standards it is much easier to monitor a student’s progress toward mastery of course content.  Grades can be a dynamic reflection of ongoing progress, rather than a stagnant report of past performance.

It’s not a difficult stretch to see that the combination of meaningful course standards with closely aligned assessments and a robust Student Information System are the essential reagents in the SBG equation.