Creative Commons photo by Wha'ppen
How can we give ALL students access to rich materials and curriculum? We can Teach Up!
Since my daughters entered public school many years ago, I have been thinking about the provision of high challenge, high interest curriculum. (It seemed scarce some years…) So where are kids most likely to encounter rich and engaging materials and tasks? No surprise – research tells us it is typically in high socioeconomic schools where there are not significant barriers to learning such as poverty and homelessness. In these schools, teachers are often experienced and well resourced. In these schools, it is least urgent.
Teach Up for Excellence by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Edwin Lou Javius (2102) brings our attention to the dire need to provide ALL students with “equitable access to an engaging and rigourous curriculum.” (note: you must be an ASCD member to access full article. It’s worth a subscription!)
What is Teaching Up?
The Seven Principles of Teaching Up, based on Tomlinson & Javius, are listed below. To what extent do you believe in and enact these principles in your teaching?
1. I accept that human differences are not only normal but also desirable.
I work to intentionally create a community of learners in my classroom.
2. I believe in the capacity of each child to succeed.
This reflects a growth mindset: the understanding that effort, rather than any other qualifiers matter most for student success. For more on this, read Dweck’s Mindset (2007).
3. I work to understand my students’ cultures, interests, needs and perspectives.
Tomlinson notes, “understanding students’ learning profiles is the driving force behind instructional planning and delivery.
4. I create a base of rigorous learning opportunities.
I find ways to connect kids to content in meaningful ways. Our tasks are authentic and challenging yet do-able.
5. I understand that students come to the classroom with varied points of entry into the curriculum and move through it at different rates.
6. I create flexible class routines and procedures that attend to learner needs.
7. I am an analytical practitioner.
I am always reflecting on the successes and challenges of my students and modifying to better meet their needs.
Hope and Love is Not Enough!
While we care deeply for our students and hope each and every one succeeds, Teaching Up requires that we are strategic, explicit and purposeful in our practices. While it may be tempting to “hold back” exciting work or projects until a student finishes the teacher tasks (some never do!), or give lots of extra worksheets to practice “the basics” for struggling students, we risk further jeopardizing our most vulnerable learners. Tomlinson & Javius note, “When lower-performing students experience curriculum and instruction focused on meaning and understanding, they increase their skills as much as their higher achieving peers do” (Educational Research Service, 1992). Every child deserves access to interesting, meaningful activities, varied resources and real-world problems to solve.
The article concludes, “Teaching up is not about hope. It is about purposeful instructional planning that aims at ensuring high-level success for each student.” Every child at every school deserves the best chance for success.
Matsuri by Kaya Newman
It is late summer. I can feel the rhythm of many summers past – insistent, humming – yet now it is time to begin. My new position is vice-principal at a K-7 school with a district Fine Arts Intensive program.
I will also be teaching music 3 days/week as well as other teaching duties on a fourth day.
I have had the great privilege of working as a district-based helping teacher and have worked with many teachers and staffs supporting quality assessment, engaging instructional practice and helping to connect kids meaningfully with big ideas in the curriculum. The moment of change, I remind myself, is the only poem.
I stand now at this crossroad and contemplate the complexities of the work before me. Peeling back a layer, I wonder how I will realize the big educational goals that I value in my music class. Our district structure delineates 30-minute music classes (up to 9 classes per day). Music educators facing a new school year may be thinking about similar questions, such as:
- How can we build lessons that are authentic, personal, and important?
- How can we ensure students have ownership of their learning?
- How can we connect to the passions, interests and experiences of nearly 300 students?
- How can we embed 21st century tools, skills and opportunities to share and connect with the global community?
- How can we ensure our public performances are authentic, reflecting the children’s thoughts and ideas, rather than the teacher’s vision?
As the year unfolds, I will grapple with these questions as many of you will. I hope to encourage, guide and allow space for the children to create and imagine. I hope to…
- focus on what the students are learning, rather than what the teacher is doing
- blog and share our work with parents, families and the greater community
- use social media to connect with musicians, music teachers and students
- explore digital technology where it makes sense to compose, create, critique, listen and share beyond the classroom
Please share your ideas on how you accomplish authentic and engaging learning in the music classroom…..we have so much to learn from one another!
Dr. Charles Leadbeater has some very interesting insights into education and innovation. He spoke to a large group of CoastMetro educators at the Italian Cultural Centre on February 17, 2012. The event, “Redesigning Our System to Personalize Learning: lessons learned and disruptive innovation in education” highlighted innovation from some unusual vantage points.
As an advisor to the UK Innovation Unit, visiting senior fellow with the British National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts, among many other groups and organizations, Leadbeater’s work centres on culture, innovation, creativity and change.
Are YOU an Innovator?
Leadbeater shared a simple graphic to illustrate his thinking about what it takes to be an innovator:
- A person who BELIEVES and BEHAVES is a FOLLOWER
- A person who DOESN’T BELIEVE and DOES BEHAVE is a COMPLIER
- A person who DOESN’T BELIEVE and DOESN’T BEHAVE is a REBEL
- A person who DOES BELIEVE and DOESN’T BEHAVE is an INNOVATOR
Leadbeater described an INNOVATOR as someone who is committed to a deep vocational purpose, such as an approach to teaching and learning, who does not behave, that is, they are “brave enough and odd enough to challenge deeply held conventions.”
If you embody the beliefs and behaviours of an Innovator, Leadbeater noted that people will likely think you are “quite mad half the time.” And of course the possibility exists that you might be quite mad all the time. However, he described the future of our education system as being “in the hands of those who will disrupt it in important ways.” A fine line here, but one worth ducking under, stepping over or going purposefully around.
The Eureka Myth
According to Leadbeater, innovation is highly derivative, cumulative over a long period of time – a mixture of inventing and borrowing. It is highly collaborative, involving old and new ways of thinking. The Eureka Myth is simply that – a myth. As educators strive for highly collaborative, purposeful teaching and learning environments, embrace the use of “both, and” (for example, think analog, digital and whatever we create), we are well on our way.
Innovating through Technology
Leadbeater described children as just soaring with technology; they think of it like they do water. Whereas we want to don a wetsuit, flippers, mask and fins, the children just jump in. I am keen to dive in, splash alongside, and explore the rich environment. I know someone will throw me a rope when I need it. How about you?
87 as the synapses fire you see by Richard Lazzara
Getting up at 6am on a Saturday is not part of my usual weekend routine. But I did just that on January 14, full of anticipation for the day ahead.
I was off to edcamp43, an “unconference” hosted by Coquitlam educators, where those passionate about education gather, set an agenda in real time, choose topics of interest and dig into small group conversation.
There are no facilitators, presenters, speakers; no pre-set agenda. The format is highly personalized; participants have choice, voice and agency. The democratic structure and the presence of many committed, passionate and interesting educators, parents and students made the day a remarkable one.
Why go to edcamp?
1. Possibilities Abound
I was excited by the endless possibilities of how the day might unfold, similar to the feeling I get before a jam session with musicians I have not yet played with.
- would the topics we select be relevant and deeply interesting?
- how would I meaningfully participate?
- would the connections with others be sustaining and important?
2. Relevant, Engaged Learning
Have you ever gone to a pro-d session and scanned the workshops thinking hmmmm…..is there anything here I am really excited about? This was not a problem at edcamp. Everyone had a voice in generating topics and selecting their sessions of interest. I was keenly interested in all of the topics and ultimately chose Inquiry, The Transformative use of Technology (along with many others, see sticky note below) and Are Report Cards Necessary? (I did worry briefly that the latter session would last about 23 seconds – but the conversation was terrific….)
3. Democracy at Work
With no table facilitators or session leaders, we were on our own for rich, small group discussion–emergent content at its best! Teachers, parents, students and administrators came together to discuss what matters most in education.
4. Build and Strengthen your PLN
I connected with colleagues from across the lower mainland and beyond, as well as a number of folks I had only met through twitter. Social media definitely has an important place in building and sustaining our professional learning networks. Edcamp provided a great opportunity to meet f2f with educators I connect with in virtual spaces.
Also, as Darcy Mullin noted in his post edcamp post, it is a highly worthwhile event and it is virtually free.
Yeah, but doesn’t it all boil down to the conversations?
Yes and they were extraordinary! The conversations were so rich and interesting– one participant, Brian Kuhn tweeted that edcamp is “the hallway conversation on steroids.” Here are a few highlights:
INQUIRY – Loved that we did not feel a need to define inquiry but spent time talking about how it can be a powerful mode of learning – for adults and children. We wondered:
- How will children involved in inquiry change their orientation to learning?
- Will children ultimately demand more relevant, robust learning from their teachers?
- Who does the work in an inquiry classroom? What might this look like?
- How can we manage the persistent need for change?
Surrey’s Jonathan Vervaet brought two of his grade 11 students to camp. One student described how he did not really like Mr. V at first; he was used to doing worksheets and this inquiry stuff was different and hard. But that all changed. His next comment caused the room to fall silent: “We had to actually think when doing inquiry in Mr. V’s class.”
THE TRANSFORMATIVE USE OF TECHNOLOGY – Themes were leveraging change, promoting growth, shifting power, explicit teaching (for both adults and students), the importance of using both digital and analog tools for learning (whatever best fits the purpose and the student’s needs and interests). Peppering the conversation was the enthusiastic sharing of blogs, twitter groups, websites and individuals leading change in this area.
ARE REPORT CARDS REALLY NECESSARY? This was a great conversation on formative and summative assessment–what do these mean and why do they matter–for all stakeholders. We discussed the positive outcomes as teachers have found creative alternative ways to share student achievement with parents and students. It is the “and students” part that I find particularly exciting!
Aaron Mueller shared some of his thinking from a Distance Learning perspective:
- introducing himself to students through video blogging (what a great idea for any teacher!)
- learning that allows unlimited submissions as students work toward mastery (this practically led to a standing ovation for Aaron in our small group!)
- the establishment of a private YouTube channel for ongoing feedback and connections with students and families
Thanks to the terrific organizational team from Coquitlam for hosting edcamp43!
by Alicia Logie
As I have developed as a teacher-learner, particularly as assessment and evaluation began to occupy more and more of my thinking, I began asking myself the question: What do I learn from the assessment/evaluation I do with my students?
And also, what do THEY learn from the assessment we do in class?
So recently, with the group of adult students taking a course (in French) on Evaluation and Assessment in the Classroom, I asked them to tell me what they had learned. Half of the students were practicing teachers and half were teacher-candidates in their first semester of studies. What they related spoke of the powerful changes that had happened over the course of our time together. I had decided to model one of the effective strategies for assessment and grading that we had discussed, so for their last class I conducted evaluation conferences where each student had 10-15 minutes to summarize their learning, speak of future goals and negotiate a mark with me.
My Students’ Learning Goals:
I am going to focus more on the learning and less on the marks.
I am going to do more formative assessment and less summative.
I am going to remember that the marks do not motivate the learning, the descriptive feedback does.
I am going to give students more practice time, include them in their assessment and collaborate on criteria for assignments.
I went into a conference with parents who are quite difficult and I felt calm and confident. I tried to figure out why- in the past I would have been nervous and anxious. I realized I now had confidence; confidence that I had all the information I needed to accurately and meaningfully discuss the progress of their child, that there was research that backed me up, that I am not the only teacher who assesses this way- there are many of us! And we are doing the right things!
I am going to remember that it is about the learning!
My Learning Goals:
I learned that looking at real examples of good assessment practice in action – TOGETHER – is what gives us the courage to assess in ways that support student learning. My goal is to continue to create opportunities for dialogue that expand our thinking, and give us courage to change.
Alicia Logie is the French Immersion Helping Teacher (conseillere pedagogique) for the Surrey School District. She also teaches university level teacher-training courses.
Working and learning with education students as they grapple with what it means to be a teacher is tremendously rewarding. My experience as a Faculty Associate was just over two years ago and I now have opportunities to work alongside former students – colleague to colleague.
I recently visited a former student’s classroom and was in awe of her skill, instructional practice, and rapport with her students. We no longer spoke about the basics of managing the class, setting a purpose for a lesson or building trust and relationships with students, staff and parents. Instead, Ms. S and I tackled deep issues about teaching and learning in the year 2011:
Scaffolding vs. Teacher Control
Ms. S is working intentionally and thoughtfully towards increasing student ownership of learning. She has many structures in place to do so, such as providing students with choice in how they demonstrate understanding, setting their own timelines, and gauging their own readiness to move on. Yet, like so many teachers, Ms. S wonders whether she is over-managing the learning environment or simply scaffolding for success.
In our teacher education module, we explored the notion of “enabling constraints.” I discovered the term in the book, Engaging Minds. Enabling constraints are about opening possibilities by limiting choices.Very simply put, too much choice is overwhelming. Too little choice is restrictive, squelching learning and creativity. By giving choices in lesson activities and projects within a given structure we are providing enabling constraints.
Enabling constraints are not prescriptive; they don’t dictate what MUST be done, rather they are expansive, indicating what MIGHT be done… from Engaging Minds (2000), Davis, Sumara, Luce-Kapler, p. 193
At the university, we investigated this idea by giving groups of student teachers a bag of Lego and instructions. The instructions ranged from one word: Build to more detailed instructions such as Build, but a red piece must touch a yellow piece, a green must touch a blue and your structure cannot be more than 5 cm tall. In our debrief, students noted that too little information was discomforting, they were not sure of the purpose or success criteria. Too much information, on the other hand, limited creativity and imagination. When teachers frame a question or task using enabling constraints, we allow for flexible, responsive teaching and learning.
Continue reading Things I Learned From My Student Teachers [part 112.63]
Last week we had over 80 parents, along with administrators, thinking, doing and talking about math. The event was a School Planning Council meeting sponsored by our district, facilitated by Richmond educator and consultant Carole Fullerton. She has developed an excellent blog, Mathematical Thinking.
She began by asking parents what they wanted for their children. They responded with similar ideas across the room:
• to enjoy and be engaged by math (not to fear math)
• to connect with their learning
• to understand math (not just memorize procedures)
• to be able to use what they know about math to solve real problems
A couple of big ideas that stuck with me:
1. Teach Math from Left to Right
When we do mental math (add, multiply, divide, or estimate in our heads) we tend to perform the calculations using the largest numbers first. For example, if I needed to add 86 books to 73 books, I might think 80+70 = 150 and 6+3 =9, therefore my answer is 159. There are of course, other ways to think of this, but that is one way.
Why then, when we add or subtract numbers on paper do we begin with the ones column and move from right to left? When parents posed this question to Carole, she cited convention. It is simply the way we’ve always done it, but it is not the best way according to Carole. She added it is the only thing we do in this order in English . . . Carole modeled how teachers and students can add, subtract and solve various problems by thinking and working from left to right – just as if we were solving the problem in our heads. The beauty of thinking and teaching in this way is that the mental process mirrors the written process, and facilitates a much stronger number sense.
Continue reading Doing Math: from Left to Right
To Flip or Not to Flip: Is that the question?
I understand the uptake on Sal Khan’s model for a Flipped classroom. It makes sense to have students grappling with content in the classroom while a teacher and peers are present. It is phenomenal to have access to thinkers around the world who can explain their thinking and demonstrate concepts via the Internet. Yet I still wonder about the transformative power of a new model that flips a tired, traditional model. First, teacher delivers content. Second, students do something with the content. (In some classrooms this step is optional.)
Questions that make me go hmmm…
- How do we navigate informal learning, formal learning, with considerations for space and place?
- Is the process of watching a teacher teach online a powerful learning tool for the majority of students? What would makes this learning “stick” for kids?
- Is the Flipped model a one-size-fits-all strategy?
- Is this purposeful homework? If we are embracing learning anyplace, anytime, is it necessary for students to attend school in a building for 5 hours per day and also require them to watch instructional videos at night? For more on this, and the Flipped model in general, check out Lisa Nielsen’s thought-provoking post Five Reasons I’m Not Flipping Over The Flipped Classroom
- In what ways might this model promote student ownership of learning?
Exploring the Edges
An interesting insight around the discussion on Flipped classrooms is David Truss’ post on Flipping Professional Development. Informal learning before, during and after professional development is unstoppable. While industrial age school structures still pose significant barriers, the importance of exploring the edges to elicit change in education is a “necessary disruption.” (see the Necessary Disruption blogposts by Bruce Bearisto)
On Becoming a Canadian: facts, figures and formative assessment
This past summer I wrote my Canadian citizenship test. Long silent lines snaked from room to room. The test-takers were eventually seated in rows — an empty chair between each person. We were handed a standard issue pre-sharpened pencil. We were told that if we talked during the test, we would fail. If we looked at someone else’s test, we would fail, along with the poor soul whose test we allegedly looked at.
The test consisted of 20 multiple-choice questions. Some were simple — an answer jumped out. Others were tricky – slight variations on a theme.
What fascinated me about this process was not the test taking itself, but the process of preparing for the test. While I do not have a degree in History, I was pretty sure I could read the “Discover Canada” booklet a bunch of times and learn everything I needed to know. After all, it was just 50 pages of discrete facts.
So I set about to make sense of this static information. What strategies could I use to pull the content off the page and make it stick? Here is what I did:
- Emailed one daily Random Canadian Fact to a group of friends
- Made notes on my iPhone; reviewed them whenever and wherever I wanted
- My kids quizzed me on the phone facts
- Talked about it with others
- Created mnemonics to remember lists of facts such as Canadian rights
- Looked up important people, ie. David Johnston to link his face with his role
What would YOU do?
How Often Do Your Students Practice Without Penalty?
One strategy in particular struck me as especially important. The online practice tests allowed me to practice without penalty. I could take the test often and was given immediate feedback. Any wrong answers and I would go back and look up the information. I did this many times, until the night before the test when I finally got my first perfect score. The ideas of allowing our students to practice without penalty, and giving them timely, specific feedback while there is still an opportunity to improve are key pieces of formative assessment.
Continue reading Promoting Powerful Learning, eh?