Sunday, April 23, 2017

What's Your Number?

I am responding to prompts a little out of order. This post is actually in response to the #EduBlogsClub prompt #15: Write a post that discusses “assessments."

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If you are a connected educator, you will recognize assessment as a common topic; you can easily find one or two Twitter chats a month focusing on the topic of assessment in addition to numerous hashtags. I suppose it makes sense since as educators we are asked to assess our students regularly in order to ensure they are meeting the benchmarks agreed-upon for that grade level. I honestly have no issue with us determining how well students have mastered specific tasks.  After all, as adults, our employers expect a certain amount of productivity AND a certain level of accuracy in order to ensure our continued employment. Most of us are given annual reviews at the very least to identify strengths, accomplishments, and areas of growth. 

But here is where I begin to jump onto my soap box. Apologies in advance (or simply stop reading and move on to something else).

To start, here are my biggest issues with the way assessments currently operate in the majority of classrooms:
1. A number can not possibly provide a complete picture of a person's entire body of work. It can provide one data point as a predictor so let's change the conversation about standardized tests.
2. Professionals are rarely, if ever, placed in a single "do or die" situation, expected to perform on a test that alone holds their entire future in the balance (O.K., maybe some surgeons, but they work with a team, not solo). So why do we do this to our students?
3. Professionals generally get "do-overs" in the form of revisions, or a Q and A so why, again, are students not provided the same opportunities?

So let me dive in a bit more...
1. A number can not possibly provide a complete picture of a person's entire body of
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work. It can provide one data point as a predictor so let's change the conversation about standardized tests.
As a private high school, we do use an admissions test as part of the process to help identify who should be accepted.  We do this because we have a rigorous curriculum and want to be sure that students are not "getting in over their head". However, that number (their CSQ) is only one piece of the puzzle. Yet, too many times students and parents focus almost obsessively on standardized test scores. Pick any acronym-bearing test: SAT, ACT, AP, ACRE, STAR, or any one of the state standardized exams; these tests have gained far too much notoriety as a be-all-and-end-all in determining just how successful our students (and thus our teachers) are. But that isn't what they were meant for (as far as I can tell). If you follow the link I shared for what a CSQ is, you will see that at the very top of the page, the numbers are broken down into ranges and the language used to describe each range is "academic potential". Well, news flash: we ALL have potential. It is what we 
actually do with our potential that matters. So, let's stop talking about students as a number.  Instead, we need to consider how we are going to encourage every student to reach (and exceed) their potential.

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2. Professionals are rarely, if ever placed in a single "do or die" situation, expected to perform on a test that alone holds their entire future in the balance (O.K., maybe some surgeons, but they work with a team, not solo). So why do we do this to our students? High-stakes tests aren't the only issue here.  What about all those unit tests, chapter tests, and even section quizzes that we give to students? Yes, we want to hold them accountable, and yes, we need to understand what they know and what we need to re-teach, but for so long schools have programmed students to accept these assessments as the "final word" on their knowledge of a particular topic or subject. But that isn't reality. What about allowing test corrections, or having students analyze their mistakes so that they can actually use the assessment as a check-point and master the material in the long run? If we want to encourage students to be life-long learners, then we need to create an atmosphere where learning (and failing) is a process. It doesn't start when we are 5 and enter Kindergarten, and stop in June, then start again when we enter first grade, etc. until we have a college diploma.  No! Learning is constant.  I learn every day! My ideas and approaches have changed since I entered the field of education. I shudder to think back on my former self, as a matter of fact! 

This leads to:

3. Professionals generally get "do-overs" in the form of revisions, or a Q and A so why,
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again, are students not provided the same opportunities?
 Since professionals are constantly revising presentations, editing white papers, seeking out collaboration on ideas to land the next client, why are we not mirroring this sort of environment in schools? I recently listened to an episode from one of my favorite podcasts (EdSurge) in which a college freshman pointed out that schools haven't changed in over one hundred years when the current model was designed to produce factory "yes men". You can hear the whole podcast here.  (I highly recommend listening to this one as student voice is so important to everything that we do!) Well, we as a nation have come a long way from populating factories with high school graduates. We now encourage and celebrate those individuals who obtain higher ed degrees and look to the next generation to create, collaborate, communicate, and think critically. That will not happen consistently if we do not change our model. I guarantee that every school has some teachers that are masterful at incorporating the 4C's into their class, PBL happens regularly, and students are asked to reflect on their learning. But unless this happens across the board in every room with every teacher, students will not gain the full impact. So again I have to ask, if this is how the professional world operates, why are we not incorporating this model in our schools to truly prepare our students to be contributing members of society? Giving them opportunities to collaborate with their peers, defend their work to a panel of people (and not just their classroom teacher) provides authentic learning opportunities, gives students a reason to be invested in the process, and just might result in more engaged students who have a true understanding of the information, not just enough knowledge to regurgitate the "right" answer on a test and move on.

But I would be remiss if I just ranted and didn't also suggest a solution so here you go...

One possible solution: ePortfolios.
Portfolios, in my opinion, make so much sense. In fact, the weekly KQED Learning newsletter just included THREE separate articles about digital portfolios. You can read them all here (written by my good friend and colleague @TeckBioBek)here, and here. Portfolios, starting at the Pre-K/TK level that can follow students throughout their learning are (in my opinion) a great way to allow students to engage in the learning process, identify what they know and don't know, reflect, set goals, and reach (and exceed) their potential. I know that this would require a HUGE shift in how we approach learning, how teachers are trained, and what diplomas and degrees would mean. I also recognize that our country is pretty big with lots of players in the education arena. But ultimately, don't we want an intelligent populace that can solve problems by creating solutions? To me, that means the end of the one-size-fits -all, single-time exam and instead, we need to allow our students to show us what they know in the way that makes the most sense to them. While I realize that I am not proposing a simple solution, I also know that there are lots of people already doing their part to change what education looks like. The more of us working towards this goal of creating a learning environment that mirrors the "real world", the easier it will become. 

So those are my current thoughts on assessment.  What are yours?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Tell Me a Story...

"This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and edtech enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week. 
Oral histories are how society passes on cultural beliefs and experiences. In the modern day, blogging has become a surrogate for those histories. Stories interpret our experiences and help others learn about the worlds around them. They help us connect on an emotional level and create empathy." 
This week's task is to write a post that tells a story so here goes...

This week has been the much longed-for Spring Break at my school. That has given me time
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to catch up on emails and think about not only how the year is going but to reflect on it in comparison to years past. With just over a month left of school when we return next week, it's a good time to reflect. And what I have found myself thinking about is how many students I have had the privilege of working with over my years in education. After 25+ years, I have gotten to work with just a few students. My Facebook feed is now bursting with updates from many of those former students. There is a lot that I am proud of when scrolling through their posts. I see teachers, lawyers, medical professionals, entrepreneurs, moms, future politicians. All confident individuals that I was lucky enough to have shared time with during their high school years. Of course, not all of their journeys were easy, and there were some who "just barely" graduated and we sent off not sure what would happen next. 
Recently at a gathering at my school to honor a former teacher, over 300 alumnae attended. One of those "just barely graduated" young women was in attendance! It was so uplifting (and comforting) to see her. She excitedly shared all that she was up to and expressed gratitude to us for having not given up on her. She also said something that surprised me: "I'm sorry it took me so long to grow up."  I was thrilled to see that a student who left us with an uncertain future was doing great. Bonus: she had become a mature, reflective individual. 
This encounter left me so inspired. Education is certainly an amazing career choice. And those of us who have been at it for any length of time at all know that we learn more from our students than they learn from us. Running into this particular former student helped remind me that:
1. Our students NEVER stop teaching us
2. We NEVER stop learning
3. We can't EVER give up on our students
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At this point in the school year, I think these reminders are particularly timely. I don't know a teacher who isn't looking forward to graduation day. The seniors especially, are quickly wearing out their welcome (as my grandmother would have said). But none the less, we have to keep teaching and inspiring, despite the mounting spring fever in our young charges. This recent encounter is definitely the shot-in-the-arm that I needed to stay focused and continue to give every student as much support and encouragement as I can to help them (and me) finish the year strong.
What stories do you have from the year that you draw inspiration from?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Pendulum Shifts

Newton's Cradle image
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This week's prompt for #EduBlogsClub is about pendulum shifts in education. I have been ruminating on this topic all week. And clearly many of my fellow bloggers are in the same boat as the posts have been coming in much slower in comparison to previous weeks. This week, I am sharing a few of my thoughts on the idea of 1:1 implementation in schools. I know that it has only been a nanosecond in time since 1:1 programs were implemented in schools, and that not every school is even there yet. However, the number of shifts that have already happened around this topic in education is fascinating to me and probably what drew me to it as a topic for reflection in the first place. 

The iPad was first released in 2010.  Schools began jumping on the iPad bandwagon within months. How wonderful to have all of the student work and text books contained on one light-weight device. No more heavy backpacks to lug around and students could learn anywhere--provided they have access to wifi. This was truly going to revolutionize teaching and learning! But has it really? Here is what I know:

1. Technology is changing rapidly every day so it really isn't about the device, it is about how you use the device to increase your learning (think SAMR)
2. Despite the rapid increase of using tablets in education, textbook companies are still woefully behind in designing textbooks for high schools (and middle schools and elementary schools) that are effective digital learning tools with interactive components and regularly updated content. Discovery Ed is possibly the best I have seen so far but they don't work for everyone. 
3. There is enough feedback from students who don't want digital textbooks! They still prefer actual BOOKS (gasp!) and we know that research supports their desire so why throw out the books for sleek technology that isn't meeting the learning needs of our end users? And what about students who want to keep their books (I am thinking about those kids inspired by a novel in English or the AP Physics student who is planning to study science in college)? 
4. Taking notes is still a staple for learning and isn't going away. And on top of that, we know now that writing notes out longhand is much more conducive to the learning process than typing, so again, why replace pencil and paper with a shiny device? 
5. If the school doesn't provide a device for each student, what about those students who don't have access to technology? Or WiFi? Or both? 

Could we actually be undermining our goal as educators by using too much technology?

I don't consider technology in schools a passing fad, but I do think that as educators we owe it to our students to be selective about how we use technology in order to create intelligent, flexible, creative citizens. That means using technology appropriately and designing learning experiences that allow students to choose the right tool for the task. And we need to find a way to close the digital divide. Otherwise, the whole purpose of education (IMHO)--to create an educated citizenship and large middle class--will be undermined. As with all "new" ideas introduced into education, technology was supposed to improve learning. I am not totally convinced, however, that every family would agree. Some schools have really done a great job while others haven't.  
photo of swinging clock pendulum
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I think we have a lot of work to do in order to ensure that all of our students can benefit from the use of technology in schools because there are countless benefits. The trick is to be discerning and intentional in training, roll-out, parent education, and ongoing support in order to really maximize the benefits. And isn't that the truth for all initiatives, and perhaps why the pendulum seems to swing so much in education?