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How many times have you heard “Research shows that…”

I saw my first “Back to School” commercial yesterday (July 26) and the How Soon is Too Soon question popped in my mind. Here in SWOntario we don’t start school until September 4th. I digress.

This ad claims that “laboratory tests, over the last few years,” have shown that babies fit in better during those awkward pre-teen and teen years after drinking cola.

Hmmmm…..my math isn’t that bad.

Be careful when you quote, listen to, claim and read research that might strengthen your point. Read critically, question, seek further resources and by golly make sure the math adds up. When it does it makes a world of difference. When the math doesn’t add up we lose the trust we are building in the public education system. As Douglas Reeves says “It makes us all look bad.”

Do you still:

  • have spelling tests?
  • “do” calendar?
  • work in isolation?
  • say “they mark too easy” when referring to colleagues whose students excel?
  • give a student a grade a week later, a month later, never?
  • think a grade is feedback?
  • ban handheld devices in your classroom?
  • show movies on the SmartBoard?
  • believe social media is a fad?
  • believe the best learning environment is a quiet one?
  • demand (parents) or give worksheets (plural) for homework?
  • say “respect must be earned?”
  • use the sentence “the problem with kids these days…”
  • blame the teacher, the administrator, the parents, the students, the school district or rock and roll music…etc.

Now, do you know what the research says about these practises? Does it align with your thinking or challenge your thinking?

It is time to learn something new. Step out of the comfort zone and into the learning zone, the risk zone. Take a learning stance. Find new research. Heck, develop your own research out of an inquiry.

This school year, abandon a practise that you are hearing questioned more and more. Replace it with something new, something different, something from a colleague or even “scarier” a colleague’s blog! Something that makes the kids say…”What has gotten into Mr. Cowper?!? This guy wants us to Tweet our learning? OMG He has changed! He is CRAZEE!”

Yup…there it is. The magic word. Change. Do you believe they used to allow ads like the one above in magazines? They also used to smoke on airplanes, have back seats, with no seatbelts, the size of Montana, give children bottles of ink and a fountain pen? My gosh…the Principal used to use a strap to teach learnin’!

“They” is actually we. We have segregated our schools, isolated our most vulnerable students away from schools, assimilated the culture out of our students and myriads of other draconian practises that kept us from being true learning institutions. Institutions with a culture where the most important learning was about ourselves, about our interconnectedness with the earth with each other (our kids) and about learning.

This year connect. Research shows that, good or bad, the greatest and most impactful aspect of a student’s life (no matter the grade) is their teacher. Connect with them. Learn with them. Know them.

And have fun doing it. (I know Ms Rotundi, I am never supposed to start a sentence, let alone a paragraph, with a grammatical conjunction.)

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Below is an exerpt from the School Reform Initiative’s website which defines a Critical Friends Group. This is the institute I attended in Alpharetta, GA in July 2012 lead by Dr. Thomas VanSoelen (@tvansoelen). I attended with the professional learning intention of building my facilitation skills. I left understanding that I had done so through exercising and practising my participant skills.

CFG builds the learning capacity of the group by engaging members in significant work in an environment that supports risk taking. To make it more likely that learning in CFG will build the group’s capacity for transformational learning, several key elements are essential.

  • Groups are voluntary and sustained. A critical friends group is made up of a group of six to ten educators who meet regularly, perhaps every four to six weeks, over a sustained period of time. Membership is often voluntary. Voluntary participation helps to increase the likelihood that the members are committed to taking on risky and challenging work and staying engaged over time. Similarly, CFGs continue to work together beyond the completion of a particular time cycle such as a semester or school year.
  • A skilled and experienced facilitator or coach supports the group. The coach, who frequently is a member of the group who has participated in professional development to develop the skills, strategies, knowledge, and dispositions to facilitate the group’s learning.
  • Groups use protocols to build their capacity for learning. The disciplined use of protocols or agreed upon processes and structures helps the CFG build its capacity for learning. Protocols help sustain a steadfast focus on teaching and learning. And, they offer the structure that allows a group to deprivatize their practice and explore the most difficult and challenging issues of insuring that students experience educational excellence.

Since I have returned I have officially started a CFG. 11 amazing administrators volunteering their time, trust and academic energy to learning and leadership reflection.

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Presenter Check-In (Fish Bowl) following Issaquah Protocol by Dr. Thomas VanSoelen

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Golfing with me Da made it to my heart list in Atlanta. I am very fortunate.

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iSEE through Learning: information Safety, Ethics and Etiquette through Learning

I am working with a number of teachers to support the integration of technology into a Project Based Learning environment. As the Principal time is of the essence. I have blocked out two periods a week to work with a group of 13 students in grades 5 and 6 to support their learning on ancient civilizations. We have a fundamental question: What civilization provided the best innovations that impact our current civilization. The teachers started by using the work of Garfield Gini-Newman on critical thinking.

Below I have included a letter to parents that I wrote in order to invite them to participate with their child.

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I am working closely with Mrs. Mundy, Mrs. Deters and Mrs. Chartier to help support your child’s learning in social studies, science and literacy. Specifically I am working on incorporating the use of web 2.0 tools to track, engage and record our learning.

What is web 2.0?

Web 2.0 is the term that is being used by educators all over the globe to describe the use of the internet to create content and place it in the public forum for use, manipulation and creation. In other words it is a creative process for showing your learning that others can use to show their learning.

Web 2.0 has a myriad of online applications that can be used to generate content creatively. Some examples of web 2.0 tools are:

Social Media Applications: Twitter, Facebook, texting
Content Creation Applications: Blogging, YouTube, AudioBoo
Networking Applications: Skype, Google+, email

It is my intention to work with your child on learning the important lessons of safety, ethics and etiquette in this ever changing learning environment. For example, our first lesson was: “If we wouldn’t say it in the classroom, we won’t say it on Web 2.0” There are many lessons and learning opportunities that will arise from our work in this environment. It is my intention to help protect our children by teaching them with the tools instead of assuming they are protected by banning the tools for learning.

If you don’t already please follow the many web 2.0 elements of school life at Eastwood. We have many blogs, a Facebook account, Twitter feeds, Audioboo account and Youtube Account. These accounts will connect to the work your child is doing and is a way for you to share in the learning. I am going to host a parent night in May so stay tuned.

I also included this poster, that hangs in all classrooms, to illustrate our work with students to understand the role that BYOD plays in our student learning.

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My son has been whispering I’m sorry from the wing back lounge chair for almost 30 minutes. At least I hope that is what he is whispering. Could be he is still repeating that I didn’t buy him a lego set. This might be the largest Starbucks I’ve been too besides Seattle’s flagship. Yet I’ve only seen the first 10 feet. I havent even ordered my triple venti latte yet. This is something as, I admit, I am addicted. No, instead I am using this time to help my son learn a lesson about being grateful.

He entered LEGOLAND in Chicago bouncing and giggling. He left all snot and lower lip. What started as “take my picture, take a picture of that spider, take a picture of the hippo.” Ended as “I didnt get a lego set! I wanted a lego set.” His heart rate was 114 going in and 114 comin out. (I checked with my Azumio app.) Mine, a duldrum 41. We are sometimes “out of sync.”

Remaining calm in the face of such acrimonious dialogue is a skill I did not learn from my father. I am sure generation Xers can relate. My dad did not reason or coddle. You with me so far. While my Dad cultivated my philosophy of high expectations and trust above all else it is my life and skills as an educator that have most certainly saved me as a parent. For instance, I have written this entire post during “the episode” as my daughter calls them. I distance myself from the behaviour, refuse to own negative energy and resist fully the temptation to take events like this personally. The last element being the hardest as Gavin is my flesh and blood.

“You just don’t like me, that is why you didn’t get me legos or a birthday present.” You see he even makes stuff up to try and engage me. Not happening. At this point in the timeout I am surprised the barista hasn’t charged us for the bazillion Starbucks napkins Gavin has used to wipe his nose.

This relationship, between parenting and teaching, is the most important aspect of my life as a father. I share this everyday with students, parents and teachers. It is the one aspect of my personal life that I cannot seperate from my work life. In Loco Parentis or in this case In Parentis.

I got an apology. I got a hug. More than that Gavin figured it all out when he saw me typing on my iPhone.

“Are you writing this all down Daddy?”

“Yes Gavin.” I replied stoically.

“For everyone to read Daddy.”

“Yes Gav. For everyone to read and learn from our mistakes and our work.”

“I love you Daddy. Sorry.”

It seems Gavin has my desire to help others too.

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Talking with Daniel Pink about Motivation, Engagement and Education in Two Parts. Cross posted at Connected Principals.


My wife Tricia “failed” her first driver’s test. There, the world knows. Her father had dedicated the previous few months to teach her proper. During the first lesson she, her father and younger brother got into the sky blue ’88 Caprice Classic station wagon that was parked in the two car garage.

“Place the keys in the ignition place your foot on the brake and turn the engine over.” Her father stated in his stoic and serious manner.

“But Dad, shouldn’t I. . .”

“Listen, if you want to learn you have to listen. Do not interrupt and listen. I’ll teach and you listen. Now turn the engine over. Good. Place the car in reverse and slowly take your foot off the brake.”

“Dad, when am I going to . . .”

“Tricia, you have to listen and do what I say. Don’t interrupt. I am trying to tell you, you need to listen.” The electrical engineer inside was getting the better of Dad. Learning about things like driving and electricity was not done through trial and error. This was life or death. Get it right the first time.

Tricia was making every attempt to engage with her teacher. She was instead being told to comply. Let’s face it. From the driver’s perspective learning to drive is an engaging process. From the passenger’s seat compliance seems entirely appropriate.

Until you realize you just instructed your 16 year old daughter to drive through the closed garage door. The 13 year old boy in the back seat stating that “she was trying to tell you Dad,” didn’t help.

On one of our snowed in nights this winter I had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Surprisingly he was snowed in at his location in Washington D.C. as well. For over 45 minutes Daniel, Jodie and I talked about motivation and engagement versus compliance in the educational setting. His insights into the system of education and the connections to his research for Drive are timely and certainly transferrable.

The text below is a record of that conversation presented here with Daniel’s permission. The conversation has been edited for presentation purposes. Thanks to Daniel Pink for his interest in sharing his thoughts, ideas and perspectives with educators.

JC: Variations of the carrot and stick can be seen in classrooms all over the world, certainly in North America. How can we unlearn some of these practices, practices of – to be kind of flippant about it–candy and detentions, so that kids can be motivated to learn more?

DP: For adults unlearning things is far more difficult than learning things so it’s a very tall order. One of the things that‘s happened is that we essentially created a set of assumptions that the way people, whether they are big people or little people, perform better is if you offer a reward or threaten them with a punishment. What’s disconcerting is that this is true some of the time. The danger with our kids is that if we treat them in a way that suggests that the only reason to do something is to get a good grade or to avoid a punishment we essentially sacrifice an enormous amount of talent and capability. When learning is open-ended, collaborative, when it’s about the strategy rather than the right answer then the approach is valuable in terms of helping kids think.
JC: In Ontario we have had a recent change to our report card system driven by a document called Growing Success: Assessment Practices from K-12. Learning skills are at the forefront of a child’s progress. The rest of the report card uses the traditional letter grades to rate a student’s performance. What are your thoughts on assessment, evaluation and reporting processes that happen in schools?

DP: You have to know how kids are doing. The problem is that often the assessment ends up driving everything. It basically becomes the purpose rather than feedback on the purpose and that is incredibly distorting. When you focus entirely on the performance goals, you often have a very thin, fleeting mastery of the material. It could actually be doing kids a disservice. You want to measure learning skills and you need a measure of performance. What concerns me is less grades per se than when grades basically become the goal rather than learning as the goal. If grades are the goal then people will go for the grades and may miss out on the learning. Again, I don’t think you necessarily have to get rid of grades but you have to put it into context. I don’t think there is an ideal evaluation system but before you get to the ideal evaluation system you have to go to the first principles. We are evaluating things because we want to give people feedback so that they can learn. We are not evaluating things as the end in itself.
There’s a difference between a learning goal and a performance goal. They are not the same. Our schools, especially in the States, are focused entirely on performance goals because they think that learning goals and performance goals are the same. Policy makers, even parents, haven’t reckoned with the fact that they are two very different things. I’ll give you the best example of this I can an example that you can relate to in Canada. I took French in secondary school and in university for six years. Every marking period of every semester I got an A in French. I can’t speak French. Why? The reason is I didn’t learn French; what I did is I performed on tests and quizzes. But if you throw me on the streets of Quebec City, in a French speaking part, and I get lost, I’m not going to find my way back home. If I had focused in those six years on actually trying to learn French maybe I would have gotten a B but I would probably be able to speak French. We’re obsessed over performance goals and we’re sort of thinking that if the performance goals are right then the learning goals will follow and that’s just not true. In fact, the opposite might be true. That is, if we focus on the learning goals then the performance will end up taking care of itself.

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JN: How do we change the minds of the students who have been going for that grade all along?

DP: It is really difficult because as an individual you are taking on an incredibly heroic and daunting task. You’re saying how can I deprogram and reprogram my 25 students, and then all the students in the school, and then all the students in Ontario. It’s a very daunting task because every other message they are getting, whether from parents, from policy makers, from the design and architecture of the school’s evaluation system itself, is telling something opposite. So you’re going up against really ferocious headwinds. The way I look at this is you’ve got to start small. Try to reach one or two kids. If you can do that, that is progress – you’ve made a difference in one or two kids’ lives. Try to reach one or two parents. Find one or two fellow educators who are with you and you have a little alliance and that’s how institutions change. That’s how society changes. We all want to be able to say “Whoa! Here we go – we’re going to change it all.” And it doesn’t work that way. It’s slow and it’s one by one. What keeps teachers going is the opportunity to affect one or two kids and to have those kids be better human beings because of their presence

To Be Continued . . .

carrots + sticks < love, “Click” change and Teacher / Learner by Libby Levi for opensource.com

You can follow Daniel (DP), James (JC) and Jodie (JN) on Twitter

@danpink, @cowpernius and @iteachELL

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