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EdTech Update





BFTP: Are report cards really necessary?

We're 5 years down the road after I first posted this. Sigh. Our HS and one of our middle schools no longer print report cards, but the report card is still a basic reporting tool...

After attending a 3-day workshop on standards-based report cards, I have been left with a single over-riding question:

Why do we still have report cards at all?

There are certain kinds of summary documents I have simply stopped looking at. I no longer view my bank statements. I no longer look at my credit card statements. I don't view my investment account statements or retirement fund statements. Why look at summaries when you can track changes in real time online? I don't remember the last time I reconciled a checkbook. (But then again, I only use about 10 checks a year.)

So, as a parent, why do I need an "educational progress" statement when, if so used, I can track my child's progress in real-time using a parent portal to the teacher grade book. If a teacher is tracking not just behavior, assignment completion, and scores on tests but reporting the meeting/mastery of specific standards, I don't need a summary. 

Summary documents, both statements and report cards, were created in a time of scarcity. Compiling, printing, and mailing information on a daily basis was cost-prohibitive. Providing digital access is not. 

Instead of improving report cards, lets spend the time making our grade books records more meaningful.

Original post October 12, 2012


Making time for ethical thinking

In Students' Broken Moral Compasses, Paul Barnwell in The Atlantic writes:

For many American students who have attended a public school at some point since 2002, standardized-test preparation and narrowly defined academic success has been the unstated, but de facto, purpose of their schooling experience. And while school mission statements often reveal a goal of preparing students for a mix of lifelong success, citizenship, college, and careers, the reality is that addressing content standards and test preparation continues to dominate countless schools’s operations and focus.

OK, this is a song that's been sung loudly and frequently. But Barnwell contends that this emphasis on testing has reduced or eliminated the time spent and effort made in teaching ethics and morals, cites studies of the ramifications of this neglect, and argues that empathy is critical in successful people. He concludes:

It’s time for critical reflection about values our schools transmit to children by omission in our curriculum of the essential human challenges of character development, morality, and ethics. Far too often, “we’re sacrificing the humanity of students for potential academic and intellectual gain.” 

Barnwell's concern reminded me of Anne Collier's post 6 takeaways from 20 years of Net Safety: Part 2 from last July in which she reflects on Internet safe and ethical use instruction in schools. She observes:

Our safety messaging (in many countries) has to date almost exclusively modeled what Harvard researchers call “consequence thinking” (consequences to self) rather than moral thinking (consequences for known others) and ethical thinking (consequences for unknown others, e.g., one’s community or planet). 

I agree that asking students to consider the personal consequence of an action is the most frequent and probably the most time-effective response to a misdeed in school - whether in the physical world or the virtual - at school and at home.

But should we be consciously trying to cultivate moral and ethical thinking, despite the additional time it might take away from teaching to the test? I think so. 

If we suspect a student is downloading media without paying for it, what might the response be?

  • If you are caught, you might have to pay a fine (Consequence)
  • If you don't pay the creator, the creator will have less incentive to produce more work (Moral)
  • If you don't honor the intellectual property rights of others, the economy, culture, creativity,etc. will suffer. (Ethical)

The impact of one's action become is more difficult to tie directly to a negative outcome at the moral and ethical levels. And is more time consuming. But it is also deeper, more thoughtful, and more important. 

Perhaps all of us need to think less about consequences just to ourselves and more about how actions impact others and the world.


Shouldn't PD be more like kindergarten too?

Last week I did a two-day workshop at an international conference. Two days is a long time to keep people engaged, especially teachers. Heck, I've found it tough to keep educators on-task and involved during hour-long breakout sessions! 

Yet I felt better about these two days than I have after many shorter sessions. One big factor of course was having a very dedicated, smart, and outspoken group to work with. These folks genuinely wanted to solve problems and improve the learning experiences for the students in their respective schools. I wondered at time if I even needed to be there!


But I also continue to modify my approach to teaching teachers. At the outset, I admitted that my definition of a good teacher is one who can present problems and questions in such way that the learners are compelled to solve them for themselves. And that is exactly what I tried to do. I planned a 10% teacher (me) talk; a 90% activity/student talk ratio.

And it worked.

Too often we simply don't practice what we preach when it comes to working with adults. I wrote the column below in January of 2013, suggesting that classroom teachers could learn a thing or two from kindergarten teachers about student engagement.

You know what - it ain't bad advice for those who teach the teacher either.


It is easy to see that part of this problem is that the more time in school, the more disconnected it gets from how we learn. This is where Connected Learning really strikes home for me. As Mimi Ito states in a recent Huffington Post piece, “Connected learning is when you’re pursuing knowledge and expertise around something you care deeply about, and you’re supported by friends and institutions who share and recognize this common passion or purpose.” Ryan Bretag,  Metania blog

The drop in student engagement for each year students are in school is our monumental, collective national failure. There are several things that might help to explain why this is happening -- ranging from our overzealous focus on standardized testing and curricula to our lack of experiential and project-based learning pathways for students -- not to mention the lack of pathways for students who will not and do not want to go on to college. Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education.

Do these findings suprise anyone? In my own experience and from listening to my own children, this is an accurate graph. The only change I'd make would be to extend the engagement drop through the first two years of college before the direction moves upward again when general education requirements are met.

As both Bretag and Busteed suggest above, some correlations between engagment, relevance, and project-based learning can be easily and correctly drawn. I've been fussing about the need for concrete ways to improve projects since, oh, about 1999. And it's obvious nobody has been listening and now look what's happened. Maybe another approach?

Perhaps our elementary collegues know something about engagement that secondary teachers don't? With apologies to Robert Fulghum. It's been more than a couple years since I attended kindergarten, but I remember it as three of the best years of my life (old joke). Anyway...

Everything I know about engagement I learned in kindergarten

In kindergarten you get

  1. Show and tell. You got to do something or bring something and then tell others about it. Secondary skill attainment measurement needs to be less about testing and more about show and tell performance-based assessment. Oh, and listening to other students is a lot more involving than listening to the old person in the room.
  2. Choices. As a little kid you often got to choose - your library book, your reading buddy, your activity, the subject of your drawing. People tend to choose things that interest them and interesting things are engaging. How often do we let older students choose?
  3. Play. Elementary teachers can make a game out of almost anything - and make just about every task feel like play. The older we get, the less we get to play and more we have to work. Just why is that? Gamification is a fancy term for putting play back into the curriculum. Look it up.
  4. Naps. Most adolescents I know are tired - and not because they've been up all night texting. (Well, maybe that's part of it.) We've long known that teens do better when school starts later in the morning. Tired people have a tough time staying engaged.
  5. To go outside. The best learning takes place in the "real world" not in the classroom. Whether it is studying bugs and leaves in first grade, marching with the band in junior high, or doing service learning as seniors, we all are more interested when it is the real world with which we are dealing.
  6. Colors. A blank sheet of construction paper and some crayolas have always let young learners be creative. Creativity is inherently engaging. What's the high school classroom's equivilant to scissors and paste? 
  7. To do it together. Reading groups. Play groups. Science groups. It's better with other kids. Social learners are engaged learners.
  8. Reading for enjoyment. Our elementary teachers and librarians want us to practice reading so much they let us read what we like! Do our secondary teachers want us to write so much, know so much, experiment so much, and solve problems so much that we get to do it for enjoyment?
  9. Learning that's important. Nobody needs to convince a little kid that learning to read, to add and subtract, or to know about firemen is important. And that you should pay attention when being taught these things. Calculus, world history, the Romantic poets, the atomic structure of non-metals, not so much. If you can't convince me what you are teaching should be important to me, teach something that is.
  10. Care. OK, this should have been the first one. I really believe a lot little kids are engaged because they know someone cares that they are. Yeah, the littlies are cute and cuddly and all that, but the gangly, awkward, homely teens need to know adults care too. When someone else is paying attention to you, you pay more attention yourself.

There you are - 10 simple steps to keep the engagement level from tanking.

 Orignal post: January 22, 2013