Saturday, 2 April 2011

Evolving transparency

A truth window. This is an external wall (seen from the interior).

A recent personal incident and ongoing reform debates in my workplace, coupled with today's new definition of 'transparency,' prompted me to write this last CoTAIL blog post. Here's a relevant definition of transparency from Dan Bricklin's website:
"Today, to be transparent means that your are providing data in such a way that anybody with access can drill down on the data and ask unanticipated questions. They should be able to explore interrelationships that were not thought of by those that provide the data."
Data in the educational context may be different than data in the business world, yet the similarities are notable. Granted, teachers are not able to access leadership reports via the Internet as Bricklin discusses (although it is possible), and we do receive 'minutes' of some meetings via email, however, it's still apparent that no matter the report or the number of reports disseminated, data can still be manipulated in the sense that humans can select information to report and are automatically biased in their reporting, despite any appeals to transparency. And, of course when confronted, any number of interpretations of the original data can be made to suit the purpose, or even to perhaps the less ethical side, to self-serve. Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman, James O’Toole and Patricia Biederman have published three essays pertaining the topic of transparency in a world where where it's become more difficult than ever to hide things. In the five summary points stand out, the second suggests that those coming forth with 'unpleasant truths' be praised. Point four suggests we'd all be best to welcome counterarguments but leaders especially need to check on their partiality and be willing to listen to dissent. Bennis, Goleman and O'Toole in Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor say that leaders need to embrace the flow of information via candor and honesty and forgo the fear of the 'truth will out.' 'Reward the principled contrarians.' And, regarding other perspectives, it's the feminine touch that wins out according to 'Speaking Truth to Power: The Role of the Executive' by Jennifer Pittman:
"While not typical traits for our leaders, “feminine” virtues of humility, inclusion, vulnerability, service to others, and respect for people, are characteristic of truly great leaders."
It's the concept of 'truth' that we're both drawn to and yet fear. It seems apparent to me that the fundamental definition of 'transparency' involves knowing the truth by being in touch with one's feelings to the extent of being able to empathize and introspect and thus understand the feelings of others. The action one takes then stems from this vulnerable, yet sincere position—and perhaps is more likely to be a 'right action.' In studying the Human Sciences in the Theory of Knowledge, we learn about Verstehen—this very approach involving empathy and introspection that human scientists use in their attempts to study and make conclusions about human behaviors within their respective fields. Isn't this what we're all doing as educators at virtually every interaction we have with colleagues and with students? We should be especially good at this given the daily practice we have. Yet, even when the truth does surface through the mess of thoughts, we're caught up with attempting to do what we think is right within the context of the situation—softening the truth or often times—avoiding it. Best to tell the person what s/he wants to hear, or what might be 'politically-correct' to say. Telling the truth is a two-edged sword alright. Leo Bottary seemed to be inspired by Bennis' words on transparency and came up with some key points on 'speaking truth to power effectively.' Among them: 1) That bad news coming from the leader is better than no news, and that 2) trust in self and in one's leadership prevail.

Shouldn't F2F interchanges be the primary way to show one's transparency? After all, look what's missed without looking at the slightest muscle twitches on someone's face, or seeing the honesty in someone's eyes. This may be true in one-to-one interactions, or with manageable groups of people. But with the constraints of time and in other contexts, the use of blogs, wikis and social networks can then be seen as solutions to some of these challenges. Will Richardson's weblog on 'Transparency = Leadership" and the extensive blog comments offer diverse insight into what leaders need to be doing to be in step with today's forms of practicing transparency. Richardson's whole point is for educators of all sorts to:
"Build a learning network online, and make your learning as transparent as possible for those around you."
There are assumptions to consider here, but the one being that we educators are immersed in the digital world today, despite our position as 'digital immigrants' over our students' position as 'digital natives,' there's no real excuse as to why we all shouldn't be on board with professional social networking. Given our school's move to new assessment, grading and reporting, wouldn't professional blogs, run by our respective school leaders provide the line of thinking, the rationale and justifications for decisions, the research links to peruse, links to other schools having similar discussions, comments and questions for teachers and even board members to ask in that transparent mode that such a communication offers? The different points of view would be welcomed instead of feared. Here's one among many of the pertinent comments from Richardson's post:
"I would say that the two most important principles for leaders in education today are (1) encouraging and facilitating innovation at all levels of the system and (2) fomenting clear and honest communication among all stakeholders in the educational process (teachers, parents, students, administrators, support staff, et cetera)." Chris Johnson
There's also the need for peer review to keep the writing professional. But the nice thing about blogs, for example, is this peer review is built in. Certainly, a professional would want to carefully formulate ideas, state findings, make observations, and provide accuracy with research knowing such writing and research is open to public scrutiny (especially in the case of a high school faculty).

In any regard, today's digital world seems to be bringing transparency to the forefront in new ways never before considered. And this can either be problematic or advantageous for those, like leaders, whose transparency or lack thereof drives the wheel of change. Ending on a more Utopian note, is it possible that the combined transparency of both the old, traditional F2F and new technologies today would lead to a fundamental change in human nature such that we might develop less fear of telling the truth? Or, even with a more metaphysical consideration, we have to prepare ourselves for the day we can actually come to read each others' minds! Ponder this. If babies can do it, Ray Kurzweil predicts so can we! We may be destined to tell the truth after all! But, if nothing else, at least we can rely on Shakespeare's prediction in reference to transparency: 'The truth WILL out.'

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Working with Wiktionary (Project 5 Evaluation)

After searching around for online possibilities as to how my Gr. 12 EAL students could develop their usage of the most commonly-used academic words (AWL) in English, and after a relatively quick consult with Jeff Utecht, my CoETAIL instructor, we agreed that the students should try the real-world wiki I came across: Simple English Wiktionary, which featured the AWL words. After Jeff and I looked over the many links and possibilities for practice and editing, I decided to have my students undertake editing the Simple Wiktionary for about 80-120 mins. per week.

I have to say that I wasn't too far off the plan I started with. If I consider the Essential Qs:

1) Can academic vocabulary learning and acquisition be fun?
2) Does the use of technology help to motivate and improve the second language (L2) vocabulary acquisition process?
For the first one, I'd say maybe my definition of fun is somewhat distinct from my Gr. 12s' definition of fun, however, according to student comments, some did in fact find the experience to be 'fun.' (See student comments below.)

As for the second essential Q, I'd say that the experience working on the wiki was motivating for some—those who were already comfortable with technology found the set up on the Wiktionary somewhat intuitive and could essentially figure out for themselves how to write (or copy) the code to make the edits. There's even a place on the Simple English Wiktionary called the 'Sandbox' where newcomers can practice working with the required editing codes. We started out there, but apparently didn't spend enough practice time there, according to one of the editors. But there's a second part to this Q—improve the acquisition process. I'd say the time it spent learning to properly edit (and even then we still continued to make errors and frustrate the editors) detracted from the potentially speedy acquisition. Because it took so long to edit, the students ending up working with fewer words than planned, which thus limited the overall acquisition process.

On the positive side, the students performed admirably on their quiz assessment that followed the editing and practice of each set of 5 AWL vocabulary on the Wiktionary. Most scored between 90-100% consistently. For the assessment itself, the students are expected to answer a question, similar to the initial practice questions the EAL teachers created for students to establish a context, and their response needs to demonstrate their understanding and correct usage of the word in a similar context. After working with 10 AWL words, here's what my students had to say about the experience. And we did 'assume good faith' that the students would make a valid attempt at doing the right thing:

The good:
"The good thing about [Wiktionary] is I learned the words [and] shared with other people."
"It was more interesting to use the computer [Internet] to put things [down] for everyone to see."
"I paid more attention to making sentences and grammar... and it was easier to know the word... because we had to know all the things about the word... better than making vocabulary cards."
"I didn't [have to] try hard to memorize [because] I memorized while searching and writing my own sentences."
"It's good to check with the teacher first to check grammar."
"I love to learn how to use new technology."

The bad:
"I was sad when someone deleted my work after I tried my best. I felt denied."
"It was the same thing over and over again—need something more creative."
"It was easier for a computer nerd."
"There was an unknown person controlling the editing."
"It only worked if you liked [doing it]."
"There needs to be more options of what to put on the page."
"I don't like when they keep removing my things."

Here's what was initially planned:
  • Find a picture that (obviously) illustrates the meaning of the word in context and post it.
  • Post a copy of the word family.
  • Create an original sentence that reflects personal experience using the work in the correct context.
  • Locate a practice exercise using the word and include the link on for others to use. Somehow provide evidence of having completed the exercise.
  • Using Bloom's Digital Taxonomy: 'analyzing,' try mind-mapping or 'creating,' after 4-5 words, try a photo story or a comic creation.
Here's what actually happened:
  • Find a picture... Initially it was relatively easy to figure out how to use Wikimedia Commons and find pictures that corresponded to the word meaning. But in practice, the Wiktionary editors did not like the pictures the students would find, and would end up removing them by the next time we opened the Wiktionary. Here, the 'assume good faith' seemed to break down. In 'talking' with the editor, we were told that the pictures were too abstract or inappropriate. We ended up abandoning the picture search after a few times of this (and as a result affecting the 'visual literacy' segment of this project).
  • Post a copy of the word family: this worked OK as long as the students didn't mix up 'word family' with 'related words' and 'forms of the word' found on the Wiktionary. Sorting this out, and revisiting the errors did at least have the students 'rethink' these word distinctions.
  • Create an original sentence... This seemed to be the best strategy, as long as the students paid attention to which definition they were writing the sentence to (or posting a corresponding definition to the the wiki if needed), and as long as I checked the grammar before the sentence was posted. Otherwise, it was just more work for the Wiktionary editor to clean up afterward.
  • Locate a practice exercise... I found several links at 'English Corner' that seemed to work well for AWL word practice.
  • Mind-mapping: In the end, the Wiktionary editors seemed to accept the mind maps the students tried. I found to work fairly effectively. The students could take screen shots of the mind maps they created and eventually learned how to upload them to Wikimedia Commons prior to posting them to an AWL on the Wiktionary. Here's a sample on Wiktionary.
  • We had a chance to add synonyms, antonyms and in some cases where it worked, to put up pronunciation keys. Here's another sample showing the pronunciation key edit, which also shows some of the history of the editing.
I was able to manage overseeing all of the edits to some degree using my RSS feed through NetVibes. (Although the editors would often beat me to it...) After adding the words the students were working on, their edits would come in automatically. I would then go into the 'history' found on any page of the Wiktionary and see exactly what was done. This made it easy to hold students accountable for their work. It also allowed me to let them assess themselves when it came to grading them for the work that was done. There's also a 'My Watchlist' in the Wiktionary where specific word edits can be monitored. The students completed this Scoring Guide after setting up 5 AWL words. I verified their assessment after a relatively quick look at their work.

Overall, the students had lots of practice thinking about the word definitions, the parts of speech, forms of the word and different usages. We have yet to reach the 30 word goal by the end of the semester and for the remaining words, I'm now leaving the Wiktionary approach an optional strategy. I'm glad we took the risk. Despite moments of frustration and disappointment seeing their work disappear and despite the 'assumed good faith,' we started with, we did end up with lots of collaboration and dialogue about how to use these AWL words that more than likely would have never happened otherwise. So, we'll assume good faith here and return to one of the essential Qs we started out with: Does the use of technology help to motivate and improve the second language (L2) vocabulary acquisition process?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The 11th Year

We're beginning our 11th year in the 21st c. now and as an educator of '21st c. learning,' I'm wondering where we stand in terms of meeting any of the 21st c. goals or 21st c. standards we're on about, like the ISB21 T.A.I.L. Standards and Benchmarks, for example. But it's not just local, it's global (or 'glocal' as some like to call it). The 21st c. learner and everything else out there coined 'the 21st c.....' is the latest slogan suggesting we'll stay lost in the previous c. (or possibly further back) if we don't get on board—it appears it's where we need to be as educators (and every other successful person on the planet for that matter). Ironically, we're already IN the 21st c.—it's not a matter of getting there anymore. Given the fast pace of growth in modern times, isn't 11 years a lot of time to be spending to get somewhere? Here are some relevant places that taut the ideals of education of the 21st c. or even pose threats should we ignore acquiring and using its corresponding skills: Educational Origami, and this comparison between the old and new centuries is particularly idealistic one. The highlighted bits in 'New Research Shows...' suggest there's a definitional problem operating—not with the definition of 21st c., but of '21st c. skills,' and that this underlies the lack of embracing the new. In the video: 'Educational Change Challenge,' we're practically threatened by the claims made regarding the gap between 'us' [the old] and 'them' [they young]: "Are we preparing students for our age or for theirs?" the narrator queries. Or, how about '21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020 by Shelley Blake-Plock? I have to admit that I get taken in by such claims, but at the same time many of them, like the look of parent-teacher conferences, which are likely to disappear in place of 'virtual communication opportunities,'' were actually more appealing. How about #13 though?
13. Organization of Educational Services by Grade
Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.
Now this to me seems a lot more dramatic of a change. But, need I really 'worry' about such a change? Or, Technology in the Classroom: Myths & Opportunities by Alan November inspires us teachers to see these changes as a relatively seamless process. I'm just starting up my Theory of Knowledge (ToK) course and we watched 'Shift Happens' to be reminded of the phenomenal pace of knowledge growth in all areas, of course with special emphasis placed on technology-related developments. My students commented on how the 21st c. pace is all they know and that there's nothing really shocking to them about it. It's us adults who seem to worry about how to ably cope with the future.

So then how DO we prepare to prepare our students to solve problems that don't yet exist on the planet? What about old-fashioned Professional Development (PD)? If the educational system itself is heading for a complete turn-around, then perhaps such is the case with PD. 'Why America's schools fail: Ineffective Professional Development' outlines most of the problems I've experienced with dead-in-the water PD—lack of time, passion, lack of professional learning communities. I've been involved in countless PD programs over the years, including conducting them myself. In fact, conducting PD workshops is a good way to evaluate their effectiveness. But despite the best PD programs, it's the sustainability factor, the 'I'm-going-to-do-this-in-my-school' factor, the 'I'm- getting-my-administrator-on-board' factor that makes all the difference. (Of course the COETAIL cohorts run by Jeff Utecht is certainly one PD program up for recognition—personal testimony as justification!) I'd venture to say that the more earth-shaking the change, as the #13 described above, the more factors in ones' favor the better to see evidence of reform. Using students as leaders is one such unique approach: 'Students as professional developers. Here's an upcoming conference with a networking partnership strand. We need something like these new PD approaches. We need to prepare teachers for the 'control shift.' We push educators into the 21st c. NOW. Isn't 11 years long enough? We need something systemic. We need commitment from more than just a small number. We need the PD to be embedded in our everyday world. We need administrative support—even Board support. Mentoring? Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)? These all sound feasible, but not unless we really want to do this—and I mean 'we' collectively. It'll take all of the constituents—admin included—to get into the 21st c. before the next decade ends—or before we end up going backwards!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Course 5 Project

(One of the most commonly-used academic vocabulary in English)
analyzed, analyzer, analyzers, analyzes, analyzing, analysis, analyst, analysts, analytic, analytical, analytically

Why would anyone want to analyze this jellied candle?

Now it's time to bring together some of the knowledge and understandings gained from the previous COETAIL courses and apply it to a 'real world' experience in the classroom. I'd like to revamp an existing vocabulary learning project in my EAP (English for Academic Purposes) 12 class. This group of EAL students are the least proficient English learners in the high school. Most of the group is generally Japanese and most of these (usually 90%) will be returning to Japan for college or university. The implications are that these students are sometimes weary of their English learning attempts, as they still have not achieved a passing score in reading/ vocabulary or writing. Further, the closer they get to returning to their home countries, the less motivated some are to improve their skills. Counter to this, however, there's a subset of students who view this last semester of language learning as their last-ditch attempt to get as far as they can in English. I have these two groups in mind when I set out their last semester tasks and try and individualize their experience as much as possible. I believe a focus on vocabulary benefits all in the group and find myself challenged to improve their vocabulary via innovative teaching as well as learning strategies. This is where Web 2.0 comes in and where the following NETS-T standard is targeted:

2. Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments
Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessments incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the NETS•S. Teachers:
  • a. design or adapt relevant learning experiences that incorporate digital tools and resources to promote student learning and creativity

Here's a UBD (Understanding by Design) look at this revamped vocabulary learning unit:

Stage 1 – Desired Results

Established Goal
EAP 12 learners to leave ISB in June having acquired more English academic vocabulary than their current level at the start of the semester.

Students will understand that learning strategies, including metacognitive strategies, can enhance long-term memory in acquiring vocabulary. What is anticipated is that students will need to explore the different learning strategies, on somewhat of a trial and error basis using Web 2.0 activities, to see what's most effective for each as a learner.

Essential Question(s)
Can academic vocabulary learning and acquisition be fun?
Does the use of technology help to motivate and improve the second language (L2) vocabulary acquisition process?

Know & Be Able to Do
Over the course of their last semester, the Gr. 12 EALs will acquire (which means actively use in speaking and/or writing) at least 30 new most-commonly used academic English vocabulary.

Stage 2 – Assessment Evidence

Performance Task(s)
• Do a pre-assessment. Looking at Academic Vocabulary Lists (Coxhead), students will identify words that they do not know how yet to use and will work to acquire these vocabulary over the semester.
• Practice the meaning and usage of a particular word via a glossary on & a wiki for reference. (A particular context in the form of a question is teacher-generated.) This is where the use of different strategies and different online activities come into play. Here are possibilities:
  • Find a picture that (obviously) illustrates the meaning of the word in context and post it.
  • Post a copy of the word family.
  • Create an original sentence that reflects personal experience using the work in the correct context.
  • Locate a practice exercise using the word and include the link on for others to use. Somehow provide evidence of having completed the exercise.
  • Using Bloom's Digital Taxonomy: 'analyzing,' try mind-mapping or 'creating,' after 4-5 words, try a photo story or a comic creation.
• After 5 entries have been completed, student takes a 'quiz' on the vocabulary word in the same context, using a new set of questions (teacher-generated again)
• When the unit is completed, have a 'public' presentation (maybe a digital story), or other creation, like a rap/ interview/ talk-show and subsequently post on SlideShare. The final assessment demonstrates acquisition (spoken and/ or written).
• Some type of self-assessment to discern to what extent each student actually acquired the vocabulary.

Stage 3 – Learning Plan

• Ensure that students' prior knowledge of the vocabulary can be utilized to more deeply understand a particular word and its usage.
• Ensure students remain interested in the project—invite them to add, revise activity.
• Allow students to evaluate their work and its implications
• Ensure activities are personalized to the different needs, interests, and abilities.

This is the plan. Now comes the implementation. Vocabulary practice and quiz questions, as well as the glossary itself to be set up on The glossary needs to link to a Wiki. Sites need to be identified to practice the vocabulary and to complete the glossary requirements. All to be posted and made available on Panthernet.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Managing Everything


Or, this?

In this week's blog post, we're to consider the essential question: What are ways to manage the use of laptops in a classroom environment? However, first I see it's important to consider the assumption in the question: that we have (or should have or will have) laptops to manage in the classroom. What underlies the assumption is that having laptops will improve student learning, given that our administration is celebrating the accomplishments of the grade 6 program and looking ahead to where ISB is going with the laptop plan. Jeff Utecht, our IT Coordinator, announced ISB's plan just recently at a faculty meeting: "9th and 10th graders getting their MacBook Pros in 2012-2013 and the 11th and 12th graders the following year." So, ready or not, here we come...

So, instead of answering the essential question itself, since I'd have defer to the experts themselves who have already incorporated laptops into student learning, I'll make no claims on 'how to manage' anything in this post. But I do want to consider managing that and 'everything else' and especially consider the underlying assumption that laptop use will improve student learning. In 'Blending Computers into the Classroom,' for example, an experimental program in the US is going on to see if we can discern such a difference in a digital over a traditional classroom. 'Blended learning' as it's called is being researched in the 4th grade whereby two hours per day are being devoted to 'laptop' instruction. The Department of Education (New York) is planning on spending $30 million over the next three years to reach 400 schools:
"Yet there is little hard evidence that the movement will have any lasting effect. There's been a lot of experimentation in the past with technology that hasn't produced a lot of learning gains," said Robin Lake, associate director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, who has been studying the DOE's efforts."
Nevertheless, as these decision-makers know, you don't know unless you try. They're relying on an Israeli-based vendor, Time to Know Inc. that is supplying ready-made 'blended learning' curriculums and are boasting of a trial program in Texas where verifiable improvement has already manifested. Ideas on how to differentiate and meet the needs of a range of students apparently is part of the program. Sounds convincing. And given that we're forging ahead, we need to get our hands on such programs fast. I'd say we don't want to waste time and money figuring out details about how to do good daily lessons using the laptops, or sorry to say admin, figuring out what the newly-written ISB tech standards mean and how to apply them to daily lessons and actual teaching.

But, let's also consider that there's more to student learning and achievement gains than adding laptops, good programs and even teacher training. I just read 'How to get good grades' in the recent Economist. What first struck me was the chart: 'Class, not mass' that shows Finland and Singapore, in particular, significantly ahead of the US in education spending and student performance. We at ISB tend to emulate education programs in the US in particular, so for us to be forging ahead with a country showing mediocre standings like those of US schools is a bit scary. So what else is going on to maintain high standards, if not technology? Teachers. Remember us?
"Countries where schools have already attained a higher standard should become pickier in choosing teachers. Another study by McKinsey in 2007 concluded that making teaching a high-status profession was what boosted standards.... When it comes to getting the very best grades, it seems that teacher still knows best."
What's interesting here, is that we at ISB make claims to 'best teachers.' We're told 'we're the best in the world,' so maybe this variable is already taken care of? But do we have enough numbers of 'the best'? This might be something we'll come to find out soon enough with the laptop plan underway.

What else? Well, I say we need to take a closer look at what's going on in Korean and Finnish schools. How about this for a title: 'World's best classrooms are light on technology.' This got my attention. The old standard chalk board reigns in these classrooms, with old PCs stuck in the back of the room—with overhead projectors being celebrated as something to take with you if you got stuck on an island and had to bring the most important item to teach with (I guess the island would have electricity!). Old-fashioned lessons, with full engagement of students without digital distractors are found. What is also found is longer studying hours and old-fashioned values for learning—in S. Korea anyway. In Finland "kids have one less year of schooling than their American counterparts, do less homework, and rarely take standardized tests." So, what gives? It's back to the teacher making the difference. It's probably back to teacher training at university I'd venture to say as well. Further in 'Brilliance in a box,' "[m]ore importantly, perhaps, school systems in Singapore, Finland and Korea recruit 100 percent of their teacher from the top one-third of the academic cohort, according to a 2010 McKinsey & Co. report in 'Closing the Gap.' One 5th grade US teacher claims that what her perfect classroom would look like is not gadgets, but another skilled teacher in the room!

So, let's see if there's a bottom line here. If we do have top teachers at ISB, at least for the most part, and we do have money and means to invest in proper, achievement-tested tech programs, and we are willing to admit that coming up with tech standards will not necessarily determine what teachers do to improve student learning, then just maybe we can make claims to being on par with the best schools in the world—even with the techy-rich environment. Will 'blended learning' help or hinder student performance at this caliber? We know we're going to forge ahead and give it a try regardless!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Subject-centered not Student-centered?

A few years back, I was attending a workshop on incorporating creativity into teaching and I passed by a display of books recommended by the workshop leader. I was drawn to one title in particular: The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life by Parker J. Palmer. It made me wonder what 'courage' meant in the context of teaching. I paged through it and decided to buy it on the spot. To this day, I still ponder what this fully means, but in at least one area that Palmer discusses, I believe I have tested my courage to teach. One chapter was devoted to being a 'subject-centered' teacher. This I grabbed onto immediately, because I had just begun teaching ToK and realized that 'subject-centered' is how I wanted to be approaching this vast knowledge area. Simply put, in 'subject-centered' teaching, you put the subject in the center and everyone is involved in the learning process. Everyone interacts with everyone else and this continuous interaction, no matter the 'knower,' is what leads everyone to better comprehend the subject. Anything can go into the center—it could be a concept, or it could be a unit aim—but regardless, everyone gains from what others discover/ uncover. It's a dynamic process and inevitably leads to a deeper understanding of whatever is undertaken. The courage to teach then seems to involve the teacher's willingness to be a co-learner rather than the possessor of knowledge who imparts what s/he knows onto the learner. I suppose courage comes in when control of the learning process is out of the teacher's hands—the courage to let it go and see where it ends up. Doesn't this sound like where we need to be going with student learning in today's technology-rich classroom?

Now 'subject-centered' contrasts both 'teacher-centered' and 'student-centered' learning. I was reminded that the ideal tech-driven classrooms today needs to be 'student-centered,' when I watched: Edutopia, about a model school in Key Largo, Florida. Principal Ammette Martimson celebrated the student-centeredness of all their programs and validated this by their high achievement. Whether there's a cause-effect relationship operating is always the debatable question found in claims tied to education. But at least it's suggested that there's a strong correlation to be found between student-centeredness and student achievement. This is where Palmer and I would disagree with Principal Martimson. Take a look at the chart above from Palmer's book that I embellished a bit to fit my ToK class. This co-learning framework is where I think we need to be going with Web 2.0 systems in place in our classrooms, rather than needs-based 'student-centered.' But before I go further, I do need to research what educators means by 'student-centered.' Geraldine O'Neill and Tim McMahon in "Student-Centered Learning: What Does It Mean...?" claim that people have different interpretations of student-centered, one being that it contrasts 'teacher-centered/ content-oriented' with 'student-centered/ learning oriented.' So, maybe this argument does boil down to one of semantics rather than involving a basic conceptual difference. Appealing to language limitations, however, sounds like a way to avoid looking a the fundamental difference. In any regard, it still bothers me to think that what drives the lesson are the needs of the students rather than the subject to be learned.

Principal Martimson further believes in teaching to student learning styles, i.e., more student-centeredness. "Brain research says... 'tailor to learning styles.'" But let's be realistic. Can anyone ever really teach to each individual's learning style, one, and two there's research that contradicts the value of learning styles. 'Do learning styles exists' by Hugh Lafferty and Keith Burley questions the very existence of learning styles:

We will see that Learning Styles do not exist because

· The forecast is wrong.

· That is not how the brain works.

We will see that Learning Styles are a 'bad' idea, because

· Matching the teaching to the learning does not work

· Learning styles are not measurable

· Changing teaching styles is not 'doable'

· Knowing your learning style does not make you a better learner.


· Knowing a student's learni. ng style does make the teachers better.

I do think many of us have made the leap away from 'teacher-centered' and rallied to the 'student-centered' approach in recent years, but could moving from 'student' to 'subject' be one of those paradigm shifts on the horizon as we Web 2.0-rich environments dominate our classrooms?

To apply these understandings, I'll speak to my experiences working in 'subject' vs.' 'student-centered' contexts. I find the courage to engage in subject-centeredness when I walk into a ToK class, but somehow I still revert to 'student-centered' when working with EAL students. (Am I losing courage here?) Do special needs determine a more 'student-centered' approach? What goes into the center when walking into an EAL lesson? I've tried putting 'theme' in the middle, and have had some success with all of us interacting with the theme, but the real 'centeredness' doesn't seem to work until I add the Web 2.0 ingredient. Last semester I watched the students in my English Language Workshop (ELW) class come to understand 'teen depression' through a three-week networking project on the novel Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. I definitely felt as though I was learning about teen depression by interacting with subject with the students, yet at the same time, I had to hand-hold the less-proficient learners in order for them to make gains in language and thus with the understandings of the content. Was I being 'student-centered'? 'Teacher-centered'? Uncentered? It seems the subtle yet powerful distinction between 'subject' and 'student' goes back to the role of teacher—the student-centered has the teacher as the facilitator, and thus as an 'outsider,' whereas with the subject placed in the center, the teacher becomes part of the unfolding of knowledge. With this underlying assumption established, I'd have to return to my original argument—this is where Web 2.0 dominated classrooms must head.

Referring again to the constructivist approach in my previous blog, it seems that 'subject-centered' (or one definition of 'student-centered') is more in line with this approach. So, it's complex once again. When Palmer wrote The Courage to Teach, Web 2.0 wasn't yet a concept. Could it be that wherever we head with the revolutionary classrooms today and in the future, that the teacher as a knower, instead of a facilitator in the subject-centered approach will allow all of us to better learners? There's much to consider: the courage and teaching style of the teacher, the needs of the learner, the subject at hand and the type and amount of technology available and incorporated into the learning. Maybe the student, the teacher and the subject all get time in the center, depending... and we have to find the courage to determine when, and all discover the illusive secret that knows to which Robert Frost alludes.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Grading for Learning & ISB21 Standards

About 4 years ago, I attended a workshop by Ken O'Connor held at Rumrudee International School. I have to admit that I'm pretty jaded when it comes to attending educational workshops after so many years of teaching—but I do look for new ideas and celebrate when I come across them. This particular workshop, however, I found to be revolutionary. It's the first time I found myself really questioning the deepest values held as educators—what is the learning that we are really grading? I couldn't believe I was asking myself this question! I couldn't believe I was really wondering if I was grading what kids were learning! Now, four years later, I'm more comfortable with these questions, although I find myself continuously asking them whenever I set up a lesson. I'm asking if the content I want the students to learn matches the standard(s) that's been defined. Of course, the assumption is that the standards have been defined. The scary part is that when I went into the descriptions of the curricula I work with, I found a variety of detailed categories and descriptors, aims and objectives and outcomes and illustrative examples, but no explicit performance standards.

So, essentially, I made up my own! It's not as bad as it sounds. I am an educated educator and have written enough curricula in my educational life, so felt (feel) competent in doing creating the performance standards I was essentially expecting my students to do. But, I should not be working in a vacuum. I should have a team of colleagues working with me on this. But given the constraints of varied philosophies, time, problems with the curriculum platform at ISB (i.e., Rubicon) and abandonment of it, I was forced to forge ahead on my own. In one course, I came up with two performance standards and set up formative and summative assessments to match within short order. I eliminated all the extraneous assignments from my gradebook. I accounted for what Ken O'Connor calls the 'halo effect,' i.e. grading the student based on his good (or bad) behaviors and not on his/ her demonstration of the standards, which today at ISB is known as the HAL grade. Now, connect to NETS-S and ISB's: ISB21 Technology and Information Literacy Standards. In looking these over, I'm back to the same considerations and questions I started with coming out of the O'Connor workshop. Here's a sample of the language of what students should be able to do by the end of grade 12:
Identifies independently the inquiry focus, data and information requirements and a range of information sources based on appropriateness to the task and reliability (e.g. recognizes the value of print materials, subject experts and online communities and coaches to complement searched information).
What I ask myself in regard to this language and in regard to how to grade for learning are three things: 1) where does the 'benchmark' end and the 'standard' begin; and 2) am I grading to the benchmark, or to the standard, and once that's determined, 3) how would I assess it in terms of a summative assessment so that I can grade it and determine student learning? I'm then led to another set questions: is this standard tacked onto the rest in my curriculum? Are the other 6 benchmarks/ standards also tacked on, or are these to be divided up among the other departments/ grades to be 'shared'? And if this is the case, who gets what standard?In ISB's past, similar benchmarks/ standards have been defined and attempts were made to embed them into existing core curricula: social studies, English, the sciences, mathematics. The IT coordinators of the time made decisions as to where which standard would best fit. For example, I was teaching English 10 at the time and I was responsible for teaching and assessing certain word-processing skills, specifically within something like a Works Cited page in the Gr 10 Research Paper. We were also tasked with searching for credible sources on the Internet, given that the paper called for researched information. I also supported EAL students in Modern World History at the time. We worked with the following chart to discern what technology skill fit with which outcome. This provided input to the coordinators to figure out a type of scope & sequence across the divisions:

You can see that resources were combined with technology, which demoted the value of 'technology'—so technology was sort of like an add-on. In some ways, at the time, this made sense, given the technology available to us. I know there exists a 'final product' developed by the IT coordinators at the time, but ironically, it's not electronic. I'm sure it's stored in a binder on a shelf somewhere--maybe even on mine, if I were to search for it. For awhile, we were sort of 'held accountable' for assessing/ grading the standards that were identified, but over time and with change in admin and changes to curriculum, etc., 'things fall apart.'

I have to say, fundamentally, it makes sense to do a curriculum analysis to see where the new benchmarks/ standards best fit across divisions and across curricula. And, some sort of 'built-in' place for change. Change not only of the benchmarks/ standards, but change as to where they should be learned/ assessed. These questions on assessment come from ISTE's site: 'Lesson Plan for Implementing NETS-S Template':

Assessment (What will students do or produce to illustrate their learning? What can students do to generate new knowledge? How will you assess how students are progressing (formative assessment)? How will you assess what they produce or do? Who will be the audience for a digital product or presentation? How will you differentiate products/outcomes?)

Maybe these can help, but this is all quite messy, which is ultimately good, if chaos does lead to order. However, returning to the original argument—given our current state here at ISB—our need to establish academic-based benchmarks/ standards so as to be grading for learning, are we putting the cart before the horse, to be expecting a grading (if we are expecting a grading) of the new benchmarks/ standards before we really know as a school what learning we're grading? Maybe the cart needs to come before the horse, and Web 2.0 skills can show us how it's all done!