Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Intensive Learning Teams

In Unmistakable Impact by Jim Knight, the power of teams and collaborative learning are shared.  More specifically, an approach to curriculum review and development is presented through the creation of intensive learning teams.  To support the development of ILTs, Knight suggests that a facilitator first lay the groundwork by engaging participants in one-to-one interviews in order to set the stage for praxis, giving each individual an authentic voice in shaping the process.  The facilitator then reports out to the ILT, sharing vignettes that summarize themes shared by all so that common ground is recognized, which is essential for a learner-friendly culture.  Building upon the shared vision, the ILT then creates team values (working norms, philosophy, mission statement, etc.).  This preliminary team building is essential before wrestling with the next steps of identifying the big ideas, essential questions, and content.  As Heidi Hayes Jacobs writes in Curriculum 21, the importance of mapping review teams is "to question, to raise specific challenges, and to generate provocations, with the goal of upgrading and targeting content replacements based on strong principles and tenets. (pg. 32)  Further, she suggests three questions that would serve as a framework to challenge our current curriculum instead of reinforcing what is already familiar to us (pg. 34):

1.  Within the discipline being reviewed, what content choices are dated and nonessential?
2.  What choices for topics, issues, problems, themes, and case studies are timely and necessary for our learners within disciplines?
3.  Are the interdisciplinary content choices rich, natural, and rigorous?

These questions challenge our peers to reconsider what they may have always done with fidelity, passion and purpose.  Naturally, vulnerability will be present.  Developing ILTs that give voice to individual teachers, are able to focus on the group's commonalities, and share common values (especially trust) are the foundational elements upon which to build collaboration that will enable us to challenge the thinking behind our practice.

Ready not Age

"Like all human beings, children learn and develop at different rates and in different ways;  they learn different content at different rates and in different ways.  Despite that, traditional education moves students through grade levels in age-similar groups.  This approach may be less tumultuous socially than students working together across age levels, but it impacts students negatively in many other ways and is inconsistent with natural developmental differences that make people unique." --Delivering on the Promise (pg. 16)

With a national movement towards standards and performance assessments, the industrial structure of herding students together by age as opposed to readiness is out-dated.  Differentiation is an attempt to meet kids where they are within the same age group, but why do students of the same age need to be together?  What is the fear of grouping by readiness?  Will a self-fulfilling prophecy ensue?  The one room school house has only been recently replaced with our current model.  Previously, multi-aged teaching and learning occurred, using the older students as models and supports for the younger students.  And adolescents were integrated into the adult world through apprentice programs.  This is how communities historically have socialized their young.  If we are going to best support students in their ability to meet standards, we need to re-focus our curriculum decisions based on readiness and not age.  

To the Cloud

All students today are immersed in the technological age. There is no opt out. They learn by doing, as opposed to the industrial model, which asked students to memorize and command knowledge so that they would be able to do. Technology has brought us full circle--Creating meaning out of material and learning by doing is the way in which we are intrinsically motivated. In this sense, the cloud has returned us to our natural state of inquiry and development. Heidi Hayes Jacobs' discusses in her book Curriculum 21, the metaphor of knowledge, which used to be a tree, anchored deep into the earth with long roots, representing strength and stability, has now been replaced with a cloud, nebulous and ever changing. As a result, "old systems of creating order out of chaos no longer apply." The sage on the stage, bestowing the truth to his/her students is consistent with the tree metaphor. The cloud metaphor recognizes that there is no one truth. Instead, "the power of the digital disorder that arises out of all the knowledge being everywhere at once makes the human capacity for pattern recognition, for critical thinking, for nuanced perceptions, and for dealing with ambiguity far more important than the search for certain outcomes." This lends itself to support a student-centered classroom. Curriculum decisions focus on skills that facilitate higher order thinking. "It is the nature and relevance of reading, writing and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is the way in which we make meaning out of information to create new knowledge that is changing."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity | Video on TED.com

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson shares in the above TED talk, "Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status."  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills maintains that our work force must be prepared "to think unconventionally, question the herd, imagine new scenarios, and produce astonishing work."  (Henderson)  In the midst of the accountability movement which supports conformity in an industrialized education model, how will teachers nourish their students' creativity so that they may become divergent thinkers?  Creativity expert Robert Epstein recommends that teachers dedicate five minutes a day to creative training exercises.

So what kind of instructional strategy would serve as a "creative training exercise"?  How about utilizing thinking devices?  According to Jim Knight, thinking devices are prompts that are so engaging that students "can't resist talking about them." They can include video clips, songs, photos, quotes, riddles, etc.  The key to a successful thinking device is that it meets the following criteria:  it is provocative, complex, concise, humanizing, varied, and my favorite, not lame.


Thinking devices are a great way to incorporate Brain Rules into a lecture:  After 10 minutes of presentation, pause, share a thinking device, and ask students to make connections between the thinking device and the content you presented.  Be careful not to guide them.  Let them be your teacher.  I guarantee they will surprise you!

What are other ways we can incorporate thinking devices into our lessons?  How can we support our students' abstract thinking and reasoning?  How can schools nurture creativity?

citation: Henderson, Jennifer.  "Developing Students' Creative Skills for 21st Century Success"
24 January web:  file:///Users/teacher/Desktop/week%203%20CAI/Education%20Update:Reading%20First:Developing%20Students'%20Creative%20Skills%20for%2021st%20Century%20Success.webarchive

Making Thinking Visible

One of the ways teachers can support students in becoming better readers, writers, and thinkers is to make thinking visible.  Project Zero is a research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education that has created 30 different thinking routines designed to promote self-directed learners who use thinking to achieve understanding.  “One reason sophisticated thinking develops slowly is that thinking happens inside the head: Children do not readily 'see' their own cognitive moves, and most classroom practices do not engage students in substantive thinking around content very much at all, and certainly not in ways that make it visible across the classroom.”  (“Visible Thinking”)  The research-based thinking routines are designed to scaffold learners in their thinking while exploring content, deepening their cognition while developing subject mastery.  The products that they produce support students' communication skills, requiring them to convey the thinking in their heads through speaking, writing and/or drawing.  

citation:  "Visible Thinking."  Web. 21 December 2010 http://www.pz.harvard.edu/Research/VisThink.htm.

Visible thinking is further supported by Dan Roam, author of Back of the Napkin, who writes about our natural visual dominance and how we have replaced the use of pictures in our lives as a primary form of communication with abstract elements such as text.  (The title of his book is inspired by the many business ideas discovered by doodles on the back of napkins during happy hour or travel.)  In his companion workbook Unfolding the Napkin he writes, "There is no more powerful way to discover a new idea than to draw a simple picture.  There is no faster way to develop and test an idea that to draw a simple picture.  There is no more effective way to share an idea with other people than to draw a simple picture."

citation:  Web. 12 January 2011 http://www.thebackofthenapkin.com/unfold.html

What are the ways in which we support, engage, and challenge students to unlock their thinking and make it visible so that they may discover, test and share their ideas?

One idea is to take a visible coding activity and have students plot their thinking on napkins!

Compass Points
In response to an idea or proposition, graph your thinking on a compass using the following criteria:

E = Excited

What excites you about this idea or proposition? What’s the upside?

W = Worrisome 

What do you find worrisome about this idea or proposition? What’s the downside?

N = Need to Know

What else do you need to know or find out about this idea or proposition? What additional information would help you to evaluate things?

S = Stance or Suggestion for Moving Forward

What is your current stance or opinion on the idea or proposition? How might you move forward in your evaluation of this idea or proposition?

Citation:  "Compass Points."  Web. 21 December 2010 http://www.pz.harvard.edu/vt/VisibleThinking_html_files/03_ThinkingRoutines/03c_Core_routines/CompassPoints/CompassPoints_Routine.html. 

What do you think about this strategy?  How might you use this strategy?

Compass Points on a Napkin

Rigor Defined?

In addition to the running list of curriculum questions we have generated, I am adding "How do we define rigor?"  This has been a popular new word added to our "edubabble", and it seems that almost every new ASCD text or 21st Century Learning presentation, blog, webinar, etc. includes this as a key component of its message.  However, as Tony Wagner shares in his book The Global Achievement Gap, when you actually go into teachers' classes with administrators and peers, evaluating whether or not rigor in present in the lessons is solely dependent upon the individuals observing the work--they all see different things.  So here is yet another example of a standard impressed upon education that is unclear.

Larry Ainsworth shares in Unpacking the Standards that all standards are unclear and that we need to clarify their purpose and drive them with assessments.  And these need to be drawn from the big ideas and essential questions that we see within the standard.  So what are the big ideas and essential questions we see within the standard of rigor?  As I have written in previous posts, praxis is at the heart of these determinations, and Wagner engaged in such a collaboration with administrators and teachers, taking groups of educators and participating in learning walks.  This exercise asked them to observe the same instruction and then debrief what elements of rigor they saw.  As one could imagine, this led to much debate, but more importantly, it created questions that  framed their ability to identify the big ideas, and as such, they were able to created a model to evaluate these questions.  The questions they developed followed: 
   1. What is the purpose of this lesson?
   2. Why is this important to learn?
   3. In what ways am I challenged to think in this lesson?
   4. How will I apply, assess, or communicate what I’ve learned?
   5. How will I know how good my work is and how I can improve it?
   6. Do I feel respected by other students in this class?
   7. Do I feel respected by the teacher in this class?
When it comes to standards, the target need to be clear.  All parties need to understand their purpose and drive them with assessments.  They also need to be a part of the collaboration that identifies the big ideas and essential questions.  And to be a part of this praxis, there needs to be transparency and trust on the part of all the players.  This is a topic for a later post!